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 Home > Jewish Wedding Guide > Orthodox > MIkvah: The Ritual Bath

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Mikvah: The Ritual Bath
An Orthodox Perspective by Rivka C. Berman

 • Pre-Marriage Mikvah Immersion
 • The Mikvah Experience
 • Mikvah Beyond Marriage

Pre-Marriage Immersion in Mikvah
Brides immerse in a mikvah before their wedding, either the night before or as close to the wedding as possible – even the afternoon before the ceremony.

Recalling the amniotic water of the womb and the rivers of Eden, the mikvah taps into a sense of rebirth and the new world that begins with marriage. A mikvah is a natural body of water, like a lake, ocean or pond fed by natural springs. Or it is a small in-ground pool mixed with water from a natural source like a well, rainwater, melted snow or melted ice.

In Judaism, water commonly symbolizes a new or altered status. Jews-by-choice complete their conversion by immersing in a mikvah. Hands are washed after returning from a cemetery. When a bride immerses herself in a mikvah, she is connecting with the profound change marriage will bring.

There is a custom for grooms to immerse themselves in a mikvah as well.

At minimum, a mikvah is to be two feet square and six feet deep. The size must be enough to hold forty se’ah (a talumudic measurement) or 191 gallons of natural water. Generally a modern mikvah is much larger, and the water beyond the minimum measure required is permitted to be filled with water from any source. Rivers, oceans, creeks, lakes and seas are natural mikvahot (plural of mikvah). Since it is often not convenient or sufficiently private to use a natural mikvah, Jews have built their own specially constructed mikvahot throughout the centuries.

The Mikvah Experience: What happens at the mikvah?
Cramped mikvahot are largely a thing of the past. Because of the ongoing drive to encourage regular mikvah use, many of the facilities have been updated. Now the mikvah experience is more spa-like.

Each mikvah varies in décor and layout, but expect to see a waiting room, a private preparation room, the mikvah itself, and a drying room. (Cost per visit ranges between $5-25, which is to cover the cleaning expenses and the salary of the mikvah lady.)

Call your local mikvah ahead, there may be a special bride’s preparation room and special “bride hours” when you may be invited to go in the afternoon when the mikvah is less crowded. Otherwise, plan to spend some time in the waiting room. Meditate, write in a journal, think about your beloved and your future together. There are many physical preparation before using the mikvah, but by being conscious of the spiritual impact of the immersion, you’ll render the experience more meaningful.

When you enter the mikvah building, an attendant will greet you and inquire whether a bath or shower is needed. Unless you’ve gone through the process at home, ask for a preparation room equipped with a bath. Like a baby in the womb, nothing comes between you and the mikvah water. Hair is combed to remove any tangles. Makeup is removed. Nail polish is dissolved. This is when a good long soak in the tub is a mitzvah.

Unlike an early morning shower where sleepy hands cursorily sweep the body with soap, a pre-mikvah wash demands attention to every nook of the body. These are the knees you skinned as you played soccer. That’s the crook of the arm you’ll hold a baby in. Here’s a hip. There’s a toe. Get reacquainted with your body, lovingly.

Increase the enjoyment factor of the process with great soap or scented shower gel. Treat yourself to a new shaver. Whip out the loofa and pumice stone. Give yourself a real treat.

Once you’re done, ring for the attendant (the MIkvah Lady), who will most probably review with you the your preparation effort. “Did you comb your hair? Brush your teeth?” For women who use the mikvah each month, the process becomes so routine they may forget some of the steps, and a review is welcome. According to the halacha, an immersion is considered complete when there are no barriers to the water.

A robe or an ample towel will be provided for the walk to the mikvah itself. Mikvah attendants will preserve your privacy as best as they can.

Walk down the MIkvah steps, and get ready to dunk.  Hold your breath and immerse your body in the water, and let the water cover your head and envelope you completely. As you rise, the attendant will proclaim your immersion “kosher,” provided you’ve complied with the requirements.

Upon surfacing say the blessing:
Baruch Atah Ado-nai Elo-heinu Melech HaOlam Asher Kidishanu B’mitzvotav V’tzivanu Al Hatevilah.

We bless you, God, Our God, Ruler of the Universe who has made us holy by commanding the immersion.

The attendant may hand you a wash cloth as a head covering before you say the blessing.

Though one kosher plunge into the water satisfies the halacha requirement, multiple immersions, totaling three or seven times are customary.  Ask your mother as to your family tradition, or adopt a custom and make it your own. The multiple immersions avail you the opportunity to focus your thoughts on prayers to God asking for His benevolence and/or expressing your gratitude to God for the blessings in your life.

Once done, the attendant will hold out a towel for drying, shielding her eyes from yours to maintain your privacy. You’ll be lead back to your room to dress.

A well-equipped mikvah will have blow dryers, hair spray, and other amenities waiting in a separate drying room.

Mikvah Beyond the Wedding
Jewish orthodox man and wife, in compliance with halacha, refrain from physical contact during a woman’s menstrual period. Women go to the mikvah seven days after the menstruation period has ended. Intimacy resumes after the immersion, continuing the mikvah’s role in inspiring rebirth and renewal. The feast-famine approach to sex helps couples keep their sexual interaction fresh and exciting, and the time off from each other provides that necessary “space.” Time apart seems to strengthen couples desire for each other with the monthly anticipatory "Mikvah night" as well as their relationship beyond the bedroom.



 

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