Emotions and Observance

A friend once told me that keeping niddah was much harder than keeping any of the other mitzvot, because emotions come in to play much more so than other halachot, like shabbat or kashrut.

At the time, I agreed with her. I mean, niddah walks its way into your bedroom, pokes its head into your sexual life, and stays there, like a mole, interrupting time that should be private.

However. As I gave more thought to the idea, I started to think that perhaps other halachot are like that as well. I mean, the very idea of halacha is that it’s a life-system, it should dictate each and every decision that one makes.

I felt the emotional pull of halacha shortly after I got married. I was used to waiting 3 hours between meat and milk, my husband waits 5. I agreed that since traditionally the woman takes on the man’s customs after marriage, I would change my custom and start waiting 5. It made sense to me, at the time. I was thinking of our future children, and how it might be confusing to them if mommy waits 3 hours and they have to wait 5, or if daddy waits 5 but they wait three.

I believe now that this idea is naive. I actually WANT my children to appreciate the fluidity of halacha and the distinction between law and custom.

I also believe that the concept of wife taking on husband’s customs is patriarchal and sexist. This is actually the ONLY situation in which I just blindly accepted his customs. When I pray, I pray the way I always have. At Chanukah, I light my own menorah, and plan to have our children light theirs as well, even though in his household, only his father lit a menorah. When we make kiddush on shabbat, he says the blessing over the wine and I say the blessing over the bread (this was actually his suggestion, and I love it), even thought neither of us grew up in a family that did that. We generally believe in adopting customs that make sense to us, not simply customs that have been handed down from father to son, forsaking the daughters and mothers.

So, yes. The 5 hours thing bugs me. Every single time when I choose to wait instead of having dairy, when it has been somewhere between 3 and 5 hours. Over shabbat, I wanted an iced coffee with milk 4 hours after having meat at lunch. I was in turmoil-I really want this drink, and I’m really bitter about this whole 5 hour thing. After debating with myself for approximately half an hour, I decided to “screw it to the man” and assert my position that this whole paternal custom thing is ridiculous and damn it, I was going to have milk in my coffee.

I opened the fridge, and realized that we had a bottle of soy milk sitting there, about to spoil in the next couple of days if not used immediately. Oh, fine. I resigned myself to having pareve iced coffee for the sake of not wasting ingredients, but I still was going to inform my husband that I reject his 5 hour custom and I’m going back to 3.

(For the record, my husband was extremely supportive of my decision and laughed when I told him that I struggled with it for half an hour).

This was not about the milk. It was not about the coffee. It was about feeling belittled by halacha simply because of my gender.  I will say that I certainly have my issues with niddah, but the concept of emotions becoming intertwined with halachic observance is no less at play in kashrut or shabbat (Have you ever had to walk out of court early because the sabbath was coming? Not fun.) than it is with niddah. By its very nature, halacha is designed to function within a persons emotional sphere. Sometimes I appreciate it, but other times I don’t, and for me, thats when I really have to examine my emotions and figure out what the true issue really it.

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