Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology

Edited by Rivkah Slonim, Liz Rosenberg

Format: Hardcover



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edited by Rivkah Slonim
consulting and contributing editor: Liz Rosenberg

In this best-selling collection of fifty essays and stories about the mikvah (the Jewish ritual bath), women and men contribute their thoughts on this ancient Jewish tradition.

About the Editor
Rivkah Slonim is the education director at the Chabad House Jewish Student Center in Binghamton, New York, and a nationally known teacher, lecturer, and activist. She travels widely, addressing the intersection of traditional Jewish observance and contemporary life, with a special focus on Jewish women in Jewish law and life. During the last two decades she has lectured throughout the United States and abroad, counseled individuals, and served as a consultant to educators and outreach professionals on the subject of Mikvah and the observance of Taharat Hamishpachah, Family Purity. She and her husband are the parents of nine children.

Softcover, revised second edition, 319 pages
ISBN 965-7108-68-3
publication: 2006

Praise for Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology:

"This is a remarkable book, unlike any I've seen on Mikvah or, for that matter, on any aspect of Jewish practice. Philosophical reflections, history, essays for and by men, personal vignettes that pierce to the heart"all combine to make a masterpiece. If you're interested in Mikvah, and even if you're not, you must dip into this unique testimony to Jewish women's experience and thought. Perhaps you too will come to cherish total immersion."
-Tamar Frankiel, author of The Voice of Sarah

"In Total Immersion Rivkah Slonim has assembled a much-needed and delightfully constructed anthology about one of the most central rituals in Jewish family life. Much neglected and misunderstood, Mikvah lies at the heart of the beauty and spirituality of the marital relationship, endowing it with a unique dimension of sanctity and grace. There can be few areas of religious life more in need of rediscovery, and I know of no more informative and moving introduction than the essays contained in this book."
-Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Saks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth

"Total Immersion is a refreshing collection of thought-provoking and often inspiring essays. Ranging from the philosophical to the experiential, from the halachic to the psychological, the pieces are especially noteworthy for the honesty of the personal accounts by women of their intimate attitudes toward the various phases of the mivkah cycle. This is a well written, sophisticated, and often humorous collection; an engaging book for the initiated and -uninitiated reader."
-Dr. Aviva Zornberg, Author, Genesis: The Beginning of Desire

"The Publication of Total Immersion establishes Rivkah Slonim as a most eloquent and inspiring spokesperson and teacher of taharat hamishpacha, the practice of Jewish family purity. Her writing and editing on this sensitive subject is comprehensive and articulate -- yet gentle and nonjudgmental.

It is likely that Total Immersion will inspire many heretofore uninformed or reluctant men and women to take the plunge into the Mikvah. In those waters they will surely find one of the most essential ingredients for harmonious marital living and future Jewish survival."
-Ephraim Buchwald, Director, National Jewish Outreach Program

"Total Immersion is an unusual and illuminating collection of essays and excerpts, including philosophic, psychological, mystical, halachic, practical, historical, and personal approaches."
-The Jewish Week

"Through theory and thought, personal experience and story, the contributors show how the sexual and the sacred converge, transcending blood taboos and accusations of misogyny to create a source of spiritual and physical renewal."
-Publishers Weekly

"Total Immersion offers the reader 47 essays on various topics related to Mikvah. The book is divided in three parts: In theory and Practice; Voices; Memories and Tales.

The essays offer numerous points of view on Mikvah. Among the topics discussed are: the young bride going to the Mikvah for the first time; the menopausal woman who discovers Mikvah when she does not have many cycles left; and men and Mikvah.

Poignant stories include the woman suffering with infertility for whom Mikvah becomes a lifeline; the woman who immerses in a Mikvah in Israel amid the falling scud missiles of the Persian Gulf War; and taking a dip in a different gulf -- in Aruba.

Although I like to concentrate on the spiritual aspects of the ritual, the Mikvah also provides a powerful way to get in touch with yourself as a woman, to sanctify your body's cycle, as a human being who's part of a universe that has its own cycles,' writes Pamela Steinberg in her essay, Renewal.' Just as we celebrate the waxing and waning of the moon, we can celebrate our bodies, not degrade them.'

The well thought-out collection of essays will make you laugh, cry and, certainly, think. It is a perfect anthology for the new bride, as well as for those women who have been married a while.
-Cleveland Jewish News

"Although there has been a revival of interest in the observance of Mikvah, knowledge of what the concept of Taharat Hamishpachah (family purity) encompasses, its physical and spiritual significance, are still shrouded in mystery.

Rivkah Slonim, Education Director at the Chabad House Jewish Student Center in Binghamton, NY, sets out to bring the ritual of Mikvah out of the shadow and into the light.' She accomplishes this by creating a readable anthology comprising 47 essays by various authors, providing a rich patchwork of theological and historical information, inspiration, and intellectual and emotional perspectives. Most of the contributors are observant women, but men and non-traditional voices are also represented. The editor's introduction testifies to a passionate dedication and a zeal for sharing her own experience with the widest possible audience, but in a gentle, non-judgmental manner.

Part I: In theory and Practice' discusses this topic from historical, theological, philosophical, mystical and practical viewpoints. Since each chapter is written by a different person, there is some overlap, but each author contributes something unique and worthwhile. Part II: Voices' offers eighteen authentic, honest responses to this rite. Part III: Memories and Tales' comprised of nineteen mivkah stories, some factual, others legendary, from all over the globe and spanning several centuries. Quality of writing varies, but each experience contributes another dimension to the multi-layered experience of Mikvah. In our time, when stability and lasting joy are sorely lacking in many marriages, we ought at the very least to learn about the wisdom and beauty of Taharat Hamishpachah. In addition, many Jewish women are searching out methods of connecting to their heritage in tangible and spiritual ways, and Mikvah appears to offer an avenue to both physical and spiritual awareness of their bodies and sexuality.

Whether you are familiar with this subject or not, your understanding will be expanded and deepened by reading this book. A selected bibliography is included.
-AJL Newsletter

This book is a compilation of fifty essays, stories and first-hand accounts about the experience, reasons, benefits, and philosophies behind the Jewish tradition of "Mikvah" and the centrality of it to Jewish life. A mikvah can be defined as a natural body of water or a gathering of water that has a designated connection to a natural source, such as fresh spring water, rainwater, or even melted snow. The pool is designed specifically for immersion, according to the rules and customs of Jewish law. The purpose of the mikvah is solely ritual purification, not physical cleanliness. One must thoroughly bathe before entering into and being purified by a mikvah.

The collection of laws described in Leviticus as "the laws of family purity," but more widely known as the "laws of mikvah" (Lev. 15:19-33) or Taharat Hamishpacha observance, introduces times of separation and reunion as part of a cycle in married life. Separation begins with the onset of the menstrual flow. It is a time when the depth of the husband-wife relationship is expressed without physical intimacy. It is a period of anticipation and preparation for mikvah immersion. The reunion, which follows, holds the highest potential for sanctity in marriage.

"The focus of the Mikvah laws is on establishing strong marriages by providing lifelong sexual satisfaction and excitement within the weeded union. Spiritually, the system is even more ambitious. It seeks to elevate every sexual act to the realm of holiness. There is a sexual mnage a trois at the heart of Judaism: husband, wife and God." (p. 39)

The essay by Sarah Robinson: Investigating the Biblical Roots of Niddah, delves into the Bible and rabbinical commentaries to explain this term. "A woman who is menstruating is known as niddah, literally, separated temporally" (p. 89). This monthly suspension of intimacy for the duration of the women's menstruation, in addition to seven days after the complete cessation of her menses, is a defining characteristic of a Jewish marriage. Husband and wife resume intimacy after she has immersed in the mikvah.

The editor, Rivkah Slonim, a Lubavitcher orthodox Jew well know for her speaking engagements around the country to woman from all levels of observance, speaks from her own experiences and feelings regarding this mitzvah, and the benefits that it bestows into the life of the married couple. She is the educational director of the Chabad House Jewish Student Center in Binghamton, New York, co founded with her husband in 1985, and which has gained recognition as one of the most successful campus outreach programs in the nation.

Slonim presents here a compilation of essays , some of them previously published in its original Hebrew, and translated here into English, emanating from different sources: books, magazines and public addresses. Some of the articles were contributed by very well know personalities like Dr. Abraham Boyarski, Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka, Dr. Yaffa Eliach, Rabbi Manis Friedman, Dr. Tamar Frankiel, Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn, Rabbi Maurice Lamm, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, and many women who were willing to share their most intimate emotions and uplifting moments with the readers.

The book is divided in three parts: Part I, called In Theory and Practice, presents various essays that discuss Mikvah and the consequences of its use from the theological, philosophical, historical, mystical and practical perspectives. We also find here an interesting essay about the history and development of the Mikvah in America. In Part II, called Voices, we found stories and testimonies, mostly from women, but some men too, about the experience of mikvah in their lives. It presents some of the earliest prayers, speeches and writings on the subject as well as testimonies by women from all paths. Part III, called Memories and Tales, contains many Mikvah stories of altruism and faith on the part of women who observed the mikvah laws, from the former Soviet Union, to the ghetto, and even in modern-day America. These stories add a very inspirational side to this book.

There are very few books on the subject that are available for the everyday reader. There are even less titles that will include personal stories and testimonies. On one hand, this is a subject that for many generations was only talked in hushed tones. The old associations of Mikvah with physical dirt didn't help to bring the subject to light either. Rarely, has the Mikvah been a subject for public discourses or the subject of editorials. In observant Jewish homes, Mikvah and the Laws of Family Purity are a fact of life closely associated with the sexual rhythm of a couple. But the natural modesty of a religious lifestyle precludes Mikvah from becoming a family term.

As the author explains in the preface, "this anthology grew out of my desire to bring the ritual of Mikvah out of the shadow and into the light".

The importance of this book is that although some other English titles aboard the subject of marriage, sex, and family in Judaism, there are seldom any works where we can find personal testimonies, both from women and men, which speak to the heart. A similar book: Women and Water : Menstruation in Jewish Life and Law, edited by Rahel R. Wasserfall, (University Press of New England [for] Brandeis University Press, c1999.) also presents a compilation of numerous authors, but the approach, in contrast, is more of an historical, ethnographic, anthropological and sociological point of view instead of the personal stories presented here by Slonim.

Another classical book on the subject: Waters of Eden, the Mystery of the Mikvah, by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (NCSY/Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, 1976) answers many basic questions relating to the laws of family purity based on the teachings of the Bible, Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah, Rashi, Ramban and many others. In this book, Kaplan explores the kabbalistic significance of the Mikvah which he considers the secret to Jewish survival.

Total Immersion includes a list of suggested readings and resources (all of them from an orthodox denomination) that could be useful to a person wanting to "dip in" to the subject.
-Sonia Smith Silva
Women in Judaism journal