Respecting the Maori Menstrual Taboo

Communication, Objects, Religion/Spirituality

Female visitors to Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand) are faced with a difficult moral dilemma regarding the taonga Maori collection included in an upcoming tour.

An invitation for regional museum staff to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of some of Te Papa’s collections included the condition that “wahine who are either hapu [pregnant] or mate wahine [menstruating]” were unable to attend.

Te Papa spokeswoman Jane Keig said the policy was in place because of Maori beliefs surrounding the taonga Maori collection included in the tour.

“There are items within that collection that have been used in sacred rituals. That rule is in place with consideration for both the safety of the taonga and the women,” Keig said.

She said there was a belief that each taonga had its own wairua, or spirit, inside it.

“Pregnant women are sacred and the policy is in place to protect women from these objects.”

The policy does not apply to the entire exhibit, but to a “behind-the-scenes” tour offered November 5. Visitors’ reproductive status will not be verified in any way, but women are expected to be honest about it and obey the request.

Menstrual Tracking 2.0

Internet, Religion/Spirituality

Mikvah CalendarI haven’t studied every online tool for period tracking but this one appears to be the most sophisticated yet: helps observant Jewish women track their cycles, including her niddah (ritually impure) time. It automatically calculates sunrise and sunset, sends email or text reminders, and can be customized for Chabad, Ashkenazic, and Sephardic traditions. And it’s Rabbincally Approved.

Jesus: A Menstrual Hero?

Language, Literature, Men, Menorrhagia, Menstruation, Religion/Spirituality

Guest Post by David Linton, Marymount Manhattan College

Debates about Christianity’s attitudes toward women sometimes focus on Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene and isolated engagements with other unnamed women encountered during his travels.  Little is made of a healing scene in the book of Luke(8:43-48) where Jesus had momentary contact with a woman who, in all likelihood, had a severe case of menorrhagia.  Here’s how the translation is described in the Revised Standard Version”

“As he went, the people pressed round him.  And a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years and could not be healed by any one came up behind him, and touched the fringe of his garment; and immediately her flow of blood ceased.  And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?”  When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you!”  But Jesus said, “Some one touched me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from me.”  And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him and how she had been immediately healed.  And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

The story is rendered with remarkable efficiency.  The stealth of the woman was motivated by her clear understanding that she was a pariah in her community,that she was forbidden by the rigid rules of Leviticus from having contact with others lest she contaminate them.  Peter’s response is particularly interesting.  Rather than acknowledging the severe violation of the rules and dealing with its consequences (Jesus would have had to go away from everyone to be cleansed), Peter denied that any contact had even occurred. (Does this foreshadow his later denial of even knowing Jesus?)

But Jesus seems utterly indifferent to the rules as he places the well being of a suffering woman above the demands of his cultural prohibitions.

The fact that Jesus’ heroic menstrual encounter has been expunged from the narrative of his life reveals, yet again, just how pernicious the taboos and prejudices are. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Sunday School classes set the menstrual record straight?

To make matters worse, the wonderful gospel song that extols the woman’s faith, first recorded by Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, “The Hem of His Garment” has been similarly sanitized so that she is simply “sick.”  The  YouTube link that contains the song takes on extra layers of meaning when you listen to it with the thought in mind that it is an unacknowledged story of reactons to the menstrual taboo.  The YouTube link also contains an additional Soul Stirrers recording, “Jesus Wash Away My Troubles” – a bonus!

An Autonomous Kingdom of Women


That’s how Varda Polak-Sahm, writing in today’s Washington Post, describes her visit to the Mikveh in preparation for her second wedding. The Mikveh is the ritual purification bath Halakha, the Jewish law, requires of women after each menstrual cycle and prior to an Orthodox wedding ceremony.

According to Orthodox rabbinic law, immersion in the mayyim hayyim, or living waters, removes the impurity left by menstruation and transforms the woman’s status from contaminated to pure. This is an essential element of Jewish existence. Before a synagogue is built, Jewish communities install a Mikveh. Without purification, Orthodox men cannot even touch their wives. Thus, without purification in the Mikveh, there is no future for the Jewish people.

Polak-Sahm writes about her own changing understanding of the Mikveh in this brief essay, making her new book, The House of Secrets: The Hidden World of the Mikveh, sound like a worthwhile read for those of us interested in traditions and beliefs surrounding menstruation.

Mikvah in Montana


The Hasidic movement Chabad Lubavitch has opened the first mikvah, a ritual bath for spiritual purification, in Montana. Estimates are that there are fewer than 1000 Jews residing in Montana, but Chabad says this is the only contemporary mikvah in a vast area that includes Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota.

From the Associated Press article:

Jewish law requires married women to immerse in the mikvah for ritual purity after menstruation and a period of abstaining from sex. Brides are expected to immerse before their weddings. The bath can also be used as purification as part of converting to Judaism.

Outside of the small Orthodox Jewish community, many American Jews had stopped using the mikvah, partly out of objections to its perspective on women. However, in recent years, more Jews have been rediscovering traditional practices, and the ritual bath has had a renaissance.

As a shiksa, I don’t care to open the debate about the mikvah’s perspectives on women, but simply to note the significance of this increased availability of means for women to practice menstrual ritual of their faith. (Those who are interested in the question of whether the mikvah is sexist may wish to read this article by Jancie Lochansky, which puts that question to Rivkah Slonim, author of Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology.)