Mikveh: A Spiritual Preparation for Marriage

The mikveh, or ritual bath, signifies the spiritual rebirth of bride and groom as they ponder their approaching marriage.

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Photo: (c) 2001 Janice Rubin, The Mikvah Project

The act of mikveh is very simple, involving two or three immersions in water and one blessing. No rabbi or other religious "expert" of any kind is required. You enter the water nude, spread arms and legs apart, and immerse yourself so that every strand of hair is underwater. The eyes should not be shut tightly. You duck under, looking and feeling as much like a fetus in the womb as possible.

Upon rising from the water you repeat the blessing for immersion:

"Barukh ata Adonai Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam asher kid'shanu, be-mitzvotav vitsivanu al ha'tevilah.

"Praised are you, Adonai, God of all creation, who sanctifies us with your commandments and commanded us concerning immersion."

Custom varies on the number of immersions: Two are common but three are also traditional since the word mikveh appears three times in the Torah. Other prayers may, of course, be added. For brides and grooms the most common addition is the Sheheheyanu, the blessing commemorating significant first events:

"Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam sheheheyanu vikiamanu vihigianu lazman hazeh.

"Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, .who kept us alive and preserved us and enabled us to reach this season."

Another blessing commonly recited at mikveh is the Yehi Ratzon, a prayer for the reestablishment of the Temple, a prayer envisioning a world as whole and pure as you hope to be upon emerging from mikveh:

"May it be Your will, Adonai, our God and God of our parents, that the Temple be speedily rebuilt in our days, and grant our portion in Your Torah. There we will serve You with awe as in days of old and as in ancient years. And may the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem be as pleasant to You as ever and as in ancient times."

Indoor mikvaot are maintained by Orthodox communities. (Your rabbi should be able to direct you to the nearest one.) Although brides are sometimes allowed to use them free of charge or for a very nominal amount, most mikvaot depend on fees for use of the facilities in order to survive. Ask about the fee (usually due in cash) when you call to make an appointment. (Men's hours are usually far more restricted, so grooms should call well in advance.)

Most mikvaot employ an attendant who is universally known as "the mikveh lady," and if you've never been to mikveh before, it's easy to be intimidated by her. It's important to remember that her function is not to judge but simply to assist one in the performance of a mitzvah. By and large, mikveh ladies ask no questions.

Although the immersions and blessings take only a few minutes, plan to spend an hour at the mikveh. You will be shown to a private bathroom, usually equipped with towels and perhaps even with disposable toothbrushes, kosher toothpaste, shampoo, and hair dryers. (When you call for an appointment, ask what you'll need to bring with you.)

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Anita Diamant

Anita Diamant is a writer. Her books include Choosing a Jewish Life, The New Jewish Wedding, Saying Kaddish, and The Red Tent, a novel. She lives in Newton, Massachusetts.