Period suppression pills - what will the rabbis say?

In medical news, women around the globe might be interested to hear about a new birth control pill which the FDA has just approved: Lybrel is the first pill that is supposed to put an end to women's menstrual periods INDEFINITELY. No one can dispute the benefits of such a pill for many women whose lives are turned upside down once a month at the onset of a period, but the question that is preying on my mind relates to the halachic ramifications of taking such a pill.

Taharat HaMishpacha is a mitzva, a commandment, that is given to women. For two weeks of the month, at the onset of a woman's period, a married couple are supposed to refrain from physical contact. During this time, a woman is considered to be a "niddah," meaning "to be separate." Seven days following the end of her period, a woman immerses herself in a mikvah, a ritual bath, after which time she can resume physical contact with her husband. These laws of family purity are designed to enhance the physical and spiritual relationship between a married man and woman.  

I am wondering what the rabbis will say about the permissibility of taking such a pill that will suppress the period, thereby rendering the laws of family purity irrelevant. Although taking birth control pills is not ordinarily permissible according to the Jewish law, exceptions are frequently made when couples are not capable, for either emotional or financial reasons, of having more children at that stage of their lives. But I can't imagine what the Jewish Orthodox perspective would be regarding a pill that puts an end to the menstrual cycle altogether.

Any thoughts?

When it rains, it pours: a Shavuot we won't forget in a hurry

Although we were somewhat behind schedule in our cooking this year, we weren't worried. We had invited our guests, composed a menu, and were prepared to spend Monday and Tuesday cooking frantically. We were pretty excited for Shavuot - we had found some very interesting and surprisingly uncomplicated dairy recipes, and since Shavuot is only a one-day affair in Israel, everything was under control. At least it was until I came down with strep on Monday. (When I was in England, it was good old-fashioned tonsilitis, but since I got married to an American, and go to an American doctor, it's "strep.")

As soon as I came home from the doctor's, we notified our guests that I had strep, but since I started taking antibiotics on Monday night, and they weren't coming to us till Wednesday lunch, it wasn't such a big deal. After 24 hours, you are no longer contagious. We were still on with our guests. Josh stepped in and did all the cooking, and by Tuesday lunchtime, everything seemed to be going smoothly. The food was cooked, my antibiotics had started to kick in, and I was starting to remember what it was like to feel human. Since the girls didn't go to gan on Tuesday, we even managed to take them to the park for a couple of hours so they could get it out of their system.

Fast-forward to an hour before the start of Shavuot. I was blowdrying my hair, when I heard Josh yell at the top of his lungs that Eliana, our oldest, was hurt. She had been riding her bike, and had hurtled forward and hit her head against the garden wall. Josh's t-shirt was covered in blood, and her forehead was bleeding. After making a couple of calls, we found out that the amazing TEREM in Modiin was open till midnight on Shabbatot and festivals, so with less than an hour to go till chag, Josh raced over there with Eliana. When they arrived, they received almost immediate treatment, and Josh told me how amazingly brave Eliana was throughout the whole process. She didn't cry at all, not even when they were manipulating her head to put on the bandage. I was so incredibly proud of her. Even when her head was still bleeding back at home, and I had to put some clothes on her before she left for TEREM, she still had the strength to tell me that she wouldn't wear pants, only a skirt! When she came back from TEREM, she ran into the room, and announced triumphantly, "Mummy, the doctor said I can't get my bandage wet, so I can't have a bath for three days!" That for her was the real icing on the cake. She got a special treat when she came home, and a star for her star chart, but the prize was avoiding baths for three days. Even today, every few hours, she tells me, "You know, the doctor says I can't have a bath!"

If only that was the end of our dramas. This morning, over coffee, Josh asked me if I noticed that Eliana's face seemed blotchy. Without my contact lenses, everything seems blotchy, so I couldn't comment either way. Ten minutes later, once my lenses restored my vision, I noticed that Eliana was covered head to toe in spots. Yup. Chicken pox.* And we can't give her a bath for three days because of her head.

So not only could she not go to shul with Josh - which is pretty much the highlight of her week - she couldn't see her friend who was supposed to be coming over for lunch with her parents. Josh had to walk over to our friends, with trays of food, and tell them that this time, lunch really wasn't going to happen. We felt so awful about it. At least, though, they had a good lunch:-)

So now we are just waiting for our toddler, Tzofia, to catch it. Thankfully, both girls have been vaccinated, so the symptoms shouldn't be nearly as severe. Considering the circumstances, Eliana has been an absolute  angel. It is pretty awful that we can't give her a bath when she needs it the most. She said to Josh tonight that she wanted him "to tell Hashem that her body hurts and that He should  make her boo boos go away." AAW.  

So all in all, not the funnest of Shavuots, but hey, all four of us are in one piece, and we made it through the day with the help of treats and various other types of distractions. I just thank G-d that we are not in America, where we would be celebrating two days instead of one! 

* Curiouser and curiouser. I took Eliana to the doctor today to ascertain whether she really has chicken pox. With the absence of blisters, and the blotchiness of her skin, it seemed unlikely that it really was chicken pox. The doctor said that 50% of her patients had come in with a similar "rash" that morning, and that either it was some sort of virus (like the majority of unexplained illnesses), or it was a reaction to the antibiotics she has just finished for last week's ear infection (I know, never a dull moment). She prescribed some antihistamine drops and some calamine lotion. Eliana was a happy camper because she came out of the doctor's office with three stickers, which she took while the doctor was busy writing out the prescription. Hopefully she'll be back in gan next week.

Female Mohelet - a personal touch

Female mohelet

Yeah, I know, this is my fourth post of the day, but who's counting?

I read in the Jerusalem Post this weekend about a female Mohelet, Rochelle Schwartz, who came to Israel recently to perform a ritual brit milah, circumcision, on a newborn boy. The article reveals:

With over 25 years of medical practice under her belt, Schwartz has provided non-ritual medical circumcisions as a family doctor to many of her patients and their new young family members. She has developed, over the past 15 years, a unique pain prevention protocol. The technique includes topical and local anesthetic, pain medication and sugar pacifiers (for the newborn to suck on along with the wine), all of which help to virtually eliminate the pain involved in the circumcision procedure.

Schwartz, 53, finally acted on her feelings nine years ago, when she became one of three practicing female mohalot in Canada. Rochelle had studied the Halachot of brit mila with a rabbi for a year prior to becoming a mohelet. She had a Conservative upbringing and currently belongs to a Reform synagogue in her Jewish community in Toronto.

"I always had a love and passion for my Judaism," she says. "I began to think that being a mohelet would be a way to combine my love for Judaism, my surgical [skills] as well as my spiritual life."

I can't deny it sounds great - it seems very logical that women, who by nature are more compassionate than men, should work as mohelot, but as an Orthodox Jew, the first question that entered my mind when I read this article was: what does Halacha have to say about this?

The article addresses this very question:

While according to Halacha, the obligation to perform brit mila falls on the father, there is a biblical precedent for a woman carrying out the act.

According to traditional sources, Jewish tradition does not recognize that the mother has a mitzva to fulfill; that is, the responsibility falls upon the father to recite the blessing of the brit mila. "The mother is encouraged to recite the bracha [blessing] with the father or without the father present following the circumcision," says Sacks.

Theoretically, he says, women may circumcise. He also mentions Tzippora in the Book of Exodus, in which she performed a brit mila. However, according to tradition, Moses is said to have taken the flint from her hand and completed the brit, thus ultimately retaining male dominance in the performance of this traditional Jewish practice.

The male dominance is also seen in Orthodoxy, which adopts the view that since it is not normative practice within Jewish communities, permitting women to perform brit mila would only erode the power of custom and tradition. Rabbi Shaul Farber, a practicing Orthodox rabbi, and founder and director of Itim, the Jewish life Information and Advocacy Center, says that there is an ongoing debate within the Orthodox community on whether women can function as mohalot.

The Shulhan Aruch, the universally accepted legal code book of Jewish law, includes the basic laws of brit mila. The legal code, which was compiled by the great Sephardi Rabbi Joseph Caro in the mid 1500s, combines both the differing customs and laws of Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewry. It is a reliable legal source of Jewish laws and practices.

The male dominance is also seen in Orthodoxy, which adopts the view that since it is not normative practice within Jewish communities, permitting women to perform brit mila would only erode the power of custom and tradition. Rabbi Shaul Farber, a practicing Orthodox rabbi, and founder and director of Itim, the Jewish life Information and Advocacy Center, says that there is an ongoing debate within the Orthodox community on whether women can function as mohalot.

The Shulhan Aruch, the universally accepted legal code book of Jewish law, includes the basic laws of brit mila. The legal code, which was compiled by the great Sephardi Rabbi Joseph Caro in the mid 1500s, combines both the differing customs and laws of Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewry. It is a reliable legal source of Jewish laws and practices.

Halacha is not set in stone - each generation confronts a new set of circumstances, and while we endeavor to adhere as closely as possible to Halacha, it has to change with the times and needs of new generations. The root of the word "Halacha" means in English, "to walk, to go," denoting physical movement. We live in a generation where women's talents and special qualities are no longer going unnoticed, and while it is true that some mitzvot apply to men and some mitzvot apply to women, if there is a biblical precedent for female mohalet, I don't see the problem. If it was OK for Tzipporah to circumcise her son, why should Jewish women not train for this, if they so wish?

It seems to me that the only real Halachic objection against female Mohelot is the fact that "since it is not normative practice within Jewish communities, permitting women to perform brit mila would only erode the power of custom and tradition."

This line of reasoning begs the question: Is our tradition not strong enough to withstand POSITIVE change? Why are we, as Orthodox Jews, so petrified of making changes that will allow women to play a more participatory role in Jewish rituals and communal life?

On the other hand, people might question Rochelle Schwartz's sincerity. I know I did when I read the article. She writes that she performed a brit milah in Israel for the following reason:

I wanted to come to Israel to perform the brit mila, because this has traditionally been performed by an Orthodox mohel and just as I was a pioneer in Canada performing brit mila there, I wanted to become a pioneer in changing the way people feel about brit mila in Israel and be one of the first women to perform it in Israel.

It seems that Rochelle's motivation is to go down in history as being a pioneer, to be one of the first women to perform brit milah in Israel. While I obviously understand her desire to be famous, if she were truly genuine about performing the mitzvah of brit milah, why couldn't she have continued to perform other brit milot in the US, without needing to seek the limelight?

I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

Finally, cheesecake season has arrived!

With the holiday of Shavuot fast approaching, I am searching for new, fun, and easy recipes for cheesecake. I myself am crazy about the classic New York cheesecake, but for some unbeknownst reason, they can't be found in supermarkets or bakeries in Israel. They have cheesecakes with berries, cheesecake with chocolate, cheesecake with oranges, but alas, no good old-fashioned NY cheesecake.

Any ideas?

Happy birthday, Louis Theroux!

louis face

It is Louis Theroux's 37th birthday today! For those of you who have no idea who Louis Theroux is, you can read about him here, and then I advise you to watch his documentaries. He is a first-class presenter and broadcaster.

When I was 39 weeks pregnant with my oldest child, the furthest I could get to was the couch, so we rented a gazillion DVD's from our local DVD store on Emek Refaim in Jerusalem (how I miss Jerusalem!), and among them were some Louis Theroux documentaries. After that, I was hooked. He covers off-beat cultural subjects, and his style is extremely dry and witty.

He describes his objective as being:

Setting out to discover the genuinely odd in the most ordinary setting. To me, it's almost a privilege to be welcomed into these communities and to shine a light on them and, maybe, through my enthusiasm, to get people to reveal more of themselves than they may have intended. The show is laughing at me, adrift in their world, as much as at them. I don't have to play up that stuff. I'm not a matinee idol disguised as a nerd.

But my feeling is that he is being too modest. We just now finished watching his documentary on Nazi skinheads, and I was blown away by the way that he handled himself and the thugs who surrounded him. He spent a week living amongst a group of white supremacists, and followed the movements of the leader of the White Aryan Resistance. Although it is clear that the people whom he exposes are on the fringe of society, and will never have any power or influence in the States, it is still scary that they exist.

The leader of the White Aryan Resistance, Tom Metzger, aired his views to Louis about "Niggers," and when asked by Louis why he called them that, and why he hated them so much, his response was: "Because they are ugly." Tom, who is a balding, overweight man with no redeeming physical features said in all seriousness that he believed himself to be better looking than Denzel Washington, and that he could easily get more women than him. At that point, Louis suggested that Tom was delusional, a comment which didn't endear him to the Nazi.

At one point, he went to see some skinheads in their home, and after sitting and talking with them for a few minutes, one of them asked him if he was Jewish. The skinhead claimed that Louis looked Jewish. Louis refused to answer the question, and said that if he were to tell him whether he was Jewish or not, he would be sending out a message that his religion makes a difference, and he wasn't prepared to do that. You really have to watch the documentary to get the full effect. Louis was surrounded by four or five heavyweight Neo-Nazis who started taunting him, and calling him "Jewboy." When Louis asked them what they would do if he told them he was Jewish, one skinhead replied, "I would throw you out of here, and beat you up, and leave you to die." But Louis still wouldn't tell them. I really admired him for that. He could have told them that he was non-Jewish - which he is - but instead he took a stand against these pigs.

I am in a giving mood - I just found the video on Youtube It is worth watching. Then go read the 8 pages of comments from people on Youtube who watched the video, and supported the Nazi stance, and it will reinforce the feeling that this world is truly messed up.

Non sequitur, Louis bears a striking resemblance to a friend of mine, Raphael Freeman. Don't you agree?

You can NEVER be too careful

My first instinct after reading this article is to go pick up my two girls this second, and take them out of their respective day cares.

A two-year-old boy died in Oklahoma after being bound and taped for refusing to be quiet during nap time.  I know that evil acts are committed every second of every day, and this isn't the first or unfortunately last example of barbaric behavior, but as a parent, as a mother, stories like these make you want to wrap your children up in cotton wool till they are 18. No, make that 21.

Closer to home, I read almost every week in the free local Modiin newspaper sickening stories of child abuse occurring in private day care centers. An acquaintance of mine put her six-month-old son in a private day care center, only to wake up one night, after picking up her son from day care, to hear him screaming in agony. After taking him to the emergency room, the doctors told the parents that the baby had broken his elbow, and dislocated his arm. The day care lady claimed to know nothing about it.

I remember last year reading a story in the Modiin newspaper about a one-year-old boy who was found walking in an underground car park during the middle of the day. Apparently, he had climbed through the bushes of the garden, and walked down the street. When the police finally went to the day care center, the two women in charge hadn't even noticed the boy was missing. Chilling stories. And all from private day care centers, where you are supposed to be paying extra money for peace of mind.

Since my husband and I both work full time, we have become very familiar over the last three and a half years with the process of searching out day care centers for our little ones. Over a year ago, my husband and I were looking for a day care center for my then-seven month old. We eliminated half of the day care centers on our list by simply standing outside their doors before knocking, so that we could listen to what was going on inside. In quite a few places, we heard the women yell at the children, and talk to them in a way that made ME frightened. We just walked away.

We finally found a place for Tzofia with what seemed to be a warm, Sephardi, grandmother-type, figure in her early fifties. She had five children of her own, who were all older and in school, and she was taking care of just two other babies. She had a large house with a huge garden. Sounded good. We told her everything she needed to know about Tzofia - her likes, dislikes, sleeping patterns, and arranged to leave her there the next day.  It was pretty straightforward - at that time, we had just started Tzofi on solids, so all she really ate was a bottle, fruit, and oatmeal.

The following day, I came to pick Tzofi up, and found that her face was covered in chocolate. Bewildered, I asked the woman why her face was covered in chocolate. Her response? "My son had a birthday party, and Tzofi really enjoyed the cake." Well, that was the last time I ever stepped foot inside that house. Not surprisingly, on the way home, Tzofi threw up in her car seat.

Until your child reaches the age where s/he can communicate, and report to you what happens during the day, you need to take all the necessary measures to ensure that your child is in a safe and loving environment. A couple of weeks ago, I was standing on line in the supermarket, and struck up a conversation with the lady in front of me. She talked about her new job, and she said that she had just found a day care center for her six-month old baby, which was conveniently located next door to her apartment. I asked her if she had received good references, and she looked genuinely surprised at the question. She said that she hadn't asked for references, but the location was so convenient that she couldn't pass up the opportunity.

Before registering your child for any day care center, private or otherwise, make sure you do the following:

1. Before you even go to check out a place, make sure that you have at least 4 references from parents of children who attend the day care. Obviously you have to use your judgment, and discriminate between those complaints that are silly and those that are critical. If a parent tells you that she doesn't like the day care woman, because she is anal about parents coming to pick up their children on time, that is not an issue that is going to affect your child's well being. If, however, a parent tells you that his/her kid comes home unhappy every day, and is not eating, sleeping well, it should make you think twice. The important thing is to have enough references to feel that you have received an accurate overall impression. 

Our two girls are both in gans that are simply amazing. While both of my daughters' gans do things that annoy Josh and I, like insisting that we turn up to their events, etc., we can handle it because we know that they love our girls, and that they are extremely happy there. You have to be able to differentiate between annoyances that bother and affect YOU, and issues that bother your children. Your children have to take precedence every time.     

2. Go and check out the place at a time when they are not expecting you. It is easy for them to put on a smile, and be all sweetness and light when they know that you are coming. If you catch them off guard, you will get a truer picture. Stand outside the door for a few minutes, and listen to the way they talk to the children.

3. Go see the place at a time when the children are up, so that you can see their mood. While it is easy for adults to put on an act, children don't lie. Do they seem content? Are they being supervised? Are they wandering around aimlessly, or are they engaged in activity?

4. Once you have decided on the day care center, make sure that for the first few weeks, you pop in every now and again, in the middle of the day, to see how your child is doing. It is better to come in unannounced. I know that many day care centers discourage that, but you can always make out that you forgot to bring them something.

5. Watch your children's behavior. Even if they are unable to verbalize how they are feeling, do they seem happy to be going there in the morning? Do they run into the woman's arms, or make motions to give them hugs or kisses? Our little girl was in a day care center for six months, and while I couldn't pinpoint what was wrong, she never looked the woman in the eye, never said goodbye to her, and never reached out to give her a hug and kiss. That was very uncharacteristic of our little girl, because she is very extroverted and affectionate. Once we took her out of that day care center, and moved her to her present one, her behavior changed almost instantly. She hugs and kisses the women, and while I constantly have to grit my teeth at the women's idiosyncratic demands, there is no doubt in my mind that my daughter is ecstatic there. Once she is their arms, she doesn't even notice that I am around. 

6. Finally, GO WITH YOUR INSTINCT. If you have any niggling doubts about a place, don't bury them. Parenting is not an exact science, but a parent's instincts, especially a mother's, are extremely strong, and I only wished in the past that I had gone with my instinct. You can't take chances with your children. Believe in yourself. It is better to be excessively cautious than be sorry after the fact.

There should be a law passed that each day care center installs a webcam, so that parents can monitor what is going on during the day. I know that certain day care centers in America do this, but it is unpopular among the majority of day care centers. They claim that if they are being watched, they can't be natural with the children, and that parents will complain over the most trivial things. While this is a legitimate complaint, I think parents would sleep better at night if webcams were installed. I know I would.

Under-age Bible readers?

I can just picture it now. A seven-year-old boy pores over a book under his covers, in the hope that his latest habit will go unnoticed by his mother.  His mother who notices everything, spots her son reading late at night, and lifts up the covers. Her worst nightmare has just happened. Her son, her sweet innocent son, is reading.... THE BIBLE.

If Hong Kong residents have their way, you won't be able to  purchase a copy of the best-selling Bible without showing your ID card at your local bookstore to prove that you are over eighteen. The Bible will be sealed in a wrapper with a statutory warning notice, in the spirit of cigarette warnings: WARNING - THE BIBLE CONTAINS INDECENT CONTENT THAT WILL JEOPARDIZE YOUR SPIRITUAL HEALTH.  EACH PAGE THAT YOU READ WILL NIBBLE AWAY AT YOUR HEART AND SOUL.

Maybe, as there are for cigarettes, they will even come out with a "Lite" version of the Bible. An abridged or amended version.

Alright, I will put you out of your misery. Seventeen lines into this post, and you still have no clue what I am talking about. Sooo, according to an article I just read, over 800 Hong Kong residents have called on their authorities to reclassify the Bible as "indecent" due to its "sexual and violent content," including rape and incest. Apparently, Hong Kong's Television and Entertainment Licensing authority (TELA) received 838 complaints about the Bible. TELA said it was still undecided on whether the Bible had violated Hong Kong's obscene and indecent articles laws.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? How dull must life be in Hong Kong if people are complaining that the BIBLE, of all works, is indecent?

A Hong Kong local protestant minister was asked to comment. His response was:

"If there is rape mentioned in the Bible, it doesn't mean it encourages those activities," said Reverend Wu Chi-wai. "It's just common sense ..."

 Profound words from our minister. And you wonder why church attendance is so low. If the Bible is classified as x-rated material, it's an ingenious way of attracting people to religion. You can't beat reverse psychology - forbidden fruits are sweeter, and all that...

A WORD OF WARNING: A Mushy Mother's Day Post

It is Mother's Day in the US today, and since Friday, we have been exchanging free E-cards, telephone calls, and emails, wishing our female family members in America a happy Mother's Day. Yes, Hallmark really lucked out with this holiday.

When my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law asked Josh and I what we would be doing together to celebrate Mother's Day, I was like, "Uh, I'm going to work?" As far as I know, there is no such thing as Mother's Day in Israel. Women are SO appreciated and valued in Israel by their families and society at large, that they do not need to be pampered and spoiled on one day of the year in order to know their worth. They are treated like queens every day of the year. Besides, as my husband likes to point out about Mother's Day and Valentine's Day, it is non-Jewish.

Josh was quick to tell his family that Mother's Day is not celebrated here, and that was the end of that. Since women have a tendency to be illogical creatures, I was slightly peeved. I mean, I don't care about "Mother's Day," I really don't, but since everyone else makes such a song and dance about it, it wouldn't have hurt for him to at least say this morning before I left for work, "Happy Mother's Day."

My husband has another annoying tendency - whenever I want to be upset with him, he goes ahead and does something very sweet, which throws me for a loop. Under the pretense of going shopping for errands, he came back half an hour later with a massive bouquet of red roses and some Max Brenner chocolates.
my roses
We've been married for almost five years, and he still surprises me:-)

For all you men out there...

If you are looking for a word that will give voice to your frustration at your wives' incessant nagging - and let's face it, there isn't a woman among us who can honestly say that she doesn't derive some deep satisfaction from nagging her husband -  look no further. Double Take's word of the day is "Termagant," meaning A scolding, nagging, bad-tempered woman; a shrew.

NOTE TO READERS: I apologize for the brevity of this post, and my infrequent posting in general. I am actually working, I know it's hard to believe. I hope to return to my former lazy and procrastinating blog-addicted self shortly.