Miriam’s Well and the parsha: mikvehs are about sex too

I get annoyed when discussions around the mikveh are sanitized – when the sex is left out and it’s all about babies.

I’ll explain. Last Motsei Shabbat I was at a women’s fahbregen for a friend’s birthday. It was very pleasant and very chassidish. At some point in the evening, the rebbetzin gave a dvar Torah about this week’s parsha, Chukat. She talked about Miriam dying, about Moshe hitting the rock to get water which became known as Miriam’s Well.  She explained that the well was not just the source of drinking water and the place where things were washed – it was also the mikveh. Without Miriam’s Well, she explained, Bnei Yisrael would have had no mikveh, which meant they would not have been able to have children.

Of course, this is a totally reasonable reading of the parsha, but as soon as I heard it I wanted to call out: Well, actually, no, Miriam’s Well meant that Bnei Yisrael could have sex (and then maybe, as a result, have babies)! To represent the mikveh as purely being about reproduction and Jewish continuity (important though they are) seemed to me to be missing an essential element of social and marital stability: sex.

Not so long before, Bnei Yisrael had actively chosen to abstain from marital intimacy because of pharoah’s edict to kill any Jewish baby boys born. How much more, then, was the freedom from Egypt and the provision of a constant water source (and thus a mikveh) a reason to have sex!? Surely it is just as important to celebrate the liberty of the Jewish people which allowed for a normalization of familial existence – including having sex! To me, this seemed a pretty important detail to wash over (pun intended).

I get annoyed when people don’t acknowledge sex. We are Jewish and sex has been heralded by chazal and their spiritual and intellectual descendants as fundamental to a balanced existence. I’m all for being contextually appropriate, but what’s wrong with acknowledging the intimacy that can create new life? I see no reason to sanitize something so beautiful among a group of women: to acknowledge (even in passing) that Miriam’s Well was the channel through which Jewish husbands and wives could be together.

It’s a mitzvah after all.

I didn’t rant until I returned home and spoke to my husband. But the issue is still sitting with me – so I am sharing my grievance with you and ask that we don’t sanitize the sex!


Rant over – thank you 😉




The decision to publish is like eating the last of your favourite chocolates

Really! It means you can’t hold on to the anticipation any longer: you don’t have that moment to look forward to – and there is a chance that everything could be downhill from here.

Although we live in hope.

I made the decision to publish my short story collection about four months ago. Once I realised this was an option, I became very (very!) excited – and not just because it offered a legitimate distraction from my novella, which had been causing me – and continues to cause me – confusion. It also provided an opportunity to do something with  stories that I was proud of, but which, until then, I had not really known what I should do with.

A woman with a mission, I edited and re-edited and then sent my edited stories to be beta-read by friends, family and colleagues. All this was completed within two months (about seven weeks ago). But then, inexplicably, the momentum stopped and my manuscript sat waiting. And it waited.

I chose my cover art two months ago. Time after time I  revisited the image bank to check that I liked the picture, to see if it still worked – I did and it did. But still, I did not buy it.

Then yom tov happened. So nothing else happened.

One of the amazing things about Tishrei is that after all the yammin tovim, I invariably feel like I need to make up for lost time. And no doubt I do. So, this week I finally began to appreciate that my short story collection was never going to exist in the world if I didn’t get it out there. I heard my own call to action.

Two nights ago I bought the cover art. I was exited (you like?).

Beautiful pic, no?
Beautiful pic, no?

Last night I emailed the image and instructions to a friend who is arranging for a designer to put together a cover (thank you!). It was a difficult email to write, but I am grateful for the enthusiastic response my friend sent me. My shoulders loosened and the thrill came back. Excitement.

Today, in an unexpectedly brave move, I sent my manuscript to an editor. Now it is real.

I am that person who hoards their favourite chocolates for so long that they turn grey (or worse, green!) – and then has to throw them out. I am that person who puts aside a gift voucher for a special occasion, but leaves it so long that I wind-up wasting it on something I don’t particularly like because it is about to expire (or worse, it has already expired!).

Delayed gratification is delicious. But delay too long and it gets moldy.

So this week Shosha Pearl, the writer of halachic Jewish erotica, started taking her project seriously again. I’ve popped the last chockie in my mouth and it is oozing delight all over.

Sex in the sukkah: redefining the mitzvah of sleeping in the sukkah

I love Sukkot – and not just because it means that Yom Kippur is over. I love the ritual of it, the strangeness of it.

Sukkahs* are like great big, green, sweet-smelling cubby houses; refreshing, delightful and enchanting in  their quaintness and oddity. They’ve got that rustic charm thing going on; that outdoorsy nature thing; that crazy, crass, colourful noy sukkah (decoration) thing. Best of all, they’ve got that let’s squeeze in together for a yom tov meal under the stars and get little thrills from accidentally touching elbows and pressing legs against the person who’s squashed in beside you – all the while taking in the fragrances of recently cut vegetation and the aroma of the actual night air around you. It is positively erotic. (Well, almost.)

I don’t sleep in the sukkah. I never have, which is a pity in some ways. The fact that this is a mitzvah that it is only incumbent on men doesn’t get me feeling all feministy. I don’t get worked up about not having to camp out for a week in Tishrei with the bugs and the spiders. I just say goodnight and wish the sukkah sleepers well.

But really, this makes no sense.  Sukkahs conjure up images of the desert, when Bnei Yisrael was encamped like one big dysfunctional family and Moshe was trying to keep things together – even though, frankly, not much made sense and the rules were being made up as they went along. Sukkot transports me to a time in our national memory when late at night, as the sluggish desert wind brushed tents and the hand of sleep stroked brows, one might catch the delicate sound of a neighbour being pleasured by her husband. The half-stifled cry that is neither sigh nor moan but somewhere in between, calls for him to stop and continue forever at once.

When I think of sukkahs at night, this is what comes to mind.

So, I wonder….When our sukkahs today are guaranteed modesty by garden walls, wrapped tight and secure by canvas, tarpaulin or wood, why are we not all diving for the one (tznius) chance we have each year to make love under a blanket of stars in the perfume of night? Why are we not pulling out mattresses and pillows and curling up together for a midnight tryst in the moonlight, so that starlight breezes can stroke our backs while lovers trace our contours in the darkness?

Surely, the mitzvah of sleeping in the sukkah should not stop at sleeping? If we are truly to pause and realise the impermanence of life, to try to connect, once a year, to remember wandering in the desert without a home, without a land, it makes sense that we should be encouraged to live and love under the cover of leaves and between the shimmer of stars.

So I say, let’s revisit the mitzvot of Sukkot.

I will if you do.

Chag sameach

*For purposes of clarity, I have referred to sukkah in the plural as ‘sukkahs’ (rather than the Hebrew plural, ‘Sukkot’) in order to reduce the possibility of confusion between the use of the plural for the structure and references to the festival, Sukkot

This essay was first published on Jewrotica.