Monday, June 30, 2008

Why men don't court women anymore

I will be brutally honest: the situation in the singles' world today makes me happy I'm already married. Over the time while I've been writing here on "Domestic Felicity", and especially since I got engaged, I received several emails from young girls asking advice on how to find a good man and how to act in course of a courtship.

I don't have a magical solution, and I do know that the prospects can sometimes seem almost hopeless. As a single woman, you are surrounded by a generation of men who wouldn't think of opening a door for a woman, of carrying her coat or bag, or treating her by buying something nice when they ask her out. Wait, did I say ask her out? There are more than enough men out there who won't do even that. They will expect the woman to make the first move. Needless to say, they will also expect their wife to provide when they finally take the plunge and get married (which often doesn't happen until their late thirties), and preferably earn as much or more than they do.

Sadly, we have to admit that these attitudes didn't pop out of nowhere. This generation of men was brought up by women who had it hammered into their heads that having a man show courtesy towards them is humiliating, as well as their husband providing for them. Men were bullied out of gallantry, and the result is before us; the young man who treats a young lady like "one of the buddies" grows a few years older and expects his wife to fend for herself.

Despite that, many good women today are happily married to excellent men - which means these men are out there. There are still men who treasure feminine gentleness and want to protect their wives; there are still men who are ready to provide for their families. You just need to look out for them. A man doesn't wear a "Good Guy" sign. The kind, reliable, trustworthy, steady, hardworking, supportive men are often quiet and modest - and those who try to draw attention to themselves are often precisely the ones you should stay away from.

Years ago, I became infatuated with someone who didn't show signs of being interested in me. Had I been raised with the knowledge that the woman must be courted, it would have stopped right then. Instead, I continued to pursue him. He turned out to be self-centered, exploitative, and abusive on top of all. I realized it probably wasn't the way.

If you don't live in a close-knit religious community, and if your parents aren't involved in the process of making introductions, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Orthodox Jews have professional matchmakers and websites for religious singles, which has been especially wonderful for the shy, the detached, the lonely and the new guy (or girl) in town. However, I must say that a great deal of caution must be practiced here - the online world might be dangerous.

When my husband started courting me, I never called him until we were engaged. He was always the one who came to pick me up, and always the one who paid. Of course I'm not saying a girl should take advantage of men by ordering the most expensive item on the menu, but scrupulously splitting the bill for two cups of coffee seems to have taken away much of the courtesy in conquering a woman. It's a man's nature to win the woman's heart. Yes, I believe it still is, and if we act like ladies who need to be courted, we will attract those men who will treat us like princesses and remain our knights when they win our hand in marriage.

Being sweet, charming, gentle, courteous, delicate and feminine will encourage potential suitors not to be afraid of being men.

The way my husband is happy to cook and clean when I'm not feeling well, makes him no less knightly in my eyes than if he were actually clad in armor and riding a white stallion. I'm so happy I gave myself the chance to be a princess, because now he makes me feel like one!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

When housekeeping is on the back burner

Hi there, dear friends. I hope you are having a wonderful day/weekend. Our weekend is - too soon - over, and a new week begins. I hope it will be a good, joyful and productive one, and wish the same to you.

Last week, I didn't get a lot done around here. I spent one day visiting my mother and grandmother and doing errands; for another couple of days, my husband has been feeling ill and stayed home, and I was busy taking care of him; and the next day I didn't feel well myself. Which meant, at the time, that I was happy to have at least clean socks and dishes. If it weren't for my dear sweet husband, who cooked for us, we'd have to eat sandwiches throughout the entire Shabbat.

Right now, our little home contains more mess and clutter than I would think reasonable, and I look forward to tackling it. It's around midday - our beds are made, laundry is waiting to be hanged, trash can is emptied, post is picked up and a few phone calls were done. I just had a quick lunch, and look forward to rest between fluffy pillows, before I resume my work. I must note that I didn't plan to take a nap so early, but I just talked with my husband, who reminded me that I'm still not entirely back to normal, and insisted that I must lie down for a while. Which I will do as soon as I'm done writing a note to you here.

The wonderful thing about homemaking is that you can be terribly behind any schedule and plan, but if you have no lack of motivation, there will inevitably be an oppotunity to catch up - and after you have cheerfully done that, you can savor a cup of tea in your sweet, clean, tidy home, while watching the laundry hanging out in the fresh air outside and waiting for a batch of homemade cookies to come out of the oven.

I'm off to spend some time in bed with a good book, and perhaps I will close my eyes for a couple of minutes. I want to do quite a bit more before my husband comes home, and also to spend time with him while I still have some energy left in me. That's one of the reasons why I love the opportunity to have a midday rest.

PS: In the comments to my previous post, I was asked whether it is true that Jews normally don't announce pregnancy until three months have passed. Yes, we do have such a tradition. Some don't tell about the pregnancy at all, and most avoid talking about it publicly. It is known that most miscarriages occur in the first trimester, and if such a sad and tragic event happens, the grieving woman might not want everyone to know. Keeping it private will allow her to share just with whomever she feels comfortable.

May none of us know the pain of such a loss.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

On the road to motherhood: what to eat when sickness hits

I received the following question through my nutrition thread and thought it merits a separate post:

"My husband and I just found out (to our great delight) that we are expecting our second child. The beginning stage of pregnancy leaves me utterly exhausted. Since I work full-time (which will stop when the baby is born!) I don't have many opportunities for rest and nap. Combine that with fairly severe sickness (which is not limited to the morning!) and I find myself extremely low on energy. I'm also finding it difficult to eat much of anything. (I lost 20 pounds in the first trimester of my first pregnancy! Eventually, I had to take some medicine for the hyperemesis, but there were no further complications. I'd like to avoid that if I can.) What recommendations do you have for foods that I should focus on? I know that there will be a few weeks when I can only choke down a few bites, and I want to know which foods should be given priority during this time (I'm also on good prenatal vitamins)."

First, congratulations on your wonderful news! Many women experience nausea at some point during pregnancy, in varying degrees of seriousness. Some just feel queasy a couple of times in their first trimester; others feel sick throughout the entire pregnancy.

Try not to let yourself become very hungry. Even if you feel like you can't keep anything down, sometimes not eating for many hours is precisely what makes you sick. If your blood glucose level is low, it can make nausea worse. Try to eat a few crackers or something else with carbohydrates first thing in the morning.

Generally your best bet is to eat smaller portions, eat slowly, and have your meals more frequently. For example, if you are used to three meals during the day, you might feel better if your main meals are lighter, and two or three small meals are added in between. Some women snack throughout the entire day in the first few weeks of pregnancy, unable to eat a whole meal - which is fine, if that's what helps you deal with sickness.

Listen to your instincts. Every woman is different, and your senses are probably trying to give you hints anyway. If something doesn't look good to you at the moment, avoid it, no matter how "good for you" it's supposed to be. Can't stand eggs? Don't fuss about the protein. Developed a dislike for garlic? Forget about its health benefits. According to your personal preferences, try to make your menu as non-irritating as possible.

What do I mean by "non-irritating"? Again, it's different for every woman, but many deal better with foods that don't aggressively attack our taste buds and smell receptors, like fresh fruit and vegetables, bread or toast, cheese without strong smell or flavor, lean fish and chicken. Often the foods that make your sickness worse are spicy, fried, strong-flavored or fatty.

Of course, you should try and continue to make your meals as balanced as possible. Just try and combine them from foods that you find to be non-irritating (for you).

I hope this was somewhat helpful, and look forward to hearing the advice of more experienced ladies. If you are pregnant, or already have a pregnancy or two (or more) behind you, you are invited to share your experience.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Canning and preserving

In the past, canning and preserving foods used to be the number one method to supply fruit and vegetables during months when they weren't available. My grandparents owned a garden that supplied them with fresh produce in the summer months, and at the end of summer, my grandmother, mother and aunt found themselves surrounded by boiling pots, glass jars and labels. They made pickled cucumbers, canned tomatoes, and a whole array of jams.

The garden was sold after my grandfather's death, when no one was willing or able to continue taking care of it. It happened a long time before I was born, but the excitement of harvest was conveyed to me through my mother's stories, and Mom still has a burning passion for making her own preserves.

Today, we live in an age when practically anything can be found available all the time, at every season - although often, at high prices and with the additional cost of flavor and nutritional value of the fruit and vegetables we consume being damaged in favor of larger size and long shelf-life. Fruit is picked early and ripened artificially, so that it doesn't accumulate all the nutrients it could have if it had been given the opportunity to ripen properly. It's not by chance that almost every older person will tell you fruit and vegetables tasted better 50 years ago - they really did.

With today's soaring prices of food, and the increasing desire all over the world to return to simpler life - for which no replacement was found after all, in all the years that passed since the Industrial Revolution, I think it is inevitable that people start growing more of their own food. For better health, better taste, sustainability, and the satisfaction of eating something you planted with your own hands.

My husband and I hope to start our first garden as soon as the Sabbatical year ends here in Israel. We are supposed to move around Rosh Hashana (the Jewish new year), which is, if I remember correctly, around the end of September this time. So far, the only things I have planted (in pots) in the past were herbs (like dill and peppermint) and green onions - and they were greatly enjoyed as well, not to mention that they added to the pleasant atmosphere in the kitchen. I'm looking forward to having a real garden, however small it might be at first, and I'm already preparing by reading every material I can lay my hands on.

A very useful online resource is Rhonda Jean's wonderful blog, Down to Earth. I think I have mentioned it once or twice already. Rhonda has written many wonderful articles about gardening, canning, raising chickens, simple living, frugality and sustainability, and generously shares with us on her blog. If you are interested in any of the above, you will enjoy visiting Rhonda and browsing through her archives, as well as new articles (sorted into sections).

In the meantime before we start growing our own veggies (and maybe even fruit), I decided it would also be useful to learn a bit about canning. I thought I'd start with something simple, like pickled cucumbers - my mother makes them much better than store-bought - and picked up my grandmother's old Romanian cookbook. Here are the instructions I followed:

"Take fresh cucumbers and as many glass jars as you need. Wash jars with boiling water before use, and place the cucumbers in, tightly packed, with some sliced garlic and grains of black pepper. Pour boiling water with salt over cucumbers, using 3 tsp. of salt for every cup of water. Cover every jar with a clean cloth, and leave for a couple of days, until the desired level of saltiness is reached."

Remembering my mother's cucumbers started looking like pickles after just one day, I wondered why mine didn't. A call to my mother helped me realize I forgot the part of the instructions that mentioned covering a jar with a clean cloth. Instead I closed my jar with a lid, which prevented air coming through - a necessary part of the natural process. I removed the lid and replaced it with a cloth, and now it seems as though my cucumbers are coming along nicely. If they are good, I'll make more in a few days.

I'm feeling better, but now my dear husband is a bit unwell. He will stay home again today, and didn't get up yet. I think I will gently check if he is awake, and offer to make a cup of coffee and something nice for a late breakfast. You have a wonderful day!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Just a quick hello

Hi there, dear friends. I hope everyone had a lovely day. I had my husband here at home with me today, and it has been a huge blessing to be able to spend an entire day together, apart from Shabbat of course. Of course, it means not much got done around here regarding household chores (I still have unfolded laundry from yesterday, waiting for me to tackle it), but it can wait. Spending time with my sweetheart is more important. :-)

Thank you so much for all your wonderful comments and emails, and particularly for the valuable advice about raising goats. I gleaned some very interesting information. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. By the way, I apologize for the delay in posting your comments - yesterday I had some problems with Blogger that wouldn't let me sign in.

Tomorrow, I expect to have a busy day, as the week goes on and work piles up -but unfortunately I haven't been feeling particularly well today. I hope I feel better tomorrow. Your prayers would be appreciated.

I've started learning about canning and preserving vegetables, which is something I've always found intriguing. I use tips from a 50-year-old Romanian cookbook (published in Russian), and they have been pretty helpful, as can be a quick call to my mother. I hope to share more with you about canning, sewing, knitting, and all the daily joys and challenges of homemaking - really soon.

But right now I'm off to bed. I hope you're looking forward to a warm soft bed as well, or to the beginning of another lovely day - depending on which part of the world you are.

Mrs. T

Monday, June 23, 2008

New wives - learning all the time

Lady Lydia wrote a wonderful article about the importance of the first year of marriage to you as a wife and homemaker. If you haven't read it yet, you definitely should!

The time before babies come along is a unique period of your life as a homemaker and it will not be repeated again. Of course, I understand that not every couple will have a child within the first year or two of marriage; if and when children arrive depends on the Lord's plan alone. However, the first year is typically spent without children for almost every married couple.

There is so much to be done during that time - getting used to running your own household, creating an efficient homemaking schedule and adapting it to your husband's, and mastering all the useful skills you might not have had time to learn prior to marriage.

Some say it is a waste of time not to work outside the home before you have children, and that the money earned by the wife during that period can provide a nice cushion. Money can be easily wasted, however - as can time.

If you are a new wife, right now is the time to practice all the skills that will be so useful later on, but can be nearly impossible to learn from scratch when you have one or more little ones to take care of.

Many young wives, like myself, have a lot of catching up to do in the area of domestic arts. The link of knowledge passing from mother to daughter was broken in the previous generation, and often we lack knowledge in the very basics of housekeeping. I was 20 before I could operate a washing machine. And only two short years later, I found myself married, with a household of my own. I'm far, far from having sufficient knowledge!

Even if you can somehow manage the basics, so many lovely and useful arts are yet to be learned: fancier cooking and baking; sewing, knitting, crochet, embroidery, and other types of needlework that can help you beautify your home and create priceless gifts for your loved ones; gardening; canning; and I could go on and on. The list of wonderful, creative pursuits is endless. Most importantly, I think, we should try and develop an efficient basic schedule we will be able to work with during busier periods of our lives.

Today, there are endless resources to help you learn - which is wonderful, because many women don't have anyone who can teach them. You can find online videos and tutorials just about anything. Websites such as www.knittinghelp.com are extremely helpful as well.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Simple stitches


apron 002, originally uploaded by Anna's musings.

Hello there! We had the loveliest weekend here, and I hope that the last couple of days have been wonderful for you as well. With the beginning of a new week, I'm looking forward to many delightful homey activities (beside my usual routine): organizing, cooking, baking, trying out new recipes, and of course - my crafts.

Rose asked me how I'm teaching myself to sew. I must say I'm very, very late on learning this wonderfully useful and satisfying work - while many young women my age are already expert seamstresses, I'm just making my very first apron now. A couple of years ago I couldn't even fix a loose button! I'm stitching by hand, because we haven't purchased a sewing machine yet, but I don't mind, since I see it as useful practice. I'm making it from a light fabric, suitable for our hot summer, with a nice big pocket at the front where I can place notes, pens, and various household items.

Since I'm learning from scratch, I'm using a wonderful book that is intended for children, with clear instructions and illustrations for all the basic stitches made both by hand and with a sewing machine. It's just perfect for beginners, and I hope to keep it for our future children as well. I'd find it online and link to it if it weren't in Russian.

***

Another lady asked me a question about my homemaking journal, which I mentioned in one of the previous post. It's a simple notebook divided into a few sections, but it really helps me concentrate on my work and be focused. Here's a brief description of what it contains:

1) Home. This one holds my weekly shopping list, to-do lists, and of course, coupons. I compiled two master to-do lists for myself. One for basic daily chores (wash dishes, make sure laundry is caught up, take out garbage etc...) and one with reminders for shopping/cleaning days. I also compiled a master shopping list, which I can check if I'm confused about the weekly shopping list. This section also contains a few FlyLady tips and inspirational homemaking quotes. That's a section that helps me 'stay tuned' in the more basic things.

2) Long-term projects. Here I keep a list of all my projects that take a longer time to complete, and are less crucial to basic household management. For example: re-organizing the kitchen cabinets, polishing silverware, mending clothes; and also, my crafts list and blog post/other writing projects ideas. This is a section I check out if I'm left with some idle time on my hands; it usually turns out I have numerous planned projects I just forgot about.

3) Food. Here are my menu ideas and new recipes that are waiting to be tried. After I tried them, they will be copied to my recipes notebook - much better than having them sticking out from every corner and then getting lost eventually.

4) Expenses. I'm still working on this one, but here I plan to write out our budget, a list of things we are paying for, grocery bills and other bills, and a summary of each month's expenses which I can later compare and see if we are improving or struggling in certain areas.

As time goes by, I hope my homemaking journal will expand and contain sections for gardening, raising children, and more.

***

And finally, TheRetroHousewife sent a question about the recipe for my homemade tomato sauce. I usually don't stick to a certain recipe when I make it; most often, I start with chopping an onion and sauteeing it until golden, in a small pot. Then I add the desired amount of ripe, red tomatoes, thinly chopped, and let it all bubble and simmer until the tomatoes let out their juices. I can then add, depending on taste and mood, chopped garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, chili sauce, etc.

***

Now, I have a question for you ladies as well. My husband and I are thinking of buying a goat for a supply of fresh milk, and we also want to try our hand at cheese-making. We already received a few tips from a kind neighbor who has a small goat farm. Has any of you ever owned goats, and if you did, what was your experience?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Those days with "nothing to do"

Usually, when people ask, "what on earth does a woman - especially with no children - do at home all day long?", the answer is pretty much obvious. Even though the typical homemaker's day isn't as hectic-paced as it is considered "normal" in our crazy modern world (who would want it to be, anyway?), her hours are usually filled with organizing her home, cleaning, laundry, cooking, baking, scheduling, menu planning, shopping, running errands for her family and a myriad chores that pop up.

The opportunity to do all that needs to be done during the day leaves the evening free for relaxed, unhurried time spent together with our dear husbands, who need it more than anything when they come home from work.

Usually, I'm busy during the day with my routine works. However, yesterday was one of those rare days when laundry was caught up, cleaning was done as well, and there were plenty of leftovers so I didn't have to cook either. So what was I to do, after a quick pick-up around the house and washing the dishes from last night?

First, I took my homemaking journal and opened it at the back section: less-than-urgent things I have been planning to do for a long time, but never had the chance to approach. One of them was sorting through all our papers - old bills, old magazines, ads we received by mail, newsletters etc. It took a long time, because I haven't done that in a while, and I ended up throwing a large pile of junk. I also found a few unopened letters we have been looking for, and couldn't find because they were buried in a mess of papers.

After having lunch, I gladly took up the opportunity to settle down on the couch with my needlework for the rest of the afternoon. I'm currently teaching myself how to sew, and since we don't have a sewing machine yet, I'm practising hand-stitches in the meantime. I also made progress on my knitting, crochet and cross-stitch projects that I had abandoned for a while. I'm good at beginning projects but it takes me a long, long time to complete them. I'm looking forward to having a photo of one of my completed creations to share, as simple as they might be compared to what some of you are doing. After all, the first time I held knitting needles in my hands was when I was about 20 or so.

Today I have many more pressing things on schedule. I have to plan Shabbat's menu and compile a shopping list, and preferably cook something for Shabbat today already. I also have some baking to do, my husband's shirts to iron, and some cleaning. My husband went out to work about 20 minutes ago, and I decided to pop in for a quick hello before beginning today's chores. You have a lovely day!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pizza night

Yesterday, I decided to throw in something easy, fun and yummy. Something like... homemade pizza. A quick scan of the refrigerator made it clear that I have no yeast on hand - and since it was late afternoon, the one small shop we have around here was already closed.

For a moment, I became discouraged. But since my heart was already set on pizza, I decided to try this super-easy no-yeast pizza crust:

2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2\3 cup water

Mix all ingredients together and knead until forming a workable ball of dough. Roll it out as thinly as you like and spread a few drops of olive oil on top.

Use your favorite tomato sauce (I prefer to make mine from fresh tomatoes), the toppings you like, and sprinkle with a generous amount of cheese. Bake until cheese melts and becomes nice and golden.

I love using yeast - it truly gives a special flavor to whatever you bake. But if you're stuck with no yeast and still want to make pizza, this one can be an alternative.

The pizza, with some fresh salad on the side and sliced peach for dessert, was enthusiastically consumed by my hungry husband, who said it's much better than most store-bought pizzas. I wish I could share a picture with you - beside the illustration photo I put at the top, but I didn't think of taking one before most of it was gone. So you'll just have to imagine the fresh warm crust with homemade tomato sauce and toppings of olives and mushrooms, and bubbling cheese on top... yum!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Motivation for the homemaker

Amanda asked me the following question a couple of days ago:

"I assume you have days when you're just "off". That is, you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, ordinary things rub you the wrong way, you have little to no patience. (At least, I HOPE I'm not the only one who has days like this!) How do you handle such days? Do you have a trick for snapping yourself out of it? Or tips for dealing with it?

The last couple of days I've just been on edge; I have little to no patience with my kiddos. I know you don't have children (yet!), but you seem to have such a good grasp on this sort of thing, I thought perhaps you'd have some advice for me."

First, dear Amanda, let me assure you - you are not the only one having "those days"! I have them; good hardworking women like my mother and grandmother have them; in fact, everyone I know has them! Ordinary things you are used to, or normally even enjoy, annoy you. You find no pleasure in the sun shining outside, and see no hopeful prospects for the day. The question is, how do you deal with it?

If I could give you just one bit of advice, it would be: do something. From my experience as a homemaker, both at my mother's home and now here in my own little household - sitting around and giving into feelings of frustration and depression will only result in a gloomier mood. For example, yesterday I didn't stay home, but joined my husband on his trip to the city - I had some errands to do, and later I took advtange of the opportunity to visit Grandma. Later, when we came home, there was a pile of dishes in the sink. To my shame, I will admit they weren't even from the morning, but from last night (my husband came from work very late, and it was past midnight by the time we finished our late dinner - I simply had no energy left to wash dishes). I found myself frustrated with the amount of dishes, the time they have been sitting in my sink, and the prospect of having to wash them now.

However, when I rolled up my sleeves, put on my apron, and got to work, somehow it didn't seem so horrible anymore. By the time I finished, I was already enjoying the soapy water flowing through my fingers and the cleanliness of the dishes as I put them away to dry.

Add a few touches of loveliness that will encourage you in your work. Do you like good music? Put some on, to keep you cheery while you are working (I have a special tune for my routine pick-up through the house in the mornings). Find your inspiration by looking at beautiful flowers? Use some fresh flowers as your centerpiece, buy a poster depicting a flowering garden, or even use a pretty picture of flowers as your desktop background. Love sweet scents? Dab a few drops of essential oil on a piece of cloth, and hang it near your kitchen sink, to inhale its aroma while you are working. And on and on - whatever ideas that might cheer you up.

Reward yourself by interspacing the tasks you like less, with things you love to do. For example, if today is dusting and washing day for you, and you happen to like cleaning less than your other works, bake a pretty cake or pie in between, or make a batch of cookies that will fill the house with their delicious aroma. Or find a little while to do some needlework, or work on whatever type of projects you like (scrapbooking, gardening, painting) during the day. Go out for a little walk - I love, when possible, to browse - usually without actually buying - through my favorite shops, and especially those that inspire me in the area of homemaking: shops for quality home supplies, knitting supplies stores, antique shops that display lovely household items. Drink your coffee from the prettiest cup you have. Put on a pretty dress (when practical). Prettiness has a way of making one's mind cheerful.

Sing a cheerful song or just hum to yourself. Send a generous smile to yourself and others, even if you don't feel like it at the moment. Browse through a photo album, to bring memories of a particularly lovely day you have captured in pictures. Read a few pages of a favorite book - and soon you will feel things are brightening, and will realize it's actually not such a bad day after all.

As for children, you rightly noticed I don't have children yet; however, I realize what a difficult, challenging work childrearing is. I'm already sending my prayers to the Lord, that if/when He chooses to bless us with a child, He would also help me to find the abundance of unconditional love, patience, kindness, cheerfulness, caring, giving and energy that are needed so much on the journey of motherhood. I know mothers who stay at home with their children, but rarely speak a kind, encouraging word; mothers who most often snap at their children for getting in the way of their work. I don't judge - oh, I know I'm not in the position to - but I pray, pray, pray to become the mother He wants me to be, and I believe you should first and foremost do the same.

Days are fleeting, and children grow up so fast. I remember reading a blog that is now closed, of a very dear, precious lady. She had many children of various ages and personalities, and encouraged us all to remember precious days with our children are passing by, and time is limited. She especially encouraged homemakers not to be tempted to shove little children away for a fleeting efficiency of household tasks that will have to be done again, and again, and again. Rather, she advised, let your children be right alongside you as you work. My husband told me he remembers how, when he and his siblings were little, their mother (now my dear mother-in-law) used to have them in the kitchen with her whenever she worked. While she was doing dishes, she talked with them and sang to them, and let them help her. Did her little ones get in her way? Did they make her work slower? Probably, but she put a higher value on training her children to be cheerful workers and eager helpers.

Again, as I'm not a mother yet, I don't quite feel adequate to give advice about training children, but I would love to hear from those of you who already have little ones in their home, and have had to deal with various kinds of situations on the path of parenting.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Beautiful times





From our lovely trip to the seaside, last Friday. Don't you just love the picture of that mossy rock? And those two dogs playing in the water were simply adorable. I wish we had a better picture of them. What a beautiful afternoon it was - just a few hours before the peace of Shabbat reigned over us.

A gift received by mail from a sweet friend I met through the blogging world - beautiful dishcloths, a lovely tablecloth (not displayed here), a pot holder, a very cute doily, and a sweet card with the kindest words of friendship and encouragement. How blessed I was to receive this package! How thankful I am to all the dear ones who generously shared their time, creativity, and friendship, and sent us wedding gifts - lovely, timely, practical gifts, which immediately found a use in our little home. It seems that we have been magically provided with all those things we simply didn't have time to buy in the flurry of wedding preparations, then settling into our new home.



And, last but not least, a simple but yummy dish we enjoyed for yesterday's dinner - pasta with baked veggies and fresh homemade tomato sauce.

I had an eggplant and a zucchini sitting at the back of my refrigerator, so I chopped them, salted, peppered and olive-oiled them, and threw them into the oven for 40 minutes. I think they can be good grilled as well.

Then I took one small onion, chopped and sauteed it until golden-brown; three large, ripe red tomatoes, which I also thinly chopped and threw into a small pot together with the onion. I let it all boil and bubble and simmer until the tomatoes let out their juice, and then I salted, peppered and added some sweet chili sauce to taste. It smelled terrific!

I served all this rich goodness over two cups of cooked pasta, and it was eagerly consumed by myself and my hungry husband.

By the way, the plate you see in the picture is one of a set we got in the first days of our marriage. A neighbour who hardly used them meant to discard them in order to free up space in the cupboard, and we eagerly volunteered to give them a place in our home. They are good, sturdy ceramic dishes, and even though they are a bit heavy, I love them.

Hope your day was equally lovely. I'm looking forward to more days of savoring the summer, the sunshine, the gorgeous mountains around us, my dear husband, my home - and plenty of good company, long, easy conversations, laughter, and delicious food!

Your friend,

Mrs. T

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The beginning of a new week

Hi, everyone! I hope you had (or are having) a terrific weekend. My husband and I had the sweetest, most restful Shabbat we could possibly wish for. I must admit we were slightly pressed with time right before that - we spent Friday outside; did some errands, then went for a lovely long walk by the sea shore. It was one of those rocky, less-than-attractive beaches (to most bathers), so we've been able to keep mostly to ourselves, letting the waves lick our feet, picking up interesting shells and rocks. Not only it is fun and makes you feel like a child again, but a glass bowl filled with shells and rocks from the sea shore is one of my favorite ideas for a centerpiece - and it doesn't cost you anything, either.

I took our camera and we had some pictures made, but unfortunately, for some reasons the fickle internet connection here won't allow me to upload pictures (either directly to the blog or through Flickr), so I suppose sharing them with you will have to wait until I visit my mother - I'll be looking forward to that.

Anyway, we arrived only an hour before Shabbat, and there was still a lot to be done (fortunately I had all our food prepared beforehand), not to mention both of us needed a good thorough shower to wash off the sand and salt. But the moment I lit the candles, it was all over and we were looking towards 25 hours of perfect undisturbed rest and peace. Thank you, dear God, for giving us the gift of Shabbat.

... Regarding my post about abortion and birth control from the previous week: someone asked my opinion about a complete, legally rooted ban on abortions. To this I can say, it wasn't by chance that I didn't bring it up in the original discussion.

To me, brutally removing a tiny baby from its mother's womb, when it isn't done for the sole purpose of saving the mother's life from a grave and inevitable danger, is just as unthinkable as amputating an arm or a leg without it endangering the life of the person in question.

Amputating a limb isn't illegal; however, no mentally balanced person would consider removing a healthy arm. And even if the arm was crooked, or broken, or in some other way not functioning normally, no one would willingly remove his or her arm. The only situation when it might be considered is when the arm is so infected that not removing it would result in a grave danger to the person's life. Even then, anything and everything will be done in order to save the arm, if possible in any way at all.

Because once removed, it cannot be replaced. Just like an unborn baby's life cannot be replaced with another.

Please note I'm not saying an unborn child's life is equal to a limb; it's worth countless times more. My point is this: you won't see people campaigning to "stop amputations", because it's obvious - they won't be performed unless absolutely inevitable. It's legal, yes, but unthinkable. And in a similar way, the way I see it, abortion is unthinkable as well.

I apologize for the rambly nature of this post, and wish you all a lovely day.

Your friend,

Mrs. T

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sweet cherries on a perfect day

Yesterday was one of those perfectly lovely days when I especially enjoy being a keeper of our little home. I felt rested and energetic, and as soon as my husband walked out of the door, I rolled up my sleeves and started working. A bit of everything: washing dishes and cleaning and simply tidying up; some re-arranging of our refrigerator, some paperwork and phone calls.

In the afternoon, when tiredness started taking over again after a few busy hours, I popped my legs up for half an hour and indulged in some sweet cherries, savoring the pleasure of working with my own schedule, at my own pace, and being able to rest whenever I need it, at whatever position I feel most comfortable in; and the joy of working in my home, doing useful and beautiful things for both of us.

I take special pleasure in the freedom to dream, and think, and truly, deeply take in the lovely things that surround me, the riches of a day that will never come again. Later I enjoy sharing with my husband, so happy for the possibility to be calm and refreshed when he arrives.

When I felt properly rested, I slowly got up and made potato salad following my mother's rich and yummy recipe, for my hungry husband to consume when he comes home.

In the evening, while waiting for my sweetheart to come home, I had time to do some knitting. Wonderful, quiet and soothing music made my work even sweeter.

That was my day; I hope yours was equally lovely. Thank you for sharing in mine.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Abortion and birth control in Jewish Law

"Hello Mrs. Anna,

I have been doing some research on Judaism. While looking around I found an interesting site: Judaism 101 (www.jewfaq.org). As I was browsing it, it mentioned that abortion is permitted in Judaism and that the unborn are not seen as humans but potential humans. I also thought it odd that it says that Judaism doesn't permit condoms but allows the use of (hormonal) birth control (which also works in causing abortion).

So in short, I was wondering what is your thought on this. And if you are pro-life (which it seems you are from your blog), how do you defend this position, using the Bible/Torah, against other Jewish people who are not?

Thank you for your time. Please take care."


Hello there, and thanks for sending your question.

There has been a lot of debate on the issue of abortion among the greatest of rabbis, and I cannot say a complete unity of opinion was reached. I will try to outline the general principles.

On the one hand, unlike certain Christian circles, Judaism doesn't completely ban abortion. On the other hand, Judaism doesn't permit abortion on demand, or for reasons such as financial incapability or out-of-wedlock pregnancy. We love and cherish children, and treasure and welcome new life:

"Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate" (Psalm 127)

It is true that in Jewish Law, the unborn child isn't considered a full-fledged human being. However, he is seen as a being with a soul, from day 40 and onward (around the time when an unborn baby's heart starts beating). No rabbi will light-heartedly authorize an abortion, and many will agree to an abortion only when the pregnancy poses a direct and substantial threat to the mother's life (until the baby is born, his or her life isn't considered equal to the mother's life).

While I have heard of some rabbis who permit abortion (even late-term) in cases of severe physical abnormalities, or when the pregnancy makes the mother so depressed she might become suicidal, personally I stick to the opinion that abortion can only be justified in the extremely rare cases when continuation of pregnancy directly and inevitably threatens the mother's life.

I believe that "happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them". I also believe that a substantial percent of abortions brutally committed all throughout the world stems precisely from the source of not treasuring and cherishing children, of not seeing them as beautiful gifts from the Lord, but rather as burdens, unwanted hindrances standing in the way to a better life.

Abortion debates are often held from the point of view that abortion is something women want. If we love children, if we cherish life, why is that? I believe that being pro-life starts not from banners, legislations and campaigns, but from loving, treasuring and welcoming children into one's life.

The abortion rate in traditional Jewish community is very low, and it is so well-known that even secular doctors don't press prenatal testing on Orthodox Jewish women. "We are obligated to tell you these tests exist," - most of them will say, - "but we realize you probably won't take them because you are religious, and wouldn't have an abortion anyway."

For more information, I suggest this article, which rounds the subject up.

As to your second question - why the Pill is permitted by most rabbis but condoms aren't - the answer is relatively simple. It is forbidden for a man to - how shall I put it - spill his seed in vain, so a man cannot use condoms. The Pill is used by women, which is a way around this prohibition. The potential abortifacient effect of the Pill is written off saying that while we cannot be sure there was pregnancy, it isn't considered abortion.

This is, again, an issue where rabbinical opinions are divided. Some will only permit birth control when the woman's health is in danger, some will take the financial situation of the family into consideration, some think birth control is permitted to "space" births. However, overall, the general thread is that big families are blessed, and children are gifts from the Lord.

From my posts you can understand I have - how should I put it mildly? - a great dislike for hormonal contraception. Personally, I believe too many rabbis are unaware of the potential damage hormonal birth control can cause to a woman's health and fertility, and are too easily tempted to give counsel in favor of it, simply because it is a non-barrier method.

I might have mentioned it on the blog already - I know a deeply religious woman who counseled her rabbi about taking the Pill, after giving two births in two years. When she went off the Pill, after just one year of using it, she couldn't conceive in a natural way, and only gave birth to her third child several years after that, with fertility treatment that left her exhausted. She couldn't go through it again, and while she never used any form of birth control afterwards, she didn't conceive anymore. Her dream of having a big family was shattered.

As the dangers of hormonal birth control are exposed, I believe the rabbinical attitudes will change as well.

Overall, yes, you can definitely call me pro-life. I love life, I love motherhood, I love babies and children. I believe it makes God happy to see a big, happy family, with many children of all ages. God is the Giver of life. Children are His precious gifts, and I cannot understand why on earth anyone would label a child - any child - as "unwanted". I love and treasure precious life, and hope with all my heart to become a mother to a big, close-knit family.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Giving and receiving, swapping and saving


Hello there, dear ones. I hope you are all doing well and had a wonderful, lovely weekend. I'm happy to tell you my husband and I had a fun and enjoyable Shabbat, and then holiday, with our families. In the picture above, you can see the gift my husband gave me for Shavuot. Isn't he a sweetheart?

Now we are about to become busy bees once again. There are so many things to do that I hardly have the time to even write down what needs to be done, so I won't forget it.

Something I have been pondering lately: how often do we discover we have too much stuff for our tiny (or not-so-tiny) homes to contain, and end up throwing it all away? In the past, things were handled more carefully and taken better care of. When you had something you didn't need, you would give it to someone who needed it.

Recently I discovered a lovely Israeli project - a website dedicated entirely to giveaways (www.agora.co.il). People discover items in their homes which might be in a perfectly good condition, but became unnecessary with time, and post messages about wanting to give them away. The variety of things being generously given away is enormous - from computers and books to baby clothes and furniture.

Except for our bed (sidenote: mattresses are still lacking, which means we are still sleeping on an air bed), we don't have a single furniture item we bought brand-new for our home. Everything we have was either given to us as a gift, or found and restored by my husband. Yes, it means our furniture is a bit mismatched, but to tell you the truth, it seems insignificant when I think of how much money we saved.

My husband and I have already participated in the message boards of the website I mentioned, both as givers and receivers. Why throw away if you can give away? Why choose to be another victim of consumerism if you can bless someone by giving away something you don't need? Be creative. Research and get for free, or buy second-hand, or make it yourself. Swap and save.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Learning from my grandmother

Just a few quick thoughts, warmly sent from me to you, before we leave our little home to meet Shabbat at my mother's...

Visiting Grandma a couple of days ago brought these on.

My dear Grandma is a woman of incredible talents and skills in the area of homemaking; throughout her long career as a wife and mother, she excelled in cooking, baking, gardening, canning, sewing, knitting, crochet, embroidery, decorating, and more and more. She also knew how to be creative in the tightest spots, when often there was barely anything to cook from, or to make clothes from.

Today, Grandma is as skilled as ever, though age-related weakness prevents her from being up and about for as long as she could ten years ago. However, there can be no better teacher - and I got more than a few cooking, baking and knitting lessons from her. I remember hours spent together in the kitchen, Grandma sitting in a chair and instructing me ("just a little bit more cinnamon..."), while I bustled around from here to there - and then the delicious smell of our creations as they came out of the oven.

I remember her sitting in the sunlit living room and patiently correcting my stitch or telling me about the delicious home-grown fruit and vegetables in their garden, which was sadly sold before I was born.

However, even more importantly, I learned that we aren't loved for our skills. We are loved for our hearts and souls, the very essence of our being. Not all of us can be gourmet cooks. Not every woman can make all her family's clothes. But we can all smile and be welcoming to our husbands and children.

A simple sandwich, lovingly served on a pretty plate by a calm, smiling, loving wife, is a thousand times better than an elaborate five-course meal slammed on the table by a woman who walks away with gritted teeth and grudgingly starts to wash the dishes...

Not that we shouldn't try and improve as homemakers. It's heart-warming to step into a clean, cozy home that smells of good food. But what will it be worth without a loving, open heart, and a calm spirit?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Unequal distribution of power = abuse?

Here's a statement that tickled me, in a discussion about wives submitting to their husbands and entrusting our husbands with our life and well-being:

Unequal distribution of power in any group, including the family, is inherently abusive.

That's very interesting. Does it mean that to prevent abuse, we must ensure absolute and total equality of power? Power, by its natural way, isn't distributed equally. We all have our authorities, whether it is God in heaven or men on earth - and the goal of achieving absolute equality might just result in the worst of thyrannies, like it happened in the country where I was born.

The implication of this phrase is basically that every woman must sustain herself and be in control, to prevent being abused. Now, I know some men are abusers and women will benefit from the ability to stay away from them. But most men don't abuse their wives, never did and never will! I have a wonderful husband, but suppose in theory there's a chance he will abuse me, or walk out on me. Should I invest in career and earn my own income, and be proudly self-supportive? Maybe in a few years indeed some terrible tragedy will happen in our family and I will say, oh, good that at least I have my career to fall back on. However I think it's more probable I'll wake up in twenty years and realize I have given up on my dream of giving my all to my family and living a peaceful life at home - for no good reason...

By the way, I'm sincerely puzzled by the claim that men have "everything" in the thrilling and exciting world out there, while women have "nothing" in the boring and limiting confines of their kitchens. My husband is a normal man with an ordinary job. He doesn't walk out of the door every morning to a day of excitement, partying, and adrenaline. His job is much more confined to a set routine, and includes much less variety, than my work here at home. My husband works hard to provide for us, and doesn't complain because his job isn't the highlight of his dreams. The situation is the same for most men.

Also, while I believe each woman should take her job as a wife and homemaker seriously, I also think a woman is geared for a different type of work than a man. God created us physically weaker than men, and while not all women will have many children, or any children at all, our bodies and spirits are programmed for motherhood - carrying a child, giving birth, nursing, nurturing... this doesn't mean women are incapable of working, but our hormonal changes make us prone to swings in our mood and physical well-being as well. It creates a certain weakness which may be vehemently denied, but which exists nonetheless. Often, a woman will need the freedom and flexibility in her schedule that enable her to rest when she needs it. Home environment will allow it, but most places of employment won't, causing women to ignore their natural weakness and harm their health.

You can tell your husband of your nausea or fatigue, and if he is a good man, most likely he will tell you to take care of yourself and rest. You can tell your children Mommy is not feeling her best today, and they won't bear a grudge against you for occupying them with quiet and restful activities. But the chances that your boss will be that considerate are slim.

***

I should get going - this day, in all its loveliness, is promising to be very busy. Beside the usual cleaning and organizing routine, I plan to make an elaborate (and hopefully yummy) cake for my husband's birthday - Mr. T will be 28 in a couple of days; that means the cake will be a tad early, but since tomorrow we're leaving to spend Shabbat with my mother, and after that we'll spend Shavuot with my in-laws, the only opportunity I have is today and I decided to seize it. It's a new recipe so I can only hope it's successful... and if it is, I will try to share pictures with you!

Due to Shabbat immediately followed by holiday, I will be gone for a few days, and hope to return sometime in the middle of next week. I hope the following days are beautiful and wonderful to all of you, and I wish a happy Shavuot to all my Jewish readers!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Surrounded by loveliness







Just a few pictures from a lovely evening stroll with my husband, capturing the simple beauty of our surroundings, bending like children to examine every plant that suddenly seems unique. Look how at the wonderfully red shade of the bricks of the house in the picture before last.
I hope your day was meaningful in its little details; I hope it included spending time with your loved ones; deep, sincere prayer straight from your heart; enjoying sunshine or rain, wherever you are; plenty of good food, laughter, friendship and conversation. Simply cherishing life, precious life, in all its countless joys and blessings, challenges and trials, tears and sorrows and comforts. Cherishing a day that will come only once - there never was a day like it, and never will be a day quite like it again.
Trails of more and more phrases are passing now and then in my head, but I currently feel too tired to capture even a single one. So I will say goodbye for now, friends, and hope to "see" you and "talk" to you again soon.
Mrs. T
*
P.S.: the highlight of today for me was visiting Grandma, and sharing a big bowl of sweet cherries with her, together with lots of laughter and happy memories. I'm so thankful for having Grandma here with us, vibrant and full of life at 92. Grandma is such a perfect example for remaining optimistic and cheerful, even in the most dire circumstances (walking for three days and three nights in the middle of winter, in a Siberian wood full of wolves, with no weapon but a small axe at Grandpa's belt, holding her little son and keeping a bottle of milk for him warm under her clothes...). I know it meant so much to her, to see me married - the first of the grandchildren, and incidentally the youngest.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A vegetarian diet - how to start?

A question from a reader: "In years past I ate a mainly vegetarian diet, I don't think I did this in a proper and well balanced manner. I would like to go back to a vegetarian diet but not sure where to start or how to make sure I am doing this in a well balanced way to recieve all the proper nutrients."

A vegetarian diet can be healthy, delicious and satisfying, but it requires a certain bit of creativity and open mind. We are often so set on the meat-starch side dish-vegetables on the side-type of meal, that when we take out the meat component, we feel helpless and don't know how to proceed.

Meat isn't irreplaceable, but if it is currently the main source of protein and iron in your diet, you will need to think of other variations in your menu. Eggs and dairy products are a good source of protein, if you plan to continue including them in your menu. Legumes such as different sorts of beans and lentils contain protein, iron, and a good amount of dietary fiber. Plus, they are relatively inexpensive, which is why they are often included in my menu plan.

For a meal, especially a main meal, to be truly satisfying and nourishing, it shouldn't be based on an excess of carbohydrates (like too many vegetarian dishes are), but should include both carbohydrate and protein and preferably some healthy oil. The combination of protein, carbohydrate and oil will keep you from getting hungry again for a long time.

Here is an example of a very rich meatless soup I made last week (makes a large amount, since it's just the two of us we still have a lot of it):

1\2 cup of dry red beans, placed in water overnight
2 tbsps of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp of ground turmeric
8-10 cups of water
1\4 cup chopped parsley
1 cup canned chickpeas
1 carrot, chopped
1 potato, chopped
1\4 cup of red lentils
1\2 cup of oats
2 tsps of salt
1\4 tsp of black pepper
Some fresh mint leaves

Pour the oil into a large pot, add chopped onion, and cook until soft. Add red beans with water and turmeric, bring to boil, and cook for 30-40 minutes. Add carrot and potato and cook for another 20 minutes. Then add chickpeas, oats, and lentils, together with salt and pepper, and cook until soft. Decorate with mint leaves and serve.

A dish of this type supplies both protein and carbohydrate, and a fair amount of dietary fiber. Served with some hot bread and a salad of fresh vegetables on the side, it makes an excellent, simple, filling meal. I'm sorry I don't have a digital camera available at the moment and therefore can't post a picture, but it looked good!

You can get plenty of ideas for delicious vegetarian meals out of cookbooks and from the internet. You will probably also depend on what your local market offers during each season, and at which prices. The recipe above is a slightly altered version of the one in an Israeli vegetarian cookbook my dear husband got for me recently.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Practical issues of Jewish marriage - edited

Following my last post on Jewish married life, I received a question from a reader, asking me what happens if the woman ovulates early, during the period when she cannot be intimate with her husband - thus causing the couple to miss ovulation and reducing or eliminating their chances to have children.

Normally, the cycle of separation and reunion in physical intimacy should enhance the couple's chances to have children: the first, most filled with passion, days of the couple being back together should fall right around the time when the woman ovulates - 12-14 days after the beginning of her period. That's indeed what happens most of the time.

However, there are cases when the woman's period is long, and the ovulation happens early; there are also cases when a woman might experience staining during the seven days after her period ends, forcing her to start the count again. Or sometimes a woman's periods are simply very irregular. This might make the couple miss out on ovulation, and cause difficulties in having children.

The first thing to determine is whether a woman rightly considers herself forbidden to her husband for the length of the period they separate. Not every stain is enough to render the woman impure; sometimes, a woman might mistakenly consider the stains at the last couple of days of her period as equal to bleeding, when in fact it isn't so, and a rabbi's counsel can tell her that.

However, if it turns out that relations are indeed forbidden, no rabbi could give permission to resume them before the right time of purification. In the past, all a woman could do was pray to God to alter her monthly cycle in a way that would permit her to have children. After all, we must remember He makes no mistakes, and if He set the woman's cycle the way He did, without allowing for the means to change it, maybe having children just wasn't in His plan for that particular couple.

Today, with the advances of medicine, it is possible to know just when the woman ovulates, and it is also possible to stabilize her cycle and alter her ovulation with the help of certain medications. I never researched deep into the matter, but I know there are doctors who specialize in this problem of Jewish women. So today, with the knowledge God chose to reveal to us, this problem can usually be solved.

***

P.S.: Due to several responses I received, I feel the need to clarify: the only reason I approached this topic in the first place was because many readers asked me questions about it and expressed sincere interest. What I gave here is a short, generalized description of married life in a Jewish home. A detail I forgot to mention: Orthodox Jews usually sleep in two beds that are joined together when it can be done, and moved slightly apart at the appropriate time of the month.

My purpose is not to convince you to follow Jewish practices if you aren't Jewish. I never said that only Orthodox Jews have good marriages, or that it's impossible to enjoy your physical relationship with your husband if you are permitted to each other all the time. There are also periods in the life of a Jewish couple when husband and wife are permitted for an extended time, for example when the wife is pregnant. When a woman reaches a post-menopausal stage, physical contact is naturally permitted all the time as well.

Abstaining because husband and wife aren't permitted to each other is not like depriving each other of physical intimacy when there is no justified reason to do so. The latter often signifies rejection and is deeply offensive; the former doesn't mean lack of affection or desire, just like being on a trip away from your spouse doesn't mean there is lack of desire. We consider it a sin if a husband deprives his wife, or a wife deprives her husband, when they are permitted to one another!.. There is no such thing as remaining celibate for spiritual reasons in Judaism.

A woman during "that time of the month" doesn't become an outcast. Her relationship with her husband doesn't include physical contact, but they can still talk, laugh together, support each other, and be beloved friends, while anticipating the time when they can get back together. A woman doesn't and shouldn't stay away from other women; she doesn't "spread" her condition, she doesn't carry a sign saying "impure", and in fact, no one but her husband is supposed to know which time of her cycle she is currently at. It is all between her husband, herself, and God Almighty.


Finally, for obvious reasons, I decided to leave myself and my husband out of the discussion, and only talk about general principles.

This "P.S." grew longer than I expected, so I will finish. Take this simply as a glimpse into another culture. I could spend hours shouting myself hoarse about why ritual impurity doesn't equal "dirty", "shameful" or "humiliating", but currently I have no time to do so. I can only tell you this: I'm a married Orthodox Jewish woman, and I'm blissfully happy. I feel loved, cherished, respected, and desired. I'm blessed with countless privileges and feel my rights are taken care of, by God's Law.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Jewish marriage

Due to the steady flow of emails from readers requesting me to share about Jewish married life, I finally decided to try and approach the topic; I will try to do that in a tactful and sensitive way, carefully choosing the words I use and the details I discuss.

The Jewish married life is built around the woman's monthly cycle. As soon as the woman gets her period she becomes "impure", because the blood that comes out of her body signifies the loss of potential for the creation of new life. When this happens, it is forbidden for the wife and husband to be physically intimate. In fact, no touching at all is allowed, along with a row of other restrictions - husband and wife don't sleep in the same bed, don't eat from one plate, don't pass items directly from hand to hand, and more.

After a few days (depending on the length of her cycle), the woman inspects herself to make sure the bleeding has stopped. Anyway it can't be less than 4 or 5 days. When she did that, she will count seven "clean" days, and inspect herself again each one of those days. Then she will go and immerse in mikveh, which is like a small pool of natural water. And only then husband and wife can resume relations.

As you can understand, this isn't easy. It means husband and wife remain physically separated roughly half of the time (unless the wife is pregnant, which obviously means no bleeding is supposed to occur). Some couples are in even more difficult situations, for example if the wife has her period not once in a month, but once in 3 weeks, or if she experiences heavy mid-cycle staining that might give her the same status of being "impure". Sometimes the counseling of a rabbi is required for these matters. There can also be situations when, for technical reasons, no place can be found where a woman can do her purifying immersion. Or a husband is away from home for extended periods, and comes back only for a few days once in a while, and cannot touch his wife because his visit falls precisely on the wrong time of the month... the list of possible complications is long.

However, there are also enormous benefits to the couples that stick to the laws of family purity. The most obvious is health reasons. During menstruation and a few days after it, the womb is irritated and there's a higher risk for infections. Jewish women who separate from their husbands during their monthly bleeding and for seven days after have a substantially lower rate of infections.

The fact that husband and wife can't touch each other for nearly two weeks re-ignites the fire in the most spectacular way when this period of time is over. Physical intimacy doesn't become a routine, and the husband and wife feel like a bride and groom again, every month. I think that's one of the factors (obviously not the only one) that contribute to the low divorce rate within traditional Jewish communities.

Of course it can become frustrating. On a website for Jewish women dedicated to these matters, I've read a letter from a 40-year-old woman: "My husband and I find it so hard to stay away from each other each month! I crave the touch of my husband so much that it drives me crazy!" - they have been married for nearly 20 years. They have six children. And look at the passion between them - so very rare.

Of course, the reason Jews stick to these laws isn't because of health issues or as a means to enhance intimacy. We follow them because we believe they were given to us by God Almighty. This subject of purity in physical connection between husband and wife is a complex one, and includes a lot more than what I briefly mentioned here, but I think I will stop for now.