The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Monday, May 08, 2006

Mikvah People

This is a guest post from our own dear son, OOS.

During my second year learning in Israel, I began going to the mikvah on Erev Shabbos, and have continued this minhag ever since. I find that toveling is the perfect culmination of my week, and an uplifting way to enter Shabbos. More than the spiritual benefits that result from immersing, (which I must admit I don’t really understand) I use the time to reflect upon all that has happened during the previous week, and what I would like to improve on during the coming one.

The mikvah experience is a spiritual one. Yet, because of the tiny confines that usually characterizes male mikvaos, and because of overdeveloped male homophobia, it can be also be an uncomfortable one. Indeed, the mere thought of the mikvah nauseates many lesser men. Those of us who brave it in order to reap the spiritual benefits possess a certain respect for one another.

Any veteran mikvah- goer knows that much of the mikvah populace are caricatures and are replicated in virtually every mikvah in the world. The following is a brief list of these people.

1. Token Chassidish Guy (TCG): It never ceases to amaze me that I can go to the mikvah at 2:37 PM and my chances of having privacy are absolutely zero. This is because of TCG. Truthfully, you don't even need to go to the mikvah to know about TCG-- he is quite famous. Rest assured that right now the mikvah in Biloxi, Mississippi is occupied by TCG, and after he dries off he is probably going to Akron, Ohio. My theory is that in the heart of Boro Park there are Chassidim operating a satellite coveraging every mikvah in the world. When a mikvah turns blue an alarm sounds: WARNING!!! WARNING!!! UNOCCUPIED MIKVAH!!! Immediately, a dispatcher traces the location of the nearest Chassid who is promptly sent to fill the void. Does anybody have a better way of explaining this phenomenon?

2. Baal Shem Tov Guy (BSTG): Under the illusion that he is taking a dip in the icy waters of the Carpathian Mountains, BSTG can spend up to three hours in the mikvah, dipping and muttering strange incantations. One hundred dunks? Three hundred? Six hundred and thirteen? It's all good. BSTG either has a long beard with long payos and lots of tattoos, or a scraggly beard with bushy payos and lots of tattoos.

3. Mitzvah Haba Beaveira Guy #1 (MHBG #1) or "I showered at home" Guy: Yeah, sure you did. Technically, this despicable act is not really a MHB (see Minchas Chinuch, mitzvah 1), but when I start my own religion not only will the perpetrator's mitzvah be canceled out, he will also receive malkos and be forced to bathe in all of the filth he has left for the rest of us. Is there anything more inconsiderate and disgusting than not showering before immersing and leaving all your grime for everyone else to wallow in? To make matters worse, I presume that often, MHBG is also One Shower a Week Guy, or even No Shower, One Mikvah a Week Guy. Gross.

4. Mitzvah Haba Beaveira Guy #2 (MHBG #2) or "I'll pay next week" Guy: Sure you will. While not as physically revolting as MHBG #1, MHBG #2's actions are just as morally disgusting. Amazingly, MHBG #2 is almost always the one to complain that the water was .0046 degrees too cold, or that there are no towels left. He wonders why the mikvah board cannot provide these basic services, and criticizes their awful fund- raising skills.

5. Country Club Guy (CCG): Unable to afford membership fees at the local country club, CCG takes solace at the mikvah. Indeed, CCG can kill an entire morning or afternoon shmoozing in the mikvah (yes, in the actual water), sometimes talking politics or business, but usually just some good old loshon harah. The reasoning behind CCG's decision to forgo the country club and go for the mikvah is really quite logical, as a quick comparison will show. CC- sparkling, heated, indoor pool. Mikvah- dirty, occasionally heated, indoor rainwater. CC- sprawling 18- hole golf course. Mikvah- ???. CC- Naked old men in a locker room. Mikvah- Naked old men in a locker room. Makes sense to me.

6. Yomim Noraim Guy (YNG): You can smell the discomfort emanating from YNG when he goes to the mikvah before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I actually think that YNG gets all his caparah simply from the mesiras nefesh it takes to step into that highly awkward place where he sooooo doesn't want to go.

7. "Come on in, the water's fine" Guy (COITWFG): A little background is in order. During the hours immediately preceding Shabbos many mikvaos get very crowded. Since there is only one mikvah for many people, and because it is Erev Shabbos and these people are in a rush, (except BSTG and CCG) one usually needs to 'share' the mikvah. Although this is very uncomfortable it is something that all consistent mikvah goers must endure. Normal mikvaos can hold two people, or even three if it is really crowded. More than that and I refuse to go in. However, while I wait on top of the stairs leading down to the water it seems that inevitably one of the men already inside notices my hesitation and yells, "nu, there is plenty of room. What's the problem?" What's the problem???!!!! Are you nuts???? Even worse, COITWFG is often also BSTG or CCG so they are going to be in there for a while.

8. Fake Rebba Guy (FRG): Accompanied by two hulking 'shamashim' FRG nobly walks into the mikvah hoping that someone, ANYONE!! will give him a kvitle. Unfortunately for FRG nobody is fooled, because we all know that no self- respecting rebba would even think of stepping foot into a public mikvah. FRG is going to have to wait until some rich guy buys his story that if he builds a private mikvah for the 'Rebba' he will get a portion in the world to come.

9. Random Englewood/ Lawrence/ Riverdale etc. Guy (REG): Stories are told about certain Rebbas who would refuse to touch someone who had not gone to the mikvah that day. For the friends of REG the opposite is true-- they put out a restraining order against him. "You go to the what???" is the common response when they hear about his Friday afternoon activities. Assuming that REG has lost his mind, they immediately call his wife. When they hear that she knows about it, and (oh my God) approves, they then call their psychotherapists and beg him to take on this sad case.

10. CANNONBALL!!!! Kid (CK): Actually, this only happened to me once, but it was so completely bizarre that it must be mentioned. One Erev Shabbos as I was stepping out of the water I noticed a Sephardi kid who was probably ten years old run by me. Since the sight of Sephardi kids running around is not an uncommon one in the mikvah, I paid no attention to him. But, as I was putting on my clothes I heard, "CANNONBALL"---splash--- "WOOHOO!!" Curious to see what was going on I walked to the mikvah and saw the Sephardi kid doing the backstroke back and forth in the mikvah. Suddenly the mikvah man rushed by me and the two started to yell at each other in Arabic. Not wanting any part of this fight I quickly backed away. As I left the premises the mikvah man walked by me in a huff, and I continued to hear CK splashing around in the water. Never underestimate the power of a naked, psychotic kid.

I hope that I have not scared anyone away from this beautiful minhag. Although these people may seem odd, you learn to appreciate them after a while. Friday is just not Erev Shabbos without them.



  • At 10:10 AM, Blogger Just Passing Through said…

    heh heh. Great post MoC Jr. Your wry dry sarcasm that you obviously inherited from your Pops shines forth. Let's see some more. Let us know when MoChassidJr.blogger opens its doors.

  • At 11:37 AM, Blogger DovBear said…

    It's a good post, but still, you are describing an awful practice.

  • At 11:56 AM, Blogger MoChassid said…


    Are you one of the Yomim Noraim Guys?

  • At 12:11 PM, Blogger DovBear said…

    The whole idea is revolting, and the thought that it's necessary on a daily or a weekly basis isn't mainstream ashkenzaik thnking - or at least it wasn't before the hasidim started encroaching on us.

  • At 12:18 PM, Blogger MoChassid said…

    If it's revolting on a daily or weekly basis, why isn't it revolting on a semi-annual basis? Just think of what the water looks like half hour before Yom Kippur!

  • At 12:18 PM, Blogger Just Passing Through said…

    Mo, I kinda agree with Dov here. I haven't gone in a looong time. The last few times I DID go, I went to the beach. A few close calls in almost losing my bathing suit put a stop to THAT practice.

    You know what they say about mikva's: you go in bald and comeout with a head full of hair. eww.

  • At 12:26 PM, Blogger DovBear said…

    It's revolting all year round. And according to the Rama, among other people the chasidim discount, it's only neeed one time per year.

  • At 12:26 PM, Blogger DovBear said…

    Since there is only one mikvah for many people, and because it is Erev Shabbos and these people are in a rush, (except BSTG and CCG) one usually needs to 'share' the mikvah. Although this is very uncomfortable it is something that all consistent mikvah goers must endure.


  • At 2:02 PM, Blogger MoChassid said…


    Eilu v'eilu...

  • At 3:04 PM, Blogger DovBear said…

    women don't share the mikvah

  • At 3:41 PM, Blogger blueenclave said…


  • At 3:43 PM, Blogger blueenclave said…

    The mikvah is to purify yourself. Part of purifying yourself is to be as clean as you can. How hard is this?

  • At 3:44 PM, Blogger blueenclave said…

    DB? Is it revolting when your wife goes?

  • At 4:51 PM, Blogger yummy said…

    you may have inadvertently left the following people off.
    1. 350 pound offensive lineman guy
    2. Unexplained rash guy
    3. Heavy breathing almost drowning guy, who spends way too long under the water and then comes up gasping for air.
    4. really fancy shampoo guy, who brings his own exotic shampoo

  • At 5:23 PM, Blogger OOS said…


    I think you have completely missed the point. My intention in writing this post was not to encourage Jews to go to the mikvah- I don't particularly care whether you go or not. The post is something that has been on my mind for a long time, and I just finished a semester so I had time to write. Nevertheless, you seem pretty worked up about this subject so let me adress it.

    I do not think that anyone outside the Chassish world believes that the practice is mainstream. However, like many other Chassidishe practices and beliefs, non- chassidim found them attractive and spiritually beneficial and adopted them. The fact that the water may be dirty does not bother them so it should not bother you.
    You are absolutely correct that women do not share the mikvah. That is because it is far more important for women to go than it is for men. Consequently, much of what goes on in men's mikvaot that deter people such as yourself, is avoided in women's mikvaot so that eveyone will come.

    Moreover, you seem sort of narrow minded for a liberal ("disgusting" maybe, but an "awful practice"? lighten up man).

    You are right about #1 & 2- but I try not to make fun of them. As for the guy who stays underwater for a really long time-- he is usually BSTG. And CCG and fancy shampoo guy are also usually the same people.

  • At 7:34 PM, Blogger and so it shall be... said…

    "I hope that I have not scared anyone away from this beautiful minhag."

    Too late. brrrr.

  • At 11:42 PM, Blogger Izbitza said…

    Don't forget the Rambam in mikvaos
    (יב) דבר ברור וגלוי שהטומאות והטהרות גזירות הכתוב הן ואינן מדברים שדעתו של אדם מכרעתו והרי הן מכלל החוקים וכן הטבילה מן הטומאות מכלל החוקים הוא שאין הטומאה טיט או צואה שתעבור במים אלא גזירת הכתוב היא והדבר תלוי בכוונת הלב ולפיכך אמרו חכמים טבל ולא הוחזק כאילו לא טבל ואעפ"כ רמז יש בדבר כשם שהמכוין לבו לטהר כיון שטבל טהור ואע"פ שלא נתחדש בגופו דבר כך המכוין לבו לטהר נפשו מטומאות הנפשות שהן מחשבות האון ודעות הרעות כיון שהסכים בלבו לפרוש מאותן העצות והביא נפשו במי הדעת טהור הרי הוא אומר וזרקתי עליכם מים טהורים וטהרתם מכל טומאותיכם ומכל גלוליכם אטהר אתכם השם ברחמיו הרבים מכל חטא עון ואשמה יטהרנו אמן סליקו להו הלכות מקואות בס"ד נגמר ספר עשירי והוא ספר טהרה הלכותיו שמונה ופרקיו מאה וארבעים וארבעה א:

  • At 6:45 PM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said…

    I went to the miqve before Shabbos when i worked in a sleepaway camp in Upstate New York one summer. Of course, the miqve was a lake, which enhanced the spiritual atmosphere. But made it really uncomfortable to think about wilderness creatures swimming around my unclothed body... ick. I really don't understand it when people go to the miqve together, either... it grates on my sense of tzni‘us.

  • At 9:30 AM, Blogger Just Passing Through said…

    Jr, in some areas, the mikva serves more as the local hang-out than anything else- a place to shmooze. Just as you mention with the CCG.

    What is it with men that we must walk around naked to feel that sense of comradery? I remember, back in my yeshiva days, when I went with some buddies to the Ari's mikva in Tzefat. We're all obviously uncomfortable but bravely doing this rite of passage when we notice the elderly 'maintenence' guy squeeging the floor....buck naked. Is there a rule somewhere for this? If a plumber comes in to fix the pipes in the mikva, must he work in his birthday suit? That would give a whole new meaning to 'plumber's crack'.

  • At 1:27 PM, Blogger and so it shall be... said…

    "when we notice the elderly 'maintenence' guy squeeging the floor....buck naked. "

    Gee, thanks for that visual....brrr again.

  • At 9:22 PM, Blogger OOS said…


    Good questions

    I think a bigger question might be how the Ari's mikvah became a right of passage for Yeshiva guys?

  • At 2:59 PM, Blogger Ba'alat Teshuva said…

    I literally laughed outloud at this post. I take it in male mikvaot there is not the male equivalent of the mikvah lady?

  • At 10:50 PM, Blogger DovBear said…

    do not think that anyone outside the Chassish world believes that the practice is mainstream. However, like many other Chassidishe practices and beliefs, non- chassidim found them attractive and spiritually beneficial and adopted them. The fact that the water may be dirty does not bother them so it should not bother you.

    Yes, and if you know the history of hasidut, you understand why this is a problem .

    Moreover, you seem sort of narrow minded for a liberal ("disgusting" maybe, but an "awful practice"? lighten up man).

    I don't think you know what a liberal is, but don't feel bad: Many make the same mistake. [A clue: Liberal is not a synonym for "open minded.:]

  • At 3:22 AM, Blogger Ba'alat Teshuva said…

    Liberal doesn't mean open-minded? That's news to me.


    lib·er·al (lĭb'ər-əl, lĭb'rəl)

    a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
    b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
    c. Of, relating to, or characteristic of liberalism.
    d. Liberal Of, designating, or characteristic of a political party founded on or associated with principles of social and political liberalism, especially in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.
    a. Tending to give freely; generous: a liberal benefactor.
    b. Generous in amount; ample: a liberal serving of potatoes.
    3. Not strict or literal; loose or approximate: a liberal translation.
    4. Of, relating to, or based on the traditional arts and sciences of a college or university curriculum: a liberal education.
    a. Archaic. Permissible or appropriate for a person of free birth; befitting a lady or gentleman.
    b. Obsolete. Morally unrestrained; licentious.

  • At 11:59 AM, Blogger DovBear said…

    Ba'alat Teshuva,

    Mo's kid was using the word, not in the sense of every single definition provided by the dictionary, but in the political sense. You can be a Liberal, politically, without being especially open-minded. When I wrote "A clue: Liberal is not a synonym for "open minded" I should have made it clear, that I, also was speaking only about the political animal.

  • At 2:26 PM, Blogger OOS said…

    I just got back from a great mikvah

    DB, you are ivited any time.

    (by the way, I am not a kid I'm a maaaaaaaaaan)

    I would also like to take this oppurtunity to follow in the footsteps of my esteemed father and retire from blogging. I have had a long and rewarding career, but I do not think I have the stomach for all of this cyber- machlokes.

    Goodby everyone.

  • At 4:44 PM, Blogger Noam S said…

    The first time I went to the mikva was before Rosh Hashana a bunch f years ago, and there were a bunch of guys there. I was coming out of the shower and the village mohel(a friend of mine) was in front of me and he says "it takes a lot of courage to go to the mikva when the mohel is there."

    (I didn't get it either until it was explained to me, but apparently(apocryphally?) there are mohelim who hang out at mikvaot and try to find extra business by pointing out those whose bris has been, well, um,,, incomplete.)

  • At 8:38 PM, Blogger Rebecca said…

    it's funny. My husband goes to the mikveh every fri and he comes home annoyed with stories such as these. Unforutnately though, the canonball kid is something he sees often. only, in our mikveh the kids are chasing eachother and giving one another rat tails.

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