On Monday evening, July 20, the Teaneck Yoetzet Halacha Initiative will present a series of dramatic
monologues written by women from our community addressing the joys and challenges that Jewish women may experience at various stages in their lives. These include halachic infertility and the yearning for a child, intimacy issues and sexual education, and two very different perspectives on the mikvah and taharat hamishpacha (family purity laws). In an interview, Teaneck Yoetzet Shoshana Samuels speaks about the intersection of halacha and women’s health, what has been accomplished in the eight years since this initiative was first started and why a Yoetzet is a valuable resource to the entire community.
What motivated you to become a Yoetzet Halacha?
Shoshana Samuels: I have always had two passions: learning Torah and Jewish law, and helping people. I was thrilled to realize I could accomplish them both with this role. Yoatzot study the laws of taharat hamishpacha from their earliest roots through contemporary poskim intensively at Nishmat for two years and get to enjoy this wonderfully challenging and exciting opportunity to engage in Talmud Torah, while also focusing their course work toward helping women (and on occasion, couples) as they engage in the mitzvah of taharat hamishpacha. They also receive many hours of supplementary training on essential topics in biology, psychology and sexuality so they can apply the traditional halachic study with contemporary on-the-ground reality.
What training was involved in becoming a Yoetzet?
SS: I was blessed to do Nishmat’s training in Israel, and also received a master’s in Jewish Philosophy from Ben Gurion University. These two high-level programs, in addition to studying previously at the Graduate Program for Advanced Talmudic Studies (GPATS), prepared me very well for my two posts here in Teaneck, as a Yoetzet and as a teacher of Halakha and Jewish Philosophy at Ma’ayanot.
How would you describe the role of a Yoetzet Halacha to someone who is unfamiliar?
SS: There is a significant and important set of Jewish laws that relate to women’s health and it is critical that women have access to, and feel comfortable accessing, guidance in navigating this overlap. A Yoetzet Halacha is a woman who is well trained in both Jewish law and women’s health and therefore serves as an address for these questions, struggles and conversations.
How is your role different from that of a shul rabbi? Do you work together with any of the community rabbis?
SS: If you look at my phone contacts in the “R”s, you wouldn’t believe how many rabbis’ phone numbers are in there! I work with many rabbis on many occasions. Sometimes women ask me a question that is not “halacha pesuka,” a clear-cut halachic ruling with consensus, but rather is a question that demands a psak halacha, a ruling specific to this instance or this sort of question. In such cases I offer a choice: I can either advise her of the relevant details so that she is equipped to speak about the issue with her rabbi personally or, in the event that she is not comfortable discussing this issue with her rabbi directly, to call him on her behalf. Many women were calling me in the first place because they were not comfortable, which is why I often am in contact with local rabbanim. Also, once in a