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Q&A: Mikveh for Men

May 18, 2017

Question: Is it true that a shower can replace immersing in a mikveh?

Answer: Absolutely not. Whenever the Torah requires a ritual immersion, it must be done in a kosher mikveh or ma’yan. The position of the Sadducees and the Karaites was and is that ritual ablutions do not require a ritual bath, and because of this, the halacha and minhag demand that one’s actions indicate that it is the immersion which cleanses. Thus for example, it is forbidden to shower immediately after immersion, lest others come to understand that it is the shower that removes the contamination. For more elaboration on this see, e.g., Aroch Hashulhan 201:18.

Question: And what about the Gemara in Berachot 22?

Answer: The sages there discuss the attempted rabbinic enactment requiring immersion for anyone who experienced a seminal emission before reciting the Sh’ma, the prayers, and blessings, and before Torah study. In practice, the enactment is not observed, but the idea brought in the Gemara is that having nine kabbim of water poured over one’s head is sufficient for the requirement they created. Here is how Maimonides ruled at the end of the Laws of Reading the Sh’ma:

All those ritually impure are obligated to read the Sh’ma and recite the blessings before and after it in their impure state. This applies even when it is possible for them to purify themselves that day – e.g., one who has touched [the carcass of] a crawling animal, a menstrual woman, a zava, or the couch on which these people have laid, and the like.

Ezra and his colleagues decreed that a man who had a seminal emission was forbidden to read the words of the Torah. Thus, they separated him from the other ritually impure until he immersed himself in a mikveh. This ordinance was not universally accepted among the Jewish people. Most were unable to observe it and it was therefore negated.

The Jewish people accepted the custom of reading the Torah and reciting the Sh’ma even after a seminal emission, because the words of Torah cannot contract ritual impurity. Rather, they stand in their state of purity forever, as [Jeremiah 23:29] states: “Are not my words like fire, declares the Lord.” Just as fire is incapable of becoming ritually impure, so, too, the words of Torah are never defiled.

Question: Why do some go to the mikveh every day?

Answer: Those who are truly pious do it in order to maintain their ritual purity just in case. Also, they have esoteric and mystical reasons for their behaviors, which is entirely a matter between them and God. For the masses though, it is apparently against the spirit of the sages’ enactment you pointed to, above. The sages mandated those immersions in order to discourage people from engaging in more than necessary sexual activity. By requiring immersion just to fulfill one’s obligations to pray and the like many times a day, laymen would learn to avoid “being around their wives like roosters.” The problem with our state-of-the-art, easily accessible mikvaoth is that immersion becomes to easy, and thus not a disincentive to avoid becoming unclean. The point of the immersion is to guard oneself from having to go back to re-immerse, but now the imposition has been removed.

Question: So should I go to mikveh every day?

Answer: If you truly want to follow the rules of ritual purity to a high standard, like the haverim mentioned in the Talmud, you should know when and why it is appropriate to immerse and learn more about how to maintain that purity by monitoring your actions and interactions with others. If you are not yet ready for an especially pious lifestyle, going to mikveh every morning without subsequently staying on guard can become pointless.

Question: Why is there a minhag to go to mikveh before Shabbos?

Answer: Kabbalisitic reasons. Maimonides would find this practice strange for those who are true students of the sages, because they specifically perform their husbandly duties on the night of the Sabbath, so what is the point of their weekly ritual purification preceding their weekly contamination  by a few hours? On the contrary, someone who wishes to follow his practice will immerse in the mikveh every Sabbath morning, thus being in a state of purity for the rest of the week.

Question: What about going to mikveh before chagim?

Answer: That has much behind it. When the Temple is standing and the service is conducted, all men have an obligation to appear in the Temple and eat of the sacrifices on the holidays, and even though the halacha is that if the majority of the nation are contaminated with tumath meth, death impurity that can only be removed by water combined with the ashes of the red cow, the rules are waived, but all must at least remove the tumath haguf, the bodily impurity caused by seminal emissions and the like, in order to participate in the services. Thus, immersion before the holidays is considered a necessary and meritorious preparation for the holiday. As you may recall, I have always personally recommended that everyone attend the mikveh the morning before Passover just in case we merit to bring the Paschal offering.


From → halacha

  1. Thanks for the interesting Q&A post.

    You may find my miqwah/mikveh review and guide for men helpful.

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