Written by Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein
Did you see the moon the other night? The skinny, little, beautiful, new moon. Rosh Hodesh Kislev, the new month of Kislev, the one where Chanukah, the season of rededication comes. Rosh Hodesh is known as a half-holiday for women. It’s been reclaimed and now groups of women get together on Rosh Hodesh and do a variety of things. Some sing, some dance, some daven (pray), some study, some drum, some gather and eat. Some have created their own rituals.
Women’s cycles and moon cycles are often correlated. But what if they are not? What happens when a woman begins to enter menopause and her cycles are no longer regular? How does a woman manage the halachic (Jewish legal) obligation when no longer fertile? What does the Conservative Movement say about this? That was the question I was greeted with one night when I guided at Mayyim Hayyim. It is a question I am beginning to wrestle with personally as I approach menopause. (Sh! I am not there yet. I once got sent to my room for even mentioning to our babysitter that my mother had gone through “the change!” I am glad we live in a time where we can talk about such things, even blog about them.) In a quick look at the halachic literature I could find nothing to address this question. In the Orthodox world it seemed simple. If you were not niddah (Hebrew term for a woman in menstruation), you don’t need to immerse.
But what if you want to? One Chabad source suggested that every post-menopausal woman should immerse one last time—or even one first time—to make all the previous unions blessed and kosher. It also suggested that post-menopausal women should be encouraged to immerse once a year on Erev Yom Kippur. Another source suggested that while women who are not niddah are not obligated to immerse, they may continue to do so. The preparation does not have to be as scrupulous. Right—no period means you don’t have to count “clean days” any more. That began to answer my question personally but not the immersee’s question.
What I realized is that I don’t want to lose my monthly connection to those living waters. Mayyim Hayyim has been such a positive experience in my life, it is a non-judgmental place of warmth, friendship, support, safety It is a refuge—filled with light and serenity and intentionality.
Maybe post-menopausal women who want to immerse monthly might consider Rosh Hodesh. It would not be required but it would be a chance to pause in our busy months, to reflect, to continue to heal and celebrate, to reconnect with the Divine and ourselves. Not because we have to but because we want to. It would be a time of hope, renewal and promise. Because, for me, I need those things every month, not just once a year. As we celebrate Chanukah, the season of rededication and light, come join me recreating something new out of something ancient. I’ll be at Mayyim Hayyim on Rosh Hodesh that falls during Chanukah, whether for niddah or not.
Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein, a Mikveh Guide at Mayyim Hayyim, is a graduate of the Academy for Jewish Religion. She serves as the Principal of Congregation Beth Israel in Andover, MA and on the Jewish Domestic Violence Coalition. She blogs as the Energizer Rabbi.