Mikvah: The Unification of Opposites
It took me a long time to see how Torah and science are one and the same.
As a young adult, I felt that I was composed of opposing ideas. That G-d had, perhaps, gifted me with attributes that just didn’t play well together. I was taught that some people were right brained (creative/spiritual) and that others were left brained (logical/calculative). While I could fuse the two together in childhood, I was sure that necessity would eventually force me to choose between these vital aspects of self: a person who could disappear into math, science, and engineering, and one who thirsted to dive into Orthodox Judaism.
Growing up in North Carolina, I was a cerebral kid who thrived in a world of (male dominated) mathematics competitions. As the only Jewish child in my grade, my parents agreed to send me to an Orthodox Jewish camp, and there, I found another love: Jewish observance. I attended a Jewish high school and while delving into a world of Torah, enrolled in advanced mathematics courses at a local university. A gap year in Israel, followed by 4 years of studies at MIT, left me feeling my two sides even more acutely. I graduated with a bachelors in computer science and electrical engineering and a masters in computer science.
Science was for work. Judaism was for home. I identified as skirt-wearing, Shabbat observant Rivkah, and analytical engineer and dependable professional Rebecca. They were both me, but they were always separate.
After marriage, I was in the kitchen of my home, when one of my Shabbat guests and I were talking about family purity and the complexity and time intensive nature of accurate cycle calculations. She sighed, “I just wish there was a calculator that could do this.”
That’s when I realized, there could be.
This is the fusion.
This was a place where Torah and science could not only meet, but function as one entity.
To me, the cycle of family purity serves as a beautiful ebb and flow. A rhythm that forms the underlying foundation of marriage. A tool that enables couples to maintain immense excitement for physical engagement and consciousness of the Divine and sacred nature of intimacy. At least for me, the pulse of the cyclical nature of intimacy facilitates that I am still sensitive, after 17 years of marriage, to giving my husband a hug.
Mikvah observance is a gift to my marriage. It is the oxygen that feeds the fire of my relationship dynamic.
After the seed of creating a digital calculator for family purity was planted, I pursued the concept of enabling others to engage in family purity as seamlessly as possible.
My mind began to race. I contacted others from MIT, Rabbinical authorities specializing in matters of family purity, and put all my energy into developing a foolproof algorithm for calculations, regardless of customs. In 2009, we launched www.MikvahCalendar.com, complete with a user-friendly interface and support for those with questions. MikvahCalendar.com has since expanded usability to those following Sephardic, Ashkenazi, and Chabad customs, to users speaking English, Hebrew, Spanish, French, and Russian. We have expanded into apps for Android and iPhone, and currently have 72,000 users.
Mikvahcalendar was the beginning of a journey of seeing how Torah not only has space for engineering and science, but necessitates it. We are not meant to ignore our individuality, but to channel whatever dispositions we were born into infusing every corner of the world with holiness.
The exploration has continued. Discussions with users alerted me to another massive impediment to family purity observance, that of sending samples to a Rabbi. In recent years, I have collaborated with rabbinical authorities and top computer scientists to develop Tahor, an app with innovative technology that allows users to anonymously send color calibrated photos of questionable stain samples to an Orthodox rabbi. (TahorApp.com) Our users are those who do not have access to religious figures, or who feel otherwise uncomfortable with the idea of providing physical samples to a religious figure. 90% of stains can be decided upon by photo alone and, when the answer is not clear, users are advised to physically take the sample to a local authority.
Finally, Rebecca and Rivkah are one. I am just me, in my entirety.
Exactly as we are all meant to be.