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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The order of your ablutions is entirely up to you. Clean and trim finger- and toe-nails, clean ears, and floss and brush your teeth. Bathe in a hot tub. If the mikveh is not too crowded, soak and relax. Consider bringing some bubble bath and a facial mask. Then shower, shampoo your hair, and rinse thoroughly. Comb all the hair on your head and body in the same direction. There will be a towel or sheet for wrapping yourself before calling the mikveh lady.

She will lead you to the mikveh and inspect you to make sure you are ready to immerse. (This usually takes no more than a few seconds, and her businesslike demeanor precludes embarrassment.) She will then tell you to immerse yourself and will lead you through the blessings. If you know the prayers, you may be able to convince her that you know the procedure and don't need her supervision. Afterward you return to the bathroom to dress. And that's it. (Of course there are male attendants during men's hours.)

… Before you leave for mikveh take some time to think about what the ritual means to you.

Celebrating Mikveh

The Sephardic custom of turning mikveh into a joyful party has inspired new rituals and celebrations. These can be very simple, involving an intimate dinner for the bride or groom when she/he returns, or they can be as elaborate and creative as you like:

-… One groom gathered his closest friends at an ocean beach on the morning of his wedding. They sang and prayed as he plunged into the surf and recited the blessing. When he emerged from the water everyone sang the Sheheheyanu. Together, singing, they accompanied the groom to his room to prepare for the huppah [wedding ceremony].

-A bride took her three sisters to a nearby pond the night before her wedding. They held big towels as she immersed herself in the water and sang the blessing. When she emerged in the moonlight they took turns drying her, and each sister whispered a private wish for her happiness.

There are many ways to physically commemorate the entry of a bride or groom into a new stage in her/his life, observing the spirit, if not the letter, of the law:

-…The ritual washing of hands and feet has been an important Jewish symbol for generations. In Genesis, Abraham washed the feet of the three angels who visited him at his tent both as an act of welcome and as a token of his esteem. The daily mitzvah [commandment] of hand washing in the morning and before eating symbolizes the removal of impurity and renewed spiritual integrity. At one mikveh gathering for both the bride and groom, guests poured pure spring water over their hands. As each person poured, she/he offered a wish for the couple's future. The pitcher and bowl, bought especially for the occasion, were given to the couple as a wedding gift.

-In this spirit of "anointing," one wedding "queen" was seated on a special "throne," to which her closest women friends brought gifts of scent….

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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.