The One About the Orthodox Jewish Woman and the Rabbi’s Wife
“I saw that God I’d been so determined to believe in not as an absolute, but as a construct that couldn’t take a joke.”
If this story were a joke, it would go something like this: A newly observant Jewish woman, a rabbi’s wife, and a priest walk into a wedding.
Forget the priest. It’s just the newly observant Jewish woman and the rabbi’s wife.
I’m the woman.
The funniest sketch was about the mikvah (ritual bath), in which a married Jewish woman is supposed to submerge after her menstrual period. Mikvahs are run by a community of (usually older) women, “mikvah ladies,” who open the mikvah each night and oversee the immersions to make sure they are both safe and ritually correct. Preparing for your immersion involves thoroughly cleansing your entire body, scrubbing off dead skin, cutting your nails, combing your hair to make sure there are no knots; performing any of these steps incompletely can render the immersion un-kosher, and so mikvah ladies do a lot of waiting as the women prepare in the bathrooms adjoining the ritual bath. In our sketch, the mikvah lady waits onstage for a young bride who is offstage, preparing to immerse herself in the mikvah for the first time. The mikvah lady is wearing a robe and a scarf as a head covering and reading to herself from a book of Psalms. She grows increasingly annoyed as the bride continues to take her sweet time. Then, finally, after over a minute of silent pacing and grumbling and Psalm-reciting, the bride emerges—not in a towel, as one would expect, but in full scuba attire—and announces, “I’m ready!”
I told my husband about the encounter on the drive home. He’d had his own run-ins with leaders in the community who didn’t think we’d been behaving as model citizens. We might have seen this coming, but we had still been holding steadfast to a belief that we could reconcile our own identities and our concerns for the identities of our two young children with the commitment we had made to living a strictly religious life. Now that belief was starting to unravel.
She seemed genuinely happy with her life. I wasn’t sad that I’d once lived like that, or regretful of anything I experienced when I had. We had met once at one point along our journeys, and now this young woman was right where I had been while I was somewhere else entirely—but here we both were, in this moment, together. In comedy, it’s what we call a callback. And I feel like the God I’d want to believe in would appreciate it.
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Both church and theatre demand from their followers the suspension of disbelief, and the ability to inhabit an imaginary set of circumstances in lieu of the known.