The Chore of Mikvah

The Chore of Mikvah

I used to enjoy going to the mikvah. I used to enjoy the whole spirituality of the evening, the whole build-up to a romantic evening with my husband after days and days of separation.

Then we moved. And my new mikvah just makes me cringe. Oh, don’t get me wrong – it’s gorgeous. Stunning. I have never in my life been to such a fancy mikvah. But it’s big – 80 preparation rooms – and impersonal. A mikvah factory, if you will.

In my old mikvah I knew the mikvah lady, I knew her name and how many grandchildren she had. I knew where to pick up supplies, where to leave my towels. It was comfortable. I knew that when I was ready to dunk the mikvah lady would knock on my door, check my back for any errant loose hairs, check my nails, and lead me, with a smile, to the mikvah. Every time it was the same.

I feel judged at my new mikvah. The first time I went there the mikvah lady – one of several – told me my nails weren’t trimmed properly, and that I hadn’t tweezed my eyebrows just right. The next time the mikvah lady – a different one – turned her nose up at my gel nails and said my immersion would be invalid. I gave her my rabbi’s number, said he paskened (ruled) that gel nails are not a barrier to immersion. She took out her nail clippers and demanded to see my toenails because she was sure she could see a hangnail. I said no. I said my toenails were hangnail-free. She grudgingly allowed me to dip.

Two visits, two negative experiences. Since then, I tell the mikvah ladies NOT to check for errant hairs, not to check my nails. I tell them that I am ready as I am; that I have checked myself and do not need their help. Most of the time this is met with suspicious looks, but I don’t care. I will not let anyone make me feel I am not good enough, or haven’t prepared to their standard. I have been doing this mikvah deal for almost 20 years (minus the years I was divorced). I prepare at home. I am at the mikvah only long enough to do my three dips, get dried and come home.

By preparing at home I am trying to make the mikvah trip into less of a chore. I am trying to negate that whole “necessary evil” aspect I feel is there. I don’t want mikvah to be a chore but I don’t know how to get back that spirituality that I used to have.

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  1. Kat says:

    Is there another mikva you could go to? ( I am obviously not in your area but even in the DC metro there are several)

  2. Hadass says:

    I’m sorry it has become a chore. It seems to me that what you are doing is probably optimal in a very sub-optimal situation – unless you are willing to find a new mikvah.

    I have to admit that the mikvah lost its magic for me once I was done having children – that beautiful feeling of being prepared to harbour new life should I be gifted with that miracle. Once I knew this would never happen again, it became a cruel tease rather than a blessing 8-(.

    • HaDassah says:

      I hear you – I remember the praying every month while dunking that I would become pregnant and skip mikvah visits for the next 9 months.

  3. former monseyite says:

    Ignore them. When will you ever see them again.

    Can I get your Rav’s number, I would love to have someone tell me I can wear Gel nails in a mikvah.

    • HaDassah says:

      Rabbi shopping, are we? In Montreal I wasn’t allowed. Because it was not minhag hamakom. Who knew that moving here, to Monsey Ir HaKodesh it would be?!

  4. Tova says:

    I totally agree with this, and i’ve only had the experience for about a year and a half! Just add not knowing the hebrew language to all of that, and it’s a very unpleasant experience!! I wish i enjoyed doing such a beautiful mitzvah more, but add in “Israeli” type to the mix and its hard! Prepping at home does help a lot because I can prepare spiritually as well in the comfort of my own home without feeling rushed and getting frustrated at the mikvah itself!

    • HaDassah says:

      iy”h once you have kids, you will appreciate prepping AT the mikvah, away from the screaming kiddies!! Hopefully, it will be a better experience for you than it is now.

    • Mark says:

      My wife didn’t like the Israeli mikvaot very much. She liked the ones in the USA much more.

  5. Lady Lock N Load says:

    I think you should send this letter (anonymous if you want) to the mikvah that you go to. It is important for them to know that you dislike using their mikvah and the whole experience has become a chore for you. Then they could train their staff in how to be more sensitive to your needs. The whole reason that beautiful mikvah was built was to encourage women to come use it and they would be very upset to learn that you are turned off! :(
    There are other mikvas that you could use instead of going to the huge fancy one. And they are not far from the one you use. Smaller and more personal, but not as fancy.

    • HaDassah says:

      I might write to them. Maybe they are rushed off their feet with the sheer volume of users… It cannot hurt to let them know my experiences.

      • tesyaa says:

        If they were so rushed, they wouldn’t be making a big deal about unnecessary checking – that takes more time.

        It’s about control, not about time.

  6. Alady says:

    Why bother to go? Why let rabbi’s dictate when you have sex, and then be surprised that mikva ladies are not happy enough with your naked body?!

    • HaDassah says:

      Why do anything remotely connected with religion? Because that is how I choose to live my life.

    • tostien says:

      Okay, the comment above spurred me to write my own blog article:

      …hopefully, I’ll have had time to proofread it before you read it.

      • HaDassah says:

        excellent article – and thrilled you linked to Jew in the City’s Mikvah video. (I have a cameo, a very brief one, in it)

        But you do understand, that many view taharat hamishpacha and all practices associated with it as archaic. You will never convince these people, those who scoff and doubt, that it is the right way.

        • tostien says:

          Thanks. Also, thanks for sharing it, yourself. I’ve got quite a lot of hits on my new blog from all over the world, all of the sudden.

          I do realize that it won’t convince anyone to do it, but a little education goes a long way. Not everyone is supposed to be an Orthodox Jew, but we are supposed to be guiding the world as to the difference between right and wrong.

          More on this coming in a, now delayed, future post. :)

          • Alady says:

            What gives you the knowledge of right and wrong? (oh yea maybe you will make a blog post about how hashem gave the torah and that is how YOU have the truth to share, got news for you most people of most religions all think they have the truth…

          • tostien says:

            Reply to below…

            I have even bigger news for you… all people who stop to think about their life, think they’re doing it the right way, whether religious or not. People don’t generally go around saying, “hey, this is the wrong thing to do, let’s do more of that!” Ever hear Stalin or Mao say, “yeah, I know it’s wrong to murder these people and I really shouldn’t….”

            Second, there is a world of difference between getting educated, or providing education, on why a person of a different culture / belief / religion does something that has meaning for them, and what you are accusing me of.

            Yes, I do believe in my beliefs, and I believe they make the most sense. There is a huge difference between a belief based on something you couldn’t make up (huge difference between saying “>YOUI< experienced G_d, now come do as I say or I persecute you". In fact, no religion denies Judaism's claim, but most just have a new guy with unverifiable claims that comes along and says he knows better. Yes, it will be in a later blog post. :)

          • tostien says:

            Weird… the symbols seemed to have messed up the reply. Here’s the part that it took out:

            There is a huge difference between a belief based on something you couldn’t make up (huge difference between saying “YOU experienced G_d” complete with 40+ years of miraculous living off of food falling from the sky except on Shabbos, versus every other religion that starts with “I experienced G_d, now come do as I say or I persecute you”. In fact, no religion denies Judaism’s claim, but most just have a new guy with unverifiable claims that comes along and says he knows better. Yes, it will be in a later blog post. :)

  7. Shoshanna says:

    Yup- everyone’s frummer than you doll. Well, except me ;)

    We have two sides to our mikva- mehadrin and not. Their line is hours long, I go in wet say yes, yes and am back out it under 30 min.

    No BS for me. Dont let anyone make you feel bad.


  8. Lily says:

    I am thinking maybe it’s a community issue. I go to the Teaneck mikvah (over the one in my community because ours is in the shul, tiny, and has weird hours), which also has many prep rooms, but my experience mirrors the your experience of your old mikvah/community. There are four mikvah ladies who are all really sweet and nice. They do ask to check my nails (well, one of them asks if I WANT her to check!), but never, not once, have they ever had an issue. I don’t pare my nails down so you can’t see any more white. I leave a few mm of nail and just make sure I clean well underneath. Sometimes they find a hair on my back, but that is all. They hold up the towel when I go in. If they think they saw my hand brush the side or something, they ask if that is true, they don’t accuse.

    Honestly, I don’t really feel the spiritual aspect of the mikvah. I go because I need to, but I prefer to make it a quick experience. I have no advice on how to bring the spirituality back, because I haven’t ever had that. (Not that I am complaining, because I find spirituality in other things!) I am thankful, though, to have mikvah ladies who are very nice.

    • HaDassah says:

      Mikvah isn’t spiritual for everyone. I am just asking that it be a pleasant experience, not something to be suffered through. Glad you have nice Mikvah ladies.

  9. tostien says:

    Alady, it’s very easy to mock something, but it’s actually quite amazing. To refrain from such a physical desire, and then approach it like new again makes it so worth it. People desire more and more and are never satisfied, so it’s kind of a reset allowing you to enjoy it new. It’s great, and the only way a person could really control themselves this much, in my mind, is if they’re doing it because they believe it’s commanded by G_d. Otherwise, it’s too tempting to ‘cheat’, which just means you’d be cheating yourself out of better pleasure.

    • HaDassah says:

      Well said!!

    • Alady says:

      This was never the reason for this mitzva in the first place, for every difficult mitzva there is a pretty little answer, so if you believe as you said later on that it’s from god, then that is your prerogative, but to believe it was done for your emotional enhancement is just bullcrap. Frankly after enough years of following this crap I would say observing all these tedious commandments are what’s cheating yourself out of pleasure, but I don’t expect you to accept that.

      • tostien says:

        You sound pretty angry. However, I don’t believe you. If this were a post about the moon being made of cheese, and you were sure it was “bullcrap”, would you even bother reading it or taking the time to reply? Clearly, you don’t believe it’s “bullcrap” or you wouldn’t be on an Orthodox Jew’s blog commenting on it.

  10. ehwhy says:

    Here in Israel was had some mikvahs were being juggled around due to construction. My wife had been promissed there would be no mehadrin bedikah if the woman didn’t want it. What she didn’t know was after that promise the mikvah was split into a regular side and a mehadrin side. She ended up on the wrong side. She came home in tears and bleeding from a scab they decided to pull off.

    My wife was a heavily involved in the Mikva fight where some of the Rabbanim wanted the Mehadrin mikvah for themselves. She publicly called out one of the local Rabbis for being a liar. The fight eventually went to Rav Ovadiah. He was very angry when he discovered that he had been lied to as well.

    My wife’s very last trip to the Mikvah she discovered that everything had returned to how it should be. The DTL mikvah was completely DTL and those who wanted a mehadrin mikvah could go to the newly renovated one at the bottom of the hill. As not everyone goes to the mikvah every month, she tried to make sure that women would know about the change.

  11. Tzippy says:

    shoshana is from my town lol yes TWO sides HaDassah lol

    • HaDassah says:

      so what happens if someone was supposed to go to the Mehadrin side and (shock horror) “cheated” and went to the OTHER side….. is her tevila invalid?
      Why would anyone actually choose to go to the Mehadrin side?

      • Alady says:

        Because it’s exactly as you answered back to me, that’s what they believe they need, just as I asked you why you would go to such a humiliating experience in the first place.

  12. Ayala says:

    Huggs to you. I think the transition to a new, bigger community sounds like a challenge.

    I relate to how you described your old mikve in the previous community. My own small community is similar, with a mikve that has not had a renovation since the early 80′s. I actually worry that the younger women will not come because it is in such poor condition & I think some do go to an other mikve about 30 minutes away. The close community feel of the mikve is such that everyone knows everyone else (which is something that you have to get use to too…) In my community, the mikve ladies give a quick halachic check, will occasionally call a rav, but don’t go crazy.

    In traveling, I had a chance to go to mikve in a place similar to what you describe- in a huge community where the mikve was brand new & sparkly. It was even constructed so that women leaving would not see the women in the waiting rooms. -I realized this as I left & I though it was considerate, but a bit much. The mikve attendant who came to see me was a very formal European woman, and I was surprised when she insisted on trimming a nail & cutting a cuticle that seemed fine to me. It was more invasive than I was familiar with, but for me, in a 1-time situation, I accepted it as part of the unique experience of traveling. Hey, as frum women, we don’t get to eat out in many exotic restaurants, or try the newest dance craze at a bar, so at least this is one place I can try something new & culturally different by going to Mikve in exotic locales like Lakewood, NJ & Brooklyn, NY.

    Others have posted some suggestions, and I agree, if you are in a big community there should be an other mikve near by to try. Maybe also try to find a Mikve attendant that you feel comfortable with? If it is one where you call ahead for reservations, maybe you can also request a particular attendant? Maybe there is a local rebizin who can help you to connect with & find out who of the local attendants would be more supportive to you?

    H’shem should bless you to be able to do all the mitsvot b’simcha.

  13. I have the same rule for different reasons. I call it the “don’t touch me rule” after more than one mikvah lady decided I hadn’t combed my tight curly hair well enough so they literally PULLED my hair to see if any loose strands would come out. Another inspected my back for close to 10 minutes until she gave up trying to find a loose hair strand. And you know I’ve heard worst. People turned away for whatever reasons, mikvah ladies making comments about the woman’s body in a way that is no way halakhic and in every way dehumanizing.

  14. DA says:

    You know, mikvah wasn’t always done naked; people used to go in a loose garment. Some people still do. Talk to your rabbi. Much less dehumanizing, perfectly allowed, and the disgusting mikvah lady doesn’t get to pick on you.

  15. sherry says:

    Find another mikvah. Even if you have to drive for a few minutes. It should be a pleasant experience with kind people assisting you, not getting you so tense that you are afraid to have the mikvah person check you.

  16. eema says:

    I have been to that mikvah sometimes when in Monsey. Always a pleasant experience, sorry you didn’t find that.
    I have very firmly and politely said “this is the way I do it, my Rav says it OK.”

  17. Rahel says:

    Since I’m not married, I go to a local mikveh once a year, before Yom Kippur. The mikveh pool is just outside a row of preparation rooms, and as I was getting ready, I could hear the mikveh attendant speaking to a woman who had come to use the mikveh, asking how many times it was her custom to dip. Her tone was so soft, so respectful, that I was moved and impressed. It sounds like we could use more mikveh ladies like her!

  18. Shoshie says:

    I totally agree with you. I live in Monsey and feel very much the same way about the Mikveh and the Mikveh ladies there. For the first few months that I lived here I would come home from the Mikvah crying and so upset bc the lady would cut my nails lower then I was comfortable with and basically put her rules on me! I finally found someone I was very comfortable with and request her every time I go. Anytime she is not there I just deal with whoever gets me and request not to have certain people

  19. Melissa SG says:

    With all the holes in my head and some things I hold differently bc of our Sephardekanazi way, I have my own set of issues to take up each time and reached the point where I too have to be up front and say this is ok, I don’t need you to check me, don’t talk to me, just tell me if my immersions are good.
    That said, I also had to learn how to do it simply so it didn’t make me emotional and how to then move past that and find my own inner momentum to make it a meaningful experience. I think if you let go of what was and just try to find a better space in what is now, you might surprise yourself. *hugs*

  20. chana says:

    just wanted to let you know, hadassah that i think you have changed that mikveh. the last time i was there (and it was a while before and a while since) the attendant walked into my room and asked me if i would like to be checked.
    i miss you up here

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