(Inspired in part by this article)
I am a married orthodox Jewish woman. I adhere to the laws of Taharat Hamishpacha – family purity. As a married orthodox Jewish woman, I am trusted by God and my husband to observe these laws in the ways I have been taught, the same laws that were taught to my mother and her mother and her mother etc.
I do not have to answer to anyone or prove my observance of this mitzvah. My husband trusts me to go to the mikvah at the appointed time, he trusts that I am performing the mitzvah correctly and wouldn’t dream of going through a pre-Mikvah checklist with me. (oh, I have heard of such situations, believe me). He knows my cycle, he knows when I am counting, he keeps track – it’s in his interest to do so – but never would he question my timing or my preparation.
This mitzvah is given to us women, it is our mitzvah. This is something so deep and personal, we generally do not share the intimate details of our observance of this mitzvah with even our closest friends.
So – by that token, if God trusts me to perform this mitzvah to the best of my ability, and my husband trusts me, why on earth would I allow anyone to tell me I am not doing it properly? Why on earth would someone else feel that they were able to judge my preparations or my acceptability to be toiveled?
If a woman has correctly calculated when she needs to go and immerse in order to be ritually purified, and she prepares for her immersion according to the way she has been taught, why can the balanit / mikvah lady decide that she hasn’t done a good enough job? How can she assume that the woman’s preparations are not up to the right standards? Is her word not good enough? Who gives the balanit that power?
My balanit checks my nails and for loose hairs on my back. I am ok with that. If I wanted her to check me more, she would. If I wanted her to check me less, she’d be ok with that too. She is awesome.
How dare anyone tell a woman she has too much dry skin on her elbows, or that her long nails render her tevilah invalid? How dare anyone forbid another woman from immersing because she cannot prove she is Jewish? (I cannot prove I am Jewish on mikvah night!! Who walks around with their ketubah?!) How dare a balanit walk away from the mikvah room, after refusing to watch a tevilah, due to her doubts as to whether the woman has prepared appropriately?
As far as I am aware balaniot are volunteers. They are not paid for their service. And the majority of them are awesome and giving people. They are there to help, not hinder. It’s the few that we hear of, like those in the disputed Ramat Beit Shemesh mikvah, that make this whole mikvah experience a nerve wracking experience for some.
Mikvah is a mitzvah that I enjoy performing. I have written before of the peace it brings me, the deep spiritual cleansing I feel after having immersed. The joy of being able to reunite with my husband on all levels. I would hate for my mikvah experience to take away from that.
Taharat Hamishpacha is not an easy mitzvah to keep. Without going into too much detail here it involves certain bodily awareness and counting of a specific number of days – you have to make sure you are immersing on the right night. In the not too distant past there were places where it involved a lot of co-ordination in order to get to a mikvah – hours away, in a far off town, sometimes at great risk. It’s indeed much easier to not bother with it. But we do, as we are religious Jews who have taken this mitzvah upon ourselves. If we are prepared to go toivel, we need to be welcomed. We need to be encouraged to continue to keep this mitzvah. We need to be able to make the most of our potentially deeply spiritual experience – not be worried that our tevilah will not be valid.
The more I blog about the subject of mikvah the more stories I hear of negative experiences. It breaks my heart. This is a mitzvah I do with my entire body and with my soul – there is no other mitzvah I can think of that encompasses that. There is no other mitzvah that brings me such profound spiritual fulfillment. We need to stand firm and embrace our mitzvah and not let anyone cheapen it or take away from its spiritual value.