Bathing is referred to in the Bible not only for physical cleanliness but also for ritual purposes. Jacob charged his family to wash themselves before they built the altar at Beth-El (Gen. 35:3). Before the revelation at Sinai, the entire Jewish nation was bidden to sanctify themselves by washing their bodies and their garments (Ex. 19:10). Ritual immersion was associated with levitical purity and was stressed in the Book of Leviticus (see *Mikveh). When Jeremiah described the sinfulness of Israel, he exclaimed, "For though thou wash thee with niter, and take thee much soap" (Jer. 2:22), it still would not remove the sins of the nation.
The Talmud declared it forbidden for a scholar to reside in a city which did not contain a public bath (Sanh. 17b). Rome was said to contain 3,000 public baths (Meg. 68) and despite the animosity to the Romans they were praised by the rabbis for constructing baths in Palestine (Shab. 33b). It is related that Rabban Gamaliel utilized the Bath of Aphrodite in Acre although the image of the idol adorned the bath (Av. Zar. 3:4). Originally the baths were communal institutions (Ned. 5:5). Afterward, smaller baths were also built by private individuals (BB 1:6; 10:7) and competition between them to attract customers was permitted (BB 21b). The bath attendants received checks or tokens from intending patrons so they would know in advance how many to expect and what preparations to make (BM 47b and Rashi ad loc.). The larger baths contained separate areas for bathing in lukewarm water, hot water, and steam baths (Shab. 40a). On entering the bathhouse, the rabbis ordained the following prayer: "May it be Thy will, O Lord, my God, to deliver me from the flames of the fire and the heat of the water, and to protect me from a cave-in." Upon leaving, the individual recited, "I thank Thee, O Lord, my God, for having delivered me from the fire" (TJ, Ber. 9:6, 14b; cf. Ber. 60a). Hillel the Elder told his disciples that he considered bathing in the communal bathhouse a religious duty for just as the custodians scour and wash the statues of the kings, likewise must man, created in God's image and likeness, do to his body (Lev. R. 34:3).
Middle Ages and Modern Times
The public bath and adjoining mikveh were maintained by Jewish communities throughout the Middle Ages as part of the institutions of Jewish social life and welfare. Hygienic habits and the ritual requirements of the Jewish religion made the Jews regard bathing as part of their living routine during a period when bathing was generally considered a form of rare luxury in Europe. By the end of the 11th century, some Jewish communities erected imposing buildings to house their baths and regularly attended to their servicing and upkeep. The refusal of Christians to allow Jews to share the municipal baths and the fear that Jewish women might be molested there increased the need for separate institutions. The fact also, that, with the exception of Poland, Jews were prohibited from bathing in the same river as Christians finally led them to build their own bathhouses, which often became landmarks, such as the Badehaus of the Jews of Augsburg, or "Bakewell Hall" in London, which was probably originally "Bathwell Hall." In Moslem Spain, Ramon Berenger IV allowed his court physician, Abraham, to build the only public bathhouse in Barcelona, which his family ran from 1160 to 1199. In the Middle East, and in modern times, particularly in Eastern Europe, Jews became addicted to the "Turkish bath" which has found its way into Jewish folklore. Several ancient baths have been discovered in Ereẓ Israel such as the swimming pool and hot baths that Herod built at *Herodium, which had waiting rooms, dressing rooms, hot rooms, and cool rooms with all the comforts of the baths at Rome. Among the best-preserved and beautifully finished baths that have been uncovered in Ereẓ Israel are those on Masada, where no less than four baths and one swimming pool were built by Herod. In the northern palace there is a small, private bathhouse finished in Roman style, and south of the palace there is a large swimming pool with cubicles for keeping clothes; Herod built a small bath-house in the west palace as well, which was unusually heated by an oven in an adjoining room and fitted with a niche for an oil lamp. More important, however, are the remains of the large bathhouse near the north palace where more than 200 stands, the remnants of the piping system for the hot air, were discovered, as well as elaborate facilities for steam baths, cold baths, etc., adorned with frescoes and mosaics. At a later period the Zealots built a large bathhouse in the southern corner of Masada, consisting of a small mikveh and two connecting larger ones, which conform to halakhah. Near Tiberias are the remains of the hot, mineral baths of *Hamath of the Roman period.
Y. Brand, Kelei ha-Ḥeres ba-Sifrut ha-Talmudit (1953), 27–35; G. Krauss, Talmudische Archaeologie (1910); U.E. Paoli, Das Leben im alten Rom (1948); J. Carcopino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome (1940); Th. Birt, Zur Kulturgeschichte Roms (1917); Baron, Social 2, 4 (1956), 37; I. Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (1932), 89, 426.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.