Mikvah Question

When women go to immerse, this dip in the holy waters is always observed by a balanit or mikvah attendant. I was taught that this woman has to be a female over the age of batmitzvah, preferably when she is not Niddah herself. Most balaniot these days have to complete some kind of study period, but that isn’t a halachic requirement as far as I am aware.

Can someone point me to the source of the halacha where it states that a woman’s monthly tevilah has to be observed? Or is it a chumra? What if there are women who for whatever reason are extremely anxious or uncomfortable being watched, especially when naked – if they were to immerse without a witness, would that render their tevilah invalid? I am wondering if it would indeed be possible for a woman with such a situation to get a heter to immerse alone?

What are your thoughts?

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6 responses to “Mikvah Question

  1. Hmmm…I have no idea of the source of the halacha (if it exists,) but even as a liberal Jew this practice makes sense to me. I know there are plenty of times where my tevilah would have been invalidated by my hair touching the side of the mikvah, for example, and I would never have known about it had it not been for my fabulous mikvah lady.

    I would think that, ultimately, a lady in a difficult situation like the one you imagine could probably get a heter, but maybe she would be cautioned to immerse extra times to ensure that at least one of her tevilot was valid? I would more likely anticipate that she would be encouraged to take along a close friend, sister, or mother as her mikvah lady – anyone with whom she felt more comfortable.

  2. The reason is to make sure the woman is completely immersed, as Leigh Ann indicated. If hair floats on the surface, for example, the observer lets the woman know that she has to tovel again. Did you know that in the absence of anyone else, the woman’s husband can observe the woman tovel? Yes, really! For example, let’s say a married couple is on vacation in a place without a mikveh and the woman uses the ocean. If no (Jewish) woman is available, the husband can be the observer! Totally halachically acceptable.

  3. The halachic role here is not to supervise nor to formally witness the process but just to be sure that the woman is completely immersed. The main worry being floating hair. If one is toveil in a large and deep enough body of appropriate water that it is impossible for any part of her to be out of the water, it is not needed that someone watch. Likewise, if you are sure you are completely immersed, the tevilah is valid.

  4. I have heard about garments that can be floated on the water if a woman cannot immerse in front of someone. I have also heard of a heter given for someone legitimately terrified of water to immerse differently. I can’t say where, when or how but I have heard of these things.

  5. Shulchan Aruch YD 198:40

    She must appoint upon her an adult Jewess – who is over twelve years old and a day – at the time that she immerses in order that she should see that no hair of her head remains floating on the surface of the water. If she does not have not somebody to stand by her or if it is night she’ll tie her hair on her head with woolen threads or with the strap of her head – as long as
    she has them loose – or with a net of threads hollow or she’ll attach a loose garment on her hair.

    Add to that the Sidrei Tahara 79:
    if the woman is not afraid
    of water she can hold her hairs strongly in her hand and immerse deep in the water and
    then release her hairs.

    The Noda biY’huda (II, 122) allows the husband to do all of the duties, the body checks, with supervision and including if necessary helping his wife down into the water.

    Sof sof, I doubt that it would be possible for her to get a heter to immerse alone today. More likely she would be able to either bring along a close relative of the appropriate age, or possibly(depending on where she lived of course busy mikvaot would probably frown on this) even have her husband perform the duty.

  6. I think everyone else covered the question nicely. I remember you once mentioned that you were under the impression that mikvah attendants are volunteers. I have been informed by my mikvah attendant that this is not the case in most mikvahs in areas with a large Jewish community.

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