Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water
(Originally posted on the Times of Israel).
Going to the mikvah once a month is something that I have done for the most part of the last 20 years – minus the four times I was pregnant and during the time that I was divorced.
While I have had my struggles and issues with the practice over the years, these struggles have always been personal ones: the mikvah lady not being friendly, or me being too tired to go, and really, why do I have to do this again…. I have always gone – sometimes it has felt like an absolute chore, and sometimes it has been a welcome spiritual experience.
Since the news has surfaced about Barry Freundel’s arrest for voyeurism in his local mikvah, I was very anxious about my own next mikvah visit. How do I know that the local rabbinate don’t have webcams installed over the mikvah? (I highly doubt it, but then again, who would even have thought such a thing before Freundel was caught?)
Mikvah time is sacred. We are taught that we don’t speak to anyone but our husbands about when we are going. Those of us with older children make up reasons and ruses to get ourselves out of the house to the mikvah with no one being aware of where mom is going. If you bump into a friend at the mikvah, it’s a secret of the highest order. This is one mitzvah that is done completely privately and secretly to enhance its spirituality.
The idea that there is a possibility that I have been spied on even once in my many mikvah outings scares me and terrifies me. I have taken so many pains to be precise with my practice, to observe the laws of taharat hamishpacha properly – how can someone cheapen that with a sick need to film women at their most holy time? How can I ever trust again that my preparation and my dunk is private? Yes, the mikvah lady is there to observe that I have immersed correctly – but she isn’t there to leer at me, to ogle my naked body. Most mikvah ladies work hard to respect the privacy of their clients – holding up the towel so that you can get in and out of the water without her seeing your complete nakedness.
So it was with trepidation that I approached my most recent mikvah visit. Let me tell you, going to the mikvah will NEVER be the same for me again. The safest space I thought I had has the potential to be violated – and I had never ever considered that possibility before. Going in to the preparation room, I scanned the ceiling, the shower wall and fixtures, and every single thing that was in that room for the possibility that it was hiding a camera. Walking down the hall to the actual mikvah itself I was glad for my long white fluffy robe. Disrobing just before stepping down to the mikvah waters – I was nervous. I hesitated…..I fought the need to flee.
Is this what my mitzvah is now? Is this who I have become? Will Freundel be the reason that many women will throw away the mitzvah of mikvah because of a fear that they are being watched? I wouldn’t blame these women one bit. This last time, it was very very difficult. It was hard to focus on the mitzvah that I was doing, and to rid my head of thoughts of who was watching me. I used to take the time when I was in the mikvah waters to pray for the upcoming month, for my husband’s and our kids’ needs, to communicate with God at a time that I was purifying myself. Will I ever be able to get back to that, to recapture this special time for myself?
I am sure I am not alone in how I feel, but as I said previously, mikvah is a private and personal mitzvah, and we women don’t talk about it much. We need to. We need to blow this discussion wide open so that women are not afraid to keep this mitzvah, so that women feel that they are safe in the mikvahs of this world, so that women are in complete control of this mitzvah, so that female converts shouldn’t have to immerse in front of men in order for their conversions to be valid. Men (and cameras) have no place in women’s mikvahs. Period. End.