The recent proliferation of blogs and articles about women’s feeling towards the mikve and taharat hamishpacha (the laws of family purity,) both positive and negative, has been a fascinating study of modern attitudes towards topics ranging from halacha, feminism, sex-education, relationships and many more besides. The attitudes that the authors have expressed have covered the whole gambit of emotions and stances on the issue.
One of the most interesting parts of the discussion has been the paucity of opinions expressed by men. It may come as a surprise to many, but men also have views on this topic. It is not only women but also their husbands who face issues relating to mikve and taharat hamishpacha. I don’t know if the reason for men’s silence stems from the fear of a backlash, conditioning, disinterest, ignorance, or any of the other possible explanations. Regardless of the reason, men’s silence is dangerous in that it implies that men cannot, are not or should not be involved in this cornerstone of Jewish family life.
Taharat hamishpacha requires “two to tango” and requires both partners to be able to communicate effectively their feelings and needs throughout all stages of the taharat hamishpacha cycle. The presentation of mikve as “only a woman’s thing” is deeply troubling and cannot possibly be healthy for any relationship. Yes, it is the woman who has the ultimate responsibility for counting, checking and dipping, but without the love and support of both partners, the process becomes much harder both logistically and emotionally. There are many reasons why the mikve has taken on the status of being only the domain of women without any consideration for the feelings of men, but I believe it is time to reconfigure this approach.
The struggle to increase the opportunities that are available to women both in the religious and secular spheres has borne tremendous results over the last few decades. However, the perception of certain gender roles at home, work and in the religious sphere has not evolved in the same ways that the reality has. For example, I have lost count of the number of times guests have complimented my wife on a dish that they have enjoyed without even considering the possibility that I may have prepared it (which on many occasions I have done.) Similarly, people are shocked to learn that it is my wife who takes responsibility for the maintenance of our car. The redefinition of traditional gender roles means that it is now time to realign the perception of those roles with the reality. This must also be extended to redefining the perception of family purity. Family purity is about the family – not just about one family member bearing the sole responsibility for it. The increased involvement of loving and committed husbands in this conversation can only be to the benefit of couples and families everywhere.