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How Some Orthodox Women Are Breaking Tradition This Yom Kippur

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Many Orthodox Jewish women are heading to the mikveh to greet this Yom Kippur–and they’re not going to apologize for it. The Forward recently interviewed several women and leaders in the Jewish community about why, and their answers are fascinating.

For those unfamiliar with the ritual of the mikveh, it’s a space for married Jewish women, where they immerse in water after a menstrual cycle and after childbirth. The ritual is  done in privacy.

Seems fine, except that there is a double standard at work compared to men—are we surprised?  As the Forward notes, “for centuries, in most traditional communities, immersing in a mikveh, a ritual bath, on the eve of Yom Kippur, as a purification ritual before the day of atonement, was a man’s custom.”

Considering Yom Kippur is coming up, many Orthodox Jewish women are breaking this mold, and are going to the mikvehs with their daughters. Naomi Marmon Grumet, director of the Eden Center, a Jerusalem-based organization that seeks to make the mikveh experience better for women, told The Forward that it’s time for women to be treated the same as men:

“Women have as much stake in the spiritual preparation for Yom Kippur as men. [We want] to introduce the mikveh to your daughters in a spiritual yet non-sexually focused format.”

Others communities are taking similar steps. For instance, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Rebbetzin Rochie Pinson holds a class on Yom Kippur and allows women to immerse in the mikveh on Friday morning. Meanwhile, Chany Profesorske says her ritual bath community in Flatbush, Brooklyn is thriving, saying, “It’s inspiring to see the elderly ladies there, some with their aides. It’s a really long line, but it moves fast, since there’s no preparation needed.”

For many women, it’s also a time to bond with their daughters. Grumet, for example, brings her daughters with her:

“We find it a very meaningful way to get everyone into the Yom Kippur mood, and the understanding that there is a process of change and cleansing that goes on. On Yom Kippur, we want to meet God, and engage His Mercy. Going to the mikveh helps me to move past the physical cleanliness and think about true internal purity.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

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