This article in The Atlantic discusses a dilemma that shouldn’t exist in a rational world—a world without faith and, in this case, without the attendant and ridiculous notion that menstruating women are unclean. Read and weep:
For many Orthodox Jews, a menstruating woman is described as being in the state of “niddah“, which means that she’s sexually impure. As Green says in her article above,
Each month, when they get their period, some Jewish women observe a time of niddah, or ritual impurity. As long as they’re bleeding, and often for at least a week afterward, they can’t have sex with their partner. Many couples won’t hug or kiss, sleep in the same bed, or even pass objects to each other. Under any circumstances, this can be challenging to maintain. Imagine what it’s like under quarantine.
She remains “impure” until her period ends and she immerses herself in a ritual bath called a mikveh, a small, lukewarm bath holding one person. The requirements for that pool are stringent (see here), and include the use of rainwater, though a small amount of tap water is permitted. Mikvehs are also used to prepare a bride for a wedding and to immerse a non-Jew undergoing the onerous conversion to Judaism. And until you dunk yourself after your period, you can’t have sex with your husband.
Here’s what a mikveh looks like:
So you can understand the issue: right now, these things are not something you want to touch, much less immerse yourself in. There’s water, railings, preparation rooms, and so on. And even though some mikvehs ruthlessly sanitize the spaces, wiping down the railings and using chemicals in the water, it’s not something I’d want to dip into once a month. And there are the religious requirements. As the article notes,
The mikvah dilemma is especially excruciating for women who are trying to get pregnant. If they don’t immerse after their period, they can’t have sex, meaning that they may have to delay conceiving. For most women who observe niddah, skipping immersion and having sex anyway is likely out of the question: “It would be like eating pig,” Bat Sheva Marcus, an Orthodox Jewish sex therapist, told me. Since the pandemic started, social media has been flooded with women debating what to do about immersion. “It’s wrenching,” Marcus said. “Do something that you feel religiously not okay with, or do something that makes you feel unsafe? Neither of those are good options. They’re terrible options.” The pandemic has already created immense challenges for women struggling with infertility: In mid-March, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine issued new guidelines advising doctors to suspend new IVF cycles and cancel elective surgeries and embryo transfers. For women who want to be pregnant, the mikvah can be another reminder that they are not. “My community is in a tremendous amount of pain,” said Baron, the Riverdale mom, who leads an online community for women dealing with fertility issues.
Well, they can eliminate the pain by suspending this ridiculous requirement, and the attendant Biblical notion that menstruating women are “impure”—at least for the duration of the pandemic. Remember, too, that Orthodox Jews have been violating the quarantine requirements big time, regularly gathering for Sabbath worship, weddings and funerals. In some ways they are more resistant to legal requirements that contravene their faith than are evangelical Christians. Here’s a quote:
Although people outside of the Orthodox community might say that these women should just stay home, going to the mikvah is not optional in the way that praying together in synagogue or attending family gatherings is, according to Ruth Balinsky Friedman, a clergywoman at Ohev Shalom, an Orthodox synagogue in Washington, D.C. “I very much understand the impulse to see religion as more symbolic—something that we do when we’re able to, but in a time of crisis, we put aside,” she told me. But “you can’t cancel” the commandments governing sex, she said. “That’s the word of God.”
Well, the Hebrew G_d has always been vengeful compared to the New Testament God, even though they’re the same one. You can say that G_d should understand that a shower at home should be sufficient, during these troubled times, to make you fit for sex, and so you don’t have to endanger yourself. But hey, it’s YAHWEH, Jake! He makes the rules!