Men and women in Jewish communities across North America are invited to register for a four-day online Global Family Health & Halacha Conference, set for May 2 to May 5.
The free conference will offer more than 40 sessions and was organized by the Miriam Glaubach Center, the American arm of Jerusalem-based Nishmat — The Jeanie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women, in partnership with Mizrachi Canada and the Canadian Yoatzot Initiative.
Yoatzot halacha — the singular form is “yoetzet halacha” — are trained, certified female advisers who support women in observing Jewish laws relating to women’s health. Worldwide, they have fielded thousands of questions regarding the difficulties presented by the pandemic.
The timing of the conference and its online format are not coincidental to the past 13 months of covid.
Atara Eis, director of the Miriam Glaubach Center, put it this way: “The pandemic put a magnifying glass on many mental health concerns. People are really thirsty to put healthy family life front and center on the agenda.”
The four-day conference, she said, “sets a tone for recalibrating and healing the family, which has been hit hard over the last year.
“Time and again, the stories shared with our yoatzot halacha throughout this year magnified pre-existing cracks and fault lines within our self-care and the physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being of our families.”
Pre-registration at healthandhalacha.com is required for any of more than 40 sessions featuring halachic, medical, mental-health, and fitness experts who will facilitate conversations about issues from the perspective of Torah values, medicine, and psychology.
Some of the topics include raising children with healthy self-esteem and body image; achieving healthy marital intimacy and relationship skills throughout a marriage; self-care; concerns relating to preconception, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, postpartum depression, infertility, and infant loss; family planning; difficulties in following the laws of “taharat hamishpacha” that govern the marital relationship; and even the impact of addiction on a marriage.
“From the relationship perspective, we put a strong emphasis on thinking through every point in the lifecycle, including the first year of marriage, a time which was so disrupted in the year of the pandemic,” Ms. Eis said.
The presenters include people who did or do still live in northern New Jersey; among them are communal leaders, health professionals, and nine yoatzot halacha: Nechama Friedman Price and Rivka Alter of Bergenfield, Tova Warburg Sinensky of Teaneck, Julia Baruch of Englewood, Shira Donath of Fair Lawn, and Dena Block, Shiffy Staiman Friedman, Shoshana Samuels, and Shayna Goldberg, all of whom once lived in Bergen County.
“Yoatzot halacha are employed in over 50 institutions across North America and England, and yet other shuls that have not yet employed a yoetzet have also signed on to this project,” Ms. Eis said. “That is an amazing testament to the desire to have critical conversations about issues that have been going on behind closed doors.”
The first yoatzot halacha were certified in 1999 at Nishmat, an institution founded by Chana Henkin, who will be interviewed during one session of the conference by Israeli journalist Sivan Rahav Meir.
The Miriam Glaubach Center was founded in 2006 to bring the expertise of Israeli yoatzot halacha to North America. In 2011, the center opened a satellite training program — initially based at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck — to train American yoatzot halacha, support communities in the process of hiring yoatzot halacha, and provide continuing education to graduates. Ten more student yoatzot will begin studies in the fall; the first two weeks of their program will be at Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck.
Worldwide, 146 women are certified yoatzot halacha; 26 work with community rabbis to meet the needs of families in Orthodox communities in the United States, two in Canada, and one in England.
All told, more than 350,000 questions have been addressed by yoatzot halacha in their own communities and through Nishmat’s Golda Koschitzky Hotline, Health and Halacha Website (www.yoatzot.org).
In addition to their required 1,000 hours of training, 20 Israeli yoatzot halacha have received extra training as fertility counselors. Several sessions will cover this topic, including “Sperm Donors, Egg Donors, and Surrogates: Halacha in Practice” with attorney and yoetzet halacha Yardena Cope Yossef Bodenheimer and businessman/philanthropist Rabbi Zvi Ryzman.
Among many other sessions available over the four days are “Care or Compulsion: Taharat HaMishpacha and Scrupulosity” by Ms. Donath and Dr. Regine Galanti, founder of Long Island Behavioral Psychology; “Dealing with Difficult Relationships: Famous In-law Stories of the Torah” by Ms. Price; “Rescripting Maternal Mental Health” with Ms. Sinensky and reproductive psychiatrist Dr. Naomi Greenblatt; and “Preventative Breast Health” with yoetzet halacha Atara Segal; Dr. Ellen Warner, Toronto-based director of PYNK: Breast Cancer Program for Young Women, and Melissa Rosen, director of training and education at Teaneck-based breast cancer support organization Sharsheret.
“The wide array of topics of this conference, open to both men and women, reflects an important shift in how we think about taharat hamishpacha,” Ms. Sinensky said.
“This is an area of Jewish living that intersects with the physical and mental health of both members of the couple, and as such, men and women alike benefit greatly from continued and enhanced education about it.”
The website will post 10-minute prerecorded talks, so anyone who couldn’t be online to see the program live can download and listen to them at any time. In addition, high school students and educators throughout North America will take part in dedicated sessions in collaboration with Deracheha: Women and Mitzvot.
Local synagogues and organizations partnering in the conference are Bais Medrash of Bergenfield; Congregation Ahavath Torah of Englewood; Congregation Darchei Noam of Fair Lawn; the Jewish Center of Teaneck; congregations Netivot Shalom, Shaarei Tefilah, and Rinat Yisrael of Teaneck; Kesher Synagogue of Tenafly; Yoetzet Halacha of Livingston & West Orange; NechamaComfort; and Sharsheret.
What: Global Family Health & Halacha Conference
When: May 2-5