As Popularity of Mikvah Use Grows, So Do Standards


May 29, 2006

Of the 200 mikvahs in the United States, 90 exist under the auspices of Chabad Lubavitch centers. With another ten Chabad mikvahs to break ground within the next twelve months, Chabad’s stake in maintaining the ritual central to Jewish family life, already monumental, is growing. In response, the Central Committee of Chabad Lubavitch Rabbis created a Mikvah Board to supervise mikvah construction and maintenance.

“We are elevating the standard of the mikva,” said Rabbi Nochem Kaplan of the Central Committee of Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbis. The Mikvah Board will be there “to shoulder and share responsibility for the construction of mikvahs” with the Chabad representative, he said.

A mikvah is pool of water, with a designated connection to natural source of water, designed specifically for immersion. Immersing in the mikvah “introduces times of separation and reunion as part of a cycle in married life,” and practicing the mitzvah is a way of “drawing G-d into your marriage,” according to Mivtzah Taharas Hamishpacha, an international organization promoting mikvah usage.

Last week in East Hampton, NY, Board members offered their first seal of approval. The rabbis examined the gutters and leaders for the subterranean rainwater reservoir and climbed down into the immaculate, tiled pool of Chabad Lubavitch of the Hamptons’ new mikvah before verifying that the reservoirs were ready to be filled. Chabad Lubavitch of the Hamptons representative, Rabbi Leibel Baumgarten said he was “honored” to be the first mikvah under Board supervision.

The engineering and construction of a mikvah are complicated and intricate, involving meticulous supervision to ensure it satisfies rigorous halachic requirements. A minor oversight in how the rainwater is collected, or about specs for the materials and cement, reinforcements and waterproofing of the mikveh and underground reservoir, may render a mikvah unfit.

Once an obscure practice, shunned as old fashioned, mikvah usage has become a popular mitzvah among Jewish women across the spectrum. When Chabad representative Dina Harlig arrived in Las Vegas in 1990, she traveled to Los Angeles to use the mikvah. Over the twelve years since Chabad of Las Vegas’s Mikvah Raizel has been in operation, seventy locals have become mikvah regulars and countless tourists have used the mikvah. Harlig includes a stop at the mikvah as part of the tour to prospective parents at Chabad’s Desert Torah Academy Day School. The mikvah, in the same building as the school, is as “part of the package” of community amenities as camp and Hebrew school, said Harlig. Parents dropping off children at school will often pull Harlig aside to make a mikvah appointment.

Growth in spiritual practices in the culture as a whole has played a role in the mikvah’s acceptance, but its popularity jumpstarted with a call to promote mikvah from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, in the mid-seventies.

As the number of Chabad centers has grown, the number of mikvahs has multiplied. Rabbi Yehuda L. Schapiro, Dean of Yeshivah Gedolah Rabbinical College of Miami and a member of the Mikvah Board recalls a time, twenty years ago, when there was one mikvah in all of south Florida. “Now at just about every exit on Interstate 95 there’s a Chabad house and a mikvah,” he said. Growth in mikvah numbers necessitates the existence of “a group to have the authority to check if all the technicalities of a mikvah are fine.”

Soon, Board member, Rabbi Yirmiya Katz, author of the authoritative series of books on mikvah, Mikvei Mayim, will travel to Chabad of North County in Yorba Linda, CA. Other locations will be visited by Board members Rabbi Zelig Scharfstein, Chief Rabbi of Cincinnati, OH; Rabbi Dovid Shochet, Chief Rabbi of Toronto; Rabbi Yehuda L. Schapiro, Rabbi of the Chabad community in Miami Florida and Dean of the Talmudic Yeshiva of Miami; Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky, a rabbinical authority in Brooklyn.

Chabad of North County representative Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie has been in consultation with Rabbi Katz for some time, because mikvah construction held a significant place on the to-do list for the new Chabad center. Not only is a mikvah of such cardinal importance that Jewish legal authorities mandate the sale of a Torah scroll to fund mikvah construction, but it’s a community builder, as well. “Convenience is important to people who have an interest in mikvah. They will come when a mikvah is nearby,” Rabbi Eliezrie said.

With this many mikvahs and the number growing, explains Rabbi Kaplan, there was a real need for a supervisory board. Mikvahs also need to be inspected annually to ensure standards are maintained. “The establishment of this board facilitates an annual inspection of every mikvah under the auspices of Chabad,” he says.

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