Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mikvah Attendants

Finding a good mikvah attendant is like finding a good therapist.

I'm not joking in the least. Not everyone clicks with the first therapist suggested to them. Suddenly, they happen across that one therapist with a golden tongue, the ones whose words are gems of wisdom, and hope suddenly appears on the horizon.

Here's one of those tidbits of useful information they don't teach you in kallah classes- you will simply not mesh with every mikvah attendant that you meet. Their personalities, ages, stringencies and qualifications will vary and thus you will feel more or less comfortable with each of them. The problem is that if you're not aware of this, you may end up feeling that you hate the mitzvah of Mikvah and all the attendant Niddah laws when in fact, it's not the mitzvah you hate but simply the experience you are having.

The aesthetics of the mikvah may be important to you as well. I know they are to me. I hate cramped rooms where I feel that I can barely breathe or move. I love spacious rooms. And I love rooms that are visually pleasing, with baths made of marble and floors of beautiful opal-colored tile. But then there's the flip side. Some mikvaot will provide you with anything you could possibly need in copious quantities- toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, bars of soap, rubbing alcohol, cotton balls, nail clippers, razors, eye-makeup remove and suchlike. Others only offer them in little disposable packets. I have to decide what is more important to me- would I rather have a spacious room with little packets or a less spacious room where I don't worry about exhausting the shampoo supply?

Another question is whether your mikvah will be physically accessible to you. It may be that the mikvaot I have been to have a special section for those who are elderly or physically handicapped. If not, however, there are places I would specifically tell such people never to go because the simple process of stepping into the bathtub would be impossible for them. Rather than having steps leading down to a bathtub or a low bathtub, the baths are so high that one must agilely swing one leg over while carefully balancing on the other and holding on to the silver door handle with an iron grip.

Back to the attendants. I cannot stress how important it is that you feel comfortable with your mivkah attendant. It might even be worthwhile to travel to a mikvah that geographically is farther away if it means that you are happier with the person who escorts you and/or the amenities there. One important factor is age. Some people feel more comfortable with older, experienced mikvah ladies who are already grandmothers. These people figure these women have seen it all and are nurturing, maternal figures who help them along. In contrast, there are those of us who specifically want younger mikvah ladies. We can relate to them more easily, feel more at home with them. Their youth, sweetness and friendliness may be comforting.

Sometimes mikvah attendants don't mean to make you feel uncomfortable and yet they manage to do so anyway. One woman told me that the number of times I dipped was the most she had ever heard of, which made me feel very uncomfortable, as though I were taking up her time. A different woman made sure to put me at my ease and laughed blithely, telling me that she has had women come to the mikvah to dip 52 or 330 times as a segulah. Needless to say, that made me feel a lot better about taking up her time, since compared to that, my tevilah was nothing.

Some mikvah ladies are also very strict and manage to make you feel bad about your preparation if you accidentally forgot to do something. They mean to be helpful when they suggest that you should bring your checklist to the mikvah, for example (most mivkaot have checklists in the rooms anyway, for that matter), but in truth they just make you feel incompetent. Then there are other ladies who make it seem like a fun game: oh, there's just this little speck of dirt, let's see if we can get at it. You're involved in the process rather than being the incompetent person who is causing problems by not having noticed that little particle.

In short, definitely try out different mikvaot and different mikvah attendants- like all people, you probably have a particular style, age bracket and personality with which you mesh best. Take the time to try to find that person- it can really enhance your experience when you do. And if you have any questions about mikvah or if you would like advice regarding where you can find one if you're interested in starting to keep this mitzvah, as always, feel free to ask me.


Anonymous said...

Just curious--do you ever give feedback about your experiences to anyone "in charge"? I think, as a shomeret, I would want to know if I've done something improper or if I could do something to make someone more comfortable.

Interesting article, btw.

shh said...

I know someone who does not call herself a "mikva lady," she calls herself a "mikva mom." I thought it was hilarious the first time I heard her refer to herself that way.

Anonymous said...

I like this really old lady who's eyes are are sharp as a razor, but pretends she doesn't see very well.
Makes me feel less exposed.

Sophie Golden said...

It's such a luxury to have options which mikvah to use, you know. In Berlin we've got only two - tiny winy mikvaot and I've never seen any lady complaining about anything.

Anonymous said...

Sophie, how much do they charge you to use a mikva in Berlin? In America the usual going fee is anywhere between $18-26.50 per use(and this fee doesn't include any extras). It's costly, so the experience should at the very least be a positive one.I agree, a mikva lady should be warm, preferably with a good sense of humor, non-judgemental and someone with a pleasant appearance and a pretty smile on.

sara maimon said...

frankly I never gave a damn about feeling comfortable with mikvah attendants any more than a waitress or gas station attendant.
I more or less ignored them and they more or less ignored me. If they let me in the mikvah at all that was quite enough for me...
(I'm single)

Then again I never had a really intrusive offensive one, like some people report. maybe cuz I don't go that often.

Anonymous said...

Chana, you've been married only three months. I'm not sure how you can speak about "many women are x, but others are y" when your experiences are so numbered as they are.

Coming from someone married far longer, I just have to say that this post sounded quite silly.

And, the not-so-veiled critique of your local mikvah did not sit so easily with me, having experiences there myself.

I know that you're a public person, but the mikvah experience is meant to be a private one. I think you were trying hard to be unspecific in this post to in order to keep the privacy, but I don't think it worked.

Dana said...

To anonymous in the above comment:
I agree that mikvah is something private, but I think Chana is just trying to bring up an important point (correct me if I'm wrong Chana!): that point is just because you've had a negative experience at one mikvah doesn't mean you should write it off altogether. I may be single, but I've heard many stories from married women, from the ones in their 20s to the ones in their 60s saying they had a bad experience with a mikvah attendant, and it turned them off from going ever again. That may sound foolish, but this happens every day with many things. Bottom line: people don't like to repeat negative experiences. Thank you Chana for telling people that there are more options.

Chana said...

Anonymous 12:46 AM,

Just because I've only been married a short time doesn't mean I don't have many married friends. I've spoken to them and realized that this was something many of us had to learn the hard way and I wanted to save others from having to do that.

Regarding my experiences wherever they might be, firstly, you're probably incorrect. Secondly, even if you've had positive experiences somewhere (good for you), that doesn't prevent me from having my own opinion on the matter, which can differ from yours.

I have not spoken about anything that oughtn't to be discussed here. If anything, I've tried to do- as Dana pointed out- a service to those who would simply quit the mitzvah due to the unpleasantness they've experienced. I think people should know that (at least in places like New York) different options exist.

RT said...

Chana, an excellent post!
A mikva attendant does need to be a caring and a welcoming person. All efforts should be made(on her part) to allow women to have a joyous and a memorable experience. For many women going to a mikva is a super- special time to relax and pamper themselves, the so called ME time which is precious and needed... before showering others with love and attention.

To anon January 12, 2011 12:46 AM,
your comment has no substance and doesn't address the point discussed in the post .

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what a single girl is doing in a mikva anyway. Or what an elderly person is doing there. Having a young attendant is not really correct because a nidda should not really be an attendant. See also recent blogs by R Broyde where he discusses hair covering on emes ve'emuna and also about men (R Yochanan) attending womens mikvas.

Anonymous said...

AnonJanuary 12, 2011 1:06 PM said:

"Having a young attendant is not really correct because a nidda should not really be an attendant"

I happen to live in a community where mikva attendants are young and of childbearing age. I must say that they also happen to be very good. I'm not sure what you stated in your comment is correct since the Orthodox Rabbis who serve on the mikva's board in my community must approve of these women's appointment to serve as mikva attendants,- which they clearly did or the women would not functioning in this role. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Channa for a wonderful article! I am married for over two years now and still remember (how could I forget) how I came home crying after going to the mikvah for the first time as a married woman. The mikvah attendant made me feel insecure about my performance of the mitzvah and treated me as if I didn't know what I was doing (which may have been true at the time but was far from helpful). Her comments and attitude were crushing and left me dreading my return. Luckily, I have a darling husband who restored my confidence and gave me the courage to return to the mikvah again and again. Channa, your article is an inspiration and once again renews my devotion to the mitzvah. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

to anon 1:33
A woman is not supposed to meet or touch a tomai 'object' the first thing after the mikva. A woman who is a nidda may be included in this. Many men who otherwise dont go to mikva go when their wives go. The mikva night is considered 'holy' for both of them. A woman who refuses to go to afflict her husband is considered evil, and will be severely punished.

Anonymous said...

To Anon January 12, 2011 4:23 PM:

Why do you assume that the mikva attendants are in the state of niddah when they function as such on the nights they do?

Anonymous said...

A good post. The context does feel a little off, though. Not arguing that Chana doesn't have enough information from her own experiences and from that of married friends to make the points she makes, but the author's tone is neither neutral nor reflective of someone who has been to mikveh probably only four times and instead comes across as very authoritative, as if from someone who knows all of this from tons of her own experience, much longer than two months thereof. Maybe try rewriting the piece keeping in mind the subject as "What I've Learned About Mikvah Attendants (and Mikvaot) So Far" and a more natural context will follow.

Anonymous said...

Great post!
I wouldn't change a thing! The post is reflective of young kallah's experiences and comes across as a good ,valuable and an informative read.

sara maimon said...

"...but the mikvah experience is meant to be a private one"

Says who???

The Sephardim in their countries of origin (and some remaining in Israel) would accompany the bride to the mikveh, or meet her at home shortly afterwards, with singing dancing and sweets.

Anonymous said...

Anon January 12, 2011 1:06 PM:

"I am not sure what a single girl is doing in a mikva anyway. Or what an elderly person is doing there."

Sometimes these types of women use the spiritually cleansing mikva waters to celebrate life after a long and debilitating disease or motor vehicle accident. They clearly do this for very personal reasons, hoping to start their life anew.

Anonymous said...

to 1:06
It is against halacha for an unmarried woman (today) to go to mikva for any reason. It makes her vulnerable.

Anonymous said...

"Why do you assume that the mikva attendants are in the state of niddah when they function as such on the nights they do"
Very simply because in their 'off nights' everyone will know she is a niddah and that is something which should be kept secret.

Anonymous said...

To anon January 13, 2011 4:36 AM"who said:
"Very simply because in their 'off nights' everyone will know she is a niddah and that is something which should be kept secret"

Your argument is weak. No one will know anything in their 'off nights'since these women may have a wedding or party to go to, may have a sick child at home, be out of town and the list goes on.

Josh said...

Does anyone know why men's mikvaot are usually kind of gross?

Michal said...

To Sara Maimon:

Yes, the first time a Sephardi bride dunks (ie., before the wedding)there may be a whole celebration in the countries you mentioned. But do you honestly think this scenario repeats itself each month once she's married? Not a chance.

JTD said...

Dear January 13, 2011 2:11 AM,

You say:

"It is against halacha for an unmarried woman (today) to go to mikva for any reason. It makes her vulnerable."

Can you provide us with sources to back up your claim?

Anonymous said...

The shach in 197:3 says its not the minhag for unmarried women to go to mikva. He does not say issur.

The Talmid said...

Shita Mikubetzes (Kesubos 7b s.v. vz"l haRashba) brings the Raavad that the birkas eirusin "v'asar lanu es ha'arusos," means it is forbidden to have sexual relations with your arusah midioraissa. Certainly a pnuyah would be forbidden dioraissa.

Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvos Lo Sasaseh 355) that it is asur midioraissa to have conjugal relations with a woman without chuppa v'kiddushin.

Also, Shu"t Rivash 425 brings Ramban that we do not let a woman go to the mikvah if she will not be muteres l'baalah by that tevilah. For example, if after her nida midioraissa is over but before her clean days due to the takanas Rabi Zeira are complete, she is forbidden to go to the mikva. (a nafka mina would be if she wanted to prepare terumah for her husband which she could not do in a state of impurity). Logic dictates that a woman who has no husband could not go to the mikva either.

JTD said...

The Talmid,

I can see why people would think logic dictates that, but I can also see people say that the fact that it's talking about muteres l'baalah means that we are to assume that this teshuva refers exclusively to married women. (Maybe it would have to do with the reasoning for that halacha, which could be that the husband would have prior associations with mikvah and that this could lead to sin.)

Anonymous said...

I would add that according to rashi and rambam it is only midrabonon.
According to shita. A rather interesting reason. She is considered a married woman but without a heter even to her own husband.

Anonymous said...

The raavad position is really 'untenable' since the gemoro says in Juda they did have relations before the chupa.

Anonymous said...

I found this post as I - a single woman - was looking to find a mikveh, experiences, advise. Unfortunately many of these comments are a perfect example of why many people, men and women alike, end up drifting away from these traditions and at times completely from jewdaism. The Judgmental angle of it all is so unfortunate. Thank you for the original blog post. It is your experience, which is valuable for others as well.