A contemporary mikveh at Temple Beth-El in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you are going to a mikveh as part of your conversion, here are things you may want to know:
1. A mikveh is a ritual bath which meets rabbinic standards for construction, volume and for the source of the water. Certain bodies of natural water may also qualify as a mikveh.
2. Jews use the mikveh for conversion, for family purity, for ritual immersion before a holiday, before a wedding, or for immersing dishes for kashrut purposes. Some Jews have never been to a mikveh, some use it regularly. In recent years, the use of the mikveh has seen a revival of interest for recovery from rape or incest, for marking important anniversaries, and other uses.
3. In the mikveh, you want nothing to separate you from the water. Therefore before entering the mikveh, we remove all clothing, all jewelry (even wedding rings) and all medical appliances (dentures, contact lenses, etc) as well as cosmetics and fingernail polish. We enter the mikveh the way we were born: naked.
4. Most mikvaot (plural of mikveh) will have a place for you to shower and wash hair and clean fingernails before immersion. It is proper to wash body and hair and to brush the teeth before entering the mikveh. We don’t want anything between us and the water (even dust or dead skin) and we want not to bring dirt into the mikveh.
5. Speaking of which, a well-run mikveh is kept scrupulously clean. It is OK to ask the manager of the mikveh about the sanitary procedures, if you are concerned.
6. Tzniut, modesty, is an important Jewish value. If you are doing a ritual which requires a witness (like conversion) a proper mikveh witness follows a procedure to avoid looking at any but the necessary part of your body. He or she will be looking only to make sure that everything, including hair, was completely submerged in the water. A “proper mikveh witness” is usually someone of the same gender who has had training for the task.
7. At a conversion, there are specific blessings which must be said aloud between “dunkings” in the water. Your rabbi will teach you those. The mikveh witness (who may or may not be your rabbi) can assist you with the blessings if memory is an issue.
8. A mikveh is an expensive facility to maintain, and there is often a fee for using it. Be sure to ask your rabbi about the fee.
Finally, if you have any questions about the mikveh, it is really OK to ask. Rabbis are accustomed to talking about all sorts of things that aren’t usually part of polite conversation and your rabbi is not going to be embarrassed by anything you ask. He or she will be familiar with procedure and rules at the mikveh you will use, and can be more specific than I can be in a blog.
I wish you a holy and meaningful trip to the mikveh!
For conversion support in the Bay Area of California, go to BecomingJewish.net