In a recent discussion of tearing toilet paper on the Sabbath, I was reminded of an incident that happened to me when I was 19 and being introduced to the world of mitzva observance. I was spending Shabbat with an Orthodox couple and their young daughter. They’d both grown up non-Orthodox and had met while studying in their respective yeshivot-for-the-newly-religious in Jerusalem; he had been ordained as a rabbi.
To my misfortune, on Shabbat afternoon I ran out of tampons. Having searched the bathroom and found none, I managed to emerge therefrom long enough to discreetly ask Mrs. Rabbi if she perhaps had some tampons somewhere. After rummaging around, she found a box, but told me mournfully that while she usually remembers to tear a few of the wrappers open (for Shabbat use), none of present company had been so rendered shabbesdik.
Noticing my perplexity at this state of affairs, and trying to smooth things over (?) -- Orthodox style -- she sweetly said, “I’ll ask Chaim; he’ll give you a heter1!”; at which moment I simply grabbed the box out of her hands and disappeared into the bathroom, where no rabbi, with or without his heter, could get to me.
At the time, I simply rolled my eyes at the situation, impatient to solve my problem and annoyed that halachah stood in my way. Today, with more time to examine the situation, I’m even more irked than I was then: Putting a young woman in the position of having to expose her private matters to a married man? What happened to tzniyus2? What happened to simple regard for the comfort of a guest in one’s home? Does the letter of the law trump all? Trees, I wanted to scream, meet forest!
Needless to say, while at the time I was on the brink, thank goodness I did not adopt the Orthodox lifestyle. While I can "get into" spirituality, I happen to also "get into" the Western logic that allows me to tear open a tampon wrapper and fill my hygienic needs seven days a week without having to appeal to a “higher authority”. So Rabbi Chaim and Rebbitzen Chaviva, wherever you are, thanks for your hospitality, but save your precious heter for some other halachic “emergency”; As for me, no thank you, I won’t be needing it.
1 rabbi-issued exemption from upholding a commandment
2 the commandment of modesty and chaste behavior to be observed between the genders