A Mikvah Tirade

Post by Melissa

Ok readers, I have given this warning but I will give it again. I will occasionally talk/write about mikvah, and clearly, this post is one of those times. If you are of the mindset that it is inappropriate to do so, stop reading and come back to see what Jessica writes tomorrow, though last I heard she may also be writing about mikvah ūüėČ

While at both of my local mikvaot (plural for mikvah) you can immerse on Shabbat and Chagim (holidays), because you should not delay your immersion, I do not live within realistic walking distance of them. Its about 5 miles to one and 4 to the other, the first through a¬†neighborhood¬†I don’t want to be walking in after dark alone, the second through a¬†business¬†district with very few lights to enable me to see at dark. ¬†Needless to say, I am not the only person in this city with this problem. ¬†So one would think that around Pesach, when there are many days women may not be able to make it to the mikvah and they may already be delaying their immersion, a mikvah would have some extra hours. Apparently, not mine.

I requested* to have my time about an hour and a half after what I¬†assumed¬†to be the approximate immersion time and said if it couldn’t be then, it had to be about an hour and a half earlier. (9:30 and 8pm respectively — I had something¬†unmovable¬†in that middle time block.) ¬†When I get the call back I am told I can only be scheduled at 9pm. When I press further I find out that immersion time is shortly after 8pm and they are not scheduling any appointments after 9pm. Seriously? You are only allowing one hour in a period of time in which there are¬†conceivably¬†five days on which women cannot come to immerse? You are potentially making women break one of the holiest commandments because you don’t want to stay late? Seriously? Ugh. ¬†I got pretty mad pretty fast, but tried to not take it out on the scheduler, I knew it wasn’t the Mikvah Manager and this woman probably had no say in it. ¬†She made a compromise with me of 9:15, and I even arrived a few minutes early. ¬†She was nice when I arrived but made a point of telling me that I was the only person there. Thanks lady, like I didn’t figure that out from your casualness about putting me in a room, instead of hurriedly shuffling me down the hall lest I see anyone else….

All in all, it was a fine mikvah experience in the end, though I was so flustered from the whole experience I had a hard time really finding the connection with Gd I normally strive for through the entire process.

Has anyone else has a mikvah experience that was so upsetting it took the spirituality out of the experience?

*Aside: Scheduling¬†mikvah is a somewhat weird process to me. ¬†You leave a message on an answering machine saying when you want to dunk and then someone calls you back to tell you when you will actually be able to go. ¬†My messages are always long and detailed because I have a bad habit of not answering my phone and I don’t want to have to continue to engage in this silly phone tag.

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24 thoughts on “A Mikvah Tirade

  1. i blog about mikvah too, and have also been told its not right, and makes people uncomfortable. these things must be talked about.

    I have no clue where you live so i can only go by my own experience. Local mikvaot make exceptions, and sometimes if you offer a larger contribution they might stay open later. Many of the balaniot are volunteers, so it all depends on time constraints too.

    I am sorry that these experience was not such a positive one – I experienced something similar the first time I used the mikvah in Monsey. I wrote about it here http://hadassahsabo.wordpress.com/2009/10/20/dipping-etiquette/

    • I know you do, and I appreciate it! I wish there were more women like us around who were willing to talk about it regardless.
      Thanks Hadassah. They did make the accommodation to stay a bit later, it was just that they even had to that really got to me. The other local mikvah (which is not a community mikvah, and this one is) has actually been more generous with their time and efforts, ironically.

  2. we’re all accustomed to challenging customer service in the public realm, but who expects it here? i’m really surprised that mikveh attendants (who presumably are aware of the relevant halachot) would not think ahead to adjust the hours accordingly.

    • I know that this mikvah requires a class on being an attendant and the woman who is the manager is a very well learned woman. I don’t know if they just weren’t thinking, or were just so caught up in that they live in the community so the delay for non-community members didn’t even cross their minds, or what.

  3. My mikveh just wants you to call and say when you’ll be there – their message tells their window of time (now it’s 8:30-9:45). I try to get there early and she’ll let me start early but not dunk. I don’t even know about Shabbos because I also have to drive to get there…and so that’s never been in my world view either. I sometimes just wish there was a bigger window and it didn’t have to always be AFTER dark. I have an hour ride there and another hour back!!

    ESP

  4. During one of my NY visits the local one didn’t call back. Mikvah on vacation? Luckily my husband wasn’t with me giving me more flexiblity. In the end I used connections someplace else, but I didn’t need the stress and time waste.

  5. I’m nervous even posting this but I feel like it’s important to say.

    The mikveh I go to has a policy that non-Orthodox converts are not allowed to use it. I’m a C convert and well, let’s just say I’ve been able to use it thus far by just saying enough to not out myself (I took the kallah class with the mikveh lady there too.) I feel very guilty for the deception but what choice do I have to keep the mitzvah? I feel terribly nervous every time I go to the mikveh and definitely detracts from the experience. I dread that somehow she’s found me out – my test ends up being if she says “amen” to my bracha…then I know I’m OK.

    The nearest Conservative run mikveh is 5 hours away in another state.

    People tell me that I’m too nervous about it and honestly, I do feel somewhat ridiculous but if this was the choice you had to make to keep the mitzvah….what would you do? Most people that I’ve told (who happen to be born Jewish…) tell me not to worry, etc, that I probably don’t have cause to be so nervous, etc….I feel sort of angry about it though because they have some freedom that I do not.

    • I totally understand your concerns! I was born Jewish but live and was married in the Conservative community and was even nervous going to the orthodox mikvah. I was convinced that when she found out I was Conservative she wouldn’t let me come. I can only imagine how much more so that would be if I had converted. There is one mikvah in my area which explicitly does not allow conversions to occur there, however they will generally not question anyone’s background in enough depth to identify much more information.
      While Conservative mikvaot are few and far between, there may be a “community mikvah” closer to you. I’m working with a friend on building a comprehensive list of them, so if you want to email me I’ll be happy to look into helping you find a place you may feel more comfortable and better able to enjoy the mitzvah.
      Oh, and though you felt nervous, I am very glad you posted!

    • wait a second! mikvaot can prevent women from immersing? who gives them that right? is it allowed to question the validity of a woman’s jewishness when she is doing a mitzvah? I am shocked and saddened by this.

      • CAN I BUTT IN AND ADD THIS? If YOU personally have ever been asked as to your Jewishness or marital status when using the mikvah for Family Purity purposes, could you email me at InThePink blog at gmail dot com? Thanks.

      • I was the original poster of this comment and I just want to follow up and reiterate a little bit of what I said. I have been using an Orthodox community mikveh, took the Kallah class and studied personally with the mikveh lady there but have not had my Jewishness questioned personally. My understanding is that this mikveh DOES have the policy though, that Conservative converts (and other non-Orthodox converts) cannot use it for taharat hamishpachah. I do not know how they enforce it except perhaps by not giving people appointments? I don’t know if that’s legal – it is a private organization, no? As far as qustioning someone’s Jewishness – it’s completely rude and horrible (and it HAS happened to me in other contexts where it shouldn’t have even been an issue) but if they think that someone isn’t Jewish, why should they care about them doing a mitzvah that they are not obligated to do?

        I feel like I got in under the wire in a way because I was introduced to the mikveh lady through someone else. I’ve avoided “outing” myself by just saying enough to avoid raising questions and I HATE feeling like I’m deceiving someone or that I have to be careful about what I say. She knows I go to a Conservative shul but also that we are more frum than most Conservative Jews. That isn’t a problem and I’m not really nervous about that. I’m afraid that if she finds out that I had a Conservative conversion, the mikveh will no longer be accessible to me because of their policy. I really like the mikveh lady – she is a very sweet person and I would love to really be friends with her but I think it’s impossible to do that and not risk losing access to the mikveh.

        I know you’re asking if I was questioned already and the answer is no, not quite. But worrying about all of this does not make my mikveh experience a positive one at all…

    • I was a rabbi in a shul with a mikvah – I asked Rav Reuven Feinstein (Rav Moshe’s son) if a conservative convert could use our mikvah for taharas hamishpacha – he said it is no problem. It is not a conversion as it is without a beis din. It doesnt mess up the mikvah. I heard from Rav Zev Leff that conservative converts are obligated to keep all mitzvos, only we require an orthodox conversion for marriage or to count in a minyan. He said, for example, you cannot use a conservative convert as a shabbos goy. That should be obvious but to most people it isn’t.

    • Mikvah is generally regarded as a very private topic which should not be discussed with your closest friends and family, let alone readers across the world. I cannot really articulate why they feel this way b/c the reasoning doesn’t make sense to me, I just know the base for it is that it is a private family matter. Clearly, there are women making strides against this and showing that it is important and not inappropriate – but we have a long way left to go!

  6. I don’t think it is right to prevent women from immersing. No matter what your flavor of Judaism, if you are a Jewish woman keeping the taharas mishpacha mitzvot, why should you be stopped?!

    On another note, Mel, you should come with me to Idaho Springs sometime to mikvah. Being as I am not married, I am not allowed in the real mikvah but I find the ritual purifying and needed when I move from one opportunity or impact-ful event to another. I go up to the natural hot springs in Idaho Springs to dip and spend time in the hot caves. They are male/female segregated and meet all the requirements & are healthy for ya!

    Let me know if you want the info! ūüôā No attendant to check but I usually go with my mom or stepmom and she checks for me. ūüôā

  7. It really ought not to be like this. You should be supported and encourage in this mitzvah rather than having obstacles placed in your way.

  8. When I went to the mikvah the night before my wedding, I had the strangest yet also really nice experience. My kallah teacher told me to go to a mikvah that I would feel comfortable at, so I decided to make an appointment with the Conservative one. We hemmed and hawed over the time I could come, but in the end, the mikvah lady changed her schedule so I could come Motzei Shabbos at 10 pm. When I arrived there, I came in and she was clearly upset: the mikvah had leaked! There was barely any water in it.

    Since I obviously had no other options of going any other days, she started making calls to other mikvaot. One women picked up, and she quickly finished what she was doing and met us at that mikvah. This mikvah was Orthodox, and even though the woman knew I was Conservative, she had no problem helping me, answering my questions, and overall allowing me to have a wonderful spiritual experience. AND she changed her evening plans at the last minute to be there with me.

    This is how mikvaot should work: being there for a woman when she needs to immerse, even if it is 10:45 on a Saturday evening :).

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