The Mirror in the Mikveh

Can a Jewish Purity Rite Be Adapted for Teens?

Kurt Hoffman

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Published May 23, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Ellie Goldenberg and Emily Blum are getting ready to immerse for the first time in the mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath.

One might assume that Ellie and Emily are soon-to-be brides; in traditional communities, women immerse in the mikveh for the first time before they are wed. But they’re not — Ellie is an 11-year-old fifth-grader at a Washington, D.C., Jewish day school and Emily is a 16-year-old junior at a public high school in the city’s Maryland suburbs.

Both were inspired to douse in the mikveh after they participated in “Bodies of Water: Honoring Our Jewish Bodies,” a new workshop at the Conservative Adas Israel Congregation in Washington that uses the mikveh as a tool to help girls and young women develop a positive and healthy body image.

“Mikveh has been an important part of managing my own body image for the past 13 years, and I kept thinking how it would have been better to have had this when I was younger,” said Naomi Malka, the director of the Adas Israel Community Mikvah, the only progressive mikveh — that is, open to any Jewish person for any reason — in Washington.

Malka is the creator of “Bodies of Water,” a three-hour workshop that combines nutrition education, yoga and an introduction to the mikveh. The Adas Israel Community Mikvah, which was founded in 1989, was originally used mainly for conversions. But today it is being used for creative and traditional purposes as well. Married women who observe Jewish purity laws immerse after their menstrual periods end to ritually cleanse themselves.

“I fully acknowledge how controversial it can sound to tell preteen and teenage girls that the mikveh welcomes them. In some communities and to some sensibilities this is tantamount to condoning premarital sex,” Malka said. An Orthodox rabbi consulted for this article confirmed that from a traditional halachic perspective, girls and young women should not be using the mikveh. As he sees it, staying away from the mikveh serves as a deterrent to sexual relations.

But Malka sees value in familiarizing teenagers with ritual immerson, whether they go on to use the mikveh for traditional or creative purposes. “I believe that in order for mikveh to take hold as a common practice — like kashrut or Shabbat — in progressive Jewish communities, it has to be introduced at a younger age and has to offer girls a healthy understanding of our bodies and sexuality within a Jewish ethic,” Malka said.

“Otherwise,” she continued, “[mikveh] will remain unexplored and we will raise another generation of Jews who are disconnected from this mitzvah.”

In the inaugural year of the program, more than 150 women and girls attended the workshops, which were offered from early February through the beginning of May. The program is primarily aimed at preteens, teenagers and women in their early twenties, but mothers and grandmothers are encouraged to attend as well.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.