Choosing Life in the New Year, Part 2

I just read my friend Julie Wiener’s latest blog post put up just before Yom Kippur, Bad Day at the Mikveh, Good Day at the Beach. I usually agree with Julie but I’m not sure in this case.

Jessica Langer-Sousa, a Jewish woman who was intermarrying, wrote in the  Huffington Post that she was rebuffed by a mikveh lady who told her that her marriage would not be recognized in the eyes of God.

I don’t think Julie let the mikveh lady off too easily – she says the mikveh lady “no doubt behaved inappropriately and rudely: she could easily (and with no compromise to her own morals) have politely explained her concerns, then referred Langer-Sousa elsewhere” and she says that “Representatives of Jewish institutions do need to be welcoming and respectful.”

But I think she shifts blame to Langer-Sousa or tries to equalize blame when she says that “respect also has to be a two-way street. It’s not fair to expect everyone to agree with you, particularly when you are on their turf and your behavior violates something they hold sacred” and “I think it’s also important for individual Jews to give others the benefit of the doubt and not overreact to a single negative encounter.”

That doesn’t sit right with me. It’s like the editors of the Jerusalem Post in today’s editorial saying that intermarriage “plagues” the Diaspora and that there is declarative value in legislation to prevent it. Interfaith couples who are seeking Jewish connection and engagement – people like Langer-Sousa, who remember was wanting to go to a mikveh in advance of her wedding – shouldn’t have to experience the judgmental condemnation of the editors of the Jerusalem Post, or people like this mikveh lady.

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5 thoughts on “Choosing Life in the New Year, Part 2

  1. When I [url=http://twitter.com/#!/InterfaithFam/status/120849168393715712]tweeted about the article[/url], it was out of excitement for creating new ritual, finding a positive in what was becoming a negative experience.

  2. I don’t get it. Jessica Langer-Sousa is Jewish. She was planning to intermarry, but at the point she contacted the mikveh, she was not yet intermarried. On what basis would the mikveh lady be rejecting her request to use the mikveh? Other than ascertaining that one is Jewish, what other requirement would there be to use the mikveh? If the mikveh lady was really smart and concerned about the future of the Jewish people, seems it would have made more sense to allow Langer-Sousa to use the mikveh in hopes that participating in this ritual activity might make her feel more welcome in the Jewish community and less likely to turn her back on it (which is now far more likely because of the negative interaction.)

  3. Happy new year, Ed! I don’t think my post is quite comparable to JPost’s reference to intermarriage as a plague! :-) I was just saying it is naive and a bit immature to expect unconditional welcome in all spheres of the Jewish community, and it makes more sense to find the places in Judaism where one will be welcomed.

  4. Migdalor Guy, yes. I think that’s exactly the problem, that Jessica Langer-Sousa, a Jewish woman, should not have been turned away from the mikvah in the first place. There was no reason for it.

  5. Did Jessica come right out and tell the mikveh lady that she was intermarrying? If so, my feeling is that it is almost asking for a fight. Surely one wouldn’t expect an Orthodox Jew to be happy about hearing about an impending intermarriage.

    And if not, then she might actually be in the same situation as a Jewish woman marrying a Jew who does not have certain “certifications”. I hear that unmarried women are often asked by attendants of Orthodox mikvaot to show proof of having taken classes on “family purity” (regular mikveh use after marriage). I can imagine an in-marrying non-Orthodox bride-to-be who would not take that sort of class being turned away as well. Orthodox mikvaot also often want to prevent unmarried women from using the mikveh so as to engage in pre-marital sex, which is also why they screen non-regular users.

    As Julie suggested (and I basically agreed with her article), the woman would have been better off to have looked for a mikveh with open-minded policies. Mayyim Hayyim has a list of mikvaot that are open for wider use:
    [url=http://www.mayyimhayyim.org/Resources/Community-Mikvaot-in-North-America]http://www.mayyimhayyim.org/Resources/Community-Mikvaot-in-North-America[/url]
    The mikveh I use is on the list and I’m sure that its wonderful mikveh lady would not have turned Jessica away. She would be as welcoming as she is to all users of the mikveh. (She might be privately hoping that she’d see the groom at the mikveh in the future for conversion, but she wouldn’t say anything because she is far too sensitive to ever say anything that might sound judgmental or offensive.)

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