The Secret Mikvah Society
An ex-Orthodox Jewish woman takes a dip in the ancient ritual bath to see if it really will make her—and her marriage—pure.
Illustrations by Larry Buchanan
As I stood naked on the gold tiled floor, I flinched as the stranger picked stray, wet hairs off my bare back. When she pronounced me clean to enter the water, I wondered yet again: Was my life really so desperate now that I was actually going to go to the mikvah, the Jewish ritual bath? But I didn’t have time for second thoughts—my biological clock was ticking away, and I desperately needed God’s help. Even though I had abandoned him years ago. So I tentatively touched my toe to the warm waters of the mikvah.
For thousands of years, Jewish women have immersed themselves in the mikvah (Hebrew for “basin of water”) to cleanse themselves for the sake of family purity. According to the Torah, a woman is impure during her menstrual cycle, and then rabbinical leaders tacked on another week afterward, which effectively means that Orthodox couples do not have sex for a minimum of twelve days each month (and longer, if a woman’s period is more than five days). Fo…