Monday, 20 April 2009

Comprehensive Site Review of the MikvahMinder

The image that appears on the home page of MikvahMinder

Through the Mikvah Project that my husband and I are doing, I was asked to review a relatively new website "mikvahminder".


Being a woman I am not a rabbi or a posek (Jewish legal authority,) and hence do not know all options of Hallachah and observance of each mitzvah. However, as a woman, I do work with the laws of family purity on a daily and very practical basis. In addition, as an experienced occupational therapist, I am familiar with analysing various tools that will assist a person to fulfil their daily life role more effectively.


The laws of family purity are an important and integral part of the life of a Jew and fall predominantly on the woman. As such it is imperative that every woman familiarize herself with the laws of "Family Purity" and specifically the path of Hallachah as set out by and with her husband and orthodox rabbi who is competent to answer questions in Nidda. Any tool that a woman uses to ease her ability to fulfil this mitzvah MUST be with the approval of her Nidda rabbi. It cannot replace the relationship a woman has with her husband and Nidda rabbi. She will still HAVE to ask questions and to constantly either inform her husband of information or clarify details.


After spending some weeks working with and getting to know the site, I found it important to do a comprehensive review and therefore invite you to join me to tour the site, "MikvahMinder".


"MikvahMinder" was begun in June 2008 and is constantly being updated and improved. I therefore encourage any woman who considers using this website to send any feedback to the webmasters. Both Tuvia and Avraham have stated that they want the site to be user friendly and effective to all women, so please do contact them as needed.


When looking at the homepage, the site is pleasing to the eye. The colour blue used is soothing to look at and the photograph of the mikvah is clear and beautiful. The homepage provides some basic information about the website – who it was created for, various tabs to navigate to different areas of the site, place to register and / login and a shopping cart. Personally, I would like to see a note added to the home page indicating clearly that every woman still has to record her own dates by hand (in accordance with Jewish law) and still has to work closely with her Nidda rabbi and her husband.


Looking at the very top, there is the date in English and Hebrew and a few tabs.


Tab 1) Site Map seems to predominantly a list the various mikvaot that appear later in the mikvah directory. This seemed to be a duplication and I was not sure of its purpose.


Tab 2) Gives one the option to advertise with "MikvahMinder" and is quite self-explanatory.


Tab 3) provides the method of contacting the webmasters. This is easy to use and self explanatory.


Tab 4) Mikvah Supplies: Offers the possibility to bedika cloths for those who enjoy online shopping. Please note, if you are using this method to purchase your bedikah cloths, it is crucial to know how long shipping to your area is and to allow for this when budgeting your time so as not to run out when you need them.


The next line of tabs, begins with the homepage. This line of tabs area is easy to find with a white tab that highlights the tab you are on. In order to distinguish from the top row, these I list as Tab A, B etc


Tab B: "News". This informs one of new mikvaot opening and a newsletter of updates to the website. The newsletter of March 31st 2009 provides a link to a letter of endorsement written by Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon of Baltimore Maryland. When clicking on this link, even today 19 April 2009, the link shows an error rather than taking one to the letter of endorsement. The letter was emailed to me privately, and I have tried to contact the rabbi via the email contact offered on the internet but thus far have not had a reply (This goes back a couple of weeks already.) I am not familiar with who Rabbi Lisbon is and do not know whether he is a Posek in Nidda or any other area for that matter. Once again, even if there is a letter of endorsement, since there are various different paths to Torah and different approaches to Hallachah, e.g. following the opinions of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Moshe Shternbach, Chabad i.e the Alter Rebbe etc, I would strongly advise any woman to ask her own rabbi to take a look at the website and give his approval to using it before simply making use of it on one's own.


Tab C "About Us", offers a few options.


1) An introduction to those behind the scenes. As explained here, Mikvah Minder was begun by Tuvia after the birth of his second son, when his wife asked for help with certain dates. Being a computer expert and as stated a naturally impatient person, Tuvia wondered why a computer cannot provide the information.


This situation inspired Tuvia to look into options and find a partner to make "Mikvah Minder" happen. However, even if a woman chooses to use "MikvahMinder", she still HAS to regularly consult with her husband and her rabbi. No computer can ever replace this.


Regarding using computers to help one calculate, record and remind one of your nidda cycle, it is imperative for all women to also keep a hard copy available at hand. As good as computers can be, there are times there are power failures, batteries die down, the telephone connection that your modem connects to can be down, an electrical storm can cause one to stay away from electrical appliances and still a woman has to have access to her Nidda Calender.


Returning to the information about Tuvia and Avraham, it would be nice to know their surnames and where they live. This helps to add more professionalism. In addition, it is important to note that although both men are married and hence know of the laws of nidda through practical life, neither is a rabbi, but rather both are involved in computers and business. This needs to be highlighted on the site. Once again any Hallachic questions need to be sent to your Nidda rabbi.


It would be appropriate for such a site as this, to have an orthodox rabbi, competent in the laws of nidda on board with this project so that a woman can be in touch with a rabbi connected to this project and ask for additional assistance.


In the third paragraph about "MikvahMinder", it states that this is the only and best available, there are in fact others available.


Below this information about how Mikvah Minder began are some comments sent in, some together with answers.


2) Using Mikvah Minder: This page provides quite a lot of information about how to use the calendar and site. From an aesthetic point of view, it would be nice if the cell of dates under "recording dates" was closed on the right side.


In step 1, we are advised to indicate whether a period began after sunset. I would prefer to read the word "veset" as it is the term used in books on Family Purity and it is good to familiarise oneself with the correct terminology. I also find it more professional.


Please note, there are Poskim who hold that one has to record the exact time of onset of a veset and not just whether it is after sunset or during the day "According to the Mechaber in Shulchan Aruch 184:9 Shulchan Aruch Admor HaZakein 189:4 The examination at the time of anticipated menstruation is to be performed from the recorded time of the day when the last menstruation began onwards. e.g. if the last menstruation was at 10am then this examination should be any time from 10 am until the end of the day (but not before 10am) or e.g. if the last menstruation began at 10 pm this next examination will be performed any time from 10pm until sunrise. Kitzur Dinei Tahara 9:6"


Therefore recording the actual time is a necessary requirement for the sake of the possible forth coming menstruation. It is necessary to have a function to enable those women who do follow this Hallachah to be able to enter the exact time of onset.


The site claims itself to be following the opinion of the Alter Rebbe. However the Alter Rebbe himself (see source) indicates the necessity to record the time.


In the section under "That's It", we are informed that the Mikva Minder will send reminders:

  • The first day you should do a Hefsek Taharah
  • The day you should go to the Mikvah
  • Your separation days (Onah Benonis, Yom HaChodesh, Veset HaFlagah)

When I tested the system, I was sent a reminder for the Hefsek Tahara, however did not receive anything for going to the Mikvah. I found that the system works for women who are regular. However if a woman is prone to irregular cycles, the system seems to have some difficulty with this. Please keep a close record for yourself. The final responsibility for going to the mikvah on the right date falls on the woman. Even if you like a computer system to remind you of when to do things, you cannot rely fully on this as errors happen.


Regarding the reminder for days of separation, the system again seems to have difficulty with women who are irregular. When I entered a regular cycle it worked. However, when entering an irregular cycle, I found that all options for separation were sent to me even those that I had learnt should be cancelled out. Once again, if you come across this difficulty, refer back to your nidda rabbi.


3) Frequently Asked Questions. This section is quite self explanatory.


4) Privacy – It is reassuring to know that a website dealing with a very private matter does have a Privacy Policy. Please read through this section and clarify with the webmaster if necessary.


Tab D: Message Board: This section is self-explanatory. It would be beneficial for any woman considering using "MikvahMinder" to read through this section in order to get a good feel for types of topics discussed and new updates.


Tab E: Mikvah Directory: This section lists Women's Mikvaot known to "Mikvah Minder". Tuvyia stated that they wish to list all women's mikvaot around the world and is gradually gathering information.


If you are looking for a mikvah in a specific country, the countries are listed on the left hand margin, clicking on the relevant country or continent will take you to the list of mikvaot in that continent. I have not checked all the countries, however, when looking at those listed in Africa, it would be easier to find those for South Africa if they were grouped together rather than being alphabetical in total. Thus far there are no mikvaot listed for Johannesburg.


For the Chabad Mikvaot, it would be more user friendly to list them according to the first letter of the area rather than a number. This will enable one to arrive at the required page more speedily.


When searching for a Mikvah under the Mikvah directory or once registering and logging in, on the left hand side is another block of options. The first is View Calendar which we will return to shortly.


A few comments on items listed below the calendar:


1) MikvahMinder Preferences: provides the opportunity to enter ones location and other details for the purpose of ensuring that candle lighting times are appropriate for where you live.


2) Import Data: – allows a woman to enter multiple dates for onset of veset. Please note this is only possible to add in the secular calendar and not the Jewish calendar.


3) Ovulation Predictor: This option is of concern to me as a health practitioner. "The cycle for ovulation varies from woman to woman and often from month to month. It is known to be affected by many factors, including the woman's psychological state of mind." (Family Purity – Rabbi Fishel Jacobs p 182) I therefore do not follow how a computer can predict this, were it possible, it would not be necessary for women to have blood tests or LH tests when wanting to ensure that her ovulation occurs at the correct time in her cycle for fertility reasons.


As far as predicting the gender of the baby according to when the woman ovulates, I would prefer to follow the Torah's teaching on the gender of the baby. This is not based on some scientific formula but includes amongst other things the effort of prayer and Divine Providence. Since we are looking at a means to fulfil the laws of Family Purity more effectively, it would make sense to follow Torah in terms of gender too and not be too carried away with technology ruling our lives.


A further concern I have regarding including an ovulation predictor is that a woman or couple come to use this rather than turning to medical doctors expert in fertility together with Tefillah and increasing in this mitzvah: Family Purity.


4) Mikvah Supplies: Already discussed elsewhere.


5) Yartzheit Reminder: Though it is important to remember all important dates in the Jewish life cycle, Shabbat, Yom Tov, birth, Bar Mitzvah etc and Yahrtzeit, I would prefer to see a site regarding the mitzvah of Family Purity concentrating on that. To include Yahrtzeit reminders mixes bringing in new life with potential sorrow, merit for a loved one who has died and could bring a woman to think about death. While thought of the end of our days brings us to do tshuvah, our thoughts coming close to going to the Mikvah, need to be focused on this mitzvah – after all, an important consideration about Mikvah is that one's thoughts will influence the nature of the child conceived.


THE CALENDAR:


Finally a look at the "MikvahMinder's" Calendar itself:


a) The calendar is presented in pastel colours and has a colour code, making it easy to determine days for Shabbos, Hefsek Tahara and other important dates. For those who are still learning how to count the different options for ones cycle, i.e. monthly cycle, average cycle etc, having a calendar like this can assist you to learn.


b) The calendar offers for you to work with the secular calendar or the Jewish calendar but dates are sent to you in the secular calendar. The default calendar is the secular calendar. Since the Hallachah follows the Jewish Calendar, I would prefer to have the default calendar as the Jewish Calendar, especially when calculating monthly and average cycles are dependent on the Jewish month not the secular one. On the Jewish calendar, I understand what the webmasters are trying to do with the days of the week, listed at the top of the page.


However in real life, the secular days are not split. They begin from midnight and end just before the next midnight. A Jewish day begins at night time (sunset/nightfall) in accordance with the verse that states, "And it was evening and it was morning, one day". The manner in which the days are listed is confusing. I had difficulty understanding the split days.


c) After much time spent getting to know how the calendar worked and calling on my husband (being an expert in computers and a rabbi) to assist me, I would prefer to be able to click on the cell for the day concerned and enter the information immediately right there. Again, I found it not possible to enter the time as is required by Hallachah.


d) When looking at the calendar, both secular and Jewish, one sees a circle with two flashing candles on the cell for Friday or Erev Shabbos. These indicate candle lighting for Shabbos. The time is also listed according to the city you have entered that you live in. While most places light candles 18 minutes before sunset, there are a few, including Jerusalem, that light 40 minutes before sunset. "MikvaMinder" has decided to keep the Jerusalem time at 18 min prior to sunset and have not given me a reason for this. If you live in Jerusalem or are visiting Jerusalem over a time that includes Shabbos, relying on this feature may cause you to light at the wrong time. In fact, if you are used to the 40 minute "leeway" and find yourself running out of time before Shabbat, and rely on the 40 minute rule from the indicative time – you may actually end up lighting on Shabbat evening itself, G-d forbid! Please check other times to make sure you have the correct time. The time given for the end of Shabbos was 8-9 min after the time listed in the three sources that I work with.


e) While the calendar fulfils the good role of indicating festival days and other special occasions, one might find the cells too overcrowded to follow all the information packed in each one. Being a site devoted to Family Purity, it is imperative to be able to read the information regarding Family Purity with ease. If all information currently listed is to remain in each cell, it would be helpful if the size of each cell were made larger to allow everything to fit in comfortably.


f) Since the calendar indicates every onah period, it is disappointing that when the months move forward and the onahs carry through to the next month, that the onah's are in fact no longer displayed! Please be careful of this as, although the calendar does not show them – you still need to keep count.


g) A recent new feature are the 2 white boxes – one with a sun and one with a moon to indicate days of separation. It would be good to see these all within the day concerned and not spilling over into the next day making it difficult to follow which day they are associated with.


h) If you hold the cursor over the cell for your expected day of Mikvah Night, you are given a message that one should immerse after Shekiah. This is hallachically incorrect. A woman has to begin preparing before Shekiah and immerse after Tzeis haKochavim. Please be aware of the Halachot yourselves, using the site only as a backup. Do check out everything at least once with a competent rabbi – before relying exclusively on it (something which should not be done.)


i) "MikvahMinder" is free as a trial for the first 3 months. Following this, fees are $18 per year. After putting a question through to the webmasters concerning a woman who falls pregnant, they answered that should they be notified by the woman concerned regarding the birth of the baby, she will be credited for the months not used.


In Conclusion:


"MikvahMinder" has the potential to be a wonderful tool, and can become an aid to enable women to fulfil the mitzvah of Family Purity correctly. It is still a relatively new site and as such has a number of areas that require improvement in terms of aesthetics, practically and in terms of Hallachah. I look forward to seeing these areas improved over time and the site indeed becoming completely user friendly in every respect. It can assist a woman to understand the calculations and seems to work for a woman who is regular.


Since the Hallachah states that a woman must WRITE her dates, using this or any other online site to calculate and remind her of her dates, can NOT replace doing so manually. In addition she MUST still continue to work closely with both her husband and an orthodox rabbi who is competent in the laws of Family Purity and able to answer hallachic questions.

1 comment:

therapydoc said...

This is an invaluable post. Thanks. It's amazing, isn't it, how well-informed we all are, now that we can use the Internet? Wait. Can we use the Internet? Your post should help convince those who think not, that maybe it's a good thing.

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