Answers to questions about mikveh and the ancient Jewish ritual of immersion in living waters -- mayyim hayyim.
Why was Mayyim Hayyim built?
Mayyim Hayyim is the brainchild of a group of Boston-area Jews, including acclaimed author Anita Diamant, who articulated the need for a mikveh that would serve Jews-by-choice, and others in the liberal community, in a more welcoming and dignified manner. Interest in mikveh as a way to mark transitional moments - from weaning to healing after cancer, from high school graduation to ordination - was "in the air." Boston, the city that saw the creation of the first Jewish federation and first Jewish teachers college, threw its support behind this experiment in Jewish life.
What is the history of Mayyim Hayyim?
In 2001, Mayyim Hayyim was incorporated as a nonprofit organization, hired Aliza Kline as the organization's executive director and began to develop plans for building, fund raising, and teaching about the uses of mikveh. Mayyim Hayyim’s site at 1838 Washington Street in Newton, MA, was purchased in 2002. Located in a Victorian home built in the 1870s, the building was renovated and an addition built to house the mikveh pools and preparation rooms. Mayyim Hayyim opened its doors on May 14, 2004.
What does “Mayyim Hayyim” mean?
The name means “living waters” in Hebrew. It expresses a commitment to change, dynamism, and creativity.
Why do people use the mikveh at Mayyim Hayyim?
Mayyim Hayyim has been created to meet a broad range of needs. In addition to traditional purposes, new uses include celebrations for milestone events such as a graduation, the end of a period of study, or an important birthday or anniversary. Immersion in the mikveh can also signify a new start in the aftermath of pain and trauma. Immersion provides an opportunity to mark the end of formal grieving or the beginning of healing from events such as suffering a miscarriage, undergoing chemotherapy, completing a year of bereavement, and recovering from divorce, rape or abuse. The goal is for visitors to the mikveh to emerge refreshed and renewed, ready for life’s next gifts.
What makes a mikveh “kosher” and how does Mayyim Hayyim meet those standards?
Mayyim Hayyim is a “kosher” or “proper” mikveh, built and maintained under rabbinic supervision. Each of our two mikva'ot actually consists of two permanent pools, watertight pits built into the ground. The first, smaller pool is located outside and called the "bor haotzar" (collection pool); it is filled with at least 40 “se’ah” or 200 gallons of “living water” (water not drawn by human hands). At Mayyim Hayyim, rain water fulfills this purpose; our "borot" (pl) each contain at least 500 gallons of rain/living water. The small pools are connected to the larger indoor immersion pool that shares a wall with the "bor" - following the "hashakah" or "connection" design for a kosher mikveh. The immersion pool is filled with heated and treated tap water. The introduction of a small amount of “living water” from the outside "bor" is what makes the indoor pool a kosher mikveh.
Do I need to be Jewish to come to Mayyim Hayyim?
Mayyim Hayyim welcomes everyone to participate in its educational programs, view the art gallery, and tour the mikveh area. Likewise, all people of any religious background are invited to accompany a friend or family member for an immersion. Ritual immersions, however, are limited to those who are Jewish or who are immersing to convert to Judaism.
Mayyim Hayyim’s two mikva'ot are beautifully tiled with natural stone. They look like deep hot tubs, with the mandated seven steps leading into the water. A handrail is provided for safety, and one of the mikva'ot also offers an aquatic lift for handicap accessibility. Natural light pours through dormer windows, providing a glimpse of the outside while carefully preserving modesty. After sundown, lights can be lowered to enhance a sense of peace and rest.
Is the mikveh clean?
Mayyim Hayyim’s pools are scrupulously clean. Mayyim Hayyim has a filter/disinfectant system in the basement, through which the water to the two mikvaot flows. There is a supply pipe and return pipe—much like a supply and return duct for air. The water is treated with Bromine, a safe and effective disinfectant. PH levels are checked daily.
What is the water temperature?
The water is a comfortable 95 degrees.
How big is the mikveh?
The immersion pool holds 1200 gallons and is large enough for a 6 foot-tall person to fully immerse with hands outstretched (six feet wide). The pools have a shallow end and a deeper end for safe, comfortable immersion. When standing in the pool, the water level is approximately at chest height for an average size adult. The deck is large enough for others to be present; if for example, a baby is being immersed for conversion--held in the water by parents--family and friends can witness the ceremony.
Is it ever unsafe to immerse in a mikveh?
Immersion should not take place if one has any open cuts, sores or communicable diseases (e.g. bronchitis). Any specific questions can be addressed to your physician, your rabbi, the Mikveh Guide or the Mikveh Center Coordinator (617-244-1836 x 205).
Can I go in when I am menstruating?
Mayyim Hayyim recommends postponing immersion until the completion of the menstrual cycle. However, according to Halachah (Jewish Law), a mikveh is "lo mekabel tumah"–-that is, it does not become "ritually impure." Therefore, a menstruating woman does not render the mikveh ritually impure for other users.
What does immersion actually involve?
The formal ritual is simple and brief. Once in the water, the person ducks under to submerge for a moment or two, then recites a short blessing (Mayyim Hayyim provides traditional and creative texts). The person then immerses one or two more times, according to his/her custom, recites a blessing, and leaves the water.
I am in a wheelchair - how can I immerse in the mikveh? Mayyim Hayyim is fully accessible; we offer safety rails in prep rooms and mikva’ot, an aquatic lift for those that need assistance getting in and out of the water, and a shower seat in a fully accessible prep room. Our building is wheelchair accessible and service animals are welcome. For more information about our lift, visit our Accessibility page.
What are the rules for entering the mikveh?
You must be clean before entering the mikveh. Mayyim Hayyim provides a private room where you can undress, remove all jewelry, wash, shampoo, brush your teeth, and remove all obstacles (physical and symbolic) between your body and the water.
What if I have a body piercing that is not easily removed?
In general, the goal is to remove anything that separates you from the water. However, according to Jewish law, if you are unable to remove a particular piece of jewelry, you are permitted to immerse with it, after rotating it around under the water. Likewise, acrylic nails that have been on for more than 30 days are considered a part of your body and do not have to be removed for immersion.
Will anyone be with me during the immersion?
Traditionally, a Mikveh Guide acts as a witness to make certain that one’s entire body (including all hair) is immersed under water. Mikveh Guides hold a sheet above their eyes, only lowering it down at the moment of immersion. Mayyim Hayyim also trains Mikveh Guides to help facilitate the ritual, providing guidance and support when appropriate. However, you may choose to immerse in private or with a friend or family member acting as your witness. If you are immersing for conversion, please discuss this first with your sponsoring clergy, who may require a volunteer Mikveh Guide.
Can I go in with another person?
Traditionally, mikveh is an individual, personal ritual. In fact one of Mayyim Hayyim’s guiding principles is "tzniyut", which means modesty. At Mayyim Hayyim, you enter the mikveh area directly from the changing room. Two people may serve as witnesses to each other's immersions, though we encourage people to immerse in the water individually. For the conversion of a child, two parents may enter the water together, depending on the preferences of the sponsoring rabbi. Parents wear bathing suits and only the child is naked. While Mayyim Hayyim was designed for individual use, there are other mikva'ot which are large enough for 10 or more to immerse simultaneously.