Sunday, November 17, 2013

Making the Mikva Experience Miserable

Mikva Lady - Photo credit: Jerusalem Post
The ‘evil’ Yesh Atid party is at it again. They’re trying to fix another problem in the Charedi community via legislation.

The issue is the how the Mikva in Charedi circles is utilized… or more precisely how its attendants treat it users in what has to be one of the more outrageous misuses of authority.

The Mikva is a pool of water of specific minimum size and various other Halachic parameters that is designed to spiritually purify those who are immersed in it. Without getting into details, a woman must Halchicly use the Mikva after the cessation of her Nidah (menstrual) period in order to have relations with her husband. Having relations with a woman that has not immersed in a Mikva is a serious violation of Halacha for both the man and the woman. 

Interestingly the use of the Mikva was not universal in Orthodox circles in pre-war America. Even women that were observant of Shabbos and Kashrus did not – in many cases use a Mikva. But today, virtually every observant family uses it. It is one of the three defining Mitzvos of Orthodoxy: Shabbos, Kashrus, and Taharas HaMishpacha (family purity via the use of a Mikva).

This is the case in all segments of Orthodoxy, from the most right wing Chasid of Satmar or Neturei Karta to the most left wing modern ‘Open Orthodox’ Jew.

Going to a Mikva is not always convenient. It is time consuming and involves a lot of preparation. It sometimes involves driving in snow storms to do this Mitzvah. And yet in our day, the vast majority of Orthodox women observe Taharas HaMishpacha. I am told that even many non observant women observe this Mitzvah properly. There are women who use it for other reasons – but that is beyond the scope of this essay.

Going to a Mikva today is not what it used to be. The Mikva of the past was kind of a scary place, run down and possibly located in bad neighborhoods. Today many of the more modern Mikvaos look like spas. One of the reasons for this is to make the experience more pleasant which will encourage more women to use it.

But in Israel in Charedi circles - the opposite is now happening. They seem to be doing their level best to discourage Mikva use. From the Jerusalem Post:  
MK Aliza Lavie, in conjunction with the ITIM religious services advocacy and advice group, has proposed a law to forbid mikve attendants from interrogating women seeking to immerse themselves about their level of personal religious practice.
“Over the years, a norm has developed in which at certain mikvaot women are forced to answer and undergo tests as a condition before immersing in a way that intrudes the private and personal life of women wishing to immerse,” says the introduction to the bill…
According to ITIM director and Orthodox rabbi Seth Farber, attendants often question women about what contraception they use, their marital status, whether they have conducted internal examinations and similar issues…
On occasion, attendants refuse women permission to immerse.
Lavie said that in most situations, it was the municipal rabbi who had taken it upon himself to instruct the mikve attendants, who are always female, to question women wishing to immerse.
“These investigations...humiliate and disparage women and injure her rights to dignity and privacy,” the Yesh Atid MK said in explaining why she has proposed the bill. “There are many women who are offended by such personal questions and inspections which are carried out without their permission.”
I am thoroughly disgusted by this. What possible business is it of the Mikva lady (attendant) to know what kind of contraceptives a woman uses… or if she is using it at all? And it takes Yesh Atid to do anything about it?! Where is the common sense? What is their goal? If it is to discourage women form using the Mikva, they are doing a pretty good job of it.

I applaud Yesh Atid and ITIM for introducing this bill. Mikva attendants should cease and desist from ever interrogating Mikva users again. The only thing they should be doing is helping a woman be sure that she is immersing properly. The rest is pure garbage. It is not their job to determine whether a user is doing so for the wrong reasons. It is not their job to decide how stringent or lenient the preparations have to be. That is up to the woman’s rabbi, or Posek. Not the Mikva attendant. It is both intrusive and insulting. And I’m glad that someone is doing something to stop it.