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Author:  Mikveh Lady
E-mail:  info@judaic.org
Date:  2/4/2005 11:29:00 AM
Subject:  Mikveh Lady
Message:  To Rabbi Chaim Abadi
Dear Rabbi,

I was that mikva lady at Mikveh Sippora that your respondent referred to on January 26. Please be advised that it is our policy and perhaps the reason for the establishment of this mikveh that each Orthodox rabbi decides halakhic issues for his congregants and followers. Our mikveh is well known for that policy and we have interacted well with many Rabbanim inside and outside of our community including your esteemed father Rabbi Yitzhak Abadi, shlita.

However, I have been instructed by our rabbis that it does not necessarily mean that under all circumstances and situations a woman should be allowed to merely say she asked her rabbi without saying who her rabbi is and avail herself of our services without question. We have a responsibility to discourage women, in a pleasant way, who may have a personal opinion on some issue from choosing to decide to dip without asking a rabbi and just saying they asked. We have found on occasion that some women may rely on a rumor about some halakha attributed to a particular rabbi where her circumstances differ, or what she heard is not what he actually said. For example, one time a woman said her rabbi allows her to dip one night early – at the start of the seventh day at night and when we checked with that rabbi he said that he had said no such thing!

Let it be clear to everyone that had that woman, (whom I did not know and never saw before), stated her rabbi’s name as Rabbi Yitzhak Abadi shlita, I would have clearly accommodated her in accordance with his psaq. As I recall the woman did state the name of another rabbi that we know from prior cases is strict on patches. I regret that she didn’t mention Rabbi Abadi’s name at that time and that I did not pursue the discussion to clarify the rabbi she was following.

Also, has veshalom that I should tell her either she removes the patch or go home. That is not our way. I told her that it should be removed for a minute while she dips - as there are signs posted in each preparation room regarding adhesives. At that point in time it didn’t seem necessary to further clarify the situation and she complied without any further issue. Had she brought it up earlier and clarified who her rabbi really was, there would have been no problem. This incident has been blown out of proportion. I’m sorry that she and her husband were upset and I welcome her to come back and she’ll have no problem.

We have consulted with several gynecologists, including Dr Norman Fertil, regarding removal of the patch for a minute while dipping and they have said that there is no negative effect in doing so. In such situations our understanding is that lechatkhila it is proper to remove adhesive items covering even a small part of the body even if they may not ultimately be considered a hatzitzah. I understand that this is also your father’s psaq.

That said, I must say that for years it has been my policy to be as helpful and as sensitive as possible to the women and promote love and respect for the mitzvah of mikveh. B"H numerous women have told me they began appreciating the mitzvah after a visit to our mikveh or a conversation we had.

It should also be noted that women often discuss aspects of a halakhic issue with me. They may have once discussed something similar with a rabbi but would like to clarify some detail. Not every case is exactly the same, and they think of certain angles while they are preparing to dip. We always consult the woman’s rabbi on halakhic questions. Sometimes it turns out that they would like to clarify a detail with a rabbi that very evening at the mikveh and I help them do so.

Now I have a question about a specific scenario. For instance, when a husband is leaving on a business trip and the woman intends - after her encounter that evening - to remove the patch for several weeks for whatever reason. Or if it is time to change to a fresh patch where the old one may soon be used up or its adhesion is wearing off. Is it still not a hatzitzah? The woman may not have asked her rabbi regarding that detail and I may not know. So I play it safe and ask her to remove it for a minute. There are often these and other unusual circumstances to be addressed.

Respectfully yours,
Mikveh Lady

Reply:  I appreciate your response and I hope this can help women be comfortable going to this Mikveh, knowing that the people are reasonable, open-minded, and clearly willing to accomodate all women.

Let me make a few points on this issue, just to put a few things on the table.

Many women who go to a Mikveh are very uncomfortable about the whole thing. They do it because they were encouraged to by a friend, husband, or Rabbi, but they are really not ready for it. Any little thing to discourage them is at a high risk of being the cause of them cancelling the entire idea. Their initial feelings are that "I believe in God and want to keep his Mitzvot, but please, this one is a bit barbaric. Do we really have to keep every law that they did 3,000 years ago? Maybe our men should walk around in long robes like they did then." Certainly this comes from discomforts that accompany the process. If the ritual was to go to your nearest spa and get a massage, you won't hear many complaints.

This is a very common attitude and any little discouragement could be the cause of that woman justifying her original fears and not coming back again. It is not uncommon for a woman to leave the house as if she is going to the Mikveh and actually go elsewhere, to a mall or something, and then come back home an hour later, just to get her husband off her back. Now, let us analyze the thoughts going through this woman's head. She was pressured enough to get out and fake it. Why not go already? How complicated could it be? Obviously the Mikveh turned her off. That whole ritual.

It really should not be the job of a Mikveh Lady to police the women. Can you really control adult women? Are we going to follow them home and be sure that the other laws are being kept, too?

Let me use your own example.
"For example, one time a woman said her rabbi allows her to dip one night early – at the start of the seventh day at night"

OK. Great job! You stopped her from a grave mistake. But, in Halachah this women would have been Kosher to her husband MiDe'oraita (from the Torah). What if she got turned off and didn't come back the next night? Oops! Suddenly our wonderful intentions backfired. If a Mikveh Lady realizes that such a mistake was made, they need to address it very delicately. Maybe a nonchalant comment like, "are you sure that that is the way your Rabbi told you to count? I've been around many years and never heard this one." Maybe even throw in a little joke like, "maybe I have the wrong Rabbi." But all the time letting her do what she thinks she was told. You just plant a little doubt in her head, hopefully enough that she'll call her Rabbi later and get the story straight. It is not your job to discipline grown women. It is not high school. These are women that are adults; they make their own decisions and choices. This includes the choice of going to the Mikveh altogether. There is no place for outside discipline or control. And to top it all off, it doesn't work, it just backfires.

Yes, I realize that you have taken a situation that is normally much more controlled and you have opened it up significantly. I respect you and all those involved for that. You certainly get a lot of reward for making it easier for women to keep this serious Mitzvah. But rather than leave good enough alone, I hope that this will bring some of the issues to light and give you a chance to even be able to receive women that are more sensitive &/or less motivated.

What if a real ridiculous request was made? A woman came in and asked to wear her bathing suit into the Mikveh. Certainly this one would cause a serious panic amongst the Mikveh Ladies. Rabbis would be summoned and arguments would ensue. For what? For a lack of knowledge. The Talmud and Shulchan Aruch are very clear that it is OK. The actual case in the Talmud was an advice to a woman who needed to put her clothes into the Mikveh to purify them, but it isn't allowed on Yom Tov. So the Talmud said to wear it while you're going to the Mikveh for yourself and then it would work. But we wouldn't dream of allowing that.

Why don't we trust people to make their own choices? God does. He created a world where the adults make their own choices. We can't control others. They have a God-given right and they will use it.

Certainly let's be available for those who have questions. Even at times point out certain things, only in a way that the person would not mind at all. But to require a woman to either present a legitimate authority or else give in to the Mikveh Lady's policy, that is not in line with the religion that I know. That is one of the common ways to turn off generations of people from our religion. When a women stops going to the Mikveh, she many times will gradually drop everything else. Her children, grandchildren and thereafter will very probably have been chased away from the religion. Why? Company policy!

Sounds absurd? Ask around. Familiarize yourselves with the feelings from the other side. Get a little feedback from the ones that don't go to the Mikveh.

From the Torah it would be OK for a woman to go to a swimming pool in her clothing after seven days from the start of her period, not seven clean days. She can go with dirt covering 49% of her body. If she doesn't go, the severity of the sin is Karet. How can we chase people away and cause them to remain in the Karet state? Yes, the Rabbanan added restrictions and we must all follow them, but are we allowed to force people to either do all or nothing?

Our local Rabbis are often busy worrying about the people keeping the laws of Niddah to the strictest level. Yet, I haven't heard many rebuke their congregations about the way the women dress in public, which has been getting worse and worse. I am talking about low-cut necks, short sleeves, mini-skirts, and the like. These are prohibited in the Torah. What about the common practice of not covering the hair? No one says anything. That is from the Torah. Men, women, and even many Rabbis are all hugging and kissing each other at affairs, certainly against the Talmud. Why are we picking on a few women in such a personal environment, where they are uncomfortable as it is?

I hope I got through to everyone. We are all here to better ourselves. Find out the laws and strive to keep them, one step at a time. Help your friends and neighbors do the same one step at a time. No one needs policing. It does not work. We need encouragement. "Thank you for coming to the Mikveh. Can I get you anything? Would you prefer the lights a bit dimmer? Can I get you a drink? If you have any requests or questions just call me...." That person will be back.
Tizku LeMitzvot!

Aaron, well put. I couldn't have said it better.
I hope Mikva ladies out there will realize what their job is. The bottom line is, if a lady left the Mikva upset for any reason, then the Mikva lady made a mistake (which is allowed because they are human). Watching hair go under water is pretty simple.

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