Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Nursing in Shul

This week's Jewish Week's letters to the editor has two reactions to the Conservative Movement's declaration that women may discreetly breastfeed in synagogues, and Rabbi Basil Herring's reaction:
“The issue hasn’t come up,” said Rabbi Basil Herring. “In the Orthodox world there would be a general understanding that it would be best for the mother and baby to be following the traditional role of staying home. If she does come to synagogue, it would not be in the pews where she would be breast-feeding.”
Two pro-breast feeding reactions.
The first letter (excerpted):
The issue of breast-feeding in the synagogue is nonexistent in our community because any breast-feeding in shul proper would take place in the company of only other women on our side of the mechitza. This would prevent a man from accidentally seeing any bit of skin that he would rather not. Breast-feeding mothers are cherished, respected and given special privileges, such as refraining from fasting on most fast days.
The second (excerpted):
Being the madricha ruchanit (spiritual mentor) at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and a nursing mother of 6-month old twins comes with its own set of challenges, but it has never occurred to me to stay at home from “the pews” just because I have children. Shul is a place for families, and nursing mothers should feel comfortable to modestly feed their children either in the sanctuary or in a separate room set aside for breast-feeding moms.

As I nurse my boys during shul, I am aware that some women may throw me disapproving glares. I understand and respect their discomfort. But mainly I am thrilled to be surrounded by women of all ages, including women who breast-feed, who are active participants in the spiritual community. We know that our place is not at home, and I am sorry to hear that Rabbi Herring’s “Orthodox world” assumes exclusion of Jewish mothers.
This is interesting because while HIR has a kosher mechitza, I certainly can rather easily see over it and (if I recall correctly) can see women standing a bit away from the mechitza from head to toe. (Similarly, in Conservative synagogues, women sit with their families, and so the issue of men seeing nursing women is present).

I have more to say on the matter, but cannot because I have to run.

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