LIFETIME COMPANION TO THE LAWS OF JEWISH FAMILY LIFE
Weight: 1.10 kilograms
LIFETIME COMPANION TO THE LAWS OF JEWISH FAMILY LIFE
by Deena R. Zimmerman MD MPH IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant)
Foreword by Rabbi Yehuda Henkin
Third revised edition
A Lifetime Companion to the Laws of Jewish Family Life was written to help married -- or about to be married -- couples of all ages learn the halachot of taharat hamishpachah, the laws of Jewish marital life. In addition, particular emphasis was placed on achieving an understanding of the interplay between Jewish law and women's health issues throughout the life cycle.
About the Author
Deena R. Zimmerman MD MPH IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) is a physician with a life-long love for Judaic Studies. She received her BA from Yale University and MD from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She completed her pediatric residency, chief residency and Masters in Public Health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, where she also served on the faculty as Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics for four years. Dr. Deena Zimmerman currently works as a pediatrician for Maccabi Health Services and TEREM-Immediate Medical Care in Israel, and is Medical Advisor to the Jerusalem Breastfeeding Center.
One of the first graduates of Nishmat's Keren Ariel Program as a Yoetzet Halacha (Women's Halachic Advisor), Deena has written a number of articles related to women's health issues and Jewish law and lectures extensively on Medicine, Women's Health and Jewish Law and Jewish Medical Ethics. In addition, Deena directs Nishmat's Women's Health and Halachic websites (www.yoatzot.org and www.jewishwomenshealth.org) for the general public and for health-care providers. She lives in Israel with her husband Rabbi Sammy Zimmerman and their five children.
Praise for A Lifetime Companion to the Laws of Jewish Family Life:
"...there has long been a need for an intelligently-written guide and introduction to hilchot niddah, a book which would fill the void between the overly-concise practical manuals and the extensive, scholarly expositions of the subject. Furthermore, reference to modern medical knowledge and techniques bearing on menstruation, contraception, etc., is essential.
Dr. Deena Zimmerman is uniquely qualified to write such a book. She is Jewishly learned, having twice completed the daf yomi cycle of the Talmud, part of which she taught in a daily sheur. She is a certified consultant in the field of taharat hamishpachah, one of the first graduates of the Keren Ariel Yoatzot Halacha program of Nishmat in Jerusalem. It was my pleasure to have been among the panel of rabbis who tested her upon completion of the program. In her work as a yoetzet halacha, she has had invaluable practical experience in addressing other women's questions and understanding their concerns. She is also a practicing physician (in pediatrics), and formerly an assistant professor in a medical school. She is, of course, a wife and a mother. The combination of knowledge and scholarship, experience, empathy and understanding she brings to this topic should help ensure A Lifetime Companion to the Laws of Jewish Family Life a place on the bookshelf of every modern woman committed to Halacha."
-from the Foreword by Rabbi Yehuda Henkin
"This is a remarkable volume by a remarkable woman. The author, a highly regarded pediatrician and a scholar of Talmud - one of the very first of a new type that is felicitously emerging in our generation - here offers a comprehensive volume on Jewish "family purity," the conventional euphemism for the laws governing menstruation. It covers the gamut of one of the principal precepts of Judaism, both theory and practice. Ultimately, therefore, it is a book about enhancing the quality of Jewish family life.
This volume is an authoritative treatment of the subject, by one of the first graduates of Nishmat, and should prove invaluable to all who cherish the wholeness of the bond between husband and wife and the holiness of Torah Judaism...
-Rabbi Norman Lamm
Chancellor of Yeshiva University and Rosh Hayeshiva of RIETS
"Dr. Deena Zimmerman brings to this volume an extraordinary range of talents, as an MD, a scholar of Talmud, and a certified yoetzet halacha, one of the first graduates of Nishmat's historic Keren Ariel Program. She is also the creator and coordinator of Nishmat's Women's Online Information Center on taharat hamishpacha and related medical questions.
This brilliant book encompasses the worlds of both Jewish Law and medicine. A halachic guide to the laws of taharat hamishpacha written by a woman, in close consultation with rabbinic authorities - what could be more natural and practical than such a book? This outstanding volume deserves to be on every Jewish couple's bookshelf...
-Chana Henkin, Dean
Nishmat, the Jerusalem Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women
The formal teaching of halacha generally relies upon the observed and the experiential as much as the learned and analyzed. It would probably be difficult to imagine a meaningful observance of Shabbat which drew its inspiration exclusively from Shmirat Shabbat Ke-hilcheta or a substantial tefilla prayed exclusively from the rubric set out in Shulchan Aruch. And yet, the teaching of Taharat HaMishpacha - Jewish family purity laws - affords precious little opportunity for the average practitioner to observe implementation, primarily because of the taboo of sexuality among the deeply devoted. This provides a serious challenge to the teacher and student of this critical practice of Jewish tradition.
Though in the last two decades, many Orthodox communities have begun to address this educational lacunae by providing for formal classes relating to Taharat HaMishpacha, and a number of practical guides have been published relating to different aspects of the observance of these laws, there has been no notable monograph by a woman whose goal was to issue a set of directives rather than placing forth an apologetic for observance.
Dina Zimmerman's book "A Lifetime Companion to the Laws of Jewish Family Life" is an explicit (and graphic) attempt to set out the basic laws of Taharat HaMishpacha, not merely for brides, but also for adult women traversing the cycles of life. Organized with sources (in the original and not usually translated) and with a review section as well as appendices, Zimmerman's book is likely to be a favorite on the modern Orthodox bookshelf. This may, in fact, be the first complete and comprehensive halachic guide ever written by a woman. And this woman has serious credentials indeed, being one of the first Yoatzot Halacha (Women's Halachic Advisors) and a MD with a master's degree in public health.
A Lifetime Companion is indeed valuable, both because of its comprehensiveness, and its willingness to confront serious and imminent issues in a straightforward manner. The discussion of vestot, providing examples and calendars, is instructive and (if you have a mathematical mind and a bit of patience) usable. Alongside a checklist prior to mikveh immersion, one can find a veset calendar which can be photocopied and implemented. Toward the end of the book, there is a physiological discussion and an analysis of mikveh construction.
The central part of this book is broken into two parts, a study guide and a practical guide, each one important. The study guide provides basic sources (usually from Tur or Shulchan Aruch) that are explicated upon by the author. The topics covered include the sources of the laws of Niddah, the onset of Niddah status, the counting, the mikveh, and the expectation of being a Niddah. Apparently, the second section is intended to be utilized as a reference guide for the regular user, who would otherwise consult a rabbi or simply assume the worst (or the best). In fact, a central feature of this book is its accessibility which ultimately leads to empowerment for women, who are otherwise forced into generally uncomfortable positions. Though this book is clear that one should consult a halachic authority is problematic situations, there is a genuine sense that many women will now be able to be feel comfortable deciding for themselves in many areas. The main section concludes with a chapter of frequently asked questions.
Zimmerman also deals with tangential issues such as birth control and infertility, and though the discussions of these are meager, they do represent an attempt to confront some of the more problematic areas of women's halachic observance. (I would note that just as Zimmerman directs individuals to the Nishmat hotline it would be helpful to include practical information of the organizations that address these areas as well. In addition the chapter on women and hair covering was so undocumented that it would be better to leave it out in further printings). In this sense, Zimmerman's use of "Jewish Family Life" is appropriate, though still a little misleading (at least one other reader was surprised by the content of the book.)
As with many halachic books, Zimmerman's book sometimes suffers from a slippery slope. In her introduction, she suggests that many laws that seem difficult to keep, once explained and seen in the context of their original sources, make "so much more sense." This argument, while providing a reasonable backdrop to the evolution of the halachic requirements for hefsek tahara or sheva nekiim, falls short in many other areas, and this in two ways. Firstly, Zimmerman does not provide the backdrop in some areas: the laws that most often are criticized as unreasonable relate to the harchakot (permissibility of contact between husband and wife during Niddah days) particularly as described in Shulchan Aruch. In the section related to these halachot (or minhagim), Zimmerman provides a "laundry list of does and don'ts" without, unfortunately providing the historical context within which they appeared. Reference to the evolution of these halachot and their emergence out of a cultural, social and intellectual milieu, so critical to their practicability in the normative sense, is absent here.
In a second sense, however, there is a larger issue at stake. Any halachic work of serious weight must ultimately show deference to the Shulchan Aruch and normative poskim. Though modern halacha clearly must sublimate itself to a large extent on the normative psak, it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between law and reason. At one point, Zimmerman says, matter-of-factly, that "[a Niddah] should avoid touching [her husband] and doing those things that are considered particularly affectionate, such as making the bed in his presence (p. 83)." Whereas one cannot deny that this law appears in Shulchan Aruch and is normative psak, I am certain that most Jews today would not consider making a bed in the presence of their spouse to be a statement that is "particularly affectionate." I am not suggesting that the halacha is necessarily misplaced but rather, the need to engage in justifications sometimes falls short.
On a technical note, there is some confusion as to the order of the book and design. In addition, there is certainly room for a copy editor to make emendations towards a second printing. After the introduction, p. 21 is entitled Part One. But at the bottom of that page, there is a chart outlining the four parts of the book: Initially, I assumed these were the subsequent chapters of the first part, but upon continuing, I realized that p. 21 was a final introduction. Confusion with names such as Rabbi Chaim Naeh (p. 63), or the spacing issues (p. 96-97) make this book a bit cumbersome and to a small extent undermine its accessibility. Footnotes don't always follow the same style (p. 134 for example) and there is also some difficulty traversing the first and second sections. For example, chapter two of the second section begins with a long citation (p. 92) regarding the hows of a bedikah exam which is from the first section. It would be valuable to make this clear to the reader.
Nonetheless, this book will be a valuable tool for the modern practitioner of the laws of family purity. It has crystallized the regulations (complete with an approbation from a recognized posek), provided tens of practical tips, and ultimately offered a new and accessible study aid for the study of these Halachot.
The laws surrounding married life in Judaism are some of the most complex in all of Jewish law. In her book A Lifetime Companion to the Laws of Jewish Family Life, Dr. Deena Zimmerman offers a refreshing look at this topic, which has been taught to Jewish couples througout the generations. This work is organized into four logical sections. The first two are related to the laws surrounding the woman's niddah cycle, preparations for immersion in the mikvah (ritual bath), and the calculations surrounding times of separation between husband and wife. The third section deals with the lifecycle of a woman and touches upon halachic issues associated with puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. In the fourth section, Zimmerman deals with contemporary halachic positions on medical issues such as infertility, birth control, and hormone replacement therapy.
The strength of this book lies in its multifaceted approach to the medical and halachic issues surrounding these topics. Dr. Zimmerman is not only an experienced MD, but also carries the title of a yoetzet halacha (women's halachic advisor). Throughout the book she merges both classic and contemporary rabbinic sources with the latest research in medicine to produce this very useful guide. Besides the plentiful citations and useful appendices, the author also provides the primary rabbinic and biblical sources in the original Hebrew. This book would be a welcome addition to any synagogue library, and also useful for educators and couples looking to expand their knowledge of the laws of family purity.
-Aaron Samuel Huber, AJL Newsletter
Deena Zimmerman is a pediatrician who is also one of the first graduates of Nishmat's Keren Ariel Program as a yoetzet halakha (halakhic advisor on women's issues). She is the creator and coordinator of the Nishmat Women's Online Information Center.
This book is a halakhic guide to the laws of taharat mishpacha. There are separate sections dealing with various stages of the life cycle including puberty, a woman's wedding night, pregnancy and childbirth, menopause and peri-menopause. Zimmerman makes clear that her book is not meant to take the place of consultation with a rabbi, but her immense knowledge enables her to clearly lay out the halakhic isssues involved. This is a book to be read very carefully and includes clinical and explicit terminology about the human reproductive system. Zimmerman includes many frequently asked questions about life cycle issues, and deals with issues of timing of medical examinations, birth control and infertility.
Especially valuable is the inclusion of key sources in Hebrew and their paraphrase into English. Women are often understandably uneasy about asking rabbis about intimate areas of their lives, and this book is extremely useful both in clarifying the basis of the halakhot and in delineating their precise applications. Deena Zimmerman is a frequent speaker on niddah issues in America. Her book, which incorporates modern medical knowledge, sensitivity to women's intimate concerns and a profound understanding of Jewish source materials, is a paradigm of what halakhically educated women today can do to enhance the quality of Orthodox Jewish life for both women and men.
-Jennifer Stern Breger
Abstract: A Lifetime Companion to the Laws of Jewish Family Life by Deena R. Zimmerman is an excellent book for English readers wishing to study the laws of niddah in a serious manner. It enables one to learn the halakhot from the original sources placing them in a comprehensible framework. The companion is well structured and written in a clear and empathetic style. It discusses practical medical issues typically not discussed in popular manuals. While the book is a great contribution to the field of family purity laws (hilkhot niddah)-specifically to the genre of theoretical books teaching the basic issues involved with keeping these laws-it suffers from the tendency, seen in many other such manuals, to direct the reader to a rabbi rather than resolving issues directly.
-Rabbi Dr. Aviad Stollman
Meorot Journal (6:1)
Kallah Prep By the Book
By Esther Frankel
As a kallah today, you have a great advantage. You have a wealth of literature with halachic and practical guidelines to Jewish marriage available. That means that you are not limited to only one standard book but can browse among a dozen to find the one or ones that speak to you. Not all kallahs fit one mold; they each have individual personalities and inclinations. So whereas your friend may have found a particular guide appealing because she found its emphasis on finding meaning in the practice inspiring, you may not prefer your guidebook to be more focused on the halacha than the hashkafa. Or you may want a book that covers a lot of specific "what if" situations. Or you may want a study that raises awareness about health issues. Or you may want a book that brings up answers to the questions you were afraid to ask or didn't know enough about to even frame the question.
The fact is that there is more involved in the marriage relationship than counting the days and preparing for mikvah according to halacha. So where do you learn those essential but not easily quantifiable points? Ideally, you will find a Kallah class instructor who will cover all bases. Unfortunately, it is possible that you end up with a teacher whose treatment of certain aspects leaves you with a very fuzzy picture at best, and you may have no way of knowing that something vital was missing. That is why it is important to have a halachically grounded book that will address all the issues you need to know from the beginning of your marriage.
One book that would have been perfect for my needs, alas, did not exist way back when I was a kallah. A Lifetime Companion to the Laws of Jewish Family Life by Deena R. Zimmerman, MD MPH IBCLC (Jerusalem and New York: Urim Publications) has a copyright date of 2005. It is available both in hard and soft cover, not only in stores but from Amazon. It is called "Lifetime" because it covers the application of these halachos to issues of physical development, as well as the effect of pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, and menopause. In a single word, this book is lucid; the material is clearly organized and presented. The only change I would recommend is the addition of an index, as some issues are dealt with in part in more than one section. The author, a pediatrician and one of the first graduates of the Keren Ariel training program in Israel, combines her two areas of expertise to seamlessly present the facts of halacha while bringing up pertinent biological issues. So she not only points out when you have to ask your rabbi, but when you should see your physician. Another benefit is that her guidelines about halachic parameters do take into account different types of examinations and lets women know what to expect at a gynecological exam
The halacha presented is the same as you would find in any other book, though the presentation is much more thorough than most books aimed for a female audience in terms of quoting primary sources for each of the components discussed. The book will not decide for you, for example, whether or not you should opt for color coordination in selecting your toilet paper, though it will explain the divergent view on the matter so that you'll understand the issue well enough to know how to frame your question and act appropriately according the psak you get from your rabbi.
If you're looking for chizuk [encouragement] in the form of a lot of hashkafa of the type that assures your keeping taharas hamispacha works to enhance marriage and health, this is not the book for you. Though the author does not disparage the philosophy offered in other books and does offer recommended reading, that is not her purpose. As she writes: "Much has been written explaining the philosophy behind this practice and will not be repeated here. This part focuses on how to observe these halachot, and not why" (81). But she does offer encouragement of a more practical source. Thus her footnote on the very next page urges women not to allow self-consciousness to prevent them from asking rabbis when necessary. "Some women feel they are being 'more careful' by not asking and just waiting, but in this area of halacha this is not true" (82).
I would add that it is worthwhile to ask your posek questions both for gufey halach and for questions of practice. I recall my Kallah instructor indicating that there is an option for a particular practice early on. However, she left out some important details like the fact that you have only ten seconds in which to act if your objective is to establish a chazaka that works in your favor and that the ramifications for unfavorable results can be very severe, as in "three strikes and you're out." That's a pretty serious omission in my view. On the other hand, Zimmerman's book offers a clearer understanding of the halachic principles that underlie this halacha and suggests that problematic results may be resolved by medical attention, though she does not determine what your practice should be. However, my husband's chasson class instructor, who also paskins on these issues, came out clearly against it. The risk far outweighs the benefit, he said, and he assured his class of chassanim that they should call him at 2 AM to personally tell their wives NOT to do if they indicated they would. On a somewhat lighter note, at a refresher course I attended, I asked the well-known kallah instructor about swimming during the shiva nekiyim. She said that one's bathing suit would have to be white, at least on the inside. Now remember, a Kallah instructor does not paskin for you, so you are not bound in the way you would be if you asked your rabbi. Afterwards, I asked my rabbi (via my husband), and he said the bathing suit does not have to be white. So my advice is: go ahead and ask, and you may get an answer that is easier to live with than you may have anticipated.
One of the features that distinguishes this book is its appendices. These include some standard ones like checklist in preparation for mikvah. But it also includes some, written by appropriate authorities on the respective subjects, that are not usually included, like the "Review of Physiology," "Taking Care of Oneself During and After Pregnancy," and a guide to "Anatomy and Physiology" that should be read by both men and women. I recall a high school teacher telling a class that she told her less observant students in another school, "My wedding night will be more exciting than yours." At the time that statement struck as both inappropriate and inane. If the excitement in the husband and wife relationship were based on the thrill of the unknown, it would be very fleeting indeed. In this instance, ignorance is really not bliss and can result in a mistaken assumption of infertility or other injurious frustration in a marriage. Dr. Zimmerman explains that though it is a natural process, it needs to be learned. While a Kallah class instructor should teach all of the components her students will encounter, some are not as explicit as they need to be and only refer to the matter in a roundabout way. The book provides the basic information you would need to even know what to ask.
Another nice features of the book is the Frequently Asked Questions, which includes many illustrative examples of personalized calendars. Other questions range from a fear of water to suggestions for the husband, to how to deal with social obligations that conflict with a woman's personal calendar obligation. I recall the book I was given to read as a kallah offered the story of a woman who went to the mikvah during a snow storm, as encouraged by her Kallah class instructor. While it did make the point of overcoming obstacles, the forces of rain, snow, sleet, and dread of night tend to bring out our feeling of heroism. But the dread of exposure of a personal nature is something many of us find utterly daunting. Consequently, many women will forego tvila bizmana if they find themselves scheduled to be in the company of others on that date. Zimmerman puts this issue in the right perspective and provides helpful suggestions to implement it.
So if you want a straightforward guide that provides you with an intelligent understanding of the halacha and offers insight on health and physical issues, this is a book that should appeal to you. If your Kallah instructor did not recommend a particular text, or you were not happy with the one she did, then you may just find what you seek in this volume. Even if you are already married, you can still learn a lot from it, as can your husband. So when making your selection of a book to buy, don't overlook this one.
Esther Frankel claims no expertise as a kallah class instructor, though she is looking forward to her role as mother of a kallah. She has reviewed books elsewhere. This is her first review for Kallah Magazine.