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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Since you were wondering (maybe)… the Israeli mikveh

mikvehI had been led to expect horrors from mikvas (mikvaot) here.  If not horrors, well, something “less than” in terms of what I’m used to.

Um, did I say mikveh?  Sure I did. 

I have always been honest, if discreet, when blogging about this aspect of Jewish life.  It’s certainly important:  one of the three main cornerstones of Jewish life (along with Shabbos and kashrus), in some opinions.  (I learned this, by the way, long, long ago from a Conservative rabbi…)

So I will tell you my guidelines:  I never mention specifics of my life and personal situation, such as, for instance, the actual date and time I or any other specific person went to the mikveh, and I would certainly never say anything about who I’d met there. 

So yes, just like we keep Shabbos and keep kosher, we keep taharas hamishpacha, so there it is.  Fun!

In any event, my fears were unfounded.  The one Israeli mikvah I have been to so far (an unspecified number of times, on unspecified date(s)) is really very, very nice.

mikveh (1) On the “basic” side, true.  Not quite as clean as I have seen outside of Israel, where we have out little phobias about even seeing another person’s hair, floss or toenail clipping… but nice. 

There are a few little touches, like flowers, here and there, but some of that may have been because this was sort of a “bridal suite,” with the bathtub, toilet, shower, all in the same room as the mikveh.  Most of the rooms – here and in other mikvaot I have visited – just have a bath or shower in a small preparation room which opens out into a central mikveh, which only one woman uses at a time.

 mikveh (2)

Speaking of bridal suites, there was actually a party going on on the day I was there taking the pictures… a whole bunch of women in what seems to be the “party room” of the mikveh, celebrating the impending marriage of a woman who just dunked.  What an awesome thing!  I resolved then and there that if one of my sisters ever gets engaged to a Jewish guy, I am scooping her up (with all the proper timing, of course!) and hauling her off to a mikvah for a party.

This shows the water temperature, I think:

 mikveh (3) 

(something they could have used at the mikveh I went to once in midwinter in Western Canada that turned out to be completely unheated and my lungs practically collapsed the minute I dunked)

This is the standard list of preparations, but if anything I am more careful here, because it takes me so long to read the list…

mikveh (4) 

Button to call the mikveh lady when you’re ready.

mikveh (6) 

The ladies working at this particular mikveh seem to have just the right mix of pleasant impartiality with love an enthusiasm for the mitzvah.  Mikveh ladies I’ve known generally check you for things like stray hairs, hangnails, rough foot skin, toe fluff, etc, though I believe the extent of the check should ultimately be up to the woman.  (ie some women want to be checked more meticulously than others are comfortable with). 

mikveh (5)In any event, my favourite part – am I allowed to have a favourite part?  I suppose any mitzvah has its pluses and minuses – is after each dunk (some women do three, some do seven; there are probably other customs), the mikveh lady shouts out “kasher!”  And at the end, it’s her turn to shower you with brachot.  They do this at some other mikvaot I have been to, but in this one… boy, do they pour on the brachot, in true Israeli style.  Of course, I only figured out half the things she was blessing me with, but I’m sure it was all good, and all I had to do was say “amen!” at the end of it, which is better than most situations I encounter here, conversation-wise.  What a fabulous way to start a new month!

So what’s the biggest difference between a mikveh in Israel and a mikveh elsewhere???? 

The biggest difference is in the women themselves.  At any mikveh I’ve ever been to, you’ll see an assortment of women, with varying degrees of religious attire:  tichels, sheitels, formal suits, loose swingy skirts.  All religious women, of course.  Generally, too, everybody waits their turn quietly, discreetly.

Of course?

mikveh (7)Well, not here.  I won’t say everybody uses the mikveh here in Israel, but I will say – if you’ve only ever been to a mikveh outside of Israel, you will be surprised the first time you see a woman in jeans and a tank top heading into or out of the mikveh like it’s just part of her regular monthly… stuff.  Maintenance, like a manicure, pedicure, haircut, and mikveh visit.  And the waiting isn’t necessarily quiet, women chat just like they would at a salon or anywhere else (I’m told) that women gather to do womanly things.

And honestly, this is one of the most stupendous, wonderful things I have encountered here, even if I do have to be a little discreet about who I share this revelation with. 

Just like many, many people here eat kosher food just because their food happens to be kosher, and keep holidays just because those happen to be the national holidays, it seems that many, many women go to the mikveh here just because… well, there’s the mikveh, and it’s time to go, and it’s just what everybody does.

Amazing, just amazing.  Mi k’amcha Yisrael?!?  (who is like Your people, Israel?)

2 comments:

  1. One thing I've noticed here in Israel, unlike North America, is that many women hold onto Taharat Mishpacha longer than other mitzvot. People who aren't fully shomrei Shabbat may still observe the mitzvah of Taharat Mishpacha. This is more with the Sfardi than Ashkenazi women.

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  2. Maybe because they start off their taharat hamishpacha "career" with a party, it gives them the right idea about the joy behind the mitzvah...

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