Monday, June 23, 2008

My Thoughts on Megirot, pt i

Let me preface this by noting that I know nothing of Megirot personally, but just impressions from what I have read in articles and blogs. And there is no real reason you should really care about my take over that of anyone else. However, I do have some thoughts about it. And since I posted Yehuda's comment last week and mentioned that I might try to explain what I agreed with and disagreed with, this will be part of my attempt to follow through.

In this post, I will try to put forth the reasons for Megirot, though tempered somewhat. Perhaps in a later post I will elaborate on the possible causes for concern.

I think that to a large degree, the concept of Megirot is silly. It is pop-psychology by people who are not trained psychologists. And it is masked as religion, and specifically Jewish religion, but it is really folk-religion with a Jewish tinge, guided someone who is not a professional member of the clergy. So there is what to worry about. If that declaration runs afoul of the laws of lashon hara, so be it. I will try to elaborate on why I think this later, bli neder -- perhaps in a different post.

However, there are people in need of help. And I recall a research study in psychology that compared different therapy methods -- e.g. Freudian therapy, Rogerian, Gestalt therapy, etc. -- I am giving examples not from memory, but rather making up the specific examples. But the most important factor in success was not the particular method, but rather whether the therapist believed in it. Now this could be because those who believed in the method were more likely to be effective in applying it. But I think that one should not dismiss the relationship which develops between the therapist. And if the therapist believes it will work, and is committed to it, this will be conveyed to the patient. And the bond with another human being is good to improve one's emotional and mental health. Call this a placebo effect if you will, but this is an actual psychological effect, and its benefit should not be dismissed.

Referring to Yehuda's particular case, as representative of many other cases I am sure exist. Raising 8 children is hard, as this cartoon illustrates:

This can be quite a burden to place on any person. Especially if money is tight as well, as seems to be the case. And post-partum depression can also factor in. To have to look after the kids, clean the house after all these kids, prepare meals, worry about money, etc., with the possibility of more kids on the way when you already cannot cope, is something that most of us cannot really imagine.

Such a person needs a support group, or a therapist, or something. At the least, a book club, to make friends, vent, etc. Or a support group of people going through similar things. Or a therapist to whom one can express and explore one's feelings and psyche. But what are the possibilities of this in a chareidi neighborhood. I don't know, but I would guess slim. Going to a psychologist might bring on stigma that could make it difficult to marry off those 8 kids. Hanging around discussing novels? What a waste of time! Is that something a righteous Jewish woman would do?! Perhaps she could join a tehillim zugging group, or a challah baking group. Or -- one could practice Megirot and go to Megirot groups.

The beauty of Megirot is that it casts itself as a religious activity. One transforms the mundane into the spiritual. And thus one prays, saying "Ana Hashem..." before cleaning any drawer. One goes to a spiritual advisor. And by making use of Jewish or Jewish-sounding concepts, it sounds like a religious activity. And this religious garb is good because it provides an opportunity to women who previously would not be able to participate in it.

A prayer to Hashem might be said before cleaning a drawer, but the important aspect is not the talking to God, but the talking to oneself. This is introspection, and thinking about what one could or wants to change about one's life. And this takes what would otherwise be drudge work, or an overwhelming task for an overworked mother, and turns it into a reflective, transformative experience. This is good.

Further, one attends classes with other women who are going through many of the same problems, and who sought out megirot as a result. This provides a sense of community and a sense that they are not alone in their struggles. And talking over, and preparing "prayers" with a spiritual megirot advisor is a form of therapy.

Of course, in many cases, it is possible that these amatuer "therapists" do not know what they are doing, and can thus unwittingly influence vulnerable people in negative directions. And the focus on the ideas and personality of one perhaps troubled individual can lead one astray. And there is a problem of the (unwitting) coopting of religion for this end, which together with many other things can move the practice of Judaism in a direction it should not go. It is part of a negative trend and may be somewhat cult-like. Even though it might not be avodah zarah, it may be problematic to have such a set-up in the general case. Though for an individual case, if someone's sanity or emotional well-being is dependant upon it, even I might say that one should do this.

This post was meant to argue in favor of megirot, though I think it is balanced. If I get around to making the next post, it would be an expansion of what I only hinted at above -- e.g., why I think this is folk religion, even if every idea can be found in sources; the ritualization of mundane activities, because of the present restricted role for women in ritual Jewish life; and why individual warning signs should be made public, even if a strict reading of Shmirat haLashon would indicate otherwise. No promises, though.


Anonymous said...

You are honest and correct in your first statement that
"Let me preface this by noting that I know nothing of Megirot personally, but just impressions from what I have read in articles and blogs. And there is no real reason you should really care about my take over that of anyone else."
The above statement renders you incapable of properly giving any worthwhile comment on something that you do not personally have experience with.
You stated that" It is pop-psychology by people who are not trained psychologists.The question is: since megirot was never meant to be Psychology, so what then is the fine line between changing one's middos, i.e anger, procrastination, lack of bitcahon, and in your case,being an "introvert" (unless by choice),and psychology? Are the changing of these Middos as is brought down over and over again in our mussar sefarim, RELIGIOUS avodah,or psychological work? Are these then in fact Psychological books, and NOT religious sefarim? And, when I say on Yom Kippur the Al Chets, for all of these numerous middos,that I have trangressed,i.e.anger,Tieva,Kinah, etc, am I doing my vidduy for my psychological downfalls or my improper level of Torah observance?
It must then be that whenever I myself do a cheshbon hanefesh as chazal recommend,I am turning myself into a "not trained psychologist". OH WELL!!!
You also thought that " And it is masked as religion, and specifically Jewish religion, but it is really folk-religion with a Jewish tinge,",
Once again what part of it is "masked as religion"? I personally asked the founder of Megirot what her main goal was, and she answered, "to get everyone to talk to Hashem",and the truth is,if we don't believe this truth that it IS ALWAYS HASHEM, and that no one else can help us, then we are lacking the fundamental emmunah in hashem. It is nice to say, "I believe that everything in my life comes from Hashem", but if you really did, wouldn't you talk to him more? And, is talking to Hashem, the creator of the universe... religion? Which religion is it? Isn't all of the creation, including goyim supposed to talk to their creator? So, when I do it too, which religion am I belonging to? So, when I ask hashem to open up a parking space for me on a crowded street, am I practicing a religion or am I using the emunah pashuta that probably every briah in the universe SHOULD have awareness of? By the way, when in megirot one would say "Anah hashem...this was when they had identified a particular middah they wanted to change, as reflected in their particular drawer, or shelf etc, they would then ask Hashem for assistance in being metaken this particular middah. Is not proper to ask Hashem to help in every proper indeavor?
As far as the placebo affect, I do believe there is such a thing, but this is usually relevant with pills where the choleh believes the pain will be removed, and they just lay there. But, in megirot, my wife mamash worked very very hard every day. IT wasn't easy for her to change middos, as is the norm with the placebo affect. She struggled, she misgabered, and in the end she succeeded. Those who went to the shiur alone, and did not work on themselves at home, could expect minor improvements at best.
I would like to exchange your word above of psychology and use the word Targil, (excercise) I don't believe I was delving in psychology when I kept looking at my messy desk. Here it is right now as I type, messy, unorganized, with many different things thrown on top. Papers, mikvah towel, screw driver, pens, etc. etc. I don't like it messy, but then why do I leave it like this? The emmes is, when I have organized it many times, and put everything in it's proper place, and yes, thrown some things out, i did feel much more focused in my head. A messy head resulted in the creation of a messy desk. By doing a change on the outside, it can affect the inside. Can we call this a Targil instead of psychology?
And finally, you said, "even if a strict reading of Shmirat haLashon would indicate otherwise".
Yes, but NOT motzei Shem Rah which is Lies. Kol Tuv

joshwaxman said...


And I didn't even get to the things I found problematic with it. :)

Perhaps I will find time to answer this, but first I would need to post the subsequent post, which expands on what I find problematic. Without it, a reply to these particulars would not be entirely understandable.

I did not mean placebo in any pejorative form. See this article for an expansion of the idea of placebo in psychotherapy, see here:

All the best,

Anonymous said...


By the way. I will deff. concede that there can be cases where the women are very impressed with this type of middos workshop. They start to spread the word to their friends, (which of course this is what happened), and I wouldn't doubt that there were several cases were some women knew of those who were truly in a bad matzav,*mentally) i.e those in need of real psychological help,and they brought them to a megirot workshop with the best of intentions....

Ariella's blog said...

"A messy head resulted in the creation of a messy desk. " Yehudah, it was a messy desk that led to the creation of penicillin -- without which many people would have died of everyday ailments such as strep throat. The belief that neatness reflects superiority of mind or morals is belied by study after study. When you're not learning Torah yomam valayla, or blogging about doing so, read: A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder - How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and on-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman.

Ariella's blog said...

BTW, Josh, I have an aunt with 16 children, and the older ones were married before the younger ones were born. Her husband did not leave her to shoulder the whole burden herself.

I also have an aunt with 11 children, and her husband was very much involved with the children, learning navi with the young ones, even though he also ran a business to support his family so that they would have all they need.

joshwaxman said...

just to clarify my position, because some of what I wrote in this and next post were tongue in cheek, I agree with you about father participation. I have many fewer kids, but I do a lot of the cooking, washing dishes, taking care of the kid, etc.. I can only imagine how much more difficult it is with so many kids, and agree it is important in this day and age to be involved in child-rearing.

Kol Tuv,

Anonymous said...


I never said that a non messy desk creates a "superior mind". My point was that it was the persons mind who created their desk, and if the desk was messy or neat for that matter, so it is very possible that it reflects something, (somewhere) similiar in it's creator. (not neccessarily superiority), but perhaps lack of seder.
As far as what you wrote; A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder - How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and on-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman.

I believe that those who love mess, will in fact find facts and studies to prove that mess is wonderful. I am sure that the cure for cancer will have to come from a messy desk. there are those who prove that drinking juices in the morning is good for health,(it WAS good for their metabolism) while others get sick from it. There are those who thrive in cool weather, and others in the heat. In short, there are NO rules because everyone is different.
Everyone must find what it is that is causing them not to function to their fullest. ONe finding is good for this one, and harmful for the other.
I saw in the sefer Shomrei Emunim, that he said Hashem wrote the torah in such a way that one who wishes, can use the very Torahs emmes, to prove that the entire Torah is false. Imagine, that Hashem wrote the Torah in such a fashion that one, if he wishes, can find his proofs in the very Torah, to prove it false. Those who are looking for the truth will ultimatley find it, and those who are looking for falshood.....

Ariella's blog said...

I was not referring to speculation, philosophy, or such but to actual facts. We don't know where a cure for all diseases will come from, but it is a fact that Fleming's messiness hastened the discovery of penicillin. , and there are other such positive results of messiness in various forms that you could investigate as part of a search for truth. It is also a fact that I have aunts with large families whose husbands saw their roles as fathers as more than the man who comes home to eat dinner set before him each evening. I don't know if their drawers would have passed the test, but they successfully raised good children in partnership with their spouses.

Anonymous said...


I know of several people who had very organised desks,...and they never needed the pennicilin that was invented by the one with the messy desk.

on another topic,

My wife used to spend a quick 10 minutes doing Lisha for the shabbos challas. Now, she spends about 40 minutes with the Batzek, and the reason she told me is that now when she does it, she is putting her heart into it. It is not just another melacha on the preparation schedule.She has elevated it up and beyond the mere "household chore level" She has learned to put her heart into everthing she does in the kitchen. The challas are unbelievabe. (I don't wish to debate now if they really taste better, or if it some placebo type fantasy), but the heart of a Jewish Aishes must have some affect!
Now, when my wife prepares and serves,me food, she does it in such a simcha dikka way, that when I am alone learning, I feel as if she is actually with me together.

Commenter Abbi said...

"Now, when my wife prepares and serves,me food, she does it in such a simcha dikka way, that when I am alone learning, I feel as if she is actually with me together."

Yehuda, i've really tried to read your comments here and on Mother in Israel with an open mind, but it's really very difficult. I think very few pple who regularly read and post on these blogs can find any way to relate to them in a positive way (that was really the nicest way of I could think of describing them)

Did it ever occur to you that your wife might feel a lot more supported and happier if you actually were with her and actually helped prepare the food? or maybe take some of the kids to the park while she's preparing food? or found some other way to be actively supportive in some other way aside from learning?

How do you know that your wife wasn't suffering from post partum depression, when you, nebach, had to do all the cooking and cleaning? Changing middos is not the answer to all of one's problems.

Anonymous said...

Dear Abbi,

As I requested form Ariella, please go back again and look at all of my posts. I hope that you will NOT read them from YOUR perspective and experiences in life, because they are all YOURS. You are actually trying to give advice in a "what would I do or be feeling in this situation"
You are not here. You don't/can't know me, my wife, my children, and their needs, and you can not possibly understand who I am, my hashkafa etc. from short paragraphed postings in blogs.
My wife, now B"H is very happy, well adjusted. Happy with life, has grown and changed middot, (more than I can say for myself), and is continueing to grow. This is her perspective, my perspective etc.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ladies who read this post:

I would like to ask a general question: Firstly,

are there any ladies here who have understood what I have written? i.e saw it in a postive light.


I would like to hear from the ladies, what is YOUR definition of a "real" wife. (not a real husband, as some have been comenting.)How does/would this type of lady function in the Jewish household. What would be her goals, her asperations, and how would she wish to conduct herself, if she had the choice?

rivka said...

But we are not speaking to your wife. We are speaking to you. Why are you trying to learn her Torah?

I dated a man who also thought that a man's job in the home was to come home at night and be waited on, but talked about "partnership". I decided I actually wanted a partnership, not hypocritical talk about one and broke things off. I thank Hashem every day for saving me from him!

So no, I do not see your comments "in a positive light".

I have an aunt with, k'h, a dozen kids. She cooks (wonderfully), cleans, raises kids, and is the model balabusta. Her husband told me once that when the oldest were babies (twins), he declared it was his job to give them a bath every night (except on those rare occasions when he could not be at home then). And there are plenty of other things he does around the house, even though he works full time and learns many hours a day.

He certainly appreciates his wife's balabusta abilities. But he appreciates her for much more than "being a 'real' wife" and expresses that in many ways. Including making sure she gets a break for herself sometimes!


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