Lexington Miqvah Foundation

Our mission is to build a small, attractive, egalitarian, kosher miqvah facility in the Central Kentucky area. We want to be able to enjoy the convenience of a local facility to observe mitzvot and to commemorate both private and public lifestyle events, broaden our spirituality, and connect with our ancestors in an unbroken line of observance stretching back to antiquity - and on into the future!

We wish to participate in the growing spiritual trend that is sweeping the nation to reclaim and reinvent one of Judaism's most ancient rituals - immersion in the miqvah - for contemporary spiritual use. We will teach about this resource for all men and women who are interested in new ways to express their individuality, and make the miqvah a sacred space that is open and accessible to all Jews including Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Unaffiliated, and Secular, including those in the process of becoming Jews.

In order to fulfill this mission, we have these goals in mind:

1. Provide a welcoming, beautiful place for traditional and creative miqvah uses.
2. Foster new ceremonial uses for the miqvah relevant to the 21st century Jewish community.
3. Provide information and accessible hours for those observing the mitzvah of niddah.
4. Recognize and promote the unique interests of men and women in traditional and contemporary miqvah practice.
5. Provide educational resources (both classes and teaching materials) regarding the uses of the miqvah.
6. Secure the financial future of the facility by operating in a fiscally responsible manner and through such means as debt avoidance, annual fund, and endowment development.

The Bluegrass area has been without a community miqvah for many years now. Join the Lexington Miqvah Foundation in this historic opportunity to being both tradition and a modern spiritual practice back to the area.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

What happens if it doesn't rain?

An Interesting article regarding a halachic dilemma:

Tablet Magazine Email Edition
The Day the Mikveh Went Dry

When a drought left Omaha’s ritual bath empty, refilling it required some imagination—and a ton of ice
By Michael Orbach|December 27, 2012 7:00 AM

Climate change has been blamed for a host of devastating events, from Hurricane Sandy to the evaporation of Greenland’s glaciers. But earlier this year, a dramatic weather event had a small but important impact on the Jewish community: In July, as a drought brought the effects of global warming to the Midwest, the only mikveh in Omaha, Neb., went dry. The mikveh, a ritual bath, is an essential part of any Orthodox Jewish community, so when one goes dry, it’s a serious issue—especially in Omaha, where the next nearest mikveh is a state away.

“The mikveh is one of the most basic institutions of any Jewish community,” explained Jonathan Gross, the rabbi of Beth Israel Synagogue, Omaha’s Orthodox congregation. “How are you supposed to have young families if you don’t have a mikveh?” Refilling a mikveh isn’t a simple matter of turning on a faucet; there are rules about what kind of water can and cannot be used. The community in Omaha prayed for rain—one of the approved methods for replenishing the water in a mikveh—and their prayers were eventually answered. But by the time those rains came, another solution was already in place, a solution that involved one ton of ice Mikvehs typically serve multiple purposes. The first and most important is as a place for women to purify themselves after completing their menstrual cycles; immersion in a mikveh is a critical part of the laws of Taharot HaMishpacha, family purity, and without immersion a woman is forbidden to have sex with her husband.

New vessels, like pots and pans, must be immersed before they can be considered kosher and thus usable. And converts need to immerse to conclude their conversions. Customarily, men also dunk, before holidays and before their wedding day, although this isn’t mandated by modern Jewish law. Like many mikvehs, the Omaha Community Mikvah is composed of two below-ground pools. The first pool fills with rainwater through a hole in the roof, and the second, larger pool is used for the actual bathing. To be considered halachically valid, a mikveh is required to have at least 40 se’ah of natural water. A se’ah, a unit of halachic measurement, corresponds to roughly five gallons of water, according to one stringent opinion—meaning that 200 gallons of natural water are required for a kosher mikveh. The water must fill the mikveh through naturally occurring sources, either by rain or through a connection to a spring or river. Water that is transported to the mikveh through direct human means—in buckets, for instance—is called she’uvim, drawn water, and cannot be used to fill a mikveh.

Tap water is also forbidden, though this wasn’t always the case—and tap water can be added to the mikveh once the required 200 gallons of natural water are present. In July, Omaha’s mikveh was accidentally emptied when a maintenance crewmember thought that cleaning the mikveh meant emptying it completely. In most circumstances, a mikveh can be refilled relatively easily through rain or snow, but this summer’s drought made that impossible. “Had this happened in January with all the snow we would have been filled up in a week!” Gross lamented on his blog. The mikveh was out of service for almost two months. Women traveled to the next closest mikveh in Des Moines, Iowa, or Kansas City, Kan., each more than two hours away. Dishes went unpurified. The receptionist at the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home, where Omaha’s mikveh is located, received calls every time it rained an inch, asking if the pool had somehow miraculously filled.

As the weeks passed, different ideas were thrown around: The supervising rabbi of the mikveh suggested the community pray for rain. They did. Another rabbi tried to open up a larger hole in the roof to allow more water, but that didn’t work. Some scientific-minded congregants suggested lighting giant Bunsen burners, evaporating water and then allowing it to condense over the mikveh; this was deemed impractical and was never tried. The town finally turned to Rabbi Yaakov Weiss, 34, the pastoral service coordinator of the Blumkin Home and one of the supervisors of the mikveh. Another rabbi brought up the idea of using ice to fill the mikveh, and Weiss began looking into it. Using ice was a sort of loophole or leniency: Since the ice was solid and not liquid, if it was moved into the mikveh while still in its frozen state, when it melted it would be considered non-she’uvim water, and the mikveh would be kosher. This procedure, while not common, is almost universally accepted. “I know it had been done in Nova Scotia once, but I had never heard much about it prior or since,” Weiss said.

Weiss called Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky, two important legal minds at Yeshiva University in New York. They referred him to a mikveh expert, Rabbi Yirmiya Katz, who went through the exact requirements of filling the mikveh with ice. Weiss’ first thoughts were to use the large ice machines in the Blumkin Home, but that plan was quickly vetoed since the ice would have melted too much by the time they put it in the mikveh. Weiss, with Katz’s help, figured out that he’d need a lot of very frozen ice put in the mikveh very fast. Weiss called every ice company in Omaha (“Did you know that while there are many ice companies—Arctic Ice, Omaha Ice, Glacier Ice—they are all actually the very same place?” he wrote on Gross’ blog) and finally found one that could deliver the required amount: 250 10-pound blocks of ice. The ice was paid for by the Jewish Federation of Omaha, on whose campus the Blumkin Home is located.

On Friday, Aug. 24, Weiss and a group of volunteers wearing special gloves that wouldn’t melt the ice amassed outside the mikveh at 8:15 in the morning. But the truck showed up an hour late, and by the time Weiss opened the first package, the ice melted in his hands. “Apparently this was their version of solid blocks of ice: It was a block of crushed ice pushed together in a brick,” explained Weiss. “It doesn’t stay as cold as a real block of ice.” Weiss went back to the drawing board where he found Muzzy Ice, an ice company that makes blocks of ice for ice sculptures. He had found them earlier but decided against using them given the large size of their ice blocks. “I didn’t want to risk damaging our mikveh,” Weiss said, but he relented once he realized that was the only option. Three weeks later, on Sept. 11, a Muzzy Ice truck pulled up to the mikveh. Inside the truck were seven 300-pound blocks of ice. An extra 100 pounds of dry ice was shoved inside the truck to ensure that nothing melted.

In less than an hour, staff members of the Jewish Federation moved the ice into the mikveh. Along the way, little pieces of ice would chip off and fall on the stairs; Weiss and a colleague would rush to pick them up to make sure that the chips wouldn’t liquefy and contaminate the mikveh water. “It was very intense and very stressful,” recalled Weiss. “[But] it was quite an experience. I’ve never dealt with a ton of ice in a small contained area.” Once all seven 300-pound blocks were moved, the question became how long the ice would take to melt. Estimates ranged from two days to a week. They never got to find out. The next evening a huge torrential storm hit the Midwest. In several hours, the bor z’reih, the place where the rainwater collected, was filled to capacity and the first pool was filled. “I went in the next day and said, ‘Wow.’ ” Weiss told me. “Now our only problem was our mikveh was filled with ice.”


Both Weiss and Gross said that the whole effort pulled Omaha’s roughly 6,000 Jews together and led to a newfound curiosity about the mikveh, even among those who don’t really use it. “Was it a waste of energy and time? Or conversation and money?” Weiss considered. “We often say that our efforts and actions have repercussions for good and bad and perhaps this was a repercussion. It’s a community mikveh and it’s integral to us. Perhaps by showing how much it means to us, I think … we saw a response or sign from God. For our action, we have God’s reaction: ‘I’ll give you the rainfall you were looking for.’ ”

***

A community without a miqvah is telling the world that it is not serious about Judaism. The Conservative movement, Left-Wing or Modern Orthodoxy, and of course the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox sects of Judaism all proclaim that observing halacha is still a necessity and that miqvah is one of God's commandments that is not optional. The fact that the Conservative movement is a modern and adaptive branch of Judaism and yet still holds to the commandment of miqvah proves how indispensable a miqvah is for a community. A community that does not have one cannot attract halachically committed Jews and will lose people who decide to make halachah an important part of their lives.

Miqvah is a beautiful and spiritually strengthening experience, as many people who didn't used to go to the miqvah and then began doing so have found. A modern egalitarian facility that respects people's personal lifestyle choices and celebrates important milestones such as marriage and childbirth, illness and teshuvah, and of course conversion, will be a catalyst for a more vibrant and growing Jewish community.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Miqva'ot in the news

This article appeared in the Huffington Post yesterday (2/21/12). Below it are links to Oprah's interview with several Chasidic families, including discussion of family purity observance in orthodoxy.

Rabbi Adam Jacobs
Managing Director, Aish Center in Manhattan
The Secret Life Of Hasidic Sexuality
Posted: 02/21/2012 11:10 am

Though I am not entirely sure why, people seem just plain fascinated by the (supposedly) cloistered communities of black clad Jews who briskly swarm -- entourage and side curls in tow -- through the streets of Brooklyn, the Diamond District and Old Jerusalem. For sure, some of it is the sheer "otherness" of their look and their seeming lack of interest as to what is occurring street level, including you and all the other passers-by. But whereas the Amish seem to spark a warmer, folksy response for their dogged embrace of the sartorial choices of their 18th century forbearers, Hasidim are often treated as circus freaks for having made a similar decision. I think it is this same lurid fascination that compels us to respond to the barkers call to gawk at the bearded-lady and the boy with the lobster claw hands that draws our imaginations to contemplate Hasidic intimacy.

I saw two examples of this in action in the popular media this past week. The first was through the lens of Deborah Feldman, a former Satmar Hasid whose rejection of that tradition has recently garnered her a good measure of media exposure -- and book sales. The ladies of "The View" tremulously queried her as they might an escapee of the Taliban or some tribe of Cannibals, but the discussion could not conclude until Barbara Walters (prompted by the producer) gave her all of 60 seconds to explain the (apparently primitive) Satmar mating practices. What she did manage to cover, though it ended up sounding like some antiquated misogyny rite, formed the basis of Taharat HaMishpacha (family purity), a brilliant and beautiful concept that is practiced by religious Jews of all stripes -- from the most Hasidic to the most left-wing modern Orthodox.

To hear a better explanation of the idea, I would direct you to Oprah Winfrey's generous and open-minded interview with four Lubavitch women in Crown Heights. There too, she wanted to hear about how they had sex, but unlike Ms. Feldman, who seems to have had an unusually negative experience, these women were proud of their tradition and eager to talk about it.

In short, religious men and women physically separate during the days of menstruation and
[the orthodox] add on an additional "clean week," making about 12 days out of the month in total. This is not done, as Ms. Feldman suggests, because the women are considered "impure," which is a common and unfortunate mistranslation. Rather, the women are tameh -- a word that indicates a spiritual change as the result of the loss of potential life. When men ejaculate, they also become tameh and also require immersion in a mikvah or ritual bath (though due to the relative frequency rates, most men -- Hasidim excluded -- do not hold themselves to this standard). In neither case is there any assumption of dirtiness or lack of purity. In that same vein, a human corpse is considered the most tameh object on Earth as it is now the empty shell of a former actualized living force. The mikvah -- through its laws, dimensions and construction -- is a kabbalistic practice that restores the non-corporeal equilibrium of the practitioner.

For those who don't accept the spiritual basis for the practice, there is a sociological one as well. As correctly explained by one of the women conversing with Oprah, when there is no physical outlet available for a couple, they are compelled to deal with each other on an intellectual and emotional level. They communicate only through words and body language which engenders another -- perhaps deeper -- level of intimacy. In addition, many couples describe the conclusion of this period of separation as a monthly honeymoon, and in a time when the majority of marriages fail, sustaining the excitement level can only be a good thing. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, it does wonders for other anatomical regions. In truth, to the average observant Jew, sex is not something mundane and titillating, but, rather, holy and sacred. From this perspective, it is the puerile obsessions of the secular world which are bizarre, not the concept of family purity and seeing one's intimate life as something sanctified -- to be guarded and cherished.

Ms. Feldman also intimated that the purpose of Hasidic (aka Jewish) martial intimacy was solely to procreate. This is obviously not the case as couples continue to perform the mitzvah (right action) of intercourse during pregnancy, after menopause and when there is a biological inability to conceive. Actually, the main purpose of sex -- as explained by Jewish law -- is to create something called devek, best translated as an intense spiritual/emotional cleaving between the couple. The stringencies associated with this practice -- general separation of the genders, refraining from physical contact with the opposite sex and the modesty laws -- are all designed to promote the ardent primacy and exclusivity of the marital relationship. Nothing is meant to stand in the way of its fullest development.

Are there times when devotees, or entire communities, fall short of these lofty goals? Yes. Does that mean that their underlying principles are weird or beyond the contemplation of the average person? No. In fact, the world at large would do well to consider the adoption of a version of them. I've heard it said that divorce is the second most traumatic experience that a family can go through next to the death of a close relative. Wouldn't it be in be in everyone's interest to gird marriage to the greatest extent possible thus sparing couples, families and nations from voluminous anguish?

Their style might not be everyone's cup of tea, but in this regard, the Hasids have it right.

Follow Rabbi Adam Jacobs on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RabbiAdamJacobs


Those of us who don't have cable didn't see Oprah's interview on TV, but you can find information about them here (part 1) and here (part 2).

Shalom!

A quick update on the last orthodox webinar.

Received by email:

BH

...Once again, over 500 viewers logged on from around the world to participate in Session V of our Six Part Series that aired this past Monday, January 20th, 27th of Shevat. Many who attended in person were Shluchos and visitors to the annual Kinos HaShluchos that ran over the weekend, so happy to be able to participate!

Here are some comments we have received:

”Amazing session tonight! Thanks for the
others as well! Gr8 refresher course!” Sara

“Thank you so much for posting the class online! It was so inspiring and great to be able to make dinner while listening to a shiur! You guys are doing amazing work! Can’t wait for the next one!” Zlata

“Thank you so much for this amazing refresher course!” Rozee

The Sixth and Final Session of our Six Part Review Series begins, Monday, February 27th, 4th of Adar, at 8:15-8:30PM, Eastern Standard Time, at the home of Rabbi Moshe and Faigy Rubashkin, 1349 President Street, Brooklyn, NY.

This sixth session features Keeping A Distance – The laws of Harchokos, presented by Mrs. Sara Morozow.

Here is the information needed to log onto the live feed and view the session on your own computer, if you are unable to attend in person. It is the same as the previous sessions. Once registered, you do not need to register again:

Link to log on page:
http://www.torahcafe.com/passkey2.php?vid=65006be27

Password (copy and paste):
49bd0e363

We are doing our best to make each session available for viewing on Mikvah.org as soon as possible for those who may have missed viewing the session via live feed. We understand that there are time zone differences and prior engagements that prevent viewing live.

Sessions I and II are now available online: Click here to view. We will notify you as soon as the next session is available online.

Please note that the live feed is currently not available on iPad or via telephone. Please email your questions to events@mikvah.org. Those that are not answered during the live feed will be answered later via email.

We hope you enjoy the session.

Taharas Hamishpacha International/Mikvah.org


As noted in the last post, the position of the Lexington Miqvah Society is that questions of whether or not to follow orthodox practice are an intensely personal decision and we respect everyone's spiritual journey. This link is given for educational purposes, because knowledge is always a good thing to have.

Shalom!

For those interested in the Orthodox view

There has been an ongoing webinar series on the Orthodox practice of family purity. There is one webinar left in the live series, but afterward all of the webinars will be posted for viewing after the fact. I apologize for not posting this in time for anyone to view all the webinars live. By the time I got around to working on updating this blog, most of the classes had already finished.

Of course, the Orthodox practice is not for everyone. The written Torah commands that a woman and her husband must "separate" for 7 days, counting from the day she beings her monthly cycle. That is, they should sleep apart and not have marital relations. At nightfall the 7th day, the woman immerses in the miqvah and can then go about business as usual. That is the written commandment.

In cases where a woman has some sort of infection or illness, miscarriage or other injury that causes her to bleed for a longer time than seven days, the written commandment was to wait until the sickness was over and then count seven "clean" days, at which point she can immerse.

The all male Orthodox Rabbinate has decided that women aren't smart enough to tell when they are having a regular period and when they are injured or sick, so they require every women to follow the more onerous schedule. This means if you are a woman who has had children and your period usually lasts for 6 or 7 days (which is normal), then you must add another 7 days and go 13+ days sleeping apart from your husband. They have developed a complicated calendar system of deciphering when a woman is about to start her cycle and how to count the extra days until they say it is over.

Most non-Orthodox women do not agree with the lengthier requirement, to say the least. In Conservative Judaism, most women who practice monthly miqvah immersion follow the written commandment, not the Orthodox practice. However, Conservative Judaism has as one of its tenants that the Oral Law of the Rabbinate is legal and binding upon all Jews. It is good to know the official "party line" even if you have no intention of being so stringent in your own practice. And if you do want to adopt the Orthodox practice, there are links to the right side of this page under the heading "Resources" which can guide you.

The Lexington Miqvah Society takes the position that it is a personal decision.

But if you are interested in studying the Orthodox methodology, here is an excerpt from the email listing the upcoming webinar date and links to find the previous webinars online:

Married? This One’s For You!

Participate in a six-part Taharas Hamishpacha Review series created for the Chabad worldwide community. All classes will be held in Crown Heights at the Rubashkin residence, 1349 President Street - and will air simultaneously via a live web feed - beginning Monday, January 23, 2012 at 8:15 PM. Classes will run for five consecutive Mondays thereafter, same time and same location, for a total of six classes. Each class is complete in itself, how many you attend is up to you. Attending all is a gift to yourself and your family.

Course Schedule:

...Monday February 27, 2012:

Keeping A Distance – The laws of harchokos. Presented by Mrs. Sara Morosow

Questions may be submitted in writing and will be addressed at the end of each session. Sessions are free, donations are welcomed!

Email events@mikvah.org to sign up and receive instructions to log on to the live web feed.

Please note that registration will be closed at noon the day of each session. Your full name, email address and telephone number are required for log on to each session.

This Taharas Hamishpacha Review Course will be available for online viewing at Mikvah.org once the technicalities have been taken care of and after review by presenters and Rabbonim. Those who are unable to join in the live feed will be able to view it at that time. Please check mikvah.org for updates.


Education is a good thing. It's always good to know every side of an issue. We should not be afraid to learn and to discuss issues of Jewish practice. Studying the old ways can help us learn the reasoning for doing things that way and knowing the rationale, we can then better incorporate parts of the traditional practice that have value for us in our personal spiritual journey.

Shalom!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Miqva'ot in the News

JWeekly.com
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Doulas draw from Jewish tradition as birth helpers
by emma silvers, j. staff

On a gorgeous January morning, sunlight streams through the windows into Leora Hahn’s cozy living room in Oakland. Several women are gathered around a coffee table, sitting on well-loved couches. A couple of them are taking notes. They could be planning anything — a PTA fundraiser, a local food drive, a community block party.

Except, in this case, umbilical cords are involved.

After giving birth, doula Wendy Kenin explains, there is a relatively recent practice of waiting before clamping and cutting the cord — it’s thought to allow more blood and nutrients to pass from mother to child...

The Imeinu Doula Collective, based out of Oakland, provides support throughout pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. Doulas aren’t medical professionals, but they can help with nearly everything else: easing prenatal aches and pains, teaching breathing exercises, arranging babysitting for other children during labor and offering postpartum emotional support.

The 4-year-old Jewish collective — six women, each with different training and specialties — also offers a unique angle on pregnancy and labor: Judaism and a sense of deep spirituality color almost everything they do.

“We serve such a diverse range of clients — Nigerian, Chinese, we had a Muslim couple. Certainly not everyone is Jewish,” says Kenin, who is Orthodox, a founding member and, according to her fellow doulas, the “glue” of the collective. “But we do draw strength and guidance from the Jewish tradition. There’s so much in the Torah about birth and midwifery, so many birth stories, so much wisdom,” she adds.

“Doulas support women informationally, physically and emotionally — we can also add ‘spiritually’ to that list.”

For observant or Orthodox women, the birth process can present a host of additional challenges — challenges for which the Imeinu (“our mothers”) collective is well-equipped.

“As soon as a woman excretes any kind of blood, she’s niddah [ritually impure], so her husband’s not allowed to touch her,” explains doula Hilah Zohar. “I had an Orthodox couple, and I’m shomer Shabbos, so I knew exactly what to do — I was just doing gentle massage when her husband couldn’t. And they were saying, ‘This was one of the smartest things we’ve ever done.’ It can take a lot of pressure off a woman’s body just to have touch.”

For women who want a mikvah, the collective also offers access to one affiliated with Chabad of the East Bay. Miriam Ferris, wife of Chabad Rabbi Yehuda Ferris — and mother of 10 — provides important spiritual guidance to the group and is something of an honorary member, the doulas say.

...Though Hahn had her first two children without a doula, she started looking into doulas for this pregnancy for a number of reasons.

Hahn is Jewish (she heard about the collective because her daughter and Kenin’s attend preschool together at Oakland Congregation Beth Jacob), so the doulas have brought her a few relevant objects today. A slip of paper contains the Birkat HaGomel, a prayer recited by “one who has survived a dangerous situation.” A red string from Rachel’s Tomb, some believe, offers protection. A laminated card offers Hebrew prayers a husband might say on behalf of his pregnant wife.

Supporting a father can be a significant part of a doula’s work, Proctor notes. “He’s watching a woman that he loves in pain, and that can be very scary, especially if he doesn’t feel like he knows how to support her,” she says. “If we can relieve him of other things — help with other kids, whatever it is — all he has to do is be there for her.”

As someone whose doula training took place mostly with home births, Kenin says she is motivated to help women re-create a natural, home-birth process in a hospital, with as few interventions as possible. Interventions, in this case, can be anything from medication for strengthening contractions (to speed up the process) to epidurals (though the collective stresses that the decision to use pain medication is wholly up to the mother).

...While the concept of a doula is not new — the word comes from ancient Greek, meaning “female caregiver” — more and more women are opting to use them in the U.S. As of 2009, the Doula Organization of North America counted 7,000 members, compared with 750 registered in 1994.

And as more women are choosing to use doulas, medical practitioners have gotten used to the extra presence in the delivery room, according to Kenin, and often are quite happy to have them there. Hahn, due Feb. 19, plans to have her baby at Alta Bates Hospital — and she’s grateful for anything the doulas can tell her about how the maternity ward there tends to run.

“In a sense, it’s only been the last 100 years or so that this process was taken out of homes, out of the hands of the mothers,” says Kenin. “And Judaism is a very woman-centered tradition, which is something many people may not realize. We’re performing a lot of the same rituals our ancestors did. We’re transmitting that knowledge. We’re taking it back.”

The Imeinu Doula Collective can be reached at ImeinuDoulas@gmail.com.
For information on doulas, visit http://www.dona.org.


Women are the true backbone of Judaism, there's no doubt about that. And the mitzvah of miqvah is a time-honored part of our spiritual tradition, one that we can reclaim and strengthen even here in the 21st century.

Shalom!