The Menstrual Roots of Three Jewish and African Rites of Passage: Khomba, Bat Mitzvah and the Mikvah
by Deborah J. Grenn, Ph.D
B’rucha at Shekhinah 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.
What connects women to nyama, 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…