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Entering the Mikvah: A Personal Account

by Ms. Jane Solomon

  

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It was as scary as anything I'd ever done, and I wasn't sure why. As a Reform Jew, my sense of being commanded by G-d does not come with a set of 613 unambiguous instructions, yet something had drawn me to the mikveh - the ritual bath - and to begin observing its laws, something about bringing G-d into my marriage in a more concrete way.

To me, being Reform means requiring of myself a thorough education in Jewish practices and their meanings. As I seek closeness to G-d, as I try to infuse my life with greater meaning and holiness, I know there is a roadmap that has been traveled for millennia and I know I need to study it. How can I reject rituals I don't understand? How can I demand new rituals when I haven't yet learned the old ones?

What I knew about the mikveh I had learned from books. In a nutshell, they said Jewish tradition requires a couple to abstain from sex for about twelve days beginning at the start of the woman's period; she then immerses in the "living waters" of the mikveh - a manifestation or symbol of G-d's presence - after which she and her husband can be intimate again. The laws of taharat hamishpacha or the "purity of the family," are often derided as attaching shame to menstruation, but my reading regarded them differently.

The couple separates for part of the month in order to develop the non-physical parts of their relationship - much as we study Torah to develop the non-physical parts of ourselves; and immersion brings the woman physically close to G-d to sanctify her for what follows - that is, physical reunion with her spouse. I saw in this a commandment directed specifically at women and designed to sanctify marriage, too. I knew it was just a matter of time until I would try it. Somehow, I had to be there.

I knew it was just a matter of time until I would try it. Somehow, I had to be there
It was just a matter of time - but this was a little daunting, too, the idea of going into an Orthodox facility. No matter how clearly I understood that the commandment to immerse was as much mine as the Shema, I couldn't help wondering whether they'd let me in; surely they would be able to tell that I drive to synagogue on Shabbat and eat beef and ice cream on the same dishes! I wasn't sure I'd make it in the door, let alone into the actual pool of living waters.

First, of course, I had to begin to observe the laws - and that meant abstaining from sex on certain days, [Ed. note: a minimum of 12 consecutive] days prescribed not only by our social schedules or how tired we were but by, shall we say, forces not subject to our control. On day eight I looked up "mikveh" in the phone book and dialed the number. There was a long recording about hours, fees, location and, at the very end of the tape, how to call "Shira" for other questions.

Shira answered the phone. I could hear children playing in the background. "What can I help you with?" she asked. I said I was trying to get up the nerve to go for the first time. Her first question was, "Are you married?" Then she asked who I was studying with. I gave the name of my Reform rabbi, which was not familiar to her. "Never mind, it's fine," Shira said, "and, of course, you've waited twelve days." It had only been seven, but it was clear to me from her seriousness that if I was going to use their mikveh I would respect their rules.


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RELATED CATEGORIES

Life Cycle » Marriage » Family Purity » Inspirational Tales

Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Solomon
Son of King David, and succeeded him on the throne of Israel in the year 836 BCE. he was the wisest man to ever live. He built the first Holy Temple and authored several books of the Bible.
Yisrael
1. Additional name given by G-d to Patriarch Jacob. 2. A Jew who is not a Kohain or Levi (descendant of the Tribe of Levi).
Shema
The most fundamental Jewish prayer, recited twice daily. This prayer, of Biblical origin, professes the belief in G-d's absolute unity.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.