Mikvah
Overview
Mikveh is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism. The word "mikveh", as used in the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

, literally means a "collection" – generally, a collection of water.

Several biblical regulations specify that full immersion in water is required to regain ritual purity after ritually impure incidents have occurred. Most forms of impurity can be nullified through immersion
Immersion
Immersion may refer to:* Immersion therapy overcoming fears through confrontation* Baptism by immersion* Immersion Games a developer of video games...

 in any natural collection of water.
Encyclopedia
Mikveh is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism. The word "mikveh", as used in the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

, literally means a "collection" – generally, a collection of water.

Several biblical regulations specify that full immersion in water is required to regain ritual purity after ritually impure incidents have occurred. Most forms of impurity can be nullified through immersion
Immersion
Immersion may refer to:* Immersion therapy overcoming fears through confrontation* Baptism by immersion* Immersion Games a developer of video games...

 in any natural collection of water. Some, such as a Zav, however require "living water," such as springs or groundwater wells. Living water has the further advantage of being able to purify even while flowing as opposed to rainwater which must be stationary in order to purify. The mikveh is designed to simplify this requirement, by providing a bathing facility that remains in ritual contact with a natural source of water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

.

Its main uses nowadays are:
  • by Jewish women to achieve ritual purity after menstruation or childbirth
    Niddah
    Niddah is a Hebrew term describing a woman during menstruation, or a woman who has menstruated and not yet completed the associated requirement of immersion in a mikveh ....

  • by Jewish men to achieve ritual purity (see details below)
  • as part of a traditional procedure for conversion to Judaism
    Conversion to Judaism
    Conversion to Judaism is a formal act undertaken by a non-Jewish person who wishes to be recognised as a full member of the Jewish community. A Jewish conversion is both a religious act and an expression of association with the Jewish people...

  • for utensils used for food.


In Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism , is the approach to Judaism which adheres to the traditional interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Sanhedrin and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and...

 these regulations are steadfastly adhered to, and consequently the mikveh is central to an Orthodox Jewish community, and they formally hold in Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism is a modern stream of Judaism that arose out of intellectual currents in Germany in the mid-19th century and took institutional form in the United States in the early 1900s.Conservative Judaism has its roots in the school of thought known as Positive-Historical Judaism,...

 as well. The existence of a mikveh is considered so important in Orthodox Judaism, that an Orthodox community is required to construct a mikveh before building a synagogue
Synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

, and must go to the extreme of selling Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

 scrolls or even a synagogue if necessary, to provide funding for the construction. Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism refers to various beliefs, practices and organizations associated with the Reform Jewish movement in North America, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In general, it maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and should be compatible with participation in the...

 and Reconstructionist Judaism
Reconstructionist Judaism
Reconstructionist Judaism is a modern American-based Jewish movement based on the ideas of Mordecai Kaplan . The movement views Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization. It originated as a branch of Conservative Judaism, before it splintered...

 regard the biblical regulations as anachronistic
Anachronism
An anachronism—from the Greek ανά and χρόνος — is an inconsistency in some chronological arrangement, especially a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other...

 to some degree, and consequently do not put much importance on the existence of a mikveh. Some opinions within Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism is a modern stream of Judaism that arose out of intellectual currents in Germany in the mid-19th century and took institutional form in the United States in the early 1900s.Conservative Judaism has its roots in the school of thought known as Positive-Historical Judaism,...

 have sought to retain the ritual requirements of a mikveh while recharacterizing the theological basis of the ritual in concepts other than ritual purity.

Ancient mikvehs dating from before the late first century can be found throughout the land of Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 as well as in historic communities of the Jewish diaspora
Jewish diaspora
The Jewish diaspora is the English term used to describe the Galut גלות , or 'exile', of the Jews from the region of the Kingdom of Judah and Roman Iudaea and later emigration from wider Eretz Israel....

. In modern times, mikvehs can be found in most communities in Orthodox Judaism. Jewish funeral home
Funeral home
A funeral home, funeral parlor or mortuary, is a business that provides burial and funeral services for the deceased and their families. These services may include aprepared wake and funeral, and the provision of a chapel for the funeral....

s may have a mikveh for immersing a body during the purification procedure (tahara) before burial.

Requirements of a mikveh

The traditional rules regarding the construction of a mikveh are based on those specified in classical rabbinical literature. According to these rules, a mikveh must be connected to a natural spring or well of naturally occurring water, and thus can be supplied by rivers and lakes which have natural springs as their source. A cistern
Cistern
A cistern is a waterproof receptacle for holding liquids, usually water. Cisterns are often built to catch and store rainwater. Cisterns are distinguished from wells by their waterproof linings...

 filled by the rain is also permitted to act as a mikveh's water supply. Similarly snow, ice and hail are allowed to act as the supply of water to a mikveh, as long as it melts in a certain manner. A river that dries up on a regular basis cannot be used because it is presumed to be mainly rainwater, which cannot purify while flowing. Oceans for the most part have the status of natural springs.

A mikveh must, according to the classical regulations, contain enough water to cover the entire body of an average-sized person; based on a mikveh with the dimensions of 3 cubit
Cubit
The cubit is a traditional unit of length, based on the length of the forearm. Cubits of various lengths were employed in many parts of the world in Antiquity, in the Middle Ages and into Early Modern Times....

s long, 1 cubit wide, and 1 cubit deep, the necessary volume of water was estimated as being 40 seah
Seah (volume)
The se'ah is a unit of dry measure of ancient origin used in Halakha , which equals one third of an ephah, or bath. Since the bath unit has been established to be 22 liters, 1 se'ah would equal 7.33 liters or 7.33dm3....

of water. The exact volume referred to by a seah is debated, and classical rabbinical literature only specifies that it is enough to fit 144 eggs; most Orthodox Jews use the stringent ruling of the Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, according to which one seah is 14.3 litres, and therefore a mikveh must contain approximately 575 litre
Litre
pic|200px|right|thumb|One litre is equivalent to this cubeEach side is 10 cm1 litre water = 1 kilogram water The litre is a metric system unit of volume equal to 1 cubic decimetre , to 1,000 cubic centimetres , and to 1/1,000 cubic metre...

s. This volume of water could be topped up with water from any source, but if there were less than 40 seahs of water in the mikveh, then the addition of 3 or more pint
Pint
The pint is a unit of volume or capacity that was once used across much of Europe with values varying from state to state from less than half a litre to over one litre. Within continental Europe, the pint was replaced with the metric system during the nineteenth century...

s of water from an unnatural source would render the mikveh unfit for use, regardless of whether water from a natural source was then added to make up 40 seahs from a natural source; a mikveh rendered unfit for use in this way would need to be completely drained away and refilled from scratch.

There are also classical requirements for the manner in which the water can be stored and transported to the pool; the water must flow naturally to the mikveh from the source, which essentially means that it must be supplied by gravity or a natural pressure gradient, and the water cannot be pumped there by hand or carried. It was also forbidden for the water to pass through any vessel which could hold water within it, (however pipes open to the air at both ends are fine) as a result, tap
Tap (valve)
A tap is a valve controlling release of liquids or gas. In the British Isles and most of the Commonwealth, the word is used for any everyday type of valve, particularly the fittings that control water supply to bathtubs and sinks. In the U.S., the term "tap" is more often used for beer taps,...

 water could not be used as the primary water source for a mikveh, although it can be used to top the water up to a suitable level. To avoid issues with these rules in large cities, various methods are employed to establish a valid mikveh. One is that tap water is made to flow over the top of a kosher mikveh, and through a conduit into a larger pool. A second method is to create a mikveh in deep pool, place a floor with holes over that and then fill the upper pool with tap water. Like this the person dipping is actually "in" the pool of rain water.

Most contemporary mikvehs are indoor constructions, involving rain water collected from a cistern, and passed through a duct by gravity into an ordinary bathing pool; the mikveh can be heated, taking into account certain rules, often resulting in an environment not unlike a spa
Spa
The term spa is associated with water treatment which is also known as balneotherapy. Spa towns or spa resorts typically offer various health treatments. The belief in the curative powers of mineral waters goes back to prehistoric times. Such practices have been popular worldwide, but are...

.

Historic reasons

Traditionally, the mikveh was used by both men and women to regain ritual purity after various events, according to regulations laid down in the Torah and in classical rabbinical literature. The Torah requires full immersion
  • after Keri
    Keri
    Keri is a Hebrew term which literally means "happenstance", "frivolity" or "contrariness" and has come to mean "seminal emission". The term is generally used in Jewish law to refer specifically to the regulations and rituals concerning the emission of semen, whether by nocturnal emission, or by...

     — normal emissions of semen, whether from sexual activity
    Sex
    In biology, sex is a process of combining and mixing genetic traits, often resulting in the specialization of organisms into a male or female variety . Sexual reproduction involves combining specialized cells to form offspring that inherit traits from both parents...

    , or from nocturnal emission
    Nocturnal emission
    A nocturnal emission involves either ejaculation during sleep for a male, or lubrication of the vagina for a female. It is also called a wet dream, and is sometimes considered a type of spontaneous orgasm....

    ; bathing in a mikveh due to Keri is known as tevilath Ezra (“the immersion of Ezra
    Ezra
    Ezra , also called Ezra the Scribe and Ezra the Priest in the Book of Ezra. According to the Hebrew Bible he returned from the Babylonian exile and reintroduced the Torah in Jerusalem...

    ”)
  • after Zav/Zavah
    Zav/Zavah
    In Torah terminology, the Hebrew word zav is a state of ritual impurity arising from abnormal seminal discharge from the male sexual organ...

     — abnormal discharges of bodily fluids
  • after Tzaraath
    Tzaraath
    The Hebrew noun tzaraath describes a disfigurative condition mainly referred to in chapters 13-14 of Leviticus, as well as conditions equivalent to be "mildew" on clothes and houses.Tzaraath affects both animate...

     — certain skin condition(s). These are termed lepra in the Septuagint, and therefore traditionally translated into English as leprosy
    Leprosy
    Leprosy or Hansen's disease is a chronic disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Named after physician Gerhard Armauer Hansen, leprosy is primarily a granulomatous disease of the peripheral nerves and mucosa of the upper respiratory tract; skin lesions...

    ; this is probably a translation error, as the Greek term lepra mostly refers to psoriasis
    Psoriasis
    Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that appears on the skin. It occurs when the immune system mistakes the skin cells as a pathogen, and sends out faulty signals that speed up the growth cycle of skin cells. Psoriasis is not contagious. However, psoriasis has been linked to an increased risk of...

    , and the Greek term for leprosy was elephas/elephantiasis.
  • by anyone who came into contact with someone suffering from Zav/Zavah, or into contact with someone still in Niddah
    Niddah
    Niddah is a Hebrew term describing a woman during menstruation, or a woman who has menstruated and not yet completed the associated requirement of immersion in a mikveh ....

     (normal menstruation
    Menstruation
    Menstruation is the shedding of the uterine lining . It occurs on a regular basis in sexually reproductive-age females of certain mammal species. This article focuses on human menstruation.-Overview:...

    ), or who comes into contact with articles that have been used or sat upon by such persons.
  • by Jewish priests
    Kohen
    A Kohen is the Hebrew word for priest. Jewish Kohens are traditionally believed and halachically required to be of direct patrilineal descent from the Biblical Aaron....

     when they are being consecrated
    Consecration
    Consecration is the solemn dedication to a special purpose or service, usually religious. The word "consecration" literally means "to associate with the sacred". Persons, places, or things can be consecrated, and the term is used in various ways by different groups...

  • by the Jewish high priest
    Kohen Gadol
    The High Priest was the chief religious official of Israelite religion and of classical Judaism from the rise of the Israelite nation until the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem...

     on Yom Kippur
    Yom Kippur
    Yom Kippur , also known as Day of Atonement, is the holiest and most solemn day of the year for the Jews. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jews traditionally observe this holy day with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue...

    , after sending away the goat to Azazel
    Azazel
    Azazel or Azazael or Azâzêl is a term used three times in the Hebrew scriptures, and later in Hebrew mythology as the enigmatic name of a character....

    , and by the man who leads away the goat
  • by the Jewish priest who performed the Red Heifer
    Red heifer
    The red heifer or red cow was a sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible the ashes of which are used for the ritual purification of an ancient Israelite who had come into contact with a corpse.- Hebrew Bible :...

     ritual
  • after contact with a corpse or grave
    Grave (burial)
    A grave is a location where a dead body is buried. Graves are usually located in special areas set aside for the purpose of burial, such as graveyards or cemeteries....

    , in addition to having the ashes of the Red Heifer ritual sprinkled upon them
  • after eating meat
    Meat
    Meat is animal flesh that is used as food. Most often, this means the skeletal muscle and associated fat and other tissues, but it may also describe other edible tissues such as organs and offal...

     from an animal that died naturally
    Carrion
    Carrion refers to the carcass of a dead animal. Carrion is an important food source for large carnivores and omnivores in most ecosystems. Examples of carrion-eaters include vultures, hawks, eagles, hyenas, Virginia Opossum, Tasmanian Devils, coyotes, Komodo dragons, and burying beetles...



Classical rabbinical writers conflated the rules for zavah and niddah. It also became customary for priests to fully immerse themselves before Jewish holidays, and the laity
Laity
In religious organizations, the laity comprises all people who are not in the clergy. A person who is a member of a religious order who is not ordained legitimate clergy is considered as a member of the laity, even though they are members of a religious order .In the past in Christian cultures, the...

 of many communities subsequently adopted this practice. Converts to Judaism are required to undergo full immersion in water.

R' Aryeh Kaplan in Waters of Life connects the laws of impurity to the narrative in the beginning of Genesis. According to Genesis, By eating of the fruit Adam and Eve had brought death into the world. Kaplan points out that most of the laws of impurity relate to some form of death (or in the case of Niddah the loss of a potential life). One who comes into contact with one of the forms of death must then immerse in water which is described in Genesis as flowing out of the Garden of Eden (the source of life) in order to cleanse oneself of this contact with death (and by extension of sin).

Orthodox Judaism

Orthodox Judaism generally adheres to the classical regulations and traditions, and consequently Orthodox Jewish women are obligated to immerse in a mikveh between Niddah
Niddah
Niddah is a Hebrew term describing a woman during menstruation, or a woman who has menstruated and not yet completed the associated requirement of immersion in a mikveh ....

 and sexual relations with their husbands. This includes brides before their marriage
Chuppah
A chuppah , also huppah, chupah, or chuppa, is a canopy under which a Jewish couple stand during their wedding ceremony. It consists of a cloth or sheet, sometimes a tallit, stretched or supported over four poles, or sometimes manually held up by attendants to the ceremony. A chuppah symbolizes the...

, and married women after their menstruation period or childbirth. In accordance with Orthodox rules concerning modesty
Tzniut
Tzniut is a term used within Judaism and has its greatest influence as a concept within Orthodox Judaism...

, men and women are required to immerse in separate mikveh facilities in separate locations, or to use the mikveh at different designated times.

Converts to Orthodox Judaism
Conversion to Judaism
Conversion to Judaism is a formal act undertaken by a non-Jewish person who wishes to be recognised as a full member of the Jewish community. A Jewish conversion is both a religious act and an expression of association with the Jewish people...

, regardless of gender, are also required to immerse in a mikveh. It is customary for Orthodox Jews to immerse before Yom Kippur, and married women sometimes do so as well. In the customs of certain Jewish communities
Minhag
Minhag is an accepted tradition or group of traditions in Judaism. A related concept, Nusach , refers to the traditional order and form of the prayers...

, men also use a mikveh before Jewish holidays; the men in certain communities, especially hasidic and haredi
Haredi Judaism
Haredi or Charedi/Chareidi Judaism is the most conservative form of Orthodox Judaism, often referred to as ultra-Orthodox. A follower of Haredi Judaism is called a Haredi ....

 groups, also practice immersion before each Shabbat
Shabbat
Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until a few minutes after when one would expect to be able to see three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact times, therefore, differ from...

, and some immerse in a mikveh every single day. Although the Temple Mount
Temple Mount
The Temple Mount, known in Hebrew as , and in Arabic as the Haram Ash-Sharif , is one of the most important religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. It has been used as a religious site for thousands of years...

 is treated by many Orthodox Jewish authorities as being forbidden territory, a small number of groups permit access, but require immersion before ascending the Mount as a precaution.

Orthodox Judaism requires that vessels and utensils must be immersed in a mikveh before being used for food, if they had been purchased from a non-Jew.

Obligatory immersion in Orthodox Judaism

Immersion in a mikveh is obligatory in contemporary Orthodox Jewish
Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism , is the approach to Judaism which adheres to the traditional interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Sanhedrin and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and...

 practice in the following circumstances:
  • Women
    • Following the niddah
      Niddah
      Niddah is a Hebrew term describing a woman during menstruation, or a woman who has menstruated and not yet completed the associated requirement of immersion in a mikveh ....

      period after menstruation, prior to resuming marital relations
      Sexual intercourse
      Sexual intercourse, also known as copulation or coitus, commonly refers to the act in which a male's penis enters a female's vagina for the purposes of sexual pleasure or reproduction. The entities may be of opposite sexes, or they may be hermaphroditic, as is the case with snails...

    • Following the niddah
      Niddah
      Niddah is a Hebrew term describing a woman during menstruation, or a woman who has menstruated and not yet completed the associated requirement of immersion in a mikveh ....

      period after childbirth, prior to resuming marital relations
    • By a bride, before her wedding
  • Either gender.
    • As part of a conversion to Judaism
      Conversion to Judaism
      Conversion to Judaism is a formal act undertaken by a non-Jewish person who wishes to be recognised as a full member of the Jewish community. A Jewish conversion is both a religious act and an expression of association with the Jewish people...

  • Immersion of utensils acquired from a gentile

Customary immersion in Orthodox Judaism

Immersion in a mikveh is customary in contemporary Orthodox Jewish
Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism , is the approach to Judaism which adheres to the traditional interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Sanhedrin and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and...

 practice in the following circumstances:
  • Men
    • By a bridegroom, on the day of his wedding, according to the custom of some communities
    • By a father, prior to the circumcision of his son, according to the custom of some communities.
    • By a kohen
      Kohen
      A Kohen is the Hebrew word for priest. Jewish Kohens are traditionally believed and halachically required to be of direct patrilineal descent from the Biblical Aaron....

       prior to a service in which he will recite the priestly blessing
      Priestly Blessing
      The Priestly Blessing, , also known in Hebrew as Nesiat Kapayim, , or Dukhanen , is a Jewish prayer recited by Kohanim during certain Jewish services...

      , according to the custom of some communities
    • Before Yom Kippur, according to the custom of some communities
    • Before a Jewish holiday
      Jewish holiday
      Jewish holidays are days observed by Jews as holy or secular commemorations of important events in Jewish history. In Hebrew, Jewish holidays and festivals, depending on their nature, may be called yom tov or chag or ta'anit...

      , according to the custom
      Minhag
      Minhag is an accepted tradition or group of traditions in Judaism. A related concept, Nusach , refers to the traditional order and form of the prayers...

       of some communities
    • Weekly before Shabbat
      Shabbat
      Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until a few minutes after when one would expect to be able to see three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact times, therefore, differ from...

      , under Hasidic and Haredi
      Haredi Judaism
      Haredi or Charedi/Chareidi Judaism is the most conservative form of Orthodox Judaism, often referred to as ultra-Orthodox. A follower of Haredi Judaism is called a Haredi ....

       customs
    • Every day, under Hasidic customs
      Minhag
      Minhag is an accepted tradition or group of traditions in Judaism. A related concept, Nusach , refers to the traditional order and form of the prayers...


Immersion for men is more common in Hasidic communities, and non-existent in others, like Yekke communities.

Conservative Judaism

In a series of responsa on the subject of Niddah
Niddah
Niddah is a Hebrew term describing a woman during menstruation, or a woman who has menstruated and not yet completed the associated requirement of immersion in a mikveh ....

 in December 2006, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards
Committee on Jewish Law and Standards
The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards is the central authority on halakha within Conservative Judaism; it is one of the most active and widely known committees on the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly. Within the movement it is known as the CJLS...

 of Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism is a modern stream of Judaism that arose out of intellectual currents in Germany in the mid-19th century and took institutional form in the United States in the early 1900s.Conservative Judaism has its roots in the school of thought known as Positive-Historical Judaism,...

 reaffirmed a requirement that Conservative women use a mikveh monthly following the end of the niddah
Niddah
Niddah is a Hebrew term describing a woman during menstruation, or a woman who has menstruated and not yet completed the associated requirement of immersion in a mikveh ....

 period following menstruation
Menstruation
Menstruation is the shedding of the uterine lining . It occurs on a regular basis in sexually reproductive-age females of certain mammal species. This article focuses on human menstruation.-Overview:...

, while adapting certain leniencies including reducing the length of the period. The three responsa adapted permit a range of approaches from an opinion reaffirming the traditional ritual to an opinion declaring the concept of ritual purity does not apply outside the Temple in Jerusalem
Temple in Jerusalem
The Temple in Jerusalem or Holy Temple , refers to one of a series of structures which were historically located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, the current site of the Dome of the Rock. Historically, these successive temples stood at this location and functioned as the centre of...

, proposing a new theological basis for the ritual, adapting new terminology including renaming the observances related to menstruation from taharat hamishpacha family purity to kedushat hamishpaha [family holiness] to reflect the view that the concept of ritual purity is no longer considered applicable, and adopting certain leniencies including reducing the length of the niddah period.

Isaac Klein
Isaac Klein
Isaac Klein was a prominent rabbi and halakhic authority within Conservative Judaism.- Personal life, education, and career:...

's A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, a comprehensive guide frequently used within Conservative Judaism also addresses Conservative views on other uses of a mikveh, but because it predates the 2006 opinions it describes an approach more closely resembling the Orthodox one and does not address the leniencies and views those opinions reflected. Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz
Miriam Berkowitz
Miriam C. Berkowitz is a Conservative rabbi, educator and writer.Born in Montreal, she received ordination from the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem....

's recent book Taking the Plunge: A Practical and Spiritual Guide to the Mikveh (Jerusalem: Schechter Institute, 2007) offers a comprehensive discussion of contemporary issues and new mikveh uses along with traditional reasons for observance, details of how to prepare and what to expect, and how the laws developed. Conservative Judaism encourages but does not require immersion before Jewish Holidays (including Yom Kippur), nor the immersion of utensils purchased from non-Jews. New uses are being developed throughout the liberal world for healing (after rape, incest, divorce etc.) or celebration (milestone birthdays, anniversaries, ordination, or reading Torah for the first time).

Although monthly immersion is formally required of Conservative Jewish women, the practice is not widely adhered to within the Conservative laity. However more and more congregations are building their own mikvaot, and observance is becoming more popular.

Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism

Reform
Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism refers to various beliefs, practices and organizations associated with the Reform Jewish movement in North America, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In general, it maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and should be compatible with participation in the...

 and Reconstructionist Judaism
Reconstructionist Judaism
Reconstructionist Judaism is a modern American-based Jewish movement based on the ideas of Mordecai Kaplan . The movement views Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization. It originated as a branch of Conservative Judaism, before it splintered...

 do not hold the halachic requirements of mikveh the way orthodox Judaism does. However, there are growing trends toward using mikveh for conversions, wedding preparation, and even before holidays. While most Reform Jews will probably never see the inside of a mikveh, there are many (particularly converts) who will fulfill the mitzvah at least once in their lives.

Requirements during use of a mikveh

The classical requirement for full immersion was traditionally interpreted as requiring water to literally touch every part of the body, and for this reason all clothing, jewellery, and even bandages must be removed; in a contemporary mikveh used by women, there is usually an experienced attendant, commonly called the mikveh lady, to watch the immersion and ensure that the woman has been entirely covered in water.

According to rabbinical tradition, the hair counts as part of the body, and therefore water is required to touch all parts of it, thus meaning that braids cannot be worn during immersion; this has resulted in debate between the different ethnic groups within Judaism, about whether hair combing is necessary before immersion. The Ashkenazi
Ashkenazi Jews
Ashkenazi Jews, also known as Ashkenazic Jews or Ashkenazim , are the Jews descended from the medieval Jewish communities along the Rhine in Germany from Alsace in the south to the Rhineland in the north. Ashkenaz is the medieval Hebrew name for this region and thus for Germany...

 community generally supports the view that hair must be combed straight so that there are no knots, but some Black Jews take issue with this stance, particularly when it comes to dreadlocks
Dreadlocks
Dreadlocks, also called locks, a ras, dreads, "rasta" or Jata , are matted coils of hair. Dreadlocks are usually intentionally formed; because of the variety of different hair textures, various methods are used to encourage the formation of locks such as backcombing...

. A number of rabbinical rulings argue in support of dreadlocks, on the basis that
  • dreadlocks can sometimes be loose enough to become thoroughly saturated with water, particularly if the person had first showered
  • combing dreadlocked hair can be painful
  • although a particularly cautious individual would consider a single knotted hair as an obstruction, in most cases hair is loose enough for water to pass through it, unless each hair is individually knotted

Allegorical uses of the term Mikveh

The word mikveh makes use of the same root letters in Hebrew as the word for "hope" and this has served as the basis for homiletical comparison of the two concepts in both biblical and rabbinic literature. For instance, in the Book of Jeremiah
Book of Jeremiah
The Book of Jeremiah is the second of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, following the book of Isaiah and preceding Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve....

, the word mikveh is used in the sense of "hope," but at the same time also associated with "living water":
O Hashem, the Hope [mikveh] of Israel, all who forsake you will be ashamed ... because they have forsaken Hashem, the fountain of living water
Are there any of the worthless idols of the nations, that can cause rain? or can the heavens give showers? Is it not you, Hashem our God, and do we not hope [nekaveh] in you? For you have made all these things.


In the Mishnah
Mishnah
The Mishnah or Mishna is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism. It was redacted c...

, following on from a discussion about Yom Kippur, immersion in a Mikveh is compared by Rabbi Akiva
Rabbi Akiva
Akiva ben Joseph simply known as Rabbi Akiva , was a tanna of the latter part of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd century . He was a great authority in the matter of Jewish tradition, and one of the most central and essential contributors to the Mishnah and Midrash Halakha...

 with the relationship between God and Israel. Akiva refers to the description of God in the Book of Jeremiah as the Mikveh of Israel, and suggests that just as a mikveh purifies the contaminated, so does the Holy One, blessed is he, purify Israel.

A different allegory is used by many Jews adhering to a belief in resurrection
Resurrection
Resurrection refers to the literal coming back to life of the biologically dead. It is used both with respect to particular individuals or the belief in a General Resurrection of the dead at the end of the world. The General Resurrection is featured prominently in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim...

 as one of the Thirteen Principles of Faith. Since "living water" in a lifeless frozen state (as ice
Ice
Ice is water frozen into the solid state. Usually ice is the phase known as ice Ih, which is the most abundant of the varying solid phases on the Earth's surface. It can appear transparent or opaque bluish-white color, depending on the presence of impurities or air inclusions...

) is still likely to again become living water (after melting
Melting
Melting, or fusion, is a physical process that results in the phase change of a substance from a solid to a liquid. The internal energy of a substance is increased, typically by the application of heat or pressure, resulting in a rise of its temperature to the melting point, at which the rigid...

), it became customary in traditional Jewish bereavement rituals
Bereavement in Judaism
Bereavement in Judaism is a combination of minhag and mitzvah derived from Judaism's classical Torah and rabbinic texts...

 to read the seventh chapter of the Mikvaot tractate in the Mishnah, following a funeral; the Mikvaot tractate covers the laws of the mikveh, and the seventh chapter starts with a discussion of substances which can be used as valid water sources for a mikveh - snow, hail, frost, ice, salt, and pourable mud
Mud
Mud is a mixture of water and some combination of soil, silt, and clay. Ancient mud deposits harden over geological time to form sedimentary rock such as shale or mudstone . When geological deposits of mud are formed in estuaries the resultant layers are termed bay muds...

.

See also

  • Conversion to Judaism
    Conversion to Judaism
    Conversion to Judaism is a formal act undertaken by a non-Jewish person who wishes to be recognised as a full member of the Jewish community. A Jewish conversion is both a religious act and an expression of association with the Jewish people...

  • Mikva'ot
    Mikva'ot
    Tractate Mikva'ot is a section of the Mishna discussing the laws pertaining to the building and maintenance of a mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath...

     - section of the Mishnah
    Mishnah
    The Mishnah or Mishna is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism. It was redacted c...

     discussing the laws pertaining to the building and maintenance of a mikveh.
  • Niddah
    Niddah
    Niddah is a Hebrew term describing a woman during menstruation, or a woman who has menstruated and not yet completed the associated requirement of immersion in a mikveh ....

  • Ritual washing in Judaism
  • Bath (unit)

External links

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