More men at the mikvah

Non-Orthodox Jewish men are taking the plunge in the Jewish ritual bath.

Published June 21, 2006 1:44PM (EDT)

The Jewish ritual bath called the mikvah is often associated with women, and in particular with women marking a transition at the end of their menstrual cycle. Observant Jewish men may also immerse themselves on the Sabbath or other occasions, some even daily. (Both men and women also use the mikvah as part of conversion to Judaism.) While it's often thought of as a cleansing ritual, it's actually one of transition -- in fact, you've got to be spotlessly clean before you go in.

And these days, it's common knowledge that more and more liberally observant Jewish women are seeking out the mikvah -- for older, standard rituals or to mark their own transitions. (I've been three times: once on my wedding day, once for a fertility ritual of sorts and once, sadly, after a miscarriage.) But what about men? According to the JTA News (a Jewish wire service; free registration required), more non-Orthodox men -- at least anecdotally -- are, slowly, also beginning to take this ancient plunge.

The article's not brimming over with hard stats, but it does have some nice male-bonding quotes and details -- all of which help support the notion that more and more people are seeking ways to infuse old tradition with new meaning. And I like that in that search, non-Orthodox Jewish men appear to be reminded that the mikvah is not just another one of those mysterious off-limits lady things that women go off and do in strictly lady places.

According to the article, Mayyim Hayyim, a community mikvah in Newton, Mass., whose clientele is one-fifth male, has tried to make clear that it's not a lady place by appointing its lobby with large leather chairs. (Contrast in point: One of my mikvah experiences was very scented candles and Enya.) One dad goes to the mikvah every Friday afternoon, in advance of the Sabbath, with his two young sons. Another will be dunking before his son's wedding. At a recent conference about liberal mikvahs sponsored by the Union for Reform Judaism, several male attendees "expressed some of the same things Jewish women say about mikveh: This is my special time, an hour or two when I can focus on myself before tackling the responsibilities of daily life once again."

Indeed, one retired attorney had agreed to go to the mikvah with his wife to mark their 20th anniversary, insisting all the while that he wasn't "the spiritual type." Now he serves as a guide for other men participating in the ritual. "We're always doing things for others, why don't we set aside time to go to the mikveh?" he asked. "It prepares us to go out into the world and start yelling and screaming again."

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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