I am young, British born and part of a large Jewish family. I work in
advertising and have as many non-Jewish friends as Jewish friends. I've marched
in protests and danced in discos, and I'm all for the Mikvah. I believe in the
laws of the mikvah.
Why? Why should a modern, integrated young woman be so definite about this?
Simple. I try. I try to be a positive Jew. I was born one.
I suppose I'm lucky because I always had questions answered when I was a
child. There is nothing strange to me in any Jewish practice, because I was
always told the why of everything. So, I've done a little re-reading and
questioning. And here is my personal approach to the mikvah.
The word mikvah means a collection or a gathering of water - natural
water. So the mikvah as we know it, is a specifically prepared pool of
natural waters, constructed and maintained to definite requirements laid down by
halacha (Jewish Law). These natural waters can be a freshwater spring
or, under certain conditions, a river. Even the sea itself is a magniicent,
super-sized mikvah which is permitted to use [ Ed.note: specific rules
apply when using the sea].
There's nothing magical, mystical or unsavory about the mikvah.
These days, the mikvah is like an indoor swimming pool complex,
comprising several small private pools where complete privacy is assured. There
are steps leading into each pool, there are handrails, tiled floors, towels and
changing rooms - everything one would expect to find in a scrupulously clean
place dedicated to purification.
Some very modern and grand mikvahs have their own hairdressing
salons too. There is absolutely no record of any woman ever having drowned in a
Mikvah! Joking apart - the Mikvah is a natural pool, set aside, consecrated and
used for perfectly natural purification after a perfectly natural physical
feminine function, menstruation.
Three mitzvahs (commandments) are singled out by halacha as
observances to be especially cherished by women:
The lighting and blessing of Sabbath and Holy Day
candles, i.e. the observance in the home of the Sabbath and Holy Days - and with
that observance the continuity of religious family life.
The sanctification of the table through the
observance of challah (braided loaves of bread) and other laws of
kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) which again, form part of the continuity
of religious family life.
The immersion of the body in a collection of natural
waters as a purification, seven days after the end of a menstrual period. With
that, the observance of purity in marriage, yet another aspect of the continuity
of religious family life.
Immersion in the mikvah is not for the physical hygiene as such -
one must be scrupulously clean before entering into the mikvah. The
immersion is an act of purely spiritual meaning. The first time a woman uses
the mikvah is just before she becomes a bride.
Thereafter, she uses the mikvah at the end of each monthly period of
niddah. Niddah is the time of the actual menstrual flow, plus
seven clear days of physical and physiological recuperation [ed. note: a woman
retains the status of Niddah until proper immersion in a Mikvah has occured]. I
think the Rabbis knew what they were doing when they interpreted niddah
- they knew how menstruation affects a woman physically, physiologically and
Sexual intercourse during niddah is forbidden. Effectively, this
means a period of about twelve days [ed. note: at the minimum] of sexual
abstinence. On the face of it, it seems almost inhuman to deprive a couple of
the joys of intimacy for such a length of time, especially these days when
complete togetherness in all forms seems to be too much the way of the world.
Today, everyone takes everything and everyone else for granted. In too many
marriages there is too much knowledge of each other (such a thing does not
exist) and familiarity breeds not only contempt but perhaps what can be worse:
Sexual love is recognized by the Rabbis as the highest and most important
love, and they have laid down rules and advice on conjugal conduct which even
today' advanced sexologists cannot deny as being ideal.
Leaving the physical act aside, mutual respect is one of the strongest
foundations a marriage can be built on. Mutual respect comes from caring.
Indifference, as I have said, is the most deadly enemy of caring. Man was made
from earth - Adam from adamah (earth) - a lowly enough
beginning. All our teachings, all that the Rabbis have interpreted to us,
encourage us to rise above the level of our instincts. In sexual behavior this
rising above a low animal level is most important.
A certain restraint in sexual behavior is not, I think, in this context, an
inhibition of nature. It is a demonstration of human thoughtfulness, of caring.
It is a fight against the indifference that undisciplined, over-familiarity or
By purification, re-affirmation and renewal within the framework of the
mitzvah called mikvah, marriage is seen to be the blessing it
The bride goes to the mikvah shortly before her wedding. There, the
mikvah represents not just a spiritual cleansing, but also symbolizes a
new start. She is starting a new life, a married life. In the subsequent years
of her married life, she has a new start every month.
Is it too starry-eyed of me to say that niddah, the period of sexual
abstinence, can be a rewarding time - when husband and wife treat each other as
proper people and not just bedfellows? I think not.
Is it merely rationalization on my part to say that when the Zealots, who
held out against the Romans for so long in Masada, kept alive their faith and
even had a mikvah in their mountain stronghold, have not we of today some sort
of moral obligation to try also - to keep alive what their faith and the faith
of millions of martyrs since, achieved? I think not.
Continuity of religious practice and faith is what kept Judaism alive. I'd
challenge anyone to deny that. A chain of existence is what we live by, as Jews.
Marriage, Jewish marriage, is the most precious link in that golden chain.
Niddah and mikvah have helped forge that link in the chain. I
say we should not, we dare not, break it.