Briefs: Questions women can’t ask the rabbi, cartoon Torah, parking tickets, Latino Sukkot

You Can’t Ask a Rabbi THAT…

Asking your rabbi a question about your period or your sex life might seem odd, but couples who observe the laws of family purity — where they refrain from sexual contact during and after a woman’s menstrual cycle — occasionally need to provide intimate details to male rabbis.

Questions often involve irregular periods or midcycle staining, which may or may not render a woman a niddah, off limits to her husband. Sometimes, the questions are more emotional, dealing with miscarriage, menopause and infertility.

For the past eight years tens of thousands of women from Israel and the United States have opted to bring these questions to yoatzot (advisers), women trained to either answer the questions or act as a liaison between the women and rabbis.

About 50 women have undertaken two years of study at Nishmat’s Jerusalem Center for Advanced Jewish Study for Women (, and have answered 70,000 phone calls on a hotline and thousands more questions on a Web site (

This weekend, Bracha Rutner, a Talmud teacher and yoetzet in Riverdale, N.Y., will be in Los Angeles to talk with girls at YULA and Shalhevet Orthodox high schools, and, on Shabbat, will address the topic of the Jewish view of love and romance at Young Israel of Century City (YICC). She will also join with doctors and other professionals at YICC on Sunday morning to talk about the intersections of Jewish law and women’s health issues, including the use of birth control and hormones.

As demonstrated by Rutner’s topics, the yoatzot have broadened their role beyond dealing with halachic minutiae. Nishmat in Jerusalem and Nishmat’s Miriam Glaubach Center in New York have dispatched the yoatzot to communities across the country to provide proactive education on women’s health issues and open up conversations on women and sexuality. Online courses prepare new brides and refresh long-married couples on the laws and meaning of family purity.

Nishmat also has a Web site ( for medical and halachic professionals.

“These are brilliant women, who are so well trained, and can speak to other women in a way men cannot,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of YICC, where yoatzot have spoken twice before. “The important thing is they encourage women to observe this mitzvah and make them more comfortable with it, because they can explain things and talk to them, woman to woman.”

Bracha Rutner will keynote “Health and Halakha,” Sunday, Nov. 2, at Young Israel of Century City, 9317 W. Pico Blvd, 9 a.m.-noon. Topics include “Hormones, Halakha and Beyond” and “Medicine, Mikvah and Me.” For more information, call (310) 273-6954 or visit

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Outreach Builds Latino and Jewish Bonds

Hundreds of Latino evangelical Christians gathered for Sukkot services at Sinai Temple in Westwood on Oct. 19. The program, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Esencia de Judaismo, drew a similar-sized crowd to the Westwood congregation in 2007.

“Our goal is to bridge cultural and linguistic barriers to develop mutual understanding and respect between the Latino and Jewish communities,” said Randall Brown, AJC’s director of interreligious and Israel affairs.

Esencia de Judaismo, which received a $150,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles in August, is a three-year AJC program that seeks to train 500 Los Angeles-area Latino pastors about Judaism. AJC scholars and Latino rabbis from North and Central America head the effort.

Brown said mutual respect is the key to the program. “We’re not trying to convert anyone; we’re simply educating,” he said.

Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe welcomed participants to this year’s Sukkot serice, which was held on the last night of the holiday. “All of us can join hands and in our own way worship God together,” he said.

Gil Artzyeli, a Israeli deputy consul general in Los Angeles who also served in Bogotá, Mexico City and Madrid, addressed the crowd in fluent Spanish.

“We are all immigrants,” he said. “You’re here for your love of Israel, for your love of God.”

Israel is important to evangelical Christians, said Dr. Manuel Tigerino, president and founder of Latin University of Theology. “Israel is the place especially chosen by God,” he said.

Many of those involved in Esencia de Judaismo are leading Latino pastors within Pentecostalism, a diverse evangelical movement that places special emphasis on speaking in tongues and spiritual healing.

“Latino Pentecostals are the fastest-growing ethnic demographic and have emerged as a major force in the religious and political landscape,” AJC Los Angeles Executive Director Seth Brysk said.

— Lilly Fowler, Contributing Writer

Yom Tov Parking Tickets to Be Reviewed

District 5 City Councilman Jack Weiss has issued an apology to constituents who received parking tickets during the last days of Yom Tov. In September, Weiss’ office had announced efforts to relax enforcement of street cleaning, time limit and preferential parking restrictions for certain neighborhoods during the High Holy Days.

Weiss is instructing people who received citations to e-mail field deputy Maya Zutler at with the citation number, the date of the citation and contact information included.

“The office will then work with the Department of Transportation and the Parking Enforcement Bureau to investigate the citations and cancel the ones that were issued incorrectly,” Zutler said.

Zutler warned that the process could take some time and asked for patience in the matter. “We assure you that these citations will all be investigated,” she said.

— LF

Third and Fairfax Celebrates Diamond Anniversary

The Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles is turning to the public for help in celebrating its 75th anniversary next year.

“We know that tourists and locals alike have great memories of their times at the Market,” said Ilysha Buss, Farmers Market marketing manager. “We have our own extensive archive to draw upon as we prepare to celebrate 75 years in Los Angeles, but we know that many of those who cherish the Market have their own memories, stories, photographs and other memorabilia, too. We are asking one and all to share their memories of the Market with us.”

Couples courting, graduations, novels and screenplays written, it’s all happened at the Famers Market, Buss said.

The market is asking for photographs, stories (no more than 250 words) and other memories to be sent to 6333 W. Third St., Los Angeles, 90036 or e-mailed to Throughout 2009, the Farmers Market will display the public’s contributions on memory boards created specifically for its 75th anniversary year-long celebration and on a special section of their Web site at

— LF

Cartoon Parshat Now on Web

Teens who know little about the Torah can now turn to, a new weekly Web cartoon about each week’s Torah portion has just launched.

“Each episode features a different celebrated or emerging Jewish voice in the arts or education, and each one has a free curriculum guide for teachers and parents,” said site founder Sarah Lefton, the San Francisco-based entrepreneur behind the clothing company Jewish Fashion Conspiracy.

National Jewish Book Award-winner Dara Horn and Chasidic hip hop artist Y-Love are just a couple of the names that will be featured in the new series. The episodes vary widely and include anything from country songs to hip-hop tracks to “mystical musings on the nature of the universe.”

Each Webcast runs no more than four minutes and is available as a podcast.

Lefton, who grew up in South Carolina, said she started the site because she knows children in certain parts of the United States have little or no access to Jewish education.

“We started G-dcast to try to bring literacy to these populations, ” Lefton said.

— LF

Local Schools Help Sderot Kids Play it Safe

Schools across the country are participating in the Jewish National Fund’s “Let Us Play” campaign to support the construction of Israel’s largest indoor playground in Sderot.

“Our hope is that the children in this country, who live in a much safer world than the children of Sderot, will join together to raise funds through sponsorship and donations to make a safe place for the children in Sderot,” said Bob Levine, JNF Vice President of Education.

JNF’s Education Program Manager Michelle Beller said 127 schools nationwide have opted to participate in the campaign, which will take place on Thursday, Nov. 13. Four L.A.-area Jewish educational organizations — Temple Aliyah Department of Early Childhood Education, Wilshire Boulevard Temple Religious School, Temple Ahavat Shalom Religious School and the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles — are among those participating.

Students at the schools are asking family and friends to sponsor their participation in games, sports and other activities that will be played on the playground.

The money raised will go toward helping build the $5 million, 20,000-square-foot facility in Sderot, complete with an indoor soccer field, basketball and volleyball courts, a rock-climbing wall, and a media center with a movie room and video games. The state-of-the-art facility will also feature three therapy rooms to help children who have experienced trauma.

JNF plans to recognize schools that raise more than $1,800 with a plaque that will be permanently displayed on Sderot’s new playground.

— LF

History’s First

Since four women became Jewish history’s first yoatzot, or female halachic consultants, a few months ago, they have been flooded with nightly calls with questions regarding everything from the laws of family purity to the ethics of prenatal testing to infertility treatments.

“Women are voting with their feet. The volume of questions is nothing short of a tidal wave. The women are getting 10 to 15 questions a night,” says Rabbanit Chana Henkin, founder of Nishmat, the women’s yeshiva in Jerusalem that runs the two-year intensive program to become a yoetzet, a consultant.

Henkin was in Los Angeles recently as a scholar-in-residence at B’nai David-Judea on Pico, where she was eager to share news of what she considers a historic moment.

“There’s been a sea of change in Jewish life for women in which we’ve watched the emergence of the first generation of Talmudically literate women,” says Henkin. “We couldn’t have done something like this even six years ago.”

There are another 17 women going through the program now, and many more applicants eager to submit to two years of intensive training and rigorous written and oral exams.

Nishmat’s yoatzot are impacting a wide swath of Israeli society. In addition to advising the women who come to them nightly — from communities ranging from secular to Charedi — the yoatzot have been integrated into Israel’s religious establishment as teachers of the laws of family purity in premarital counseling, which the rabbinate requires of all couples.

Henkin is also working with local religious councils to have the women available for questions as part of the council’s services.

Rabbinic support for the yoatzot has been forthcoming from the segment of the Orthodox community that allows women to study Talmud.

“The rabbis have realized that this is promoting a more correct Jewish observance, and at the same time it’s giving women dignity,” Henkin says.

The laws dealing with menstruation and sexual intimacy often hinge on individual circumstances, which need to be investigated and decided upon by a halachic authority. Women who approach rabbis are sometimes reluctant to go into detail about their bodily functions. Often, Henkin says, women ask their questions through the rabbi’s wife and important facts are not elicited. Or, she says, they do not ask the question at all, and impose upon themselves unnecessary restrictions.

“Just as women frequently feel more comfortable going to women gynecologists, there’s a comfort level in speaking to someone who is empathetic and with whom you feel capable of being completely open with in dealing with things that are very personal,” Henkin says.

The yoatzot consult with rabbis on questions that are complex or require original halachic innovation.

“Our women are not replacing rabbis, they are not aspiring to be rabbis and they are not aspiring to replace rabbis,” Henkin says. “They are working in concert with rabbis to provide a real service which never before in Jewish history has been available to women.”

Henkin says the benefits extend not just to those asking questions, but to the yoatzot themselves, who include doctors, lawyers and Ph.D.s.

“We’re creating an avenue for the highly accomplished woman to contribute to Jewish life,” Henkin says.

Nishmat’s other programs, serving 250 women, are similarly rigorous. The 10-year-old school, which includes year-long programs, summer programs and special classes, is at the forefront of providing venues for women to excel at intensive text study.

“Jewish life is dynamic,” Henkin says. “Nobody could have predicted 100 years ago where we would be today.”

For more information go to the Nishmat home page at, or call (212) 983-6975.