Humiliated at the Mikveh
JewishMOM Hadassah Margolese is finally leaving Beit Shemesh, but in the end she’s not leaving because of her fanatical neighbors who made headlines last year for terrorizing her adorable daughter, Naama. She’s leaving because of the angry reactions of friends and neighbors to an article she wrote for Maariv this past May about a deeply upsetting visit to the Mikveh.
In that article, Hadassah writes:
“The last time I was at the mikveh, after I immersed I entered the bathroom and I broke out into tears. The humiliation and the pain were so great, and the tears flowed.
“On the day I go to the mikveh, I am filled with fear: “Who will be the mikveh lady?” I think. “Will she give me the privacy that I so need?” Each time I pray deep in my heart that the mikveh lady who turns her back and only looks at me when necessary will be on shift that night. In my opinion, and with all due respect to the mikveh lady, there is no need to have a babysitter there.
“This time, I opened up my mouth for her. But that wasn’t enough. The mikveh lady thought that I still had makeup under my eyes. I argued that I was totally fine, that I was clean. “Clean them again,” the mikveh lady insisted. And I insisted that I was ready to immerse. “I cleaned my eyes enough times,” I insisted. “This is my mitzvah,” I said. I felt certain that I was ready.
“For some reason, this mikveh lady felt that part of her role was to look at me before I immersed, and also after I exited the mikveh, and she didn’t turn around. She looked the whole time. I only have two hands, which don’t succeed in covering my whole body in order to get the privacy that I so need. It was stressful. I just wanted to finish this humiliating experience and go home. ..
“I’m supposed to feel clean after the mikveh. But I find myself feeling humiliated and not clean. I ask myself until when? When will things change? When will I feel that this is my mitzvah, and not the mikveh lady’s mitzvah together with me? When will I be able to immerse alone, without the mikveh lady’s certification of kashrut?”
It’s ironic. Last year Hadassah and her daughter were harassed because local fanatics felt that she and her family weren’t modest enough. And now she’s getting harassed because she is such a modest person that she doesn’t feel comfortable standing without clothing in front of the mikveh lady.
While I’ve never heard of a woman having this issue before, I am sure that Hadassah is not alone in her monthly discomfort. So this morning I spoke with senior Nishmat yoetzet halacha Laurie Novick, in order to find out what can be done to help women like Hadassah:
She told me the following: All that is required by Jewish law is that another woman over the age of twelve sees that you (and all of your hair) are fully submerged in the mikveh.
Halachically, this person confirming that you have fully immersed doesn’t have to be a mikveh lady—it could be a friend or any other Jewish girl/woman over the age of 12 with whom you feel comfortable.
“Mikveh ladies don’t have bad intentions. In general, they have a lot of mesirut nefesh for this mitzvah, and are highly motivated to help other women keep Torah and mitzvot. Over the years, the mikveh lady’s role has expanded and expanded, and in many cases women are no longer even aware of the minimum role required of them by the halacha.
“And the truth is that many women appreciate the mikveh ladies’ extra assistance. I, for example, once almost entered the mikveh with earrings on, until my oversight was pointed out to me by an observant mikveh lady.”
There are many communities where mikveh ladies are careful not to look at the immersing women when they are undressed outside of the water. “In my community, we have highly-trained mikveh ladies who do not look at the woman when her towel is off except when she is in the water. The mikveh lady turns her back when the woman is entering and exiting the mikveh.”
“The ideal, I think, would be for the mikveh lady to ask the immersing woman whether she wants her assistance before the immersion—whether she wants her to check her physically for loose hairs etc. or wants her to ask helpful questions such as, ‘Did you remember to take out your contact lenses?’ Many appreciative women would say ‘Yes,’ and some women, like Hadassah Margolese, would not. And that’s absolutely fine.”
As a final alternative, if a woman feels she is unable to immerse if another woman is watching her, there is a possible halachic alternative available for women to immerse on their own which a knowledgeable rabbi should be able to discuss with her.
Anyway, wishing a ton of blessings and hatslacha (and beautiful mikveh visits) to Hadassah Margolese in her new community:)
This inspiring 8-minute video features Mikveh pioneer Elisheva Mirvis who educates non-observant women about the spirituality and empowering potential of this mitzvah.