Englewood—“I’m here to make your life easier,” Nechama Price said at a reception in her honor as the new Yoetzet Halacha for Ahavath Torah and Kesher synagogues of Englewood. A Yoetzet Halacha, adviser on Jewish law, is a woman trained in Taharat Hamishpacha, the Laws of Family Purity, to answer questions and offer guidance.
“This is an official position. You don’t have to say ‘sorry to bother you’ when you call me. That’s what I’m here for,” Price said. “I’ll let you know if I’m busy and have to call you back.” Some emergencies can’t wait, she acknowledged. One woman called her with a question about mikvah while she was already there. Then there was the woman in labor who asked Price to teach her the laws of childbirth. I couldn’t say ‘I’ll call you back later,’” she laughed.
The position of Yoetzet Halacha began 17 years ago, when Rabbanit Chana Henkin, founder and Dean of Nishmat, the Jeanie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women in Jerusalem, realized women had questions they didn’t feel comfortable asking a rabbi, and needed a woman who was both learned in Halacha and sensitive to feminine concerns.
Since the program began, about 85 women have graduated. But there was a problem. Most of the graduates stayed in Israel and there was a crying need for women with Nishmat training here. Three years ago, Nishmat's Miriam Glaubach Center inaugurated the U.S. Yoatzot Halacha Fellows Program, based on Nishmat's highly regarded Yoatzot Halacha in Jerusalem. The U.S. program meets at Maayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck. It is the same two-year program of intensive learning in Gemara and Halacha, working with rebbeim, and training in modern medicine and psychology, including gynecology, infertility, women’s health, genetic counseling, family dynamics and sexuality. Price is among the first graduates of the American program.
Price will help women with questions from every stage of the life cycle: the laws of Niddah, fertility issues, and birth control at one end and questions about peri-menopause and menopause at the other end. She advised mothers to make sure their daughters have scheduled classes with a kallah teacher in plenty of time before their wedding day. “It’s difficult for a kallah; she has to go from knowing nothing to everything in a very short amount of time. She should pick a kallah teacher who is well educated.”
Price’s goal is to help women learn Halacha from the sources. “Understanding the Halacha makes it easier to keep,” she said. It is also empowering, according to Price. “The laws of Niddah are just about us,” she said. “And we are completely trusted.”
While some women might think learning about the Halacha will bring on more obligations and stringencies, Price said the opposite is true. She said that when women try to solve a problem on their own, they are often unnecessarily strict. “When we know what is required and what isn’t, it calms us,” Price said.
Although Price is a newly minted Yoetzet graduate, she has been teaching these topics as a professor at Stern College for 10 years. A faculty member of Stern in the Bible and Judaic Studies departments, she completed the Stern College Graduate Program for Advanced Talmud Studies, received an MA in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, and an MA in Bible from Bernard Revel Graduate School.
About 25 women, from young marrieds to women with grown children, braved thunderstorms to meet Price and hear her speak. Joanna Parker, a five-year resident of Englewood and the evening’s host, said she thought it was important to have this resource in the community. Daniela Gontownik, also a five-year resident of Englewood agreed. “We need to support the religious and spiritual dimension of our community.” Debra Cohen, a longtime Englewood resident, said. “It’s a fabulous thing to have a female to call and feel comfortable discussing private matters; at my stage of life I feel comfortable talking to a Rav but for young women especially, it’s ideal to have a woman to talk to.” Sandy Yahalom said she came to make sure the younger community residents were represented and to learn more about Halacha. “When you learn properly, you can be more lenient.”
Debra Hirsch, chair of the event, echoed the sentiment of many older women: “If only I had someone like Nechama 20 years ago. It would have been a bracha. Englewood is so happy to have Nechama Price.”
Nechama Price lives in Bergenfield with her husband and four children
By Bracha Schwartz