Mikvah Rules

I was just reading a comment on a blog post from someone on the subject of mikvah, and they happened to mention that the mikvah they use has a policy to not allow anyone who is a non-orthodox convert to immerse there. The person herself is a Conservative convert and does immerse there as the closest Conservative mikvah is 300 miles away, but the balanit / mikvah lady has never asked her anything. But her “deception” puts a damper on her mikvah experience, because she is worried about being “found out”.

Have you ever heard of such policies? Is it halachically ok to ask someone coming to the mikvah if they are Jewish or if they converted, and if so, through who? I am trying to digest this…..

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54 responses to “Mikvah Rules

  1. WOW!
    first of all….it’s nobody’s business whether one is a convert or not. Unless you’re planning on making Aliyah, but that’s a whole other ball game! Secondly, the more one is aware of this fact, the more one is OBLIGATED to just not discuss the matter at all.
    Thirdly, I have never heard of these policies, but then again….conservative, just like orthodox and reform, re constructionists…all seem to have there own set of “policies”.
    so, to conclude my little rant here….each individual woman should just simply seek out the advice of THEIR Rabbi and move on with the day!

  2. The mikveh I use is the one used for ALL conversions so I never even thought it would be a problem. I asked Rabbi Awesome if I should be using it last year, he said yes based on some criteria and so I started. Its an hour each way and the mikveh lady knows me NOW but always asks where I am from since I am not a “regular” in the community for other things.

  3. PS I don’t broadcast that I am a convert either. As far as anyone knows I am the daughter of a Jewish mother which, halachically, I am 🙂

  4. I wonder if there is a misunderstanding? It isn’t common for a balanit/mikvah lady to ask a woman for her bona fides.

    A policy which is pretty common is for a mikvah to be available for *performing* Orthodox conversions only. So the *initial* immersion which is part of the conversion isn’t allowed for a conversion which is questionable or disallowed according to the mikvah’s rabbinic authority. ‘My house, you play be my rules.’ That has been the policy in many communities for many decades.

    Maybe *that’s* what the poster actually heard? My best guess based on my experiences is a misunderstanding being spread even further…

  5. I replied briefly back to your comment on the post, but to re-itterate – While it does not make sense and may not have any real halachic basis, private mikvaot can make up any rules they want. They are a business, who happens to deal with a very important religious topic. The mikvah I don’t go to will not allow any conversions and will give new users a vast inquiry on the background before allowing immersion the first time. While I do not know anyone who has actually been turned away, there are rumors in the community of it. They do not receive any finds from any community organizations, so they have no real obligation to serve the entire community.

    • in my almost 16 years of mikvah going (minus a 3 year period btw marriages) I have never heard of ANYONE being asked their background before immersion. Having had to use various mikvaot on my travels, where I was obviously not familiar to the balaniot, i was never ever asked anything. I understand that they are private institutions, but who are they to decided who has the right to immerse and who doesn’t??

      • I wish I had a good answer for you… It drives me just as crazy, that women can be prevented by fulfilling this {giant! huge! super freaking important!} mitzvah, for no good reason.

      • lady lock and load

        I think the mikvah ladies have to abide by the rules of the mikveh, and certain mikvaot might have a rule that only women that have converted under orthodox supervision may use their mikvah. You can’t really blame them for doing their job. The question really is why they don’t allow the women to come, it’s not as if they are going to impurify the water if they were not converted orthodox, is it? There must be some reason for their rule about this.

  6. shualah elisheva

    frankly seems counterproductive to me. if a woman wants to follow the rules of taharat hamishpacha, shouldn’t she be permitted to do so? some orthodox jews engage in kiruv – letting someone use the mikveh [mikvah, or any other alternate spelling] might spark that thirst for a more halachic lifestyle.

    nothing to lose, much to gain – in my opinion. obviously some disagree.

  7. I have heard of this…albeit in Eretz Yisrael. In fact, the woman was asked to go home and bring her gerus certificate! Yeah…no joke!

    As an African-American I am very concerned about this. I do not use the mikveh (perhaps one day, IY”H), but I really don’t know what I would do if the mikveh lady tried to deny my immersion because she thinks I am not Jewish. Seriously…what would I do? Cry? Call up my Rav in the night? Push her into the mikveh pool? What? I really don’t know. But I don’t think it is such a far fetched notion to think that this happens….sadly.

  8. Take it from someone who looks like they really don’t belong in a mikvah…it happens. I joke all the time that I should carry my conversion certificate with me.

    • but Orieyenta – how do they bring up the subject? have you ever been questioned? how did you feel about it?

      • They just ask. I’m sort of used to it but having my “Jewishness” questioned all the time gets old. In this situation since we are so close to the ocean, it’s just easier to go there.

    • Aye…this just blows my MIND. Oh, because non-Jewish women are just all about spending their nights hitting up the local mikveh. The hidden exhibitionist in them all just has to go and have some strange women scrutinize their naked form. Are you KIDDING me! Sadly, there are Jewish women who I have spoken to that don’t even realize mikvot still exist (they thought only their grandmothers had in Europe…because Jews were makpid on cleanliness). So if a woman shows up to a mikveh…I would not only assume that she is Jewish; but I would probably assume she is knowledgable enough to be a rabbi at a Reform synagogue (sorry if this is insulting to Reform rabbis!).

      And if she isn’t Jewish…then what? She ‘treifs’ the water? Errggh…

      • Oh, because non-Jewish women are just all about spending their nights hitting up the local mikveh.

        Ooo – I hope the word doesn’t get out about it – then appointments will be so hard to get! LOL

  9. I do not know the rules if specific people are /are not permitted.
    * But if there are such rules: aren’t you happy they are enforced?
    * If the mikvah does not have enough water wouldn’t you be happy they closed it?

  10. i’ve never been questioned about my jewishness at the mikvah (or anywhere else for that matter) but that probably has to do with the fact that i “look” jewish. i would imagine that it could possibly (unfortunately) be a problem for a convert (especially one who is african-american or asian) as other posters have described above. i am saddened if it does happen but personally i have never witnessed it in my nearly 20 (thank G-d) years of marriage & mikvah usage.

    • Your and HSM’s declarations seem to confirm that there is a form of latend discrimination against Giorot, based on their looks…

  11. since she is halachically not jewish , it is a moot point almost. she is a halachic gentile. other than taking the name of the L-rd in vain , and her husband living with a gentile, what’s the problem?

  12. i thought you were going to ask if they ask her if she is non-orthodox, or not married
    in the latter case the balanit can’t let her do tvila. in the former case, the balanit may need to inquire if she has kept halacha to the point where her tvila would make her muttar to her husband…..

  13. In Yoreh De’ah in the hilchot of geirut, we do not allow a non-Jew(female) to tovel, on account of the fact that they become a Sofek Jew, and this could cause… well all sorts of problems that I won’t go into here.

    Halachically a non-married woman can Tovel and according to some traditions, especially Edut Mizrach, there are certain days upon which an unmarried woman is expected to tovel.

    In places such as the US and even now in Jerusalem, the Rabbis enacted a gezeira on account off zonut and tefillin dates, to keep unmarried women from using the mikvah to justify certain unsavory actions.

    Although at least in Jerusalem there are still certain days of the year, when unmarried women tovel, according to the minhag previously discussed. The mikvah price also triples on those days.

    • Wait a minute; how can a non-female Jew risk the chance of becoming a ‘sofek Jew’ by going to the mikveh? It takes more than mikveh immersion to convert.

      There are other instances where it has been poskined where its ‘better to be safe than sorry’; such as in the case of individuals with a doubtful Jewish status. Really…you cannot ‘convert’ a Jew…and putting a Jew through the conversion process also causes all types of problems. But in quite a few instances, they have them undergo gerus, or at least a gerus l’chumra.

      In this case, it is not the place of the mikveh lady to make these types of decision. Hashem is the true judge….

  14. i know a case where a woman, jewish from birth, was denied access to the mikveh because her husband had a non-orthodox conversion … the balanit didn’t consider the woman married, and so didn’t let her in. i have no idea how the balanit knew this, but there you go. if this isn’t a reason why people hide conversion status, i don’t know what is …

    • I hope this comment doesn’t offend anyone, as it is not meant to. Many Rabbinic Leaders(Orthodox) do not consider other streams of Judaism to be Judaism, but rather another, albeit monotheistic, religion. Thus there conversions are typically seen as invalid.

      Even Rav Moshe Feinstein took this view. He considered neither their marriages nor their conversions valid. The reason was to prevent the spread of mamzerim… which is the reason for many of the restrictions according to the Shulchan Aruch.

      The reason for many Orthodox converts hiding there status, has been on account of the “conversion wars” being fought over whether various Orthodox conversions were valid. Fortunately for the converts the main ring leader of that debacle was brought down in a conversion for sex scandal. But the damage he did was very real. You had girls who were from three and four generation B”Y+Yeshiva families who would show to their year in Israel Sem and be told they needed to convert before they started classes, because whatever B”D that did their grandparents wasn’t good enough… I have helped several of these girls work through those issues to have their grandparent’s conversion accepted(or recognized, or believed that it came from the B”D on the piece of paper). It was a real mess, and hopefully soon it will have some closure.

      • I suppose a non-orthodox converts are at least sofek jews anyway: If they took upon themselves to be mekabel ol torah u malchut shamayim, they are jewish, even if not everyone will recognize that they are jewish.

        Therefore, the argument that a person might become a sofek jew through immersion in the mikvah does not seem to be appliable here.

        Furthermore, I agree that it takes more than a dip in a Miqva to become a Ger. Otherwise, all those pearl divers etc. would be sofek jews.

        So: argument invalid, please look for something else.

        • Its not my argument, but rather that of the Shulchan Aruch. In my mind you will have very hard time simply invalidating the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch without something more than a questionable line of logic.

          • Whoa…draw the brakes! Two things…

            1. You paraphrased. What is the exact language in the Shulchan Aruch and any applicable previous rulings by poskim on this issue? It seems as if you wish to have your cake and eat it too. To gerim, it is told time & time again that your intentions are what make you a ger, not the tevillah (see http://www.koltorah.org/halachah/geirut-controversy and read under “A Bizzare Question” ). So if someone has no desire to accept the mitzvot in their entirety…how can they ever become a Jew (even a sofek Jew)?

            2. The halachos in regards to gerus are ‘open-ended’ so to speak. In fact, you will find that primary sources deal with the particulars of gerus very little. 1000 years ago, if you wanted to become a Jew, you aligned yourself with the Jewish community, and your conversion was done pretty rapidly. Here you have differences in regards to the particulars of kabbalat al’mitzvot…and what that entails. There are Rabbonim today who STILL differ on this point. So if there is uncertainity in regards to such an integral component of gerus, why would there be something definitive in regards to the subsequent toivels of a non-halachaic Jew/Gentile/whatever?

            (Not to mention the Shulchan Aruch does not address how women with big, afro-type hair should deal with the mikveh…but that’s a whole different post!)

            • 1) I have no intent to discuss a person’s geirus by any Orthodox B”D. I have my own reasons for sitting that one out.

              2) So if someone has no desire to accept the mitzvot in their entirety…how can they ever become a Jew (even a sofek Jew)? Yes I did summarize. Yes the Shulchan Aruch is a bit hazy as to the final interpretation. This idea is found in Rav Eliyashiv’s Kovetz Teshuvot 143, Iggrot Moshe Y”D Vol 3, 109. Rav S.Z. Auerbach, Perek 10, Teshuvot haRambam.

              3) Not to mention the Shulchan Aruch does not address how women with big, afro-type hair should deal with the mikveh…but that’s a whole different post
              Actually it does in Y”D 198, dread locks too.

              • Actually it does in Y”D 198, dread locks too.

                Actually it doesn’t. Or if it does, then a lot of Rabbeim don’t know about it!

                There are Black women affiliated with Chabad who have a heter to toivel with dreadlocks. My Rabbi is still looking into this (contacted two other poskim that I know of), but for us, it seems the answer is no. No clue from anyone as how to handle kinky, afro-type hair (the hair maintains ‘air pockets’ and it seems as if with a small amount of conditioner, this could be eliminated).

                If some women have heterim…and some do not, I don’t think that there is a definitive answer in the Shulchan Aruch (were those Rabbeium even familiar with ‘dreadlocks’? I don’t think most Rabbis today have ever seen a dreadlock up close!)!

                Also outside of hair, the Rav in my community is fine with toiveling with acrylic nails. Yeah, that is news…because in my previous community, those were not permitted. So…yeah… :-/

                • Now you are getting into a question of whether Rabbis actually understand what they read when they read the Shulchan Aruch.

                  Have your Rabbi contact Rav Ezra Block at Beit Midrash Gevoha in Lakewood. He is there resident expert on all things niddah related. He’s the one who translated in shiur as kinky hair and dreadlocks. He was the one that taught me for semicha when I learned those laws.

                  Years later I was reviewing it in a shiur at a Kollel here in Israel. When we got to this entire siman, most people, including the maggid shiur really had no idea what it was talking about.

                  The issue is that the Mechaber was Sephardi, so with communities from North Afirrica, Yemen and the middle east, he was used to dealing with things such as kinky hair and dreads, as they were not uncommon amongst sephardi women. Where as Ashkenzim, such as the Rama used Yiddish words for what wasn’t found in Hebrew, the Mechaber used Arabic and Ladino, so he had to explain what he was talking about. I don’t remember the word for kinky hair, but he went on to describe it as” extremely tight curls that are impossible to brush as is common in our communities”. Unfortunately most ashkanzi authorities when reading that apply it the typical woman of European descent. Without a doubt what is considered extremely tight curls by European standards is a far cry from what someone from North Africa or the middle east would think of.

                  The same thing for dreadlocks. He uses an arabic word, then describes it as a “twist of hair made by waxing and backcombing that is impossible to remove without cutting off the hair.” Now unless you know what a dread is, or have lived in a community where they were worn, you would have no idea what he was talking about…

                  However I assure you that it is there.

                  • Thank you for this information — it is definitely something that I will make a note of and pass on!

                    This prompts me to write a post on my own blog in regards to the disappointments that I find, as a member of a modern-day Torah-obervant community in regards to Rabbonim. To many (like 95%) are not familiar with situations that were once rare in Jewish life; but today are quite common. The issues surrounding gerim and Jews of questionable status; the issues surrounding the mikveh and non-European women; the issues regarding foods that come from places outside of North America/Europe/Israel; the issues regarding interaction with goyim; and the list goes on and on! In far too many instances, you have to educate your Rabbi in regards to what you are talking about….when really it should be covered as part of your Rabbinical training.

                    Case in point; a good friend of mine is a Japanese gioyeress. The (Orthodox) Rav that converted her, who is now nifter, explained to her in regards to various seaweeds and Japanese dried spices and fish, a hechsher was not needed as long as the ingredients were basic to the dehydration process (so salt basically), and she checked the items specifically for insects and infestation. The new Rav in the community has issues with this, and stresses that such items need a hechsher. {Sigh}

                    As the child of Jamaican immigrants, I know that the food processing in other countries is quite different than the food processing in the US. A ‘plant’ is probably half the size of my apartment and will be dedicated to making that one item only (such as soda…coconut candies…etc.). Of course so many of the fruits and foods found in Jamaica my Rav would have no clue what they are anyway (like breadfruit).

                    Oh…and I know of a Ashkenazi (non-religious) Jewish woman with dreadlocks. She is single…but you have to wonder what the determination would be in regards to her hair if she wanted to become frum!

                    • Rishona – As the child of Jamaican immigrants, I know that the food processing in other countries is quite different than the food processing in the USA.

                      And this type of food processing is quite common outside the USA, BUT there is no way to know for sure how and where it was processed unless you are a local (I mean literally being a local who purchased it directly from the maker).

                      And even so, the Rabbis will always bring up the common issue of – “What if the person making it took a break for lunch and ate something non-kosher that later contaminated what was being processed?”

                      That said, I have to add that I am lenient on this kind of thing when it involves only fruits or vegetables. For example, I’ve eaten ackee in the past.

                    • I would suggest the sefer A Rose in the Valley. It is in English, but at least in the original it has haskamot from a number of major Ashkenazi Poskim. Including the Klausenberger Rebbe and all the Rabbanim of BMG. He deals there with hair issues that you asked about and gives sources.(note all of his footnotes are in Hebrew so you have to be able to read Hebrew to make good use of his footnotes).
                      http://www.discountseforim.com/rose-of-the-valley.html

        • As far as pearl divers, they have no intention of of nitval when they go into the ocean. In order for an imersion to be valid the person causing the immersion has to have the specific intention l’taher the person being immersed. Typically this is the person themselves. However there is a Taz on Y”D 198:48(I think that is the location, its been a while since I went back through all of that) that states that one can throw a recalcitrant woman into a mikvah, so long as she fully immerses, and as long as the thrower had the intent to make her tahor that will work as well.

          As far as anyone who converts being a sofek Jew, that is not necessarily the case. As I said, most Orthodox Rabbis(including all of the major poskim) do not consider Conservative or Reform to be part of the Jewish religion. Thus the person is converting to a non-Jewish religion, in which case there can be no true acceptance of mitzvot or malkhut shamayim.

          The problem arises that strictly speaking, all that a woman needs to do to convert is to tovel before a single kosher eid and declare that they are Jewish. See Y”D 268:3 It goes on to state there however, that kabbalat mitzvot can only be done before three Kosher eidim in all circumstances, so until such is accomplished the person is a sofek Jew. Which has the potential of creating mamzerim in a number of ways.

          • Thank you for confirming what I said in my 7:14 post: most conservative/reform gerim are sofek jews anyway, because most of them meet those criteria when doing the giur

            Therefore, the point of “becoming a ger besafek” is not relevant in the case at hand.

          • Your loose application of the term ‘sofek Jew’ concerns me. None of the text from the source state…’sofek Jew’…that seems to be your conclusion. Again, if another poskim can confirm what you say directly, so be it.

            Previous to this discussion, ‘sofek Jew’ was only a term that I heard in regards to Jews who either 1) had an ancestor on the maternal line of questionable Jewish status 2) We converted under unknown auspices. I have never heard it to refer to someone who did not complete the conversion process fully. So example, a man who went through a kosher tevillah but has yet to have is bris is a ‘sofek Jew’? Actually, aren’t they still a gentile?

            In regards to mamzerim, the definition of a mamzer is one who was born of a married Jewish woman who was not fathered by the woman’s husband; OR a child who is the product of one of the forbidden relationships outlined in the Torah. I don’t see how being a ‘sofek Jew’ produces mamzerim by default. It seems they would just be producing more sofek Jews…not mamzerim. Also, this is besides the fact that Orthodox Rabbonim try to examine every possible loophole before conferring a mamzer status that will perpetuate the line. For sure, an invalid conversion would trump the mamzer designation.

            The bottom line is — I fail to see what the big deal is!

            • Rishona: thank you for this competent and detailed refutation of the self-designe Rabbi’s argument.

              On the net, anyone can pretend to be anything, and I find it very dangerous when some self-important people who claim to be rabbis make statements that have nothing to do with torah. Passing surfers might take their words for face value, and this would do a disservice to anyone: to the torah, to the true Rabbis, to all Jews, etc.

  15. your declarations about what is written in the shulchan aruch are more than dubious.

    I do not trust you, since you have no rabbinical authority whatsoever.

  16. Everyone can say they have a smicha

    I also have a smicha … on my bed…

  17. “However there is a Taz on Y”D 198:48(I think that is the location, its been a while since I went back through all of that) that states that one can throw a recalcitrant woman into a mikvah, so long as she fully immerses, and as long as the thrower had the intent to make her tahor that will work as well.”

    How abject. This seems to be the first step before engaging in marital rape under the auspices of the torah.

  18. Coincidentally, the mikveh lady at the one that I use just recently told me about a huge sign at the mikveh that she used to use before Chabad opened one much nearer to her house. The sign warns that if the mikveh is used for non-Orthodox conversions that they won’t be valid and seems to warn that this would cause their children to be mamzerim. Actually, I’m just assuming the last word because the mikveh lady would not say the word out loud because she thought it was so horrible.

    But I can’t think of any way that a non-legitimate conversion could cause mamzerim. Only Jews can have children who are mamzerim. Someone who thinks a person’s conversion is not valid considers that person to not be Jewish. Non-Jewish women can only give birth to non-Jewish children regardless of whether the child was fathered by a man who was Jewish or not. And children born to Jewish women are Jewish even if the father is not.

    Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled in a case where a non-Orthodox Jewish couple were only divorced civilly without a Get and then the woman married another Jewish man and had children. If the first marriage was Jewishly valid and there was no Get, then the children fathered by the second husband would be mamzerim. But that situation has *nothing to do with conversion*.

    The woman with the non-O convert husband was not being denied mikveh use because it would cause mamzerim. She was just being punished for not conforming to standards of a particular community or rabbi.

    I think people are throwing around the term “mamzerim” in the context of supposedly invalid conversions as a kind of fear-mongering and name-calling. I think that it is despicable to loosely use such a very serious term when the main intention is nasty criticism of other people.

    Anyway, the only positive result of the sign at that mikveh that I mentioned at the beginning of this comment was that it was another reason for the Conservative shuls in this area to get together and build their own mikveh—the one I use.

  19. On the subject of non-O converts using a mikveh for family purity:

    I converted under Conservative auspices and since I am Chinese, I don’t “look Jewish”. I had wondered about whether I would be questioned and turned away if I ever tried to use the mikveh that is just a few blocks from my house. Now I know that I was right to suspect that it could be a problem.

    I attended a Limmud learning session given by a shomeret of a fairly new mikveh in Chicago supervised by a “liberal” MO rabbi. At the session, the question of use by non-married women came up and the shomeret said that they don’t ask women for any ID, implying that they would not prevent an unmarried woman to use the mikveh. I think that perhaps similarly, they would not question a woman’s Jewish status either.

    I recently checked and found out that there is only one non-O mikveh in Israel. It’s on a Masorti kibbutz. So for my family’s trip to Israel in August, do we schedule our whole trip just to be near the kibbutz when I may need it? I’m sure I’d be turned away from any of the other mikvaot. I suppose a night-time dip in the Mediterranean would work too.

    On the other hand, I almost regret that the timing doesn’t work for me to use an Orthodox mikveh that allows use for non-O conversions when I take a trip in July for my high school’s 30th reunion. I’d like to see it and I hear they are friendly.

  20. –I suppose a non-orthodox converts are at least sofek jews anyway–

    i think not— to be mekabel the ol torah you have to join by the rusles of the club. non-orthodox rabbis can gladly make anyone anything they want, but i dont know of any legitimate O rabbi who can recognize their bais din. one who plays by other rules can’t referree the game…..

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