If a Jewish women has a hard time finding a place where she can bathe in a mikveh (ritual bath) after her menstrual period, what should she do if she is married (and observes rules about niddah/family purity)?
1. Leviticus 18:19 teaches that one may not approach a woman, i.e., his wife, sexually until she properly immerses in the miqvah.
2. Maimonides, Laws of Forbidden Intercourse, 2:1-2 views: a. Sexual intercourse with a women who had her menses but did not immerse in a miqvah to be a karet, or extreme sin called “cutting off” from the religious polity of Israel. b. Sexual contact up to but not including intercourse, which is performed derech ta’avah, is also forbidden by Torah law and is punished by Torah ordained lashes, but not kareit.. c. Improper suggestive non-contact gestures, including wanton glances, i.e., oogling, is also forbidden, even though there is no contact taking place. d. Now, not forbidden by religious norm or statute are innocent, i.e., non-libidnal contact between strangers. Rabbi Acha danced with a woman on his shoulders, bKetubbot 17a, Jacob kissed Rachel, Genesis 29:11 [note that since Jacob was first given Leah as a wife and since he could not tell by touch that Leah was not Rachel, once Rachel became Jacob’s intended, he did not have any physical contact with her!], and if the intergender activity is innocent [le-Shem shamayim] [bQeddushim 81b-82a] At E.H. 2:14, Rabbi Moses Feinstein allows the non-erotic contact of commuters using the NYC subway.
3. Therefore, monthly immersion must take place for the marriage to be viable and intimacy permissable. a. The woman may immerse in the ocean or sea if there is no oil at that location that would keep the water from reaching the women’s flesh, using her husband as the watcher to insure her total immersion. There are leniencies for wool bathing suits to be used if the entire body gets wet from the immersion. b. It may now be necessary to make a monthly trip to other cities/locations in order to immerse properly. Bathtubs do not count unless they are specially and expertly constructed under competent Orthodox rabbinic direction. I stress, in order to avoid confusion, that these particular rules are among the Torah’s thirty-six most serious and important laws. [mKereitot 1:1] c. In a dire emergency, and with the approval of a competent sage, a pit may be filled with snow, which is not disqualified drawn water, melted into water that is not drawn and therefore fit for being a miqva, and this permanent pit will touch/kiss and render fit a second pit of previously drawn water. See mMiqvaot 7:1 and Maimonides, Miqva’ot 7:3 d. Under no circumstance may physical relations between wife and husband resume until after the immersion has been completed.
The practice of Niddah has enjoyed a resurgence in the last few decades. Jews of many approaches have sought to find their own meaning and intent in a mitzvah with ancient roots. However, even with the proliferation of Mikvaot across the U.S. and indeed around the world, observing the laws of Niddah can be a challenge. I don’t know if this question is abstract question or one which relates to your own personal situation. If this is a personal question, I hope that you are able to find a solution which is logistically feasible and true to your commitment to our traditions. I would also note that the Mitzvah of “Tohorat Hamishpacha” implies that both partners in the relationship are committed to investing in its success.
There are a few options that may make it more convenient to observe this Mitzvah under difficult circumstances:
1. If a Mikvah is not available, many natural bodies of water are defined to be just as kosher for purposes of immersion. A lake, a non-seasonal river, and the ocean would all be suitable. Obviously, weather could be a concern for an outdoor immersion. If privacy is an issue, a loose-fitting garment made of a material which allows water to penetrate fully (cloth or cotton, rather than spandex) could be worn while immersing in a public place.
2. A Some women will coordinate schedules so that travel to a nearby community which does have a Mikvah is dovetailed with a monthly trip to do shopping or study not available in the local community. http://www.mikvah.org/directory lists many Orthodox Mikvaot. http://www.mayyimhayyim.org/ is a great resource for finding Mikvaot under auspices.
3. One of the challenges of traditional Mikvah observance is that of timing, and there are some areas of flexibility that may be of assistance. Traditionally, a mikvah visit will be on the night after the seventh "clean day,” following the conclusion of menses. While some traditional sources discourage doing so, there are others that will permit a woman to immerse during the daytime on the 8th day or later, particularly where safety might be a factor. In addition, the Torah requirement for immersion following menses is the 8th day following the start, not the end, of menstruation. A number of poskim in the Conservative movement have suggested that it is better to follow this approach (which might mean waiting no more than 2 or 3 days following the end of menstruation, rather than a full seven) than not to immerse at all.
4. There has a been a Mikvah-building boom in many communities around the world in the last decades. There may be others in your community who would be interested in helping to create one. People have created mikvaot on the grounds of a synagogue, or even in a private home. Of course, the rules of such construction are quite complicated, both in terms of Jewish law, and zoning, and I would urge you to consult an expert before undertaking such a project.
I have increasingly heard reports of communities where there may be a Mikvah, but it is only open to certain segments of the community. This is naturally very distressing to those segments of the community that are excluded. In some cases, an open conversation about the impact of that exclusion has led those in charge to reconsider their exclusivity, or has led to the construction of another Mikvah which is more open to the needs of the entire community.
Again, if this is indeed a personal question, let me wish you success in overcoming whatever logistical challenges you might face.
As a Reform Jew the use of the Mikvah is usually only for the purpose of conversion, although some have begun using it as a way of symbolizing new beginnings, both in the traditional practice of a pre-wedding visit or post childbirth visit, but also for things such as divorce and other life changes.
That said, the important thing about a mikvah, whether one uses it once or every month, as you seem to desire, is that it does not need to be a formal mikveh, but rather Mayim Hayim – living water. This means that at a formal mikveh, there is a certain flow to the water so that rainwater is included and every day a certain amount flows out in a natural way.
What Mayim Hayimm also means is that most natural bodies of water are usable as a mikveh as long as it is deep enough to fully immerse into. The exception is any lake that does not have run out through a river. For example the Dead sea is not usable as a mikvah because the water does not flow out of it. Many man-made lakes are like this as well.
I would encourage you, if you live in a temperate enough climate, to find a nearby lake or stream if you do not have access to a formal mikvah and find a private area (which you have permission to use if it’s not public land) to do your immersion. If you live near a large enough lake or the ocean it should not be hard to go in fairly deep to an area with no one around. Bring a trusted friend to hold your bathing suit and immerse.
If that is not an option due to geography or weather (Lake Michigan is January can get chilly!) then an alternative may be to get a barrel in which you can save rainwater and prepare a bath for yourself that includes a significant amount of the rainwater. This may not be halachic, but it is in the spirit of mikavh and if it is the best you can do, it may be your best option.
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