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MIKVEH (Heb. מִקְוֶה; pl. mikva'ot; Hebrew for a "collection" or "gathering" [of water]), a pool or bath of clear water, immersion in which renders ritually clean a person who has become ritually unclean through contact with the dead (Num. 19) or any other defiling object, or through an unclean flux from the body (Lev. 15) and especially a menstruant or postpartum woman (see *Ablution; *Niddah; *Purity and Impurity, *Ritual; *Taharat ha-Mishpaḥah). It is similarly used for vessels (Num. 31:22–23). Today the chief use of the mikveh is for women, prior to marriage, following niddut, and following the birth of a child, since the laws of ritual impurity no longer apply after the destruction of the Temple. Mikveh immersion is also obligatory for proselytes, as part of the ceremony of conversion. In addition immersion in the mikveh is still practiced by various groups as an aid to spirituality, particularly on the eve of the Sabbath and festivals, especially the Day of Atonement (see *Ablution) and the custom still obtains, in accordance with Numbers 31: 22–23 to immerse new vessels and utensils purchased from non-Jews. At the beginning of the 21st century, mikveh immersion also frequently constituted a symbolic expression of a new spiritual beginning for both women and men, in all branches of Jewish practice. In addition to conversion to Judaism, rituals have developed incorporating mikveh immersion as part of bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah (coming of age); prior to marriage for men as well as women; in cases of miscarriage, infertility, and illness; and following divorce, sexual assault, or other life-altering events. An indication of the probable long-term impact of this trend is the increased construction of mikva'ot by non-Orthodox Jewish communities in North America.

It is emphasized that the purpose of immersion is not physical, but spiritual, cleanliness. Maimonides concludes his codification of the laws of the mikveh with the following statement: It is plain that the laws about immersion as a means of freeing oneself from uncleanness are decrees laid down by Scripture and not matters about which human understanding is capable of forming a judgment; for behold, they are included among the divine statutes. Now 'uncleanness' is not mud or filth which water can remove, but is a matter of scriptural decree and dependent on the intention of the heart. Therefore the Sages have said, 'If a man immerses himself, but without special intention, it is as though he has not immersed himself at all.'

Nevertheless we may find some indication [for the moral basis] of this: Just as one who sets his heart on becoming clean becomes clean as soon as he has immersed himself, although nothing new has befallen his body, so, too, one who sets his heart on cleansing himself from the uncleannesses that beset men's souls – namely, wrongful thoughts and false convictions – becomes clean as soon as he consents in his heart to shun those counsels and brings his soul into the waters of pure reason. Behold, Scriptures say, 'And I will sprinkle clean water upon you and ye shall be clean; from all your uncleannesses and from all your idols will I cleanse you [Ezek. 36: 25]' (Yad, Mikva'ot 11:12).

Although Maimonides in this passage states that lack of intention invalidates the act under all circumstances, a view which is found in the Tosefta (Ḥag. 3:2), the halakhah, as in fact codified by him (Yad, ibid. 1:8), is that the need for intention applies only for the purpose of eating holy things, such as *ma'aser and terumah. For a menstruant, and before eating ordinary food, though intention is desirable in the first instance, its lack does not invalidate the immersion. The importance of intention in the laws of ritual impurity is further illustrated by the fact that the rabbis permitted fig cakes which had been hidden in water – an action that would normally make the food susceptible to uncleanness – because they had been put there in order to hide them and not in order to wet them (Makhsh. 1:6). This stress on intention passed from Judaism into Islam. "Purity is the half of faith" is a saying attributed to Muhammad himself and in general the laws of uncleanness in Islam bear a striking resemblance to those of Judaism (Encyclopedia of Islam, S.V. Tahara).

According to biblical law any collection of water, drawn or otherwise, is suitable for a mikveh as long as it contains enough for a person to immerse himself (Yad, ibid. 4:1). The rabbis, however, enacted that only water which has not been drawn, i.e., has not been in a vessel or receptacle, may be used; and they further established that the minimum quantity for immersion is that which is contained in a square cubit to the height of three cubits. A mikveh containing less than this amount (which they estimated to be a volume of 40 se'ah, being between 250–1,000 liters according to various calculations) becomes invalid should three log of drawn water fall into it or be added. However, if the mikveh contains more than this amount it can never become invalid no matter how much drawn water is added. These laws are the basis for the various ways of constructing the mikveh (see below). To them a whole talmudic tractate, *Mikva'ot, is devoted, and Maimonides assigns them a whole treatise of the same name. The laws can be conveniently divided into two parts, the construction of the mikveh itself, and the water which renders it valid or invalid.

The mikveh is valid, however built, providing that it has not been prefabricated and brought and installed on the site, since in that case it constitutes a "vessel" which renders the water in it "drawn water" ("mayim she'uvim"; Mik. 4:1). It may be hewn out of the rock or built in or put on the ground, and any material is suitable. It must be watertight, since leakage invalidates it. It must contain a minimum of 40 se'ah of valid water, and, although it was originally laid down that its height must be 47 in. (120 cm.) to enable a person standing in it to be completely immersed (Sifra 6:3), even though he has to bend his knees (Sifra 6:3) it was later laid down that providing there is the necessary minimum quantity of water, immersion is valid while lying down.

The Water

All natural spring water, providing it is clean and has not been discolored by any admixtures is valid for a mikveh. With regard to rainwater, which is ideal for a mikveh, and melted snow and ice (even if manufactured from "drawn" water) which are also valid, care must be taken to ensure that the water flows freely and is not rendered invalid by the flow into it being stopped, thus turning it into "drawn water." In addition the water must not reach the mikveh through vessels made of metal or other materials which are susceptible to ritual uncleanness. This is avoided by attaching the pipes and other accessories to the ground, by virtue of which they cease to have the status of "vessels." Similarly the mikveh is emptied from above by hand, by vacuum, or by electric or automatic pumps. The emptying through a hole in the bottom is forbidden since the plug may be regarded as a "vessel" as well as giving rise to the possibility of a leakage.

There is, however, one regulation with regard to the mikveh which considerably eases the problems of assuring a supply of valid water. Once it possesses the minimum quantity of 40 se'ah of valid water even though "someone draws water in a jug and throws it into the mikveh all day long, all the water is valid." In addition "if there is an upper mikveh containing 40 se'ah of valid water, and someone puts drawn water in the upper mikveh, thus increasing its volume, and 40 se'ah of it flows into the lower pool, that lower pool is a valid mikveh" (Yad, Mikva'ot 4:6). It is thus possible to exploit limitless quantities of valid water.

Various Forms of Mikveh

The above regulations determine the various kinds of mikveh which are in use. In rare cases where there is a plentiful supply of valid water, spring or rain- (or sea-) water which can constantly replenish the mikveh, the only desiderata which have to be complied with are to ensure that the water does not become invalidated by the construction of the mikveh, rendering it a "vessel" or by going through metal pipes which are not sunk in the ground, as detailed above.

Since, however, mikva'ot are usually constructed in urban and other settlements where such supplies are not freely available, the technological and halakhic solution of the valid mikveh depends essentially upon constructing a mikveh with valid water and replenishing it with invalid water, taking advantage of the fact that the addition of this water to an originally valid one does not invalidate it.

The following are among the systems used:

1. The basic mikveh consists of the minimum valid amount of 40 se'ah of rainwater. To this rainwater, ordinary water may subsequently be added through a trough which is absorbent, dug in the ground, or one made of lean concrete at least three handbreadths (c. 30 cm.) long, and one wide. Through this device the added water is regarded as coming from the ground and not through a "vessel." The resultant mixture of both types of water passes into the mikveh through a hole in the dividing wall. Since the added water is regarded as "seeding" the original valid water, it is called the oẓar zeri'ah ("store for seeding").

2. In a second system the added drawn water is not previously mixed with the rainwater, as in the previous case, but flows directly onto the basic rainwater mikveh through an aperture in the wall of the mikveh, the diameter of which must be "the size of the spout of a water bottle" (c. 2 in.; 5–6 cm., Mik. 6:7). This method is called oẓar hasnakah ("the store produced by contact"). Both the above methods, though they answer the halakhic needs, have their disadvantages in operation and in maintenance, particularly through the exhaustion of the rain-water and the stagnation of the standing water. The other systems are aimed at overcoming these drawbacks.

3. The "dut" is a cistern or tank built into the ground to store rainwater. When changing the water in the mikveh, it is filled each time with at least 21 se'ah of rainwater from the cistern and water is then added from the "store for seeding" by conduction. The water in the mikveh is brought into contact with the "contact store" by the method mentioned above. Though indeed this method overcomes the many shortcomings and halakhic problems, it nevertheless requires an extensive area for the cistern, and large areas of roof and pipes for filling with considerable amounts of rainwater in the winter.

4. Both a "store for seeding" and a "contact store" are built on each side of the mikveh. Each store has an aperture connecting its water with that of the mikveh.

5. A single "store" consisting of both "seeding" and "contacting."

6. A "store" upon a "store." A "contact store" is built on two stories joined by an aperture with the diameter of "the spout of a bottle." The water of the mikveh is validated by means of the hole in the party wall between the mikveh and the upper "store."

7. A "contact store" under the floor of the mikveh, connected by means of a hole the size of "the spout of a water bottle."

The mikva'ot of Jerusalem as well as the oldest mikva'ot in other towns of Ereẓ Israel are built in general by the method of the "contact store" as well as by the "store of seeding." In the new settlements and elsewhere the mikva'ot are built in the main only by the method of the "store of seeding" (a system approved by Rabbi A.I. Karelitz, the "Ḥazon Ish"). Latterly mikva'ot have been built by the method of two "stores."

In recent years vast improvements have been made in the hygienic and other aspects of the mikveh. An early enactment, attributed to Ezra, that a woman must wash her hair before immersing herself (BK 82a) may be provided for by the now universal custom of having baths as an adjunct to mikva'ot, the use of which is an essential preliminary to entering the mikveh, and especially in the United States they are provided with hairdressing salons and even beauty parlors.

The regulations for constructing the mikveh are complicated and its construction requires a considerable knowledge of technology combined with strict adherence to the halakhah, and it should be built only after consultation with, and under the supervision of, accepted rabbinic authorities. Nevertheless in order to increase the use of this essential requirement of traditional Judaism, a book has been published which consists almost entirely of instructions for making a valid "Do it yourself " mikveh (see D. Miller in bibl.).


GENERAL: N. Telushkin, Tohorat Mayim (1964); D. Muenzberg, Mivneh Mikva'ot ve-Hekhsheram (1963); Krauss, Tal Arch, 1 (1910), 209ff.; ET, 11 (1965), 189–222; E. Roth (ed.), Die alte Synagoge zu Worms (1961), 46–51, 65, illus. nos. 25–27; R. Krautheimer, Mittelalterliche Synagogen (1927); D. Kotlar, in: Miscellanea di Studi in memoria di Dario Disegni (1969); C.M. Bassols, in: Sefarad, 28 (1968); J. Millás-Vallicrosa, ibid., 25 (1965). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: G. Heuberger (ed.), Mikwe: Geschichte und Architektur juedischer Ritualbaeder in Deutschland (1992); R. Slonim (ed.), Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology (1996); R. Wasserfall (ed.), Women and Water: Menstruation in Jewish Life and Law (1999). HISTORY: R. Reich, "Miqwa'ot (Jewish Ritual Baths) in the Second Temple Period and the Period of Mishnah and Talmud" (unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1991 (Heb.)); D. Amit, "Ritual Pools from the Second Temple Period in the Hebron Hills" (unpublished M.A. Thesis, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1996 (Heb.)). See also R. Reich, "Domestic Installations in Jerusalem of the Second Temple (= Early Roman) Period," in: G. Garbrecht (ed.), Vortraege der Tagung Historische Wassernutzungsanlagen im oestlichen Mittelmeerraum, Jerusalem, 21/22 (Maerz 1983), 1984, 1–9 (note alternate page numbers in the same volume); R. Reich, "A Miqweh at 'Isawiya near Jerusalem," in: IEJ, 34, 1984, 220–23; idem, "The Hot Bath-House (balneum), the Miqweh and the Jewish Community in the Second Temple Period," in: Journal of Jewish Studies, 39, 1988, 102–7; idem, "Ritual Baths," in: E.M. Meyers (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, vol. 4 (1997), 430–1; D. Amit, "Jerusalem-Style Ritual Baths from the Time of the Second Temple in the Mt. Hevron," in: Y. Friedman, Z. Safrai, and J. Schwartz (eds.), Hikrei Eretz: Studies in the History of the Land of Israel Dedicated to Prof. Yehuda Feliks (Heb., 1997), 35–48; A. Grossberg, "Ritual Baths in Second Temple Period Jerusalem and How They Were Ritually Prepared," in: Cathedra, 83 (1997), 151–68 (Heb.); idem, "How Were the Mikva'ot of Masada Made Ritually Fit?," in: Cathedra, 85 (1997), 33–44 (Heb.); E. Regev, "More on Ritual Baths of Jewish Groups and Sects: On Research Methods and Archaeological Evidence – A Reply to A. Grossberg," in: Cathedra, 83 (1987), 169–76 (Heb.); D. Amit, "A Miqveh Complex near Alon Shevut," in: Atiqot, 38 (1999), 75–84; R. Reich, "Miqwa'ot at Qumran and the Jerusalem Connection," in: L.H. Schiffman, E. Tov, and J.C. Vander Kam (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls: Fifty Years After Their Discovery (2000), 728–33; A. Grossberg, "Ritual Pools for the Immersion of Hands at Masada," Cathedra, 95 (2000), 165–71 (Heb.); idem, "A Mikveh in the Bathhouse," Cathedra, 99 (2001), 171–84 (Heb.); R. Reich, "They Are Ritual Pool," in: BAR, 28:2 (2002), 50–55; K. Galor, "Qumran's Plastered Pools: A New Perspective," in: J.-B. Humbert and J. Gunneweg (eds.), Science and Archaeology at Khirbet Qumran and 'Ain Feshkha. Studies in Archaeometry and Anthropology, vol. 2 (2003); S. Gibson, "The Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem and Jewish Purification Practices of the Second Temple Period," in: Proche-Orient Chrétien (2006); A.M. Berlin, "Jewish Life Before the Revolt: The Archaeological Evidence," in: Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Periods, 36 (2005), 452, note 92; L.H. Schiffman, "Proselytism in the Writings of Josephus: Izates of Adiabene in Light of the Halakhah," in: U. Rappaport (ed.), Josephus Flavius: Historian of Eretz-Israel in the Hellenistic-Roman Period (Heb., 1982); M. Samet, "Conversion in the First Centuries C.E.," in: I. Gafni, A. Oppenheimer, and M. Stern (eds.), Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple, Mishna and Talmud Periods (Heb., 1993); E. Regev, "Non-Priestly Purity and Its Religious Aspects According to Historical Sources and Archaeological Findings," in: M.J.H.M. Poorthuis and J. Schwartz (eds.), Purity and Holiness: The Heritage of Leviticus (2000); R. Reich, "Mishnah, Sheqalim 8:2 and the Archaeological Evidence., in: A. Oppenheimer, U. Rappaport, and M. Stern (eds.), Jerusalem in the Second Temple. Avraham Schalit Memorial Volume (1980), 225–56, J. Magness, The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls (2002); C. Milikowsky, "Reflections on Hand-Washing, Hand-Purity and Holy Scripture in Rabbinic Literature," in: M.J.H.M. Poorthuis and J. Schwartz (eds.), Purity and Holiness: The Heritage of Leviticus (2000), 149–62.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.