Pretending to go to the Mikvah

Pretending to go to the Mikvah

To take a side step from my review of Unorthodox for a moment, in her book Feldman mentions that toward the end of her marriage she would pretend to go the mikvah, instead of actually going and dunking. This is something I have heard from many other women – that they would rather not go, and mislead their husbands into thinking they had gone.

Mikvah sometimes feels like a chore to me, and other times I welcome the opportunity for a little spiritual cleansing. I am not sure of the halachic ramifications of a woman deceiving her husband in this manner, but Feldman claims that such a woman would be called a “Jezebel, a truly evil seductress, dragging my husband into sin with me. If I were to get pregnant, the child would be impure his whole life.”

Why do so many women feel negative about going to mikvah? What can be done to counteract this?

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  1. If a woman feels an antipathy to the practice, I can understand her not going. But to deceive her husband by pretending to go is reprehensible. It’s like feeding something not kosher to someone who assumes he can trust you to respect his religious practices. Even from a secular perspective it would demonstrate complete contempt for the other person, like assuring a vegetarian that there are no animal products in something that does contain them.

    I’ve found certain mikvahs a bit of a pain in terms of requiring appointments or making an issue out of a non-issue. The worst experience I ever had was having the attendant demand I go out when I mentioned that I had a temporary filling. There are many, many good authorities who allow for it even if it doesn’t remain in for a full 30 days, but she would not allow me to proceed until a rabbi was called. At that point, I was ready to go home, but I would never have pretended that I have dunked when I hadn’t. Anyway, after one other difficulty or two with regard to appointments, I switched to another that is just a bit further away.

    • HaDassah says:

      That’s a great comparison with kashrut.

      I think the trick is to find a mikvah at which one is comfortable – not always possible in smaller communities.

  2. So crazy! I’ve heard that people do this and I think it’s nuts. At least be honest with your husband about it, right?!? I once asked my husband what his opinion was about mikvah since we have many friends that don’t go and he said it would make him very uncomfortable if I didn’t go. It’s a tough question to ask what can be done to counteract the negative feelings about the mikvah…sometimes it’s just laziness that stops people from going. Even with a beautiful mikvah with fancy showers, baths, etc., people still don’t want to go. Their reason? They just don’t see the point. I just want someone there to give me a mani/pedi when I’m done. It also gets hard when we have to pay a yearly fee AND a monthly fee. It gets very very expensive to do something that we are supposed to do.

  3. Hope Greenberg says:

    it’s a whole different ballgame when you are Peri-menopausal. Hard to feel the connection anymore, but to deceive your husband is just awful. I’d rather disappoint him and say I just can’t do it than lie about it!

  4. Arnie Samlan says:

    Since I question you asked was about women’s attitude towards mikva (and not the ethical question of Ms. Feldman’s behavior), I’ll respond to your question.

    In my opinion, mikva was historically grounded in the attitude of the Torah (and of men) towards menstrual blood. The reason for the avoidance is not made clear, but what is clear is that the Torah and later rabbinical literature is interested not in the woman’s experience of niddah or of mikva, but in the implications of the practice for women’s husbands. Whether in the 5th century or in the 20th century (when I studied the laws of Niddah as a rabbinincal student), women were not consulted as to how they felt about the practice.

    In our generation, some thoughtful writers, both male and female have reinvented the mitzva. They have removed it from the ancient taboo against menstrual blood and have created new rationales: rebirth after losing a potential life, reinvigoration of sexual relations, and a woman’s spiritual rebirth, to name a few. None of these reasons are suggested for the practice of mikva in ancient times. Like the reinvention of many mitzvot, these reasons are ways to retain an ancient practice, while making connections of the practice to more contemporary hearts and minds. If that disconnects the mitzva from its original intent, so be it. Personally, I find reinvention to be one of the strongest tools that keep Judaism alive.

    If we take the woman’s spiritual rebirth as one of the key reasons for mikva today, then the mikva experience needs to change. My suggestion: make the mikva into a spiritual spa. Why not have the shower before mikva use instead be a relaxing sauna or jacuzzi bath? Wouldn’t some nice music (Enya?) in the background make the experience more enjoyable and spiritual? If you’re removing your nail polish before going to mikva, why not have a mani/pedi service in the mikva building, to make you feel more attractive (and sensual) again? Perhaps some fragrances to reawaken the senses and to become more sensual again on the way out. After all, isn’t a return to sensuality and sexuality what the mikva is supposed to prepare a woman for?

    • HaDassah says:

      You make some wonderful points – but I think many women will agree that no matter how lovely the mikvah, how spa-like it is – it’s still the women who have to do the menstruating, the counting and the preparation and the dunking. What do the men do? They abstain from sex for the 12-14 days…. Is there no spiritual preparation for them? Should there be?

  5. Arielle says:

    I actually know someone very close to me who lied for years to their husband about oing to the mikveh and it caused a huge rift in the marriage. I also know women who lie to their husbands about how long their periods are so they dont have to have sex. I think it’s just sad that this is how they feel they have to deal with something that while trying can have such a positive impact on your marriage.

    I have always felt that going to the mikveh and the halachos of niddah are a very special gift we’ve been given that really add a measure of vitality and spice to our marriages. I’m not saying that there aren’t times its annoying, but I can honestly say that I’ve never had a bad mikveh experience and I’ve gone all over the world.

    Also I always had the idea that mikvehs should have spas for women.

    • HaDassah says:

      If I was going to lie about the length of my period it would be to make it shorter, not longer. That’s just so sad – what kind of a marriage do these people have?

  6. If mikves would charge for the massages, mani-pedis, and other spa treatments women want, women wouldn’t have to pay a monthly fee because the spa services would earn them a profit! Maybe single women would lie about being married if they have great spa service. :)

  7. Vanessa says:

    By lying about going to the mikvah, a woman is basically causing her husband to sin without his knowledge. Let’s not even go there. Let’s just think about what is wrong with a marriage when the wife can’t sit down and talk to her husband and say “honey, I really hate going to the mikvah. I don’t want to do it. What can we do?”
    For many women it’s just the chore of keeping the family purity laws, followed by the dunking, and all the little extras that go along with it, that bothers them. It’s a pain, It’s a nuisance. It’s late at night in the summer, it’s even more planning for when you can do (or have done) your nails. It’s remembering the bedikahs in the days leading up. It’s a lot. And a lot of women hate everything that is involved in it. I have no doubt that there are plenty of mikvahs around the world that are more spa like (sadly not my local one), and perhaps they make the experience a little more pleasant. But in all honesty, you pick the day you want to go to the spa. It does not have to be after dark, you can leave your nail polish on, your contact lenses in, you can condition your hair, you don’t have to comb your pubes (giggle) or shave your legs – preferably the day before!!! It’s a spa day. It’s relaxing. There is nothing relaxing about mikvah, no matter how nicely laid out the building in.
    But still, lie to your husband? Tell him you went? Not ok, Ever. Again, if you can’t sit down and talk to him about it, there are bigger problems in your marriage than mikvah.

  8. Bethany Shondark Mandel says:

    I’ve read of women doing this too. What an incredible amount of work to deceive the most important person in your life. I think about it almost every time I go to the mikvah, how horrible it is that women do this. It’s inexplicable to me.

    • kweansmom says:

      Agreed. Regardless of your level of personal religious observance, lying to your significant other about something of great importance to them is never a good idea. Seems like most of the OTD stories involve divorce.

    • HaDassah says:

      It’s terrible. I don’t know how anyone can think this is ok.

  9. Honesty vs. Anguish says:

    As a baalas tshuva married to another baal tshuva, I am sure that we were both born in a situation where our mothers were in a state of niddah at the point of conception, having never gone to the mikvah. Does that make my husband or me impure for the rest of our lives? Absolutely not! Never have either of us heard of such a thing.

    I can definitely understand the reluctance and dread of going to the mikvah. I can’t stand the obsessive nature of the preparation, counting the minutes of how long you’ve soaked, combing through every hair… it causes me great anxiety and I really cannot wait for it to be over. I also HATE having my head completely underwater (when I was a kid, a bully tried to “fake” drown me as a joke at a pool party, and ever since then even having the water from the shower on my face makes my heart race a little bit). So I really don’t like toiveling either. I try to think of all the spiritual things I learned in kallah classes… but they don’t calm me down. They just make me feel like I’m not connecting to the mitzvah of mikvah in the way a Jewish woman is supposed to, and that really makes me want to cry. So I do my best, I keep the halachos, but I get it over with as soon as I can.

    I love Yiddishkeit and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to do mitzvos… this just happens to be one that is very difficult to me. I hope and pray that next time Hashem will make it more of a positive experience and give me strength.

    • kweansmom says:

      Wow, I never thought what mikvah would be like for someone with a fear of water. I have to say I admire you for continuing to confront your fears and go through with it despite the anxiety. It makes me realize that before any of us judge someone for not going to mikvah you have to walk a mile in their shoes and try to appreciate that it may be a very big challenge for them. You say you think you are not connecting to the mitzvah properly but this mitzvah requires a huge commitment from you, more than from most other Jewish women. If anything you have a stronger connection than most of us.

      Have you tried therapy to deal with the fear? It must be so hard to feel anxious whenever you are in water.

      Thanks for sharing and I wish you continued success in meeting this challenge. It sounds like you have a wonderful, supportive husband and the two of you have come up with great creative ideas for coping with a stressful situation. Forget about remembering what they taught you in kallah class, YOU should be GIVING kallah classes!

    • HaDassah says:

      H v A – I am so impressed that even with all anxiety you have you still perform this mitzvah. Many women in the same situation would have given up, yet you do it, and you do it with the right intentions. Kol HaKavod lach.

    • mike fox 26 says:

      As a baalas tshuva married to another baal tshuva, I am sure that we were both born in a situation where our mothers were in a state of niddah at the point of conception, having never gone to the mikvah. Does that make my husband or me impure for the rest of our lives? Absolutely not! Never have either of us heard of such a thing.

      R’ Moshe Feinstein discusses this issue vis-a-vi baala teshuva. He assumes that if a person doesn’t exhibit the midos of a ben niddah then you can assume that the women went swimming and was not a niddah when impregnated.

      • Honesty v. Anguish says:

        Interesting. Thanks for the information. What exactly are considered the middos of a ben niddah? Just curious. Thanks.

      • Schvach says:

        ‘Swimming’ is a curious choice of descriptors for me. During my youth my family, including me, spent our summers in a bungalow colony located in the Catskills of NY. There was a swimming pool located on the grounds. The water was fed from a natural mountain ground water stream (cold as one can imaging), and open to the air (ie, rain water gathered in the pool as well). The water was unfiltered, but was chlorinated. On several occasions my father looked at the swimming pool and would exclaim, ‘mikvah’. I don’t know if it really would have passed as a bonafide mikvah or not, but the implications are interesting.

  10. Honesty vs. Anguish says:

    Oh, also I want to point out that being honest with my husband about how hard it is for me to go to mikvah (and never lying about it CV”S), gives him the sensitivity to try to make it easier for me. He’ll check in on me every 20 minutes or so while I’m prepping (I prep almost all at home, much more comfortable), and just say “Sweetie, are you ok?” and that makes me feel better. Also, he always orders sushi takeout for us to have when I come home from mikvah.

    So being honest with your husband about your dislike/fear of mikvah can really be a big help, at least in my experience! B”H

    • HaDassah says:

      Being honest and open is the way to go with ALL discussions with one’s spouse….

    • Gillian says:

      Firstly kol hakavod that you carry on with a mitzva that is so hard for you. Secondly, wonderful that your husband gives you the support and encouragement you need. The sushi takeout is an inspired touch!

    • Miriam P says:

      I just wanted you to know that you are not alone in being a mikveh user who is scared of the water. The essay I linked to aboveabove really resonates with me, as do that author’s subsequent essays about using the mikveh while afraid of the water. I’ve been married almost 17 years and I’m still nervous about putting my head under but when I wwaswas first married, I was petrified.

    • Miriam P says:

      Sorry, my phone wouldn’t let me fix that shutter.

      I just wanted to add that I hope it gets better for you too. And I completely understand how hard it is to keep going when it’s so uncomfortable, but at the same time is something you have to do.

  11. Onthemove says:

    Having moved around to many smaller communities in the early years of my marriage and having the “luck” of always seeming to e on vacation in a new even smaller community while on vacation, ive visited a lot of mikvas. I don’t think having a beautiful facility makes it any better. Cleanliness is very important! But the Mikva lady is such a huge part of the experience. I feel very fortunate that the Mikva lady in the small community i lived in when I first got married was an incredible person. She was extremely knowledgable in the halachot but never made me feel badly if I forgot a step or made a mistake etc. unfortunately in many many places the ladies are not only unwelcoming but outright rude. I’ve had many awful experiences in a number of places and while I don’t condone lying to your spouse I can imagine refusing to go had I not had that wonderful experience in the first years of my marriage. I remember how much I used to hate going when I travelled to the big mikvaot in new York where I was made to feel I had to rush and was taking their time because they wanted to get home at a reasonable hour. Or the ladies who make comments that are just not helpful or belittling. It is not a “job” to give a woman a report card and have power. It is the woman’s choice as to her level of short nails, etc. if I wanted my index fingernail shorter I could do it myself! In one community I was fortunate that after I had less than a positive experience I had the opportunity to tell someone in charge of the Mikva and she spoke with the Mikva lady and there was a huge change in her attitude after. But I find that rare. I think that possibly the rabbis are uncomfortable exerting their influence and demanding that the women in the community are treated with kindness and respect at the Mikva. So much time and effort goes into upgrading the physical premises but I don’t see much effort into personal coaching and ensuring that the Mikva ladies have the proper attitude to their clientele. There are many wonderful Mikva ladies out there, but unfortunately I’ve found most to be woefully subpar.

    • HaDassah says:

      I will agree with you there. In Montreal the mikvah lady was a doll, and made the experience special. Here in Monsey I am struggling – the mikvah is a factory – 80 rooms – and some of the mikvah ladies are gruff and insensitive. I do what I have to do and leave. It’s killed some of the joy of the mitzvah for me.

  12. Lady Lock N Load says:

    Hadassah, there are other mikvaot in Monsey to go to…might not be as fancy but much warmer.

  13. Carrie says:

    Adding spa services onto a Mikveh could be a nice thing for some, but if it only acts as a band-aid to the underlying issues, then it is not helpful. The main importance is to provide a meaningful, welcoming experience. Who is the person welcoming the visitor? Is she supportive? Does the Mikveh do whatever it can to make the experience a positive one? These are the things that will really make a difference as it does at Mayyim Hayyim and some of the other communities out there with whom we consult.

  14. Michal says:

    I think there are 2 issues here:
    1. Why mikva isn’t a pleasant experience for some/many women
    2. Why women would deceive their husbands about going.

    Deceiving your husband about mikva is no different than deceiving your husband about any other issue – religious or otherwise. It’s a communication/compromise problem. However, in these women’s defense, I’m sure they feel that they are protecting their husbands from being party to their “sin”, in the same way that (I once read) certain charedi women will not tell their husband that they are taking birth control as either the husband does want more children or the rabbi won’t give them permission to use birth control.

    As to the question of why mikva isn’t a pleasant experience for some women, there are lots of reasons such as ideological objections to the concept, cleanliness of the mikvah and the role of the mikva lady.

    Personally I think that the role of the mikva lady is a big one. According to halacha, her role is SIMPLY to check that when you dunk, ALL your hair goes under. That’s it. Not to check your calculations of 7 days counting, not to check your nails, not to ask your any other questions etc. It’s great that women who want this additional assistance have someone there to provide it, but there is no reason why a woman who simply wants the mikva lady to fulfill the bare minimum role of checking that her hair goes under the water, should not be allowed to request just that. In fact, if she wants to dunk WITHOUT the assistance of a mikva lady at all (especially if she has short hair or covers her hair with loose net or brings a friend to check that her hair has gone under), that should also be allowed (and in fact is allowed in certain mikvaot in Israel).

    At the end of the day, it’s my mitzvah and my responsibility, not the mikve lady’s.

  15. Gillian says:

    I live on a small moshav. The mikva is a dump with mouldy walls since the condensation builds up. There are two pathetic showers and a bath. It is as simple as it could be.
    However, the balanit is warm and caring, she is completely discrete in her checking, so much so that if I have forgotten to take my ring off, I am amazed that she notices, which of course she does. There is no real secrecy, if there is a queue I wait with the other women,who are my neighbours. No one rushes me, the length of my nails are my own business and it costs 20 shekel.
    Yes, I love the spa idea, but it’s not something that could ever happen where I live. I am not sure that most of the women can spare the time anyway – it’s not like you go at a convenient time to leave your family.

  16. Rafael Guber says:

    If the accusation was true regarding children born from unions in which women do not go to mikveh, what about all the Baalei Tshuvah? Yes I know some Haredim don’t not let their children mary BT’s for just that reason. But this is an aboration.

  17. skye says:

    I’m not ultra orthodox, i keep my version of kosher and shabbos which is more than most of my Jewish friends and fam. I’m getting married in a week and a half and am told I need a session with the rabbis wife… All this stuff comes up. I knew there was some deal with time of the month but not all this! Totally foreign to me and I feel it has kinda ruined this supposedly happy week running up to my wedding. And I have to strip off in front of some woman which is obv contrary to everything! I feel I have to do it cos the rabbi might not marry us. But I’ve been guilt tripped into it… It’s not on the radar of ppl on my level of observance, it just doesn’t get mentioned at all! My mum and fella tell me to just go and then forget about it, but its really shifted my reactions to some elements of Judaism and not in a good way, which upsets me… How do I get past this?

    • Honesty v. Anguish says:

      I became orthodox in college, but I can empathize with the feeling of being overwhelmed by the entire process of going to the mikvah. I’m not a Rabbi– far from it– but my perspective is that for someone who observes Shabbos and Kashrus to a certain extent, it is FAR better to observe the mitzvah of mikvah to your own extent, than not to do it at all. Both for your own comfort (taking something on that you are not ready for inevitably leads to frustration with Judaism, and is more likely to lessen rather than strengthen your observance in the long run), and for the health of your marriage. You and your husband have to be honest with one another about how you feel about certain mitzvot, so putting a strain on yourself with regard to mikvah– which is intrinsically tied to the bond of husband and wife– wouldn’t be healthy for either of you. So I say follow the minimum, or if the minimum that Jewish law prescribes is too much for you right now, start out small. Take baby steps. Maybe just take a shower and go dip in the mikvah. Maybe just meet with the Rebbetzin and tell her everything you wrote here about how you feel. I hope and pray that she’ll understand that people who have never observed a certain mitzvah might need to start out small (like I said, baby steps).

      Lastly, about the mikvah attendant seeing you naked– I had the same discomfort when I first got married. What helps me is knowing that that is a TECHNICAL part of her job, just like a GYN who does a breast exam is not “feeling you up,” it’s for your physical health. This is for your spiritual health. And even more practical– she sees women of all shapes and sizes– extremely underweight, obese, averge weight, scarred, tattooed (many people who become religious later in life got tattoos beforehand), hairy, not hairy, women who have given birth so many times that their skin is stretched and “flabby,” women who haven’t yet given birth, even physically disabled people (some mikvas even have a lift for wheelchairs)! So seeing you unclothed is a technicality and just part of the job. Try to remember the analogy of a doctor seeing a patient– that helps me a lot.

      Most of all– just DO THE BEST YOU CAN! That’s all G-d wants from you. G-d is merciful and you can and should be merciful and kind to yourself. MAZEL TOV! :) :) :)

      • skye says:

        Dear Honesty
        Thank you SOO much for your reply. I can’t say how much it means to have someone actually understand what I’m saying here and really try to engage with it… It’s really helpful, made me feel less crazy about the whole thing! Thanks so much. I will go, maybe just this once, but I’ll do it cos it means something, and not cos I feel guilt-tripped into it. Thanks from me and mr-skye-to-be :) x

  18. amibat says:

    Hi, I found this blog post while reading up on mikvah before going for the first time in years. I’ve always had terrible times at the mikvah, and its one of the reasons that I specifically use bc that will help me avoid it. When we were first married, I always felt a lot of pressure to do it all right. I was afraid she wouldn’t let me dunk or something if I did it wrong, that somehow she’d check and she’d know. I had body piercings that I hated to take out, and once got into a heated discussion about it with a balanit and never wanted to have that again. I hate removing my nail polish, I hate the preparations, the inspections. It all feels pretty misogynist. When I’m on the mirena, we can have sex without worrying about all those things and I don’t like the feeling of doing them to prepare for it now, and the purity aspect doesn’t have much meaning for me. I would never lie about it, thank god were too close for that, but dh knows very well how much I hate it, and I know very well how uncomfortable he’d be if I didn’t go. I get anxious about it and have a hard time letting go of the wrong comment, question, or look, and usually come home too worked up about it to really be very close to him anyway.
    This time around, I’ve decided to do the bare minimum. I’m not going to remove my nose ring, or an earring that’s difficult – they never come out anyway. I’m also not going to remove nail polish, or shave, or do any of that. I thought about driving and hr and a half to the nearest Conservative mikvah, where you can go any time you want, with whomever you want, but that’s just not practical. I just want someone who won’t ask me any questions and will let me do my own thing.
    I’m somewhat afraid that she won’t let me dunk as I am, but I’m going to try it anyway. I wish I could have had the confidence to go as I am 10 years ago, and I wonder if that would have made a difference at the start. However, nothing I ever learned or heard or read ever gave me the feeling I could do that.
    I think that if we taught that going as you are is better than not going at all, and if we wernt so picky about it, more women would have positive feelings about mikvah.

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