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Family Purity: A Husband's Perspective

by Mr. Michael Gold


Library » Intimacy » Family Purity | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Once a month, after nightfall, my wife keeps a secret appointment. Neither our neighbors, our friends, nor our children know where she goes, although our children sometimes wonder why she returns an hour or so later with her hair wet. Usually, my wife drives herself, but sometimes I drive her there. When I do, I never park and wait for her, it would be improper for a man to sit in the car outside. I leave and return a half-hour later to pick her up.

Once a month, my wife goes to the Mikvah. In this way, she and I observe one of the most ancient and most misunderstood traditions in Judaism. For a week and a half before mikvah night, we avoid marital relations. We can relate as friends, partners and confidants, but not as lovers. On mikvah night we come back together as sexual partners.

My wife and I are not Orthodox Jews. In fact, we are Conservative Jews of a liberal bent. Nevertheless, in our marital life, we have chosen to observe the ancient laws of mikvah, known euphemistically as Taharat Hamishpachah, "Family Purity".

On mikvah night my wife carefully bathes, washes her hair, removes all makeup, trims her nails, takes off her jewelry and prepares for the immersion. She prefers to do her preparations at home, although many women do them at the mikvah building. When she immerses herself in the mikvah, nothing must come between the water and her body.

The mikvah itself is in a modest building that contains a room for bathing and changing and a waiting room with several hair dryers. The mikvah (ritual bath) itself looks like a Jacuzzi at a health club. Regular tap water is piped in, but underneath the pool there is a connection to water that has been gathered naturally either from a spring or a cistern containing rainwater. Such naturally gathered water meets the religious requirement that a mikvah contain mayim chayim, "living waters".

The ascetic view ties sex to sin and is embarrassed by sex. The hedonistic view, reacting to this, sees pleasure as the ideal, condoning any activity between consenting adults. Judaism rejects both these extremes.
Some Jews are surprised that our city contains a mikvah. Actually, every major Jewish population center and many minor centers have a mikvah. It is used for conversions of men and women, by brides before their wedding night, by some Orthodox men before Shabbat and Festivals, and by some observant families who immerse their new dishes. Yet the most important purpose of the mikvah is to enable married women to observe the traditional laws of Family Purity.

On any one night, a variety of women will be at the mikvah. Most are Orthodox. Many keep their heads covered in public with a scarf, hat or wig. Some are definitely not Orthodox. Often there are women in jeans.

The mikvah attendant observes each woman as she immerses herself and as she says the traditional blessing and immerses herself twice more. The attendant's job is to ensure that the immersion is total, so that even the hair goes under water. My wife has noticed that the mikvah attendant plays another role for many of these women. She is like a psychologist with whom they can share family problems and discuss community matters. They know she will never tell, for secrecy, modesty and discretion are absolute requirements of the job.


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Life Cycle » Marriage » Family Purity » The Benefits

(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
(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 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.
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.
A ritual bath where one immerses to become spiritually pure. After her menstrual cycle, a woman must immerse in the Mikvah before resuming marital relations.
A loaf of bread. Usually refers to: 1) The section of dough separated and given to the priest (today that section is burnt). 2) The sweetened, soft bread customarily consumed at the Sabbath meals.
Third of the four Jewish matriarchs. Daughter of Laban, favorite wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Died while giving birth to Benjamin in 1557 BCE.
Wedding canopy. Under this canopy, the groom betroths the bride with the customary ring, and the traditional marriage benedictions are recited.
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
A menstruating woman. A niddah may not have intimate relations with her husband until she immerses in a ritual pool of water.
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.
Family Purity
Laws relating to intimacy between husband and wife. The primary point of Family Purity is the woman's purifying immersion in a ritual bath which allows the couple to resume intimate relations after the woman's menstrual period.
Ritually impure.
Ritually pure.