What has Oprah Winfrey been doing since ending her long-running afternoon talk show last May? If your only news source was JTA.org (the Jewish world's version of the AP), you might think that she has embraced Judaism on the level of Madonna or Demi Moore.
A misleading title grabbed many people's attention this week when the JTA published a news brief with the bold header stating "Oprah visits mikvah for new show." My colleague in Israel, Rabbi Andy Sacks, reposted the news brief on Facebook and wondered allowed: "Now I have heard of going to Mikveh for Taharaat Mishpacha (family purity), before Haggim or Shabbat, for dishes, conversion, etc. But this is a new one on me."
Well, apparently Oprah did not embrace the Jewish ritual of immersion in a mikveh before launching her new show (that would have made more headlines I'm sure), but she did visit with two Hasidic Jewish families for an upcoming episode and toured a mikveh. The new series, called "Oprah's Next Chapter," will premiere in January on her OWN network.
Writing on the Forward"s Shmooze blog, Renee Ghert-Zand explained that Oprah stopped by Congregation B'nai Avraham's new state-of-the art ritual bath while scouting locations to film segments for her new show.
"The Shmooze is guessing that the visit to the synagogue's new, state of the art ritual bath has something to do with Winfrey's plans to touch upon the halachic concept of 'family purity' and the related spiritual nature of immersion in 'living waters.' ... While a crowd of neighborhood people gathered around to get a glimpse of the highly influential mega-celebrity, mikveh lady Bronya Shaffer admitted to knowing virtually nothing about her or her work."
If the mikveh ends up being showcased on Oprah's new television show, the Jewish ritual of becoming purified after mikveh immersion at the end of a woman's menstrual cycle could take off on a large scale. Just look at what effect Oprah had on book clubs!