Wednesday, November 08, 2006

L'Havdil

L'havdil literally means "to separate" in Hebrew. The ritual ceremony separating between the Sabbath and the rest of the week is called havdala.

"L'havdil" (sometimes magnified with the additional "elef havdalos" - "one thousand differences") is used as a phrase by religious Jews to make a verbal transition from two completely different topics, usually when one is about mundane things and the other is about holy ones.

I couldn't help but think of this phrase when I heard about when and where the Gay "Pride" parade was scheduled.

You see, I will be in Jerusalem this coming Friday through Shabbat. No, not to protest, and definitely not to parade! I work part time as one of the balaniyot (attendants) of the mikvah in my yishuv. I will be in Jerusalem for a weekend workshop held once every two years for mikvah ladies who work in the settlements of the Shomron. (For a beautiful explanation of the ritual of mikvah immersion, see here.)

We get together for these workshops to learn from Rabbis and other mikvah ladies about what new issues have come up that affect our work. Medical advances and cosmetic procedures are always cropping up that require new halachic (Jewish law) rulings. At past conventions I have learned the newest abridged version of CPR, I have learned about tips on how to calm new brides who are using the mikvah for the first time, and I have learned about the responsibilities of a mikvah lady if she sees that one of her clients has been physically abused by her husband (which thank G-d I have never had to deal with).

Another reason that we get together is to share stories with other women who share the same work. If I am confronted with a delicate situation, or I am particularly moved emotionally by something that I have encountered, I have no other source of help or outlet for my feelings than these other women. I cannot speak to my friends, and especially not to my husband, about the things I deal with in my job, because of the need to protect the privacy of the women who use the mikvah.

Why am I telling you this? Because I think that it highlights one of the most central aspects of the Orthodox view on intimacy. My job as a mikvah attendant is really only a tangential part of the web of laws regarding marital relations, but even in this small area the ideas of modesty and discretion are paramount. One of the crucial tenets of my job is that I must be discreet. When there is a halachic question and I speak to the Rav of my yishuv, I give him the details, without giving any hint as to the identity of the woman in question. The fact that women use the mikvah at night is to protect their privacy. We even have the luxury, in our small community, of scheduling the women in such a way so that they avoid bumping into each other coming in or out.

Orthodox Jews are very careful (or should be) when discussing the topic of marital relations. We are careful never to be crude in our language and some things are never spoken about in mixed company. I think that many adults, of all faiths and religious levels, can see that this is one way of treating this part of life with the dignity it deserves.

Compare this, l'havdil, to the very idea of the Gay "Pride" Parade. Here you have a group of people, some if not all clad in outlandish costumes, who want to walk down the street and announce their sexual proclivities. Then add the fact that they want to specifically do this in a city which is considered holy by all three major religions.

I personally find this highly offensive, as do many others. (And yes, I would find it just as offensive if it were heterosexuals doing the parading). The fact that a small minority are taking this sense of affront to violent extremes has caused quite a lot of attention to be paid to them, and has opened the way for many bloggers to write indignant posts about the violence, while ignoring the main issue. Some have even, ironically, claimed that those who are against the parade just hate people who they find objectionable, and then use this excuse to enumerate the reasons why they personally hate the Charedim! You can't have it both ways folks - either you judge individuals on their merits alone and not because they are part of a group or you don't - black coats and hats are not an exception!

There has been a call for a non-violent protest to take part at the same time as the parade. Unfortunately, due to the law of physics, I will not be there because I can't be in two places at once.

So, I won't be protesting. Or better yet, I will be - in a circuitous way. I'll be learning ways to help add kedusha (holiness) to the very beautiful gift of intimacy that G-d has given to us.

No matter what, l'havdil, is going on outside.

21 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

WBM

I think this is a great post, and even though I disagree on some points, you eloquently explain the opposition of many to the pride march, a thousand times better than any riot, burning rubbish bin or stabbing ever will. Unlike with your post, the impression given by most of the 'antis' I have come across, is that rather than acting out of love for Jerusalem, Jews and Judaism they are acting more out of ego, personal spite or stam hatred.

Yellow Boy

12:27 PM, November 08, 2006  
Blogger tafka PP said...

Here you have a group of people, some if not all clad in outlandish costumes, who want to walk down the street and announce their sexual proclivities

Just wanted to point out that few people who march at Pride (in any city around the world) match that description. Many of the plain-clothed folk who join the march do so in solidarity, not "pro" the gay lifestyle, rather "anti" discrimination against those who live it. And I think that while sadly there many be some hangers-on marching on Friday whose motivation is that they hate Charedim, the large majority will remain concerned with the wider issue of fighting against discrimination.

12:51 PM, November 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

westbankmama- I just want to thank you for your very eloquent post. I agree that our sexuality and how we express it should be a private matter between G-d and ourselves and treated with dignity. I was also fascinated by your work as a mikvah attendant. I wondered if you might be able to talk more about that in a separate post?

2:59 PM, November 08, 2006  
Blogger Don Radlauer said...

I would like to add to what Purple Parrot said: Not only will most of the marchers on Friday be decorously attired; a lot of them will be "straights", marching as a gesture of solidarity and marching against attempts to restrict people's right to free speech and free assembly.

It's unfortunate that you (and many other good people) will feel offended by this march. On the other hand, we should all remember that there is no inherent right not to be offended; free speech rights exist precisely to protect the expression of unpopular views. The fact that much of the opposition to this march has been of the form, "X% of all Jerusalites oppose this march, therefor it shouldn't be held" does not convince me that the march shouldn't be held; it merely shows how many Israelis (and Americans, judging by comments coming from that side of the Pond - and Americans really should know better) need some lessons in democracy.

5:00 PM, November 08, 2006  
Blogger muse said...

A truly wonderful post!
yasher kochech!

11:22 PM, November 08, 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

Yellow boy - thank you very much. This is exactly what I had intended.

Purple - not being an afficianado of gay pride parades, I have based my assumption on the pictures accompanying the articles in the mainstream media.

regina - I don't feel right posting about this topic - for the reasons that I enumerated. I even debated with myself for mentioning it here - but the "coincidence" of the workshop and the parade being on the same day and the same place pushed me to write. If you have questions you can e-mail me and I will be happy to answer you privately.

don - ahh, you would be right in another part of the world - but in Israel you know as well as I that some people's "right to be offended" trumps others "right to free speech" every time. Otherwise I would be able to exercise my right to declare a chapter of Tehillim on Har Habayit, despite the feeling of offense experienced by the Muslims in Israel. In this case the courts/police etc. give in to the threats of violence without batting an eyelash. We are not in Kansas Dorothy!

muse - thank you!

7:08 AM, November 09, 2006  
Blogger tafka PP said...

Well, if there's a picture in the media, well, it must be true!

- btw isn't it explicitly assur for you (or anyone who isn't the Cohen Gadol) to say prayers on Har HaBayit? Surely THAT trumps whether you offend the Muslims who legally control it?

9:37 AM, November 09, 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

tafka - ahh, your question is better put to Jameel or Joe Settler, who probably have all of the details - but as I have heard it, the answer is this: There are places on Har HaBayit that are off limits to us, and places, after mikvah immersion and while not wearing shoes, that are considered by some to be acceptable.

10:11 AM, November 09, 2006  
Blogger bec said...

i totally didn't expect to ever see the words "gay pride" and "mikvah" mentioned in the same post....
i always wondered about mikvah ladies and if they know how wonderful they can be and how hard it can sometimes be to go to the mikvah, especially for people just starting out. a good mikvah lady is such a blessing, and thank g*d, most of the ones i've had have been exemplary. and i completely agree, just being a mikvah lady is the ultimate protest!

4:23 AM, November 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm...I'm not sorry (hehe), I do not agree with you and with most of the posters here, obviously.
Isn't Jerusalem the capital of the state of Isreal? And isn't Israel a DEMOCRATIC country??? So what about "holy" or not holy? What has this to do with the rights of citizens to demonstrate their issues in public? Sexuality is part of human life, and why should this be exlused from being posed in public???! I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS, and I'm not sorry for it. Anyone who is questioning the rights of citizens should be sorry, instead. If "holy"means excluding real life, than it's worth nothing. Religion for the people - NOT people for religion!
Just my opinion.

Elli

2:32 AM, November 11, 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

anonymous - nudity is also part of real life - does that mean that people can walk nude down the street? There are always limits put on human behavior in a society based on values. In Jerusalem, a city considered holy by all three religions, "protesting" in favor of your sexuality is not considered appropriate by a majority of the people.

Orthodox Jews bring holiness into real life - they are not mutually exclusive. That is why we bless G-d before we eat, why we bless G-d for healthy bodies, and we have rituals specifically geared for marriage and sex. Combining the two - holiness and what you call "real life", is what makes us spiritual human beings.

7:30 AM, November 12, 2006  
Anonymous Isabelle said...

This is a beautiful and thought-provoking post. Thank you westbankmama.

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