Tag Archives: mikveh

What would you have done?

So there was a huge snow storm here this week. I got this email today:

….I heard that women who needed to go to the mikveh Sunday night [during the storm] called up Hatzolah and told them they needed to “go to work at the mikveh” (mikveh lady).  So one of the Hatzolah guys said “Hey, there are like THIRTY mikveh ladies working tonight!!”

I dunno – the wind was howling and there was zero visibility – I probably would have waited till Monday night to immerse. I don’t think it was worth calling Hatzolah OR putting your life in such danger. And what is with the lying? I understand they wanted to be modest and not say they had to immerse that night, but please…

What do you think?

Mikvah Tales….

I have written before about the Monsey mikvah and how skeevy I felt the first time I went there. This was how I put it:

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.

It seems that every time I have returned to the Viola mikvah, it has been the same story. Apparently their policy is to check the fingernails and toenails, even if you politely ask them not to. The balaniot (mikvah ladies) were gruff and abrupt – they totally hindered my enjoyment of the fulfillment of this mitzvah.

After the last time I went there I told the KoD that I needed to find another mikvah to go to. There was no way I was ever going back to the Viola mikvah. I felt that the balaniot had gone out of their way to make me uncomfortable – I am not a recalcitrant child who needs to be bullied into submission. They did NOT actually bully me, but that’s how I felt. My experiences at this mikvah took away from the joy I used to feel at keeping this mitzvah. When mikvah time was coming up again I didn’t want to go. Honestly. I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that it was going to be uncomfortable and I would rather stay home with a good book than subject myself to someone else’s fine toothcomb.

There are other mikvaot in Monsey, but the Viola one is close-by and gorgeous. KoD convinced me to try it out one more time. I tried explaining to him what it’s like to be standing there and have another woman, one much more clothed than you, examining you and your body for irregularities. Yes it’s only the fingernails and toenails, but still, it’s invasive. I don’t mind the checking for hairs so much – that’s something I need help with. The rest of the checking makes me uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to put it in terms that the KoD would be able to relate to, but he boiled it down to this – it’s only 2 minutes of your time – grit your teeth and bear it, if you can, otherwise speak up and tell them you’re OK, you don’t need to be checked. Somehow speaking up in this situation seems tougher than it sounds. Sigh.

I promised him I would give this particular mikvah one last shot, even though I really didn’t want to. On the appointed evening I prepared myself at home – I wanted to be at the mikvah for as little time as possible.

I drove there, and sat in the parking lot. My evil inclination was arguing with me. I really didn’t want to go in. I really didn’t want to subject myself to inspection. I just wanted to be done with the whole thing. Sitting there in the car a little voice was telling me – “KoD won’t know. Just pretend you went. Your hair is wet – how will he know the difference?” That voice was making it sound just so simple. There was a problem – I didn’t want to go in, and there was a solution – so don’t.

I sat there for 3 minutes in the parking lot debating with myself. It took tremendous strength of will for me to get out of the car and walk into the mikvah, pay my $23 and go do the final preparations. As I was getting ready to press the button to summon the balanit, I felt so uneasy. I so wanted to enjoy this experience yet I felt dread in the pit of my stomach.

The aura around the balanit that arrived at my door was different than those of her coworkers that have attended me before. She just seemed to be of a much nicer disposition. Cheerful. Chatty. Non-intrusive. Yes, she checked my nails, but somehow I didn’t mind it quite so much (that plus the fact that I have gel nails, so there is less to check). The toenail thing bothered me, but she was brief – not like the others taking time and cutting stuff that wasn’t there….

She walked with me, instead of ahead of me, to the mikvah, chatting all the way, really putting me at my ease. She gave me privacy to remove my robe and descend into the ritual waters. Every time I dunked and raised my head out of the water, she sang out “KOSHER” – with such joy! Seriously. Like she was happy to be part of my mitzvah. She helped rekindle the inner light I used to have when doing this mitzvah. As she walked me back to the preparation room, she was playing Jewish geography with me, after I told her we are from Montreal. Playing Jewish geography without sharing one’s name is a little different, to be sure.

I was glad that I overcame that momentary temptation to not go in to the mikvah. I am still upset that I felt that unenthusiastic about the whole experience. I know that there must be some women who would have taken those negative feelings and just stopped going. The KoD trusts me 100% to fulfill this mitzvah. He trusts that when I go to the mikvah, I do it properly. How could I not have gone in? How could I have lied to him after not going in? I know there are women that do that, but how can they live with themselves? What is the point of Taharat HaMishpacha if you aren’t going to keep it properly? I have heard some women say that if a husband sleeps with his impurified wife it’s his aveirah (sin), not hers. But the decision between right and wrong is taken away from a husband who is not aware that his wife has lied about her immersion in a mikvah. Yes, fine, the wife technically does not commit the same aveirah (if indeed this assumption is true) but she has sinned by lying to him. There is no place for lying in a marriage. None at all.

The KoD knew how I struggled with the mitzvah of tevilah on this particular occasion. But he encouraged me and supported me, validated my feelings, and eventually it worked out well. I returned to my husband’s embrace knowing I completed the mitzvah in the right way.

Mikvah Question

I have been using the mikvah for the last 16 years (whoa, am I really that old??) apart from the few years when I was divorced. I thought I knew all there was to know. The more I read the more I find out there are customs I never heard of. Yesterday we talked about the knife under the pillow. Today I ask a different question. Apparently there is a custom that from the moment a woman immerses in the mikvah, after she comes out, until she has 3 items of clothing on, she is not to say a word other than the bracha (blessing) for the immersion. Is this a known custom? On what is it based? My mikvah lady is a chatterbox, and the conversation only stops when I am dunking, and I would think she would know about this inyan (matter).

Anyone?

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Mikvah Rant

Every mikvah* I have been to has a sign on the wall to tell husbands to wait down the street or around the corner, and not to park in front of the building when picking up or dropping off their wives out of respect for the other users.

Many men do not respect this – and will drop their wives off and pick them up right in front, where they can see who else is coming in or leaving. Not only is this wrong of the husband, but the wife needs to think of the other women and spare them embarrassment – she needs to tell her husband where to wait or park. I know many probably don’t even stop to think about it. But they should.

It makes my blood boil every time it happens.  A friend of mine told me the following: One time I was there a man parked his car in front and was waiting to pick up his wife.  I knocked on his window, he rolled it down, and I told him that this is not the supermarket over here and he is supposed to wait at the right side of the building, as per the rules of the facility. Apparently, my friend tells me, the guy did move. I cannot believe she had the backbone to approach him.

The times when I have gone and my husband has picked me up we made sure to meet up at the corner a block away. It’s just derech eretz, common decency. As women we go out of our way to keep quiet about when we visit the mikvah (we don’t even tell our closest friends when we go)  – these men make a mockery of our modesty and privacy.

*mikvah – ritual bath house

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Kallah Classes – Did They Help?

After a lively discussion yesterday with members of the Twitter JewCrew about Mikvah, Taharat HaMishpacha and its personal significance, I was asked if the Kallah Classes I had taken before my recent marriage made a difference in how I saw the mitzvah of Mikvah and how I view the mitzvah of Taharat HaMishpacha. My answer was way too long to be squeezed into 140 characters, so I promised to blog it.

Firstly from Kallah Magazine – “What are Kallah classes? Kallah classes are given one on one or in a small group to teach Jewish brides the laws of Taharas Hamishpacha (Family Purity) including laws concerning preparation for and immersion in the mikvah, laws of Niddah, Jewish views on topics concerning intimacy and Shalom Bayis.”

(Men are also supposed to learn the laws with a revered Rabbi).

Secondly, let’s define Niddah – A woman is said to be a Niddah when she is menstruating, or has menstruated without yet completing the associated ritual requirements. Childbirth also renders a woman Niddah.

My first go around with kallah classes was when I was 20 and getting married for the first time. From what I remember from that long ago the one on one class was more of an instruction manual, how to go the mikvah and when, when you can touch your husband, when you can’t. I do not remember being given any hashkafah (religious philosophy) at all about the significance of the mitzvah. It was a how-to class. Nothing more.

This time around, even though initially I resisted the request by the rabbi to take classes again, it was a different story. I told the rabbi that I had been married for 12 years, been to the mikvah over 100 times, knew the laws inside and out, what more could I possibly learn. How wrong I was! Yes I knew the basics, but I needed the hashkafah big time!

It was precisely the fact that we didn’t have to dwell on the minutiae of the laws for too long because of my familiarity with them, that we were able to focus on the spirituality of the mitzvah, of the holiness of the marital bond. I was able to take my experiences from my first marriage, learn from them and use that toward strengthening my experience with this marriage.

It helped that my teacher is an awesome woman. A woman who has been married to her husband for well over 20 years, someone whose face glowed every time she talked about him. I wanted that. I wanted to still love my husband and talk about him like that 20 years from now. Teach me, I said, teach me to still look at him the same way after all that time.

There were many things that we discussed that are not appropriate for me to air in this public forum, but I will say that our talks opened my eyes and gave me a perspective that I cherish now, and will cherish forever.

Let me just give one example. We talked about the importance of the Harchakot. What are the Harchakot? Distancing behaviours observed when a women is Niddah and forbidden sexually to her husband. In my view I had thought these practices ridiculous. Why would passing a plate directly to my husband turn him on? Or fixing his collar? Holding his hand as we walk down the street – where is the harm in that? It isn’t sexual. Why are we punishing the woman for having her period?

The way this awesome teacher explained it to me that it isn’t about forbidding all these things because the woman is “impure”. It is about keeping these things special for a time when the couple can be together in all ways. Its purpose is to prevent simple touches from being mundane and boring. The purpose is to make every physical interaction between the couple very special.

Put it this way. You kiss your husband goodbye every morning when he goes to work. And every evening when he comes home. Every day it’s the same. After a while the feeling isn’t special any more. When you haven’t kissed him in 12 days, trust me, that goodbye kiss in the morning is more powerful than anything.

The minimum amount of time that a woman is Niddah / spiritually impure is usually 12 days. After those 12 days she goes to the mikvah to immerse herself and purify her body and soul. It is not about being dirty and getting clean, as in fact a woman has to be squeaky clean before she immerses. It’s about washing away the previous month, and being renewed for a new month.

When a couple has not been together sexually in that time, the anticipation of mikvah night is huge. A husband will be told by his wife when she plans on immersing. It’s a reunion that is so beautiful and so precious and so right and so very private. It would not be that way if there had been no physical separation for a certain period of time. It’s like a honeymoon all over again.

It isn’t easy. No one will lie to you and say that it is. No one will tell you that you are not allowed to spend time alone together either. You just have to be aware of your limits. We are all human, and we hopefully want to be with our spouses in every possible way – but the rewards of observing these laws are huge. Marriage is about intimacy which isn’t just sex. It’s about being in the moment with someone you love. It’s about sharing your personal physical and emotional space. The Niddah period gives a couple time to work on their emotional connection.

To be honest with you all, I learned about a whole different side of marriage with my Kallah teacher. She taught me how to appreciate the Harchakot, and how to make the most of my marriage in many ways. I doubt that I would have been able to learn all of that if her own marital bliss had not been evident and if I would not have felt comfortable discussing all aspects of a marriage with her. Maybe because I was previously married I had a level of comfort speaking about these things.

Taharat HaMishpacha, Niddah, Mikvah – many young people think it is all about sex. It is not. The purpose of these mitzvoth are to enhance one’s marriage and to keep that marital bond strong and sacred.

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Secret Code

In writing the last piece it occurred to me to ask whether anyone told you about the mikvah code of silence, or you just assumed that was the way it needed to be.

What’s the mikvah code of silence? If you see someone you know there, you don’t mention it to anyone afterwards. If you sit in the waiting room and chit chat while you wait your turn, you cannot talk about it to anyone. If you meet someone new – you can’t tell your husband that you made a new friend. If you recognize the license plates – keep shtum. If you hear some OMG IT’S SO AMAZING news that you want to rush and tell your hubby – you can’t without revealing your source.  (just an aside, as I am typing this the word “Omerta” keeps flashing through my head….)

We are taught that the mitzvah of mikvah is deeply personal and private. It’s a mitzvah that transitions us from a state of niddah (ritual impurity) to a state of holiness. From being unable to be with one’s husband, to full steam ahead…. It’s no one’s business when we go, when we have our period, when we don’t, no one checks up on your counting, to see if you are counting the days right – it’s a deeply personal mitzvah that is entrusted just to us women.

I know there are some people that bring friends / female family with them to the mikvah, that it is not a big secret, some people even tell their older kids. I don’t get that. The hard thing, sometimes, though is getting out of the house and giving a plausible explanation to where you are going. I have boys so they are mostly clueless. “Going to see a friend” usually does the trick.

I like knowing that this mitzvah is being kept by me and my KoD, that no one else but God and the mikvah lady needs to know about it. In this day and age so much is publicized. We update our facebook and twitter with where we are, what we are doing and pictures of the food we just ate. I am a serial updater – social networking was made for me, but my going to the mikvah has no place being advertised to all and sundry.

Because I expect others I bump into at the mikvah to keep their mouths shut, I do the same. It’s reciprocal without it needing to have been spoken. Am I alone in this, or is this resonating with you?

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

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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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Jewish Wedding Network

Please go over to the Jewish Wedding Network to read my piece on Mikvah. Click around the site too – it’s awesome. Thank you JWN for the opportunity to write for you.

Dip n Dunk

Mikvah is a necessary part of the religious married woman’s life. I must admit to loving the whole idea of ritual purification, of being spiritually cleansed so that I can “be” with my spouse on different levels – physical, emotional and spiritual (and be able to hand him his darn supper plate ;-)).  When I was married previously I enjoyed taking the time to prepare for immersion, not just physically, but mentally. I also enjoyed the me-time I was able to snag that one night a month, to go to mikvah and get prepared there without any little people hammering on the bathroom door. (try taking a relaxing bath when the kids are yelling and running up and down and there are sounds emanating from the playroom that sound vaguely dangerous in nature……..)

 

Now that I am returning to the state of holy matrimony (yay!) it will once again be incumbent on me to use the mikvah. I am so looking forward to it. Now I bring a whole different mindset to the whole thing. Marriage takes on a different meaning once you have experienced the pain of divorce. Some people never recover enough to be able to trust again. I was so worried that I would be one of them. But KoD entered my life, THANK G-D, and enabled me to believe that I could trust again, he inspires me more than I ever thought possible to be a better person and a better Jewess. (Have I told you lately how awesome he is? <insert goofy grin here>)

 

So when I prepare for mikvah before my wedding it will be a true celebration – not only will I be cleansing my body and soul in preparation for my marriage to KoD, I will be renewing my sacred bond with the One Above, washing away the anguish and the sadness and the raw pain of the years that intervened between my last dunk and this one. I was always taught that the water of the mikvah isn’t there to wash away dirt, for we are physically clean before we enter it, but that it is there to wash away spiritual impurity. Water has tremendous healing qualities – I look forward to the sense of peace my immersion will bring me before my wedding. (read more about my mikvah experience here .)

 

Now the question is how do I get that sense of peace now, while I am planning the wedding??

Kallah Klasses

So, being a religious Jewish woman about to be married, there are laws of Family Purity that I will have to follow. Read more about it hereI learned these laws 15 years ago when I first got married (yes I was 12 then…. 😉 ) and these laws do not change.

 

Apparently it is necessary for me to relearn / revisit them. Now, I don’t mind refreshing my memory and re reading The Book (Tehila Abramov’s The Secret of Jewish Femininity). So imagine my shock when I was told to expect to pay around three hundred dollars for this refresher course. I didn’t pay a penny the first time around, and I knew nothing! This time I know it all (a little rusty, but hey, its like riding a bike, right?) yet I should still expect to pay.

 

I have been blessed to find a teacher who is willing to teach me for nothing, just to know that she is doing some good in the world. But I feel that I need to present her with something at the end of the three or four classes we will have had together. Any ideas? (I think to give this Eishet Chayil money would be to insult her.)