Personally I am comfortable with the inclusion of mikveh in conversion--as a gesture towards "halachic conversions" that the Orthodox community is not going to accept anyway--and as a tie to tradition. I am less comfortable with it as a symbol of post-menstrual ritual purification. But the idea of immersion for spiritual renewal is just too touchy-feely for this particular Litvak Larry
Mar 2006 Digest 038
I endorse and welcome the mikveh as a symbol of the tradition's emphasis on spiritual renewal, and I think it is a good idea to utilize or require it for conversion. On the other hand, I reject it as a necessity for post menstrual purification and even as a gesture toward halachah.
Marty 550 family units
Mar 2006 Digest 039
for some people that is part of who they are and we--Litvak, Galtizianer, Chassid, Israeli, and even Reform--need to respect that.
Recently, a young woman who is having trouble conceiving asked me to accompany her to the mikveh before undergoing the next procedure she and her husband would undertake for conception. To this woman, the mikveh meant a fresh start; it would also reconnect her spiritually. While I could not connect to the feeling, I understand her need and consider myself privileged to accompany her in this sacred task.
What I find sad about our Movement is the inability for people in it to understand that Reform Judaism does not exclude any traditional practice; institutionally, as well as personally, it is a movement of choice. To generalize back at the audience of whom Larry spoke, people who are of a certain era in Reform Judaism forget what its philosophy is and only remember how easy being Jewish is when you call yourself "Reform." Frankly, with my experience in the pulpit, I'm not sure we have done ourselves a favor by eliminating traditional practices that differentiate us from our neighbors--many of these give us a connection to our fellow Jews across time and space, not to mention a spiritual grounding.
Mar 2006 Digest 039
I especially support the concept of mikveh as a component in one's spiritual renewal or rebirth.
While I don't believe that immersion or hatafat dam b'rit or beit din "make a person Jewish" it's the person's coming to see himself and the world through Jewish eyes that makes these rituals possible and appropriate--each of my Jews by choice who has experienced the mikveh has found it to be a highly spiritual and memorable moment.
We've had converts in their 20s and their 70's, from Catholic, Protestant, and "unchurched" backgrounds, and even an ordained Protestant minister, whose spiritual journeys led them into Judaism; for each of them, immersion represented a symbolic washing away of a
previous non-Jewish background, and the beginning of their lives as Jewish adults.
Michael 210 families
Mar 2006 Digest 039
a couple of respondents spotlighted the benefits of marking a life transition in this fashion. I guess I'm more comfortable with that than with ritual purification to enable marital relations Janices thoughtful post opens the door to a wide interpretation of What's Reform--and I'm glad that we define ourselves today by what we do take from the tradition, rather than by what we don't. I'm not sure that immersion to get a spiritual high has anything to do with the mikvah tradition, which I have understood to relate to ritual purity.
In other words, mikvah for spiritual elevation may work for some Reform Jews--but I question whether we can call it (Reform) Judaism.
Mar 2006 Digest 040
as a witness [it] never fails to bring me to tears as [it is explained] to our convert not to dry off their pre-immersion shower completely, because we all bring something of our past even as we embark upon the new.
Rather than being a "touchy/feely" manufactured moment of "spirituality," my experience of the mikveh has been to be a small part of a profound moment not only in the Jewish experience, but in the human experience.
Jewish by birth, my immediate ancestors (mom and mom-in-law) have over the years expressed disdain for the Traditional (frum) use of the mikveh. I have a cousin who has been a Lubavitcher the last twenty years and the adjectives used by the aforementioned parentals have ranged from "archaic" to completely "meshugge." I have long ago given up trying to relate how mikveh symbolizes not only separation from something but a connection to tradition, that it is another aspect of Jewish ritual that brings the mind and heart to understanding of what it means to be a Jew.
It is so important for our Reform teachers (and all Jewish teachers ) to continue to teach our members the significance of these rituals, so that we can move away from the knee jerk rejection of things like kashrut and mikveh and observing Shabbat and re-educate our members to the significance of these rituals. Then Jews can make an informed decision as to their personal relevance.
Marcey (450 families)
April 2007 Digest 058
[Re mikveh for bnei mitzvah:] Putting aside the issues of family purity laws--is this appropriate at this stage of their life?
They are not yet adults so going after the Bar/Bat Mitzvah would be more appropriate if they were to do the ritual. I happen to love the ritual of the mikveh, but I wonder if they are really ready for this experience yet some may argue that age 13 does not constitute adulthood regardless of how well they do their Torah reading and d'var at the services, but we consider them adults anyway [so, why] exclude this ritual? My thinking is they need a few more years of learning and growing to truly appreciate this ritual.
Barbara 500+ members
April 2007 Digest 059
The community mikvah and educational center in Boston has had b'nei mitzvah students come to mikvah as part of their preparation. You may want to visit their website (http://www.mayyimhayyim.org/) if you can't visit the mikvah itself. It's a beautiful, wonderful, inspiring place that is at the forefront of reclaiming the ritual of mikvah for traditional and contemporary uses. A similar center is just getting organized in LA for those on the West Coast. For more information about the project contact the executive director, at email@example.com.
For the first time there will be a workshop on mikvah at the Biennial in December: Taking the "ik" Out of Mikvah: New Uses for an Ancient Ritual. We have several congregations that have built their own congregational mikvah. It's such a rich and powerful ritual that we are just beginning to explore again.
Regarding age appropriateness: I've brought many infants to mikvah for conversion--so you're never too young for the ritual.
Rabbi Sue Ann Wasserman Dept. of Worship, Music and Religious Living
April 2007 Digest 061
I recently read an article by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in which he connects between immersion in a mikveh and the acceptance of the yoke of commandments. He does so based on the connection between immersion [in a mikveh] and revelation; the Israelites had to immerse themselves as part of a process of purification before they could receive the Torah.
It is perhaps because of this connection that the connection between mikveh and bar/bat mitzvah is raised; we often see it as a time when we 'become Jewish adults' in the sense that we begin to take on obligations within the Jewish context.
Soloveitchik suggests that the above stated connection is the reason why mikveh is part of the ritual of conversion; it symbolizes the acceptance of the yoke of commandments. In this sense, immersion in the mikveh functions as a symbolic marking of the transition of status a person who is converting to Judaism undergoes; it is the first mitzvah he or she participates in, and marks the change of status from non-Jew to Jew.
In the case of bar/bat mitzvah, the young adult has been obligated by mitzvot since birth (or conversion) and consequently, there is no change in status as there is in the case of conversion. The bar/bat mitzvah ceremony, reading from the Torah publicly, etc... are physical manifestations of the covenant to which the young adult has been bound since birth or conversion.
While I myself have not heard of the mikveh being used with bar/bat mitzvah students, there seem to be lots of creative new ways for us to once again embrace this ritual.
Carmit Rabbinical Student
April 2007 Digest 061
The creative and spiritual use of the mikveh has had increasing acceptance in the past several years, especially by the Reform Movement. There have been some books written on how to use the mikveh, other than family purity laws usage: Life Cycles by Rabbi Debra Orenstein and Bringing Home the Light by EM Broner are a couple that come to mind.
A few years ago I had major surgery and after recovery I went to the mikveh for a healing service that I wrote. It was a powerful spiritual experience.
I am not against the use of mikvah by bar/bat mitzvah, but I agree with those who think it is too early.
this would be a good activity for the Ritual/Worship Committee. Studying the mikveh and proposing rituals for various life cycle events--including men--and leading the mikveh ritual.
Barbara 500+ families
April 2007 Digest 061
whether a b'nei mitzvah candidate should be brought to the mikveh to learn what it [is] about and to see a mikveh, as part of their learning about Jewish ritual [,as opposed to having ] the candidate immerse as part of the b'nei mitzvah ritual.
The former I favor; the more the child learns about Jewish ritual and life cycle events, the better. We do not keep them from attending weddings or funerals. But immersion, that is a different scenario and one which I would not like to see become part of the b'nei mitzvah ritual as standard operating procedure. It is a very personal happening, and it should be with the consent of the child, if he or she wishes to do so.