Fairytales are not just for children. There are many fairytales for adults – a quite a few of them focus on religious life. Hansel and Gretel pale in comparison to stories of the 'hole in the sheet' and the Mikveh purification ceremony as the story goes, is like visiting the witch's house only the Mikveh attendant doesn't give out candy.
Well, couples getting ready to walk down the aisle no longer have to experience these tales of woe. The Mikveh on the other hand, is still essential.
Every couple registering for marriage at the rabbinate is requested to undergo couple's counseling after which the bride must go through the ritual purification ceremony at the mikveh. Needless to say, most couples would happily avoid both.
The Family Center established by the Maale Eliyahu yeshiva in Tel Aviv decided to take on the fairytales and allow secular couples the opportunity of getting a more personal couple's counseling experience through their center.
Some 40 couples belonging to Tel Aviv 'Garinim Toranim' - groups of idealistic, religious zionist individuals and families who try to effect social and religious development in underdeveloped communities, were trained for the program.
Any couple registering for marriage in the Tel Aviv Rabbinate can now choose exchange the counseling session for a 'date' with a religious couple, have a cup of coffee and hear about traditional Jewish matrimonial relations right from the source.
"There is a lot of prejudice" says Anat Yunger, who manages the family center, "people come here with a very negative outlook towards family purity. It seems primitive and old fashioned. Mikveh's are extremely misunderstood. It is seen as something disgusting and unnecessary.
"I think the negative image of the Mikveh might come from the fact that there are so many prohibitions and rules that people fail to notice that the 'main event' is the ritual immersion in the water. What people do accept is the physical distance that is maintained during a woman's menstruation period.
"I think everybody realizes what routine does to marriage and the reality is that people often commit adultery because they are trying to find regeneration outside the marriage, so when the regeneration comes within the marriage, it does the couple good."
When a new couple knocks on the Yunger's door they don't realize that the Yungers want what's best for them. They usually come because they've been told to.
"Couples coming to us have no idea what to expect" she says, "It's a mandatory meeting so they aren't really coming here because they want to and they have quite a few reservations. I see the surprise on their faces when they meet a young, open, colorful couple.
After getting acquainted we let them choose the topic of conversation – family purity or relationships. Relationships are the popular subject. They want to hear about relationships in traditional Jewish sources, or how to preserve friendship through years of marriage. A text we love to study together is the story of the creation of man. It's a lot of fun to study with someone who hasn't studied the commentary and who brings new ideas to the table.
Relationships, the Yunger's believe, take a lot of work and they don't hesitate to bring that up before the visiting couples: "It is important for us to emphasize to the couples that unlike certain outlooks that see marriage as a way to supply my needs so that I have someone who will love me and supply me with a sense of security, the Jewish outlook is that we marry in order to give the other what he or she needs, marriage is for what I give, not what I receive.
"We believe that we came into this world to complete tasks, and these tasks are done in places where I and my partner are different. The hardest work is done where we have tensions and disagreements. For example, I'm a very punctual person and I married someone who doesn't really concern himself with time, so through our relationship I can expand the range of my personality and fix one of my characteristics through my partner."
What do you talk about if the couple chooses to discuss family purity?
"Family purity is built on an elementary law within a person's soul, that people need rejuvenation. We show them how family purity makes that possible. We talk to them about us, and don't present it as something theoretical. We tell them how it rejuvenates our relationship on both a physical and a spiritual level.
"Family purity laws give each of us the opportunity to be alone, because the fact that we are married doesn't mean that we erase our personalities. We show them how Jewish laws and traditions respect a woman's body and her need to have time to herself. The examinations a woman is required to carryout during the seven days following her period, it's not something technical; it's about getting to know your body, where the highlight is going to the mikveh."
Not lecture, dialogue
In Family Center couples meeting there is no –teacher-student mentality. The goal is for the meeting to become a dialogue during which each side teaches the other something about relationships. Yunger stresses that "there is equality; I don't know which of us learns more. We learn from them and we have the opportunity to show them how the torah touches all aspects of life.
"Many times Judaism is seen as a religion that deals with the external sides of life like clothing or eating kosher and keeping Shabbat. At the end of the meeting they feel that unlike the rabbinate meetings where they are passive as they stand before someone who simply tells them what to do, here they have room to express their feelings, values and fears.
"Usually they leave here surprised. They realize that Judaism can be pleasant. Through these meetings I learnt that if I once thought that I have God in my life and secular people don't – well, it isn’t like that. I see that we are all alike and that at the end of the day, we all want the same things – a healthy relationship, raising our children to be good people and getting old together."
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