The Menstrual Roots of Three Jewish and African Rites of Passage

Metaforms of a Monotheistic Religion

The Menstrual Roots of Three Jewish and African Rites of Passage: Khomba, Bat Mitzvah and the Mikvah

by Deborah J. Grenn, Ph.D

From Metaphormia – A Journal of Menstruation and Culture

 B’rucha at Shekhinah[1] eloteinu malkah ha’olam she’asani ishah: Blessed are you, Shekhinah our god, Creator of the world/Source of Life, who has made me a woman.

– adapted from a prayer recited by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein at her menses each month, when she believes women are “vessels of transformation”[2]

What connects women to nyama[3], ase, ruach, our own lifeforce?   What pre-patriarchal roots and contemporary customs do women from different continents and traditions share?  In exploring these questions through an examination of women’s ancient and modern religious rituals, I apply Judy Grahn’s metaformic theory.  I look at three rituals: the mikvah and the bat mitzvah, women’s rituals in my own European-American Jewish tradition, and khomba, a puberty ritual practiced by the Lemba, a Southern African people practicing Judaic customs since ancient times.  All three rituals meet enough of Grahn’s criteria to allow us to consider them as possible metaforms—acts or practices containing knowledge which emerged from women’s earliest menstrual rites. The mikvah, though rarely done as a coming-of-age ritual as are the khomba and bat mitzvah, contains enough parallels to early menstrual rites to be included here.  All three are transformative transitional rituals that include a period of sitting in the unknown, in psychological if not physical darkness—and emerging with new consciousness and greater knowledge than one had before the rite.  MORE…


Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.