The JWC is very pleased to announce the opening of the exhibit “The Mikvah Project” this Sunday evening, February 8, at the JCC in Squirrel Hill. We hope you will attend one or more of the programs we have planned around this nationally recognized work of photographs and interviews.

Mikvah, the ritual bath, has long been an area of controversy for Jewish feminists. We are drawn to the power of water and immersion, but we feel deep discomfort with the idea of ritual purity and the implications that has for our bodies.

Those who practice the laws of family purity argue that mikvah has nothing to do with cleanliness, that it is not a reflection on the moral state of a woman’s body or its cycles. They explain that the reasons for women to immerse themselves after their menstrual periods center on the holiness of marital sexual relations. In Jewish law, blood is taboo in any number of situations. The book of Leviticus outlines a number of circumstances in which a person who has come into contact with blood must undergo a ritual bath before being able to resume bringing sacrifices to the Temple. The laws regulating marital sexuality had a different basis from those dealing with the sacrificial requirements. However, in post-Temple times, the two have been conflated so that traditional communities restrict the movements of menstruating women both inside the home and in the synagogue (although different communities have greater or lesser degrees of strictness about home practices). All traditional communities forbid women who are menstruating from touching a sefer Torah. Since it is inappropriate in these communities to ask a woman whether or not she is menstruating, the prohibition was extended to all women at all times. Some communities forbid a menstruating woman from touching her husband at all until she has been to the mikvah. Since Orthodox men do not want to come into contact with a menstruating woman, some will refrain from shaking hands or engaging in any other physical contact with any women.

Jewish feminism in its beginning years rejected mikvah altogether. Many of us resented the restrictions it symbolized and felt devalued and humiliated by the implication that our bodies were unclean. Over time, we have begun to come back to mikvah (as we have with other traditional practices) and understand it from a woman’s perspective. We have discovered the power of the mikvah to help us heal at difficult times in our lives and at major life transitions. We may even decide to regulate our sexual lives according to traditional practices. But now we do it out of our own choice—because we want to honor the cycles we experience.

The Mikvah Project explores this ancient ritual in courageous ways, opening the practice to public discussion in a way that has never been done before. The JWC is very proud to be a cosponsor of this exhibit, which runs through March. The opening on Sunday night will feature exhibit creators Janice Rubin and Leah Lax, as well as a performance from Kol Isha. It is free and open to the public, and begins at 7pm. Read more about the exhibit in this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.

Leslie Golomb Hartman, curator of the American Jewish Museum of the JCC, will conduct a private tour for the JWC on Sunday, February 22 at 10:30am. This tour is also free and open to women bat mitzvah age and over.

For more information on either of these programs, call (412) 422-8044 or contact us. For more information on the Mikvah Project, visit www.mikvahproject.com.