Course Gives Religious Push To The Birthing Experience

A 30-year-old, Orthodox mother of three young children who lives in Brooklyn, Sarah was nervous about the upcoming birth of her fourth. Her first three pregnancies had been difficult.

Advised by a friend of a series of Torah-based pregnancy-and-birthing practices taught by Chani Newman, a veteran day school teacher who lives in Far Rockaway, Sarah (not her real name) enrolled in Newman’s spiritual birthing course.

Sarah said she incorporated what she learned — especially relaxation-focused visualizations, and the recitation of selected Psalms and prayers — into the hours before the birth of her fourth child. “It helped” put her at ease during the hours of labor; “waiting is often the worst part” of the birthing experience, she said.

The practices taught by Newman eased Sarah’s delivery and infused her fourth birth with a level of spirituality that had been lacking in her first three, Sarah said.

Which is the point of “Spiritual Birthing,” a four-session course Newman began teaching last year; it has drawn about a dozen women to date. “Hashem is closer than ever in pregnancy,” she said.

Newman is the mother of three young daughters and a graduate of Yeshiva University’s Stern College and Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Education who grew up in Elmont, L.I. She designed the course after incorporating practices like Jewish affirmations, visualizations and hypno-birthing (a self-induced pain-management technique) into her own delivery experience and teaching it to a friend.

She thought more women could benefit from a uniquely Jewish approach to everything connected with pregnancy, from such apparently non-spiritual features as morning sickness to changing diapers. “I wanted to make it a more religiously significant experience — it has the potential to be transformative, not just something to get through.”

Newman, during a “break from formal teaching,” researched a wide range of Jewish teachings on the subject, and designed her own curriculum, which covers the period of pregnancy, the delivery and the post-partum period. The course (birthingwithmeaning.com) includes specific readings, musical selections and segulot (spiritual practices like avoiding anger, giving tzedakah during labor and avoiding cemeteries) to be accessed at the appropriate time.

“Many frum midwives or doulas throw in some Torah, but nobody fleshes it out this much or makes it this practical,” Newman said. “Whereas any religious Jewish woman knows there is inherent spirituality in these [pregnancy-connected] experiences, many women get bogged down with the challenges that come along with it and don’t have tools to actually make it spiritual for themselves.”

Newman teaches her course at women’s homes, sometimes by Skype, at the student’s convenience. Her students so far have been members of the Orthodox community, but her lessons apply to non-Orthodox women as well, she said. “I tailor it to people’s needs.”

“It’s not a halacha course,” Newman said. “It’s not a kallah class,” the standard course for brides-to-be. “It’s not a childbirth class.” Instead, it’s a remedial, religious supplement to a traditional childbirth class.

Newman passes out her teaching material in a folder decorated with the drawing of two large, pink flowers.

Her course has the endorsement of Rabbi Eytan Feiner, spiritual leader of Far Rockaway’s Congregation Kneseth Israel (“The White Shul”).

Sarah Kramer, a hypno-birthing instructor familiar with Newman’s work, said Newman is “deeply connected to the material she’s teaching … she’s lived what she’s teaching.”

Kramer called Newman’s course part of a wider trend in the Jewish world of men and women seeking greater spiritual meaning in their lives. She said Newman’s course is “very textual,” grounded in Jewish tradition.

Newman calls herself and her husband “neo-Chasidic.” Their home is decorated with posters of such prominent rabbis as Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, and Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Palestine. A poster Newman made of nine outstanding Jewish women provides role models for the Newmans’ daughters.

She said has heard positive feedback — and reports of relaxed deliveries — from the women who have taken her course.

“It was healing,” said Sarah, the Brooklyn mother of four. She said it would help her pregnant friends. “I would definitely recommend it.”

– Steve Lipman

Steve Lipman, steve@jewishweek.org

Language Association Rejects Resolution Endorsing Academic Boycott Of Israel

(JTA) — The Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association voted down a resolution endorsing an academic boycott of Israel.

The resolution was rejected Jan. 7 by a vote of 113-79 at the MLA’s annual convention in Philadelphia.

Following the vote, convention delegates approved a proposal that calls for the rejection of all academic boycotts, including of Israel, by a vote of 101-93.

The text of the anti-boycott resolution said that endorsing the boycott of Israeli academic institutions “contradicts the MLA’s purpose to promote teaching and research on language and literature” and could “curtail debates with representatives of Israeli universities … thereby blocking possible dialogue and general scholarly exchange.”

The anti-boycott resolution will go to the MLA executive council for review before it moves to the full MLA membership for a vote.

MLA, one of the largest and most prominent language associations in the United States, has about 24,000 members.

The delegate assembly also voted 83-78 to indefinitely postpone consideration of a resolution that condemns attacks on academic freedom in Palestinian universities by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

Solomon Schechter School Near Chicago Awarded National Blue Ribbon School Status

(JTA) — A Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School in suburban Chicago is the only Jewish school in the country to be awarded National Blue Ribbon School status this year.

The Sager Solomon Schechter Day School in Northbrook, Ill., will received its National Blue Ribbon School flag and plaque from the U.S. Department of Education at a November ceremony in Washington, D.C.

It is one of 50 private schools and 279 public schools across the country to receive the honor for 2016.

The Sager School is the K-8 program at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Metropolitan Chicago.

“We are proud to be one of our nation’s highest performing schools,” Ethan Budin, Schechter’s board president, said in a statement.

Linda Foster, head of the Schechter Day School of Metropolitan Chicago, added: “This honor recognizes the exemplary teaching and learning that takes place at Schechter.”

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private elementary, middle and high schools where students achieve very high learning standards or are making notable improvements in closing the achievement gap.

Harvard Law School Dean, Initiator Of Jewish And Israeli Program, To Step Down

(JTA) — After seven years as dean of Harvard Law School, Martha Minow, a noted legal scholar, expert in human rights and a leader in Jewish causes, will step down at the end of the academic year.

Martha Minow: Credited with diversifying the faculty at Harvard Law School faculty. Wikimedia

Martha Minow: Credited with diversifying the faculty at Harvard Law School faculty. Wikimedia

Minow, who began teaching at the law school in 1981, says she will remain on the law school faculty and plans to return to teaching, according to a statement released earlier this month by the law school.

She is credited with diversifying the faculty, staff and student body, programmatic growth and record fundraising. Among the new programs initiated under her term is a Jewish and Israeli law program directed by law school Professor Noah Feldman.

Among the students she influenced was President Barack Obama, who in 2009 nominated her to the board of the Legal Services Corp., for which she now serves as vice chair. Among her other notable non-academic appointments, Minow served on the Independent International Commission Kosovo.

In the world of Jewish philanthropy, Minow served for four years as board chair of the Charles H. Revson Foundation, and she earned high regard for her leadership in advancing innovation in Jewish education as a board member of the Covenant Foundation. She is a founding member of the Jewish Women’s Archive based in Boston.

Alan Dershowitz praised his former colleague for never shying away from her Jewishness.

“One might say she is among the few in high positions at Harvard to proclaim her Jewish values,” which are reflected in her teaching and scholarship, he told JTA.

Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor emeritus, pointed to her involvement in Jewish causes and education. Among Minow’s one dozen books is “Not Only for Myself,” which draws its title from a quote by the Jewish philosopher Hillel. As dean, Dershowitz said, Minow “elevated human rights and globalism in the school.”

In the college’s statement, Harvard President Drew Faust commended Minow for strengthening the law school and making it more inclusive.

Last year, the issue of diversity put the law school in the spotlight. A student group campaigned successfully for the removal of the school’s logo and seal that reflected a former Boston-area slave owner’s coat of arms. Minow endorsed the recommendation of a committee to remove the seal, but also noted in her letter to the college’s overseers the importance of not forgetting its ties to slavery.

In April, a controversy erupted at a panel on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when a law student asked Israeli lawmaker Tzipi Livni, “How is it that you are so smelly?” Minow responded in an email to the school community.

“The comment was offensive and it violated the trust and respect we expect in our community,” she said. “Many perceive it as anti-Semitic, and no one would see it as appropriate.”

The student later apologized.

The recipient of nine honorary doctorates and other academic honors, Minow last year was awarded Brandeis University’s Gittler Prize, which honors contributions to racial, ethnic or religious relations.