Dipping Etiquette

There should be a Mikvah guide online to every mikvah. If you are going to be out of town and need to use mikvah facilities, you should be able to check online how much you are going to have to pay, and how the mikvah operates. (want to know why Jewish women go to mikvah go here).

mikvahSure, the whole principle is the same. You go, you do your preparations, you dunk – the end. But as we know, right ladies, each place has its own way of doing things.

The mikvah that I use in Montreal is familiar to me – been going there for over 15 years. The mikvah lady is great, she isn’t intrusive, she’s respectful about your personal modesty and she makes using the facilities a breeze.

So here is how it works at my mikvah. You go in, no one asks you for money, but you know you have to pay $18 CDN. So you either give it to the attendant or you leave it on the counter in the bathroom. There were times that I forgot my money or my chequebook, it was never a problem. The next time I went I paid double or I sent in a cheque in the mail.

Either you get escorted to a room or you wait until one is free. There are 10 rooms at my local mikvah – and two mikvah pools. It’s very nicely decorated, and there is an air of serenity over the whole place. All the things you need for your preparations are provided – nail file, q-tips, comb, soap, shampoo etc. Fluffy white towels too. You do your stuff and you pull the bell to signal that you are ready. You have wrapped yourself in a towel, you have nothing on your feet or head. The mikvah lady knocks on your door, mine usually says “peekaboo” when you open it. (She is a gem of a woman, is our Mrs J). You hold out your hands, she briefly checks your nails and for any stray hairs that might have settled on your shoulders.

Then you walk to the mikvah, drape your towel over the side and descend into the water. Meanwhile she has walked away to give you privacy as you do this. You immerse, say the bracha, and out you go to get dressed. There is a room with hairdryers and mirrors if you need it, and you can exit straight to the parking lot without seeing anyone else.

Having been married 7 months, and partially living in Monsey, I have had to make use of a facility that is different from what I am used to. I hadn’t wanted to call up a friend and ask about it, as that would probably tell them that I was going that night, and one is taught to not be obvious about going to the mikvah.

My first visit. I arrive there, and am totally gobsmacked at the sheer size of the place. Apparently they have 80 preparation rooms. 80!! There is a lady sitting at the front desk which has a bank of screens displaying the feeds from all the security cameras. She takes your money –  you pay $23 USD for which you get an automatic receipt, and it prints your room number on the receipt. You then follow the signs to your room. (I passed some other users of the establishment, all chassidish. Me in my habitual denim skirt and mitpachat – I felt so “frei” lol). Once you are in your room you do what you have to do to prepare – again, everything is provided. Mind you, at that price I should darn well hope so!! It has the feel of a luxurious spa – a women’s club!

They have a button on the wall that says READY which you press when you are ready to immerse. They have fluffy white robes hanging up, and those medical looking blue foot cover thingies to put on your feet. They also provide white terry turbans if you are makpid about covering your hair in front of other women. (I’m not. Any excuse to whip off my hair covering and I am so there).

What I wasn’t ready for was the mikvah lady to be intrusive and to check my nails so thoroughly. She came into the room, sat down, and like a manicurist, took out her clippers and cuticle remover thingummy and inspected my nails for minute traces of dirt, cuticles and polish. She did the same with my toenails. I felt weird. I know how to prepare for mikvah, I always do it properly. I don’t need some woman that I have never met before going over me with such a fine toothcomb. This mitzvah is between me and God. He has trusted me with the mitzvah of Taharat HaMishpacha – I don’t need some shnook of a woman telling me I am not doing it properly. Besides, where does it say that you have to remove the cuticles? I was never taught that. I do it because I like my nails to look nice, but I never realized it was a halachic requirement. (Jew Crew – can you weigh in?)

As I walked to the actual mikvah I was shaking my head, I just felt that my privacy had been well invaded. Standing naked in front of her as I was about to dunk felt less invasive. Usually it is a very spiritual time for me. I generally daven inside my head as I am dunking. But this first time at that mikvah I just had the heebiejeebies…

As soon as I had dunked, said my bracha, did the other two dips, I was out of there faster than a speeding bullet. I noticed on my way out the side entrance that they had nicely appointed places to dry hair and put on make up etc. That time I didn’t use them.

Honestly, that time I felt like I needed a shower after the whole experience. I guess knowing what to expect makes it a lot easier and you can be more spiritual. I have been to mikvaot in different places and this was the first time that I have ever felt skeeved out. But I performed the mitzvah, and that was the whole point of the exercise.

[other mikvah posts – Dip n Dunk, Still Waters)

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36 responses to “Dipping Etiquette

  1. I started doing this mitzvah last year just before Anth’s heart transplant (I really believe it is what got us the heart!) I didn’t go this summer because of my surgery. I have to go this weekend and I feel like a beginner again 🙂 LOTS of butterflies.

  2. Hadassah, if you’re ever in Livingston, NJ – let me know! I once toured the mikvah here and it’s so beautiful. I can’t speak to the actual dunking experience (being single) but the women I met were so nice.
    One question, what is mitpachat?

  3. The mikvah ladies in Baltimore are also non-intrusive. They check your fingernails, but not your toenails and as long as your nails aren’t over the tops of your fingers, you are fine. They provide robes in the B-more mikvah and the lady holds the robe up as you take it off and walk down the stairs – blocking her view of your backside :).
    Then she drapes it over the rail while you dunk. After you are done, she holds the robe up by the stairs so she can’t see you walking up. It is all very appropriate and respectful.

  4. Nice post. Weird experience. The Mikveh in Milwaukee only has a suggested donation (but everyone knows to pay it) and the rooms are STOCKED with everything you need. I once went to this fancy fancy mikveh in a really expensive neighborhood in the middle of a huge city and their website had their expected fee listed and the rooms didn’t have half of what I needed…

  5. Lady Lock and Load

    I get a manicure pedicure (sans polish) before I go to the mikvah so they don’t have anything to trim and cut. Next time you have to dunk, go to the mikveh in New City, they don’t check your nails if you don’t want and they are fine about it. There you will have more of the out of town experience you are accustomed to. Here in New York all of the mikvaot attendants check your fingernails and toenails and most ladies welcome this service but the ones who don’t go to New City. There is also Mikveh Beth Israel which is a old, heimish and cozy mikveh with Rebbitzen Schwab, who is a tzaddaikes. I will get you the numbers of the one in New City…and directions!

  6. I guess it depends what you are bothered by. I have been going to the Mikvah in Monsey for 10 years and the checking there has never bothered me. I used to go to the Mikvah on the West Side of Manhattan before it was renovated and it was distgusting with mold and dirt. I was so thankful to be in a clean and modern mikvah that I never noticed the invasiveness of the checking.

    I find the attendants generally hold the robe in front of them when you walk down into the Mikvah so you have privacy.

    • i have heard horror stories about mikvaot like that. we are so privileged to have clean mikvaot to go to.

      • I have been living in Monsey since 1999 and the Viola mikvah was opened when I moved in.

        • the west side mikvah is now gorgeous. completely out of the way for me, but i try to go there if i can anyway. and the mikvah lady is really sweet. go if you have the opportunity.

  7. Lady Lock and Load

    Wow, has the viola mikveh been open for ten years already?

  8. I am appreciative to the more invasive mikveh ladies. I once was positive that I had removed all the polish from my toes and that I had gotten all of my water proof mascara off, but they were able to show me otherwise. It was a valuable lesson and without it, it wouldn’t have been a “kosher” dunk.

    Also, don’t the mikvah ladies in Montreal watch you to make sure you’ve totally submerged and say “Kosher” after each dunk? This has been my experiience in every mikvah I’ve visited.

    • i had a friend immerse, only to realise on a friday night when she got home that she still had nail polish on her toes. it happens,i guess, and i am glad they check. but some people immerse with fake nails as they have a heter from their rav. a mikvah lady is there to help perform the mitzvah not to impose their understanding of halacha on some one else.

      • Lady Lock and Load

        They are chas v’shalom not imposing their understanding of halacha on someone else. Each mikvah has a standard and a Rov who says what they allow and what they don’t allow. As far as fake nails…well, to each her own, but after doing so much waiting and prep for at least twelve days, I want to be kosher lemehadrin when I “dunk”. I would love to have long and lovely nails and each month when I cut them a part of me says NOOOOO! This is my personal nisayon, but I am glad I overcome it cause I want to do the mitzvah in a way that is kosher from all the shitot!!

        • the inyan with the fake nails is that they are not exactly temporary, kinda permanent, so some pasken that one’s tevilah is ok with fake nails…I don’t buy it, but that’s me…

          • Lady Lock and Load

            I love the fake nails and the second I hit menopause I am gonna get me some!! Going by my ma and older sis I’ve got another ten years to my nidahood and short nails. Such a yaatzer horah for the new gel things they have, so we have something to look forward to sistah!!!

          • lady lock and load

            I guess you caved because you wrote in your recent post that you now have gel nails.

  9. well I think it’s all in your head. I would have been surprised if a mikva lady didn’t check my finger and toenails thoroughly and didn’t check my shoulders AND the rest of my body for loose hairs – as I usually have a lot of them and not always notice. That means, I am usually naked in front of her and on my way from the shower to the mikva. I have never felt my privacy invaded by that.
    That is why she is there – to help you perform the mitzva in the best way.

    • with the hairs, i agree with you – no one can make sure they have none of their own hair on their shoulders. we can see our own nails. a quick look is fine, i don’t object to that. i object to the in depth examination. maybe because i wasn’t used to it? i am very makpid with my mikvah preparations.

      • yes maybe you are right. I think you don’t have to remove cuticules if you are never makpid on that – as with the hair on your body that, if you never remove, it should not be removed on the mikvah night, either.

        but you did see the other visitors?!?! this is unheard of, or am i too naive?

        • generally you don’t see the other women BUT in the mikvah that i go to in MOntreal, there is frequently a wait, so you generally sit around the waiting room with people that you know.

  10. Frequently, even in the larger mikvaot in Brooklyn, you see the other patrons- even if it’s just a pass in the hallway.

    But, on a busy night- like right after a Yom Tov, it can be backed up for hours!

  11. Lady Lock and Load

    Boruch Hashem in the new mikvah we have in Monsey I never have to wait, it is huge and has many preparatory rooms. I never have to wait in the waiting room unless I want to daven! The mikvah attendants are employees and they check your nails because the Rov who runs the mikveh requires them to do so. They do not cut your cuticle unless they feel there is a reason to do so. This mikveh wants women to feel good and pampered and if you have any complaints or suggestions there is a suggestion box which they do read and take seriously. Rav Neushloss, may he rest in peace, wanted women to love coming to this mikveh and spent his last days when he was sick collecting for this beautiful mikveh. And, As I said before, if you don’t want them trimming your nails, go for a manicure pedicure and they won’t have to use their scizzors. Or you can go to Chabad of New City, really not so far at all.

  12. What I find amazing are those observant ladies who live where there is NO mikvah close by. What do they do?

    EG. Orlando has one mikvah, and not the entire community lives near it. I’m not sure how far the ocean is from there, but it can’t be easy.

  13. I drive to Pittsburgh – about 45 mins each way for me. In the summer it is AWFUL. Plus, I admit, I am observant but not part of the larger Pgh community so the mikveh lady ALWAYS asks me who I am and where I am from…again 🙂 She’s a sweetie so I always tell her. She is not a nail checker…just a back checker. And holds the robe up as you go in and out. I hear folks in the hall and once ran into one waiting to be let in…but other than that, I am in and I am out. I chat with the mikveh lady for a bit, pay her and off I go home!

  14. Wow!
    Wouldn’t it be cool if we all got together and came out with a sort of “Zagat’s Guide” to mikva’os?
    You know – – – how much they charge…
    What amenities they offer…..
    What’s icky…..
    How nosy is the mikvah lady….. (have I got stories for you!)
    How much checking do they do and do you have the option to “opt out” (many let you by the way…)….
    Wouldn’t that be a handy dandy resource?

  15. I live “out of town” in the midwest and my experience here has been very similar to what you described in Montreal. When I went to the Monsey Mikvah I too was surprised and a bit bothered by the excessive checking and snipping of the mikvah ladies there. I asked a few friends who live in Monsey if it bothered them and they said you can just tell the attendant that you do not want her to check you that way. I tried it the next time and they were very nice about it.

  16. Ok, I know this is an old post – but in the two mikvaot I have gone to in Denver, they rush ppl into rooms and will not open the door if someone else is waiting. They are super petrified of anyone seeing someone else at Mikvah.

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