By Meira E. Schneider-Atik
When COVID-19 broke out, most mikva’ot closed, but many women’s mikva’ot remained open. I remember hearing some who were angry that women’s mikva’ot weren’t closing as well, saying that it was too much of a risk for women to go out and that rabbis should find kulot (leniencies). I didn’t agree then, and I still think that keeping women’s mikva’ot open, albeit with extra precautions, was the right thing to do.
I actually found an advantage here, in that I got to take stock of how I felt about taharat hamishpaḥah and mikveh.
I admit that there are details that I don’t like. I don’t like not touching my husband. We’re happily married, so not touching can be torture. However, I accept that if we didn’t take breaks every so often, the novelty would wear off.
I don’t like having to get dressed in a million layers in the winter and to peel off those layers at the mikveh, then put them back on after immersion. For another thing, I never liked “mikveh hair.” The chlorine in the pool always did a number on my naturally curly hair, and thanks to COVID, the chlorine levels had to be increased, so now I come out of the mikveh looking like a shaggy dog.
Loving this Mitzvah
Having said all this, I’ve been loving this mitzvah ever since my kallah teacher taught me about it. As a woman, I love that taharat hamishpaḥah is a mitzvah that is entirely mine—no one can do it for me. It allows me to connect with myself as a Jew, a woman, a wife, and a mother. I feel constantly reconnected with my humanity, my tzelem Elokim (image of God), and the inherent dignity that goes with that.
I firmly believe that no woman should be forced to go to the mikveh. According to the new precautionary policies, one is not allowed to go if she has any COVID symptoms or has reason to be in quarantine. And according to the halakhot, the woman is the one who determines when she can go to the mikveh, based on her physical examinations, but even if she can go halakhically, she might not feel safe.
I love that this mitzvah gets a huge priority. According to the Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin), whenever a new Jewish community is created, the first public facility should not be a shul or beit midrash, but rather a women’s mikveh. I was disappointed to learn that there are a lot of mikva’ot that are not careful about cleanliness and sanitation. I’m hoping that those mikva’ot get shut down so that they can be cleaned up during the pandemic. This mitzvah is so important, but no woman should have to risk her health and safety unnecessarily.
This realization makes me even more grateful to my local mikveh and the women attendants there who were always careful about keeping things clean and safe. They implemented precautions against COVID that made me feel safer (even if I had to rinse out “shaggy dog” hair afterward).
With the vaccines, I hope that the COVID crisis is coming to an end. But on the positive side, I hope that my appreciation for this mitzvah doesn’t come to an end, and I hope to continue feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and reconnected with myself and my human dignity.
Meira E. Schneider-Atik is a Torah-observant Jew, wife, mother, wardrobe stylist, and writer/blogger. Her heart is in Eretz Yisrael but for now, she lives with her family in Queens, New York.
As a woman, I love that taharat hamishpaḥah is a mitzvah that is entirely mine—no one can do it for me.
This mitzvah is so important, but no woman should have to risk her health and safety unnecessarily.