The Jewish ritual bath (mikveh) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
At the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, a Jew had to be in a state of ritual purity in order to enter the sacred precinct.
Many things could render one impure: e.g., childbirth, the menstrual period, contact with a menstruating woman, contact with semen, contact with a corpse. (People did not associate ritual impurity with sin; these were different categories.) Each type of impurity had its own purification ceremony, but all such ceremonies ended with a ritual bath. One had to immerse oneself in at least 120 gallons of water. The source of the water had to be a natural spring, rain, snow, hail or ice. It was forbidden to pour water into the bath with a vessel that was capable of holding an object. (It did not matter, though, if human beings touched the water on its way to the bath.) After the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, Jews continued for a time to immerse themselves in the ritual bath before performing sacred acts such as prayer. The practice went into decline, however, except in the case of women, who are required to immerse themselves seven days after the beginning of the menstrual period. (Many ultra-orthodox women wait until seven days after the period's end.) Some orthodox men still immerse themselves after becoming ritually impure. Most, however, consider the washing of the hands as sufficient. For more on the topic, see the online Jewish Encyclopedia under "Mikveh" and "Ablutions."