No Mikvah for You!

OK, I am really angry. This has been going around my head for days on end. My friend Shorty is an awesome person. She started becoming more and more observant and is invested into her Judaism. Read her personal story here. Shorty wants to learn all she can about the best way to embrace her religion.

When Shorty was not on her religious path she married a truly wonderful man. He is totally sweet and so good to her. He isn’t Jewish. At that point in her life marrying Jewish was not on her radar. By her own admission she lived very much of an assimilated life. Life-threatening surgery started her religious gears churning, and she has been on the path to more Jewish knowledge ever since.

Shorty’s husband is extremely supportive of her quest for Jewish enlightenment. He is her number one cheerleader and takes pride in her.

Recently Shorty started attending a class locally, with other Jewish women, about the laws of family purity – Taharat HaMishpacha. Traditionally, during menstruation and for a week after a woman is not physical with her husband, she immerses in the mikvah, and they can re-consummate their physical relationship. It truly is something special in a marriage and when this mitzvah is performed properly it brings added benefits to the marriage.

Shorty was told that because her husband isn’t Jewish, she really shouldn’t bother with the whole thing. It’s like saying a bracha (blessing) on non-kosher food. It’s wrong.

If she is told not to bother with this mitzvah, why should she bother with any of the others? Do they also not count because she is intermarried? Should she not bother keeping kosher because her husband isn’t Jewish? Should she not say brachot on kosher food because her husband isn’t Jewish? If she gets into the practice of keeping the laws of family purity, and immerses in a mikvah – how can that be wrong? Is it not the woman’s mitzvah to keep? The husbands do not have anything at all to do with the keeping of this mitzvah except to not touch their wives when forbidden to. Shorty’s husband is more than willing to respect her observance of these laws. Shouldn’t we be encouraging people to keep more mitzvot, not push them away because “you’re intermarried, you couldn’t possibly keep this mitzvah properly”. If she does decide that she wants to go to the mikvah – would she be turned away? Is a mikvah attendant within her rights to do so? I think not. Even if the mikvah lady knows that a woman is not married, or married to a non-Jew, she has no right to refuse to observe an immersion.

I can think of plenty of Jewish husbands who don’t care if their wives use the mikvah or not, plenty of Jewish wives who don’t practice Taharat Hamishpacha properly because it isn’t important to them. Here is a Jewess willing to take on this mitzvah, which is HUGE, and she is being told not to bother. There is something wrong here.

Maybe one day Shorty’s husband will decide to convert. We don’t know the future. Pushing them away from keeping this mitzvah is not the way to keep a person interested in pursuing their religious ideals. Is it fair for a rabbi to tell someone NOT to keep a mitzvah? Is it moral?

Granted I do not know the halacha behind this issue, but in my book any discouragement of a Jewish person from keeping a mitzvah is just wrong.

Please chime in with your thoughts.

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39 Comments

  1. elie says:

    man, I am so tired of hearing stories like these. it is incredibly depressing… especially this point:

    “I can think of plenty of Jewish husbands who don’t care if their wives use the mikvah or not, plenty of Jewish wives who don’t practice Taharat Hamishpacha properly because it isn’t important to them.”

    I’ve had friends go through similar things as converts… not to mention the whole getting married thing in Israel. marry two completely secular Israel-born Jews in a heartbeat but make sure to give a convert a ton of crap… sigh.

  2. Jess says:

    I’m incensed, not even going to rant. These things, too mad.

  3. Rabbi Awesome told me to start doing this mitzvah last March. The week after I did, Anthony’s heart became available and he fast tracked his conversion wishes. I cannot BUT believe my observance of this mitzvah brought these blessings to us. I just read his conversion essay as a matter of fact – things should be wrapping up soon. I think that you should perform every mitzvah you can. That’s why I cover my hair even though few of my friends do. I CAN do it and I DO do it. With joy. The blessings you gain are much more awesome than you can ever understand.

  4. RubyV says:

    I wish I could say I’m shocked, but I”m not.

  5. PS – in case that sounds a little weird, Anth had a heart transplant on March 26, 2009. He has had ZERO rejection (unusual) at every biopsy since :)

  6. Yonit says:

    It could be that halachically one need not practice taharas hamishpacha (TH) when married to a non-Jew, I don’t know for sure. I do know that there are many laws, customs, etc that are situationally dependent. TH is a big thing to take on. It is beautiful, but also makes for lots of tears (at least into my pillow). If one wants to do an extra mitzvah, I think that should be supported as long as doing so doesn’t create more strain or hardship than not doing.

    A woman in an intermarried relationship doesn’t have to cover her hair for example, but I know ones who do for various reasons. I wouldn’t discourage them, although I would hope they know that it’s not required and if I knew a gal who struggled with it I would surely try to help them see that saving the struggle for things they really are required to do like Shabbos, kosher, tznius, Lashon hara, would be better for their growth.

    Basically IMHO, it’s possible that Shorty wasn’t being told not to in order to marginalize her participation in Judaism, but as a way to keep a difficult and optional (for her) mitzvah from interfering with her otherwise amazing growth.

  7. rgoldstand says:

    It’s nobody’s G*****m business; if she wants to & he supports her in this (!!!), then by all means, she should! G-d willing, the zchut of this mitzva should bring down all of His shefa into their home & family; “vehamevin yavin”…

  8. Z! says:

    I wish it were just a simple- “if she wants to, then do it.” BUT…. if she really wants to follow the Halachah- go and speak to a proper Rav who can give an answer.

    It is not fair to make a comparison between TH and eating kosher food. We do not make brachos everytime we have relations with our spouse, and the action of eating kosher only effects yourself.

    I will continue to remind people that religion isn’t abaut what WE deem to be FAIR. BUT- there must be compassion and understanding in the reasons we give.

  9. Noah Roth says:

    Um, it is an issur karet (Spiritual excommunication) for a Jewish women to have sex from the onset of her period until after properly immersing in the mikveh. Additionally, a Jewsh man who is her partner would also be liable for Karet.

    Her consummation of a marriage with a non-Jew violates the biblical prohibition of “Lo Titchaten bam” (Do not marry them), a standard prohibition, perhaps less severe than telling lashon harah for example.

    The reason one does not meake a bracha on non-kosher food is that the bracha is impossible without eating the food which is itself a violation, rendering it a “mitzvah haba bi’aveirah” (A mitzvah made possible through trangression- rough translation).

    This case is not analogous. The bracha on mikveh is said over the immersion which does not in itself involve any sin. Additionally, not being commanded to say a bracha over non-kosher food does not intrinsically trigger a second violation. Refraining from Mikveh immersion not only triggers the prohibition of sex with a niddah- it is among the most serious transgressions of Jewish law.

    I am shocked that anyone with more than a remedial knowledge of Jewish law- particularly anyone with a reliable rabbinic degree- would advise her not to go to the mikveh.

  10. chava says:

    I sort of agree with Z — the best thing is to speak to a Rabbi who she respects and generally follows…..I know a lot of cases like this and bottom line — it is hard to have it all.

  11. Joe says:

    It’s very sensitive, but face it the reality of it is going to the mikvah is meaningless if she is have relations with a non jew.

  12. chana says:

    It does seem that with a wide view of what Mikva means or could come to mean for the woman, and where it might lead her husband, she should be encouraged.

    Strictly according to Halacha, however, there is no Mitzva per se for the woman not to have relations without going to the Mikva, except for causing her partner to do something wrong. It is forbidden for the Jewish man, and her enabling him is a Mitzva, if he is Jewish.

    There is also something about unmarried women not going to the Mikva, so that they don’t have relations out of marriage. Since intermarriage is not recognized in Halacha…..

    • Noah Roth says:

      A Jewish women who has sex without going to the mikveh is Chayav Karet. And a women must submit to being killed rather than have sex as a niddah. (TB Sanhedrin)

      The pasuk is formulated in the masculine, “ואל אישה בנידת טומאטה לא תקרבו לגלות ערוה” but we quite clearly apply this biblical transgression to a women thoughout the 4th and 5th perek of Sanhedrin.

      • Mark says:

        An interesting question (though perhaps quite stupid), would a lesbian woman have to go to the mikvah after menstruating in order to prevent “having sex” as a niddah? Or does “לגלות ערוה” always mean sexual intercourse between a man and a woman?

        • Noah Roth says:

          The Karet prohibition applies to heterosexual vaginal intercourse. There is a dispute if it applies to heterosexual oral or anal intercourse as well.

          Other forms of touching (and copulating) someone who is otherwise prohibited is a standard biblical prohibition.

          Homosexual anal intercourse is a separate prohibition liable for the death penalty. Homosexual activity which is not anal intercourse may be a violation of “Lo Taturu” and/or spilling seed according to the opinion that that is prohibited.

          Lesbianism is far less clear as there is no sexual act. Rambam discourages it with vague languages and the commentaries split on whether he includes it in the standard biblical prohibition of Ligalot Ervah.

          Hadassah, You are going to be getting some hits on the blog from some interesting keyword searches on Google now. ;)

  13. Lady Lock and Load says:

    Hadassah, who told her she should not attend the mikveh? She should ask a Rabbi she respects about this.
    The problem may be that if she is told she can go to the mikveh then that is saying it is okay that she is married to a non-Jew, and others will think hey I can marry a non Jew as long as I go to the mikveh. I remember being very shocked when a Rabbi told me that girls who are not married go to the mikveh so they can be with their boyfriends, he did not allow this.
    It is beautiful how shorty is being so sincere and trying hard and her husband is very respectful and supportive. It is good that he is not being forced to convert and can take the time to choose what he really wants. When or if he does convert she can celebrate when she goes to the mikveh because it will then be a holy union.

  14. shorty says:

    hey! Shorty here…

    I think by most Rabbis standards, i am probably not considered married in the first place, just well, living in sin – not married – no need for Mikvah. (just like single ladies aren’t required).

    I will tell you how it feels to be told that I shouldn’t be doing this mitzvah. Lousy. It most certainly makes me wonder what is the point of even keeping Shabbat or doing anything. I can do two of the three mitzvot for women – challah and lighting candles. two of three ain’t bad, right?

    In many ways I feel denied. I know i made my choices in life, but why would Hashem even bring me to this path if only to say “No no no, not this mitzvah, girlie”. (Trust me, Hashem’s Hand did play a very very huge role in my getting to this point).

    I actually know someone who immersed in private (also intermarried) and who also had a change in Mazel in her life. (which is not the only reason I would like to immerse, but i have to admit, it does have me curious).

    I still want to go, I feel incomplete without this mitzvah if that makes any sense. Right now though, i can’t because i know all the local attendants, who i know will not let me into the secret clubhouse.

    • HSaboMilner says:

      Shorty – i would hate to think that they would really turn you away. its not their business to allow or prohibit a person to immerse.

      • Mark says:

        How could they even know in the first place? A woman arrives at the mikvah, pays the $25, gets ready, and then dips. How is it even possible for the mikvah lady to know anything about the women who arrived?

  15. Duvii says:

    Shorty, I called my Rov who is a real Posek, meaning he is not afraid to make a call and he says that you are not required.

    However, if that is what you want to do, why not? As for the Mikvah Ladies, have you tried and have been turned away?

  16. Y Kohn says:

    Esther of the Migilah did not use the Mikvah before she had relations with Achashverosh.

    I am almost sure that having relations with non-Jew in of itself renders her Tamai requiring Mikva so it is kind of futile Halachically.

    One more thing, the mitzva of TH is not a ‘women’s mitzva per se. All the Torah says, that it is forbbiden for man to have relations with a Nidah until she immerses.

    It is similar to the Mitzva of shechting on which the shochet makes a bracha.

    But there is no obligation to eat meat, but if you wish to eat, then there is a Mitzva to do ‘in preperation’ and that is to shecht and make a bracha when preforming it. It is in a sense the same; relations with a Nidah is forbidden and in order to prepare for relations, one must go to the Mikvah for that the women makes a Bracha, for following the requirements. Its technical, I hope it makes sense to you.

    While mitzvot are not negotiable and if asked one can only answer that mikva in this instance is not required. Still a Rabbi should be sensitive and know when to keep quiet. Dipping in water is not something that is prohibited. It has the same effect as if the non Jew felt he must dip too. Doesn’t hurt anybody, so why point it out.

  17. Rishona says:

    {Sigh} This sort of thing has me convinced that Torah-observant Judaism needs to put out an S.O.S…

  18. WBBeinuni says:

    IMHO one should never be led to believe that they are performing a mitzvah when that is not the case or when the opposite is true.
    One should, rather, be encouraged to perform the mitzvos which one is in a position to do wholeheartedly and enthusiastically. Each mitzvah stands alone. As a people, until the rebuilding of the beis hamikdosh there are many mitzvos that we cannot yet perform yet we do pretty well with many of the others.
    To encourage her to go to the mikveh would, in my mind, be dishonest, at best. Instead encourage the mitzvos that she is currently up to performing. In due course this mitzvah, too, will become available too her.
    That said, a delicate area such as this must be approached with sensitivity. She could simply be told the truth: when one changes to a more observant lifestyle,if the transition is to be genuine and lasting, she must move slowly. She is simply not yet up to that one. Smart rabbis often respond to inquiries from aspiring baalei teshuva with a quetion of their own: “Are you sure that you are ready to hear the answer to that question?”. They never mislead by they discourage moving too fast.

  19. Rebecca says:

    Why is it anyone else’s business what mitzvah a person chooses to do? Also, if the mikvah is suppose to be private and secure, it would seem to me that no women should be sitting there gossiping. I have seen religious woman turn down their noses and non religious woman and yet, the feeling of G-d in your heart and life is personal. Also, aren’t the women just workers, or are they blessed and schooled in mikvah work. I have read on here that some do a much better job with nails, etc. than others. So, who gives them the authority to judge them. If Shorty and her husband are in love, if she follows what she wants and her husband shares along and does not denegrate her for her practices then I vote for her to go to the Mikvah.

  20. tesyaa says:

    Shorty – if it helps you spiritually to go to the mikveh, I would not tell you that you shouldn’t. However – when you speak of being denied this mitzvah – well, I think of all the religious women who never found a husband who are “denied” this also. Or my friend who had an emergency hysterectomy at a young age (after several children) – she’s “denied” this also, and it’s difficult for her, although for many people being 100% tahor all the time would be a dream come true. So I think it’s more your desire to do it, rather than a sense of obligation, that’s driving you.

  21. shorty says:

    tesyaa, with all due respect, you have no idea what my motivation is for wanting to go to the mikvah.

    I am not comparing my situation to anyone else’s. nor am i minimizing the frustration of not being able to find a soul mate. so please, do not minimize my motivation by labelling as a desire – like i want a new purse or new shoes.

  22. Shoshana says:

    This is a tricky one, h. I would agree not to discourage someone to keep a mitzvah but in this case, ironically, even though it is a woman’s mitzvah to go to the mikvah it ts ONLY because it is karas ( spiritual death) for a Jewish man to be intimate with a Jewish woman who hasn’t gone to the mikvah. A non Jewish man doesn’t have that problem so that might be why someone would tell her not to bother.

  23. If the goy can put in her two cents….

    Seems to me that Shorty is feeling that her relationship with The Divine REQUIRES her to go to the mikvah. And I really don’t think anyone has the right to interfer with someone’s relationship with G-D.

    Wouldn’t it be considered a sin to do so?

    Cam

  24. sheldan says:

    Shorty,

    Just read your story. It sounds like you have a good marriage and, whether or not your husband eventually converts, it is great that he is so supportive of your efforts. I look forward to reading more from you.

  25. chana says:

    if you’re really gonna be turned away, how about a (freezing cold) lake, like in the old days
    and did anyone suggest doing the mitzvah without a bracha? and would that even satisfy you, shorty? good luck

    • Lady Lock and Load says:

      you mean she should chip a hole in the ice and go for a dunk? hope you are not serious, sounds dangerous. also, not every lake is a kosher mikveh.

  26. Rivky says:

    Shorty, I’m in a similar boat myself, although not quite as far along in my journey as you, and I’ve got a few complications thrown into the mix -like, I know I am a jew and was raised a jew by jewish parents, BUT not sure according to halacha. My adoptive parents are deceased and I was always told that my bio-mom was a Jew, but a few years ago I was told by an elderly aunt that this was not the case. So, maybe I was immersed as an infant? Maybe I wasn’t. Married a non-jew, keeping the sabbath, making my challah, working on the whole kosher kitchen and wandering, can I tevel my own dishes? Would it even count, since I’m the one owning and using them and my own Jewish identity is in question to the rest of the community. Probably couldn’t have people over to eat in a “maybe-jew’s” kitchen. Not even asking can I go to mikveh yet. Not getting much airtime from my Rabbi, who is a very nice, but very busy man. I am very impressed with you and your determination. It is very inspiring to me. Don’t give up. Good things will happen in your life the more you seek HaShem. I think the mikveh will be a defining moment in my life, and I assume in yours also, and I hope you get there soon. But it’s a LONG journey and there is so much more than mikveh, so don’t despair if it takes a while. Wishing you many blessings.

  27. kisarita says:

    Not getting much airtime? You need a new rebbetzin.

  28. Rivky says:

    So…. the rebbetzin is fair game? I ask only, because in addition to all my other issues, you see, I was raised in the midwest in a city with no rabbi.

  29. Francesca says:

    How about going to a more open minded mikveh (specifically there is a popular one in Boston, but there are also ones run by Jewish communities all over North America, including Canada- just google open minded mikveh to get a list), or one in a big city where you are unlikely to know the Mikveh attendants? Mikveh is a beautiful Mitzvah, and it should be a comfortable experience.
    I think I can guess at why one might tell you to immerse without a bracha, although I believe that is incorrect advise. Only the husband has a positive halachic obligation of procreation and having children, a woman does not. Since your husband is not ‘halachically Jewish’, immersing is ‘no longer’ a step in fulfilling that obligation. Although with is attitude, perhaps all women who are on birth control pills should not say a Bracha either since they are not immersing to enable conception. Clearly the halacha is not practice this way, as women who are on a pill do a say a bracha, and whoever told you not to say a bracha at the Mikvah gave you a minority opinion.

  30. Rachel says:

    Shorty…
    Can we have an update? I just came across this conversation which is a few years old. I am in a similar situation to you and struggling with the idea that even as a born Jew, I am not entitled to all the mitzvot since my husband is a non-Jew (although did convert but not orthodox). We have been making happy progress on our jewish journey and this is the first speed bump we have encountered. We have a very understanding Rabbi but the idea of not saying a baracha is very difficult for me to deal with. I’d love to know if you ended up going and where it has taken you three years later.

    B’Shalom,
    Rachel

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