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Shabbat Parshat Tazria Metzora

Customs Regarding Women Immersing in a Mikvah

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In the Torah portion of Metzorah, we read about various states of impurity that can occur to either men or women. In many of these cases the Torah instructs the person to immerse in water (i.e., a mikvah) in order to be rendered tahor (pure).[1] Regarding a Zav (a man who has an unusual seminal flow), it says he must immerse in mayim chayim- flowing waters, i.e., a natural spring.[2] Regarding a Niddah (a woman who has her menstrual flow in a natural time), and a Zavah (a woman who has a menstrual flow in an unusual time), however, the Torah does not specifically state how to leave these states of impurity. Based on various verses, however, our sages explain that the woman’s states of impurity are also remedied by immersion in a mikvah (after seven clean days[3]). Here are several of those sources:
  • If even one who touches a Niddah must immerse in a mikvah in order to achieve purity, as the verse says, “And anyone who touches her bedding, shall immerse his garments and immerse himself in water,”[4]  how much more so must a Niddah herself do the same.[5]
  • The verse says וְהַדָּוָה בְּנִדָּתָהּ which can be translated to mean “and one who has a menstrual flow will remain in her state of Niddah” (i.e., until she immerses in a Mikvah).[6]
  • When referring to the immersion of utensils acquired from gentiles, the Torah says that they must be immersed in the waters of a Niddah i.e., a mikvah in which a Niddah immerses.[7]
  • The verse says that “a woman who cohabits conjugally with a man, they shall immerse in water.”[8] The Midrash says that this is a rule: that all those who are impure must immerse in water in order to become pure.[9]
With or Without Intent
When immersing in a mikvah, a woman should have the intention (kavana) to be purified from her state of impurity.
If a woman goes to a kosher mikvah, does all the necessary preparations for the Mikvah, and then immerses in the mikvah with a bracha (blessing), it is considered that she has implicit kavana even if she was not thinking consciously about it at that moment.[10] This can be compared to a person who comes to shul on Rosh HaShana. When he hears the blowing of the shofar, it is considered that he had kavana to do the mitzvah even if he did not have explicit kavana at that moment, since the reason he came to shul that day was to be able to fulfill this mitzvah.[11]
If a woman who is a Niddah and has already counted the seven clean days fell into a mikvah or the ocean, or if she entered one of these bodies of water to cool off or swim rather than for ritual purity, there is a disagreement as to whether or not she is rendered ritually pure.[12]  This question only applies if the woman had already prepared herself for the mikvah by bathing and combing her hair (chafifa), as without such preparation the immersion is not kosher regardless. In addition, she must be sure that her entire body was immersed in the water and that she was immersed in a way that allowed the water to reach all parts of her body.[13] In practice, Sefardim follow the view that she need not immerse again[14] whereas Ashkenazim follow the view that, if possible, a woman in the above situation should immerse again.[15]
A Forced Immersion
If, for some reason, someone pushed a woman who is a Niddah (who had already counted seven days and done a chafifa) into a Mikvah for the purpose of her becoming ritually pure, and she was immersed properly (as explained above), all would agree that it is a valid immersion since the intent of the other person “counts” for the woman as well.[16]
How many Times to Immerse?
  • Two Times
By the letter of the law, a woman need only immerse once in the Mikvah. The Ashkenazic custom is for women to immerse at least twice. The bracha is recited between the first and second immersion. The reason for this custom is that there is an argument as to whether a woman should recite the blessing on the immersion before or after the immersion.[17] By immersing once before the immersion and once afterwards, both opinions are fulfilled.[18]
The Bracha
As mentioned above, the bracha of Asher Kideshanu… al haTevilah should be recited (by Ashkenazim) between the two immersions. The details of how to recite this bracha is beyond the scope of this article.
  • Three Times
The Sefer Chassidim writes that it is customary for women who are immersing after their state of Niddah to immerse three times. This corresponds to the three expressions of tahor – purity — in the following verse “And I will sprinkle clean water (mayim tehorim) upon you, and you will be clean (utehartem); from all your impurities and from all your abominations will I cleanse (ataher) you.”[19] A similar threefold repetition is found in the book of Vayikra regarding the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur: “And he shall cleanse it (vetiharo) and sanctify it… For on this day He shall affect atonement for you to cleanse (letaher) you. Before the L-rd, you shall be cleansed (tit’haru) from all your sins.”[20]
The commentaries[21] give several additional reasons for this custom. Firstly, since there are many details as to how to immerse properly (e.g., not bending over too much and not shutting one’s eyes or mouth too tightly), the sages were concerned that perhaps it was not done correctly. By repeating it three times, we can be fairly certain that one of them was proper. In addition, we find in other situations that the rabbis wanted certain actions repeated three times to emphasize their importance.[22]
  • Even More
There are various other customs as to how many times to immerse. Some of them are five, seven, nine and ten.[23]
Praying for the Redemption
Some women have a custom to pray for the redemption after immersing by saying יהי רצון מלפניך ה’ אלהינו ואלהי אבותינו שיבנה בית המקדש במהרה בימינו, ותן חלקנו בתורתך – May it be Your will, L-rd, our G-d, and G-d of our fathers, that the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days; and grant us our portion in Your Torah.[24]
Several reasons are given for this custom:[25]
  • The Tosefta says that it is not proper to immerse twice in a Mikvah.[26] The reason for this may be that each time a person might not immerse properly because they may rely on the other time. By saying a prayer before each additional time, the woman will focus and immerse with proper concentration. So, between the first and the second time we recite the blessing, as explained above. And between the second and the third time, we recite the prayer for the redemption. (This follows the custom of the Sefer Chassidim, to immerse three times.)
  • The Midrash[27] says that while traveling in the desert, the women did not experience menstrual flows due to the presence of the Shechina (the Divine Presence). It is likely that the same will be true in the time of the future redemption. So, after immersing to be rid of the impurity of the menstrual flow, it is appropriate to pray for a time when this impurity will not exist at all.
  • When Moshiach comes, we will also immerse in the mikvah to be able to enter the Bait HaMikdash (Holy Temple) and to eat the sacrifices in a state of purity. So after immersing, it is a good time to pray for the Messianic era so that we merit to immerse in order to enter the Holy Temple and eat from the holy sacrifices.
  • The Talmud[28] says that, due to the mourning over the destruction of the Bait HaMikdash, it would be proper not to marry and have children at all. The only reason the sages permitted these things is so that the Jewish people not cease to exist (G-d forbid). So, after a woman immerses to permit relations with her husband, it is appropriate to pray for a time when such relations will be absolutely allowed and not only permitted out of necessity.
  • The Talmud[29] says that the redemption from Egypt was in the merit of the righteous women. The Midrash[30] explains that the women in Egypt would immerse in a mikvah after their menstrual cycles. So, after fulfilling this mitzvah which led to aredemption in the past, it is appropriate for a woman to pray that we should once again be redeemed in the merit of fulfilling this mitzvah.
May this happen speedily in our time!

[1] See Levit. 15:5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 16, 18, 22 and 27
[2] Ibid, 13
[3] By Torah law, only a Zavah Gedolah need count seven clean days. By Rabbinic law, however, every woman who has menstrual bleeding must count seven clean days.
[4] Ibid, 21
[5] Rav Hai Gaon, cited in Be’er HaGolah, beginning of Siman 197 and in Tosfot D.H. Lo, on Chagigah 11a and Rabbi Yehuda Gaon cited in Tosfot D.H. BeMakom, Yevamot, 47b
[6] Ri in Tosfot, ibid, based on Shabbat, 64b
[7] Rabbeinu Tam, cited in Tosfot, ibid
[8] Levit. Ibid, 18
[9] Rambam, Laws of Issurei Biah, 4:3 based on the Sifra
[10] Tahara Kahalacha, vol.2, 22:19
[11] See Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 589:9
[12] See Chullin, 31a and b
[13] Badei HaShulchan, 198:363
[14] Rav Yosef Karo in Y.D. 198:48, based on Rambam, Hilchot Mikva’ot, 1:8 and other Rishonim
[15] Rama on Y.D. ibid, based on Rashba on Chullin, ibid. See also Aruch HaShulchan 198:91 that another reason for a woman to immerse again in this case is that she may not have immersed properly since she was not immersing purposefully.
See Igrot Kodesh of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 10, pages 30 and 31 regarding women who go swimming at the beach.
[16] Shach 60 on Y.D. ibid, based on Chullin, ibid.
The Chamudei Daniel, end of Siman 198, writes that this only works if a woman pushed her into the mikvah, not a man. This opinion is cited in the Pit’chei Teshuvah (198:28). It is not clear what the difference between a man and woman is, in this regard. In fact, the Badei HaShulchan (198:366) cites various authorities who dispute this view and do not differentiate between the two.
As a biographical note, the author of the Chamudie Daniel was Rav Daniel ben Yaakov of Horodna who lived from 1740 to 1807. He did not write the book himself. Rather, he wrote voluminous Halachic responsa which his children could not afford to print (and have since been lost.) Instead, they gathered his final rulings from his responsa and printed them as this book. (Rav Benayahu ben Mordechai Attia in the publisher’s introduction to Chamudei Daniel on Hilchot Niddah.)
[17] Rav Yosef Karo (Y.D. 220:1) is of the opinion that the blessing should be recited before the immersion while the Rama is of the opinion that it should be recited afterwards.
[18] Shela, cited in Ba’ar Heitev, Y.D. 200:1
The implicit intent of the woman immersing is that if the bracha should be recited after the immersion, then the first immersion is valid. Whereas if the bracha should be recited before the immersion, then the second immersion should be valid.
The commentaries question this custom as follows. As mentioned above, a woman who immerses without intent is already considered to be ritually pure, according to Rav Yosef Karo. The opinion that the blessing should be said prior to immersion is also that of Rav Yosef Karo. So how does immersing a second time, after the reciting the bracha, satisfy his opinion, when he himself is of the opinion that the first immersion has already purified her, regardless of intent? The explanation offered is that even though intent is not necessary according to Rav Yosef Karo, however, if a woman specifically intends to not be purified, she is not. (Chikrei Lev, cited in Badei HaShulchan, Biurim, end of Siman 198) This is similar to the fulfillment of other mitzvot. Even according to the opinion that intent is not essential to fulfill a mitzvah, if one specifically intends not to fulfill the mitzvah, it is not fulfilled even if the action was done (see Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 489:12 and in many places).
But see Pote’ach Sha’ar, milu’im to Siman 23:18 who brings various sources who disagree with this explanation.
[19] Ezekiel, 36:25
[20] Levit. 16:19 and 30
[21] Pinchas Halevi Horowitz of Kossov in Pit’cha Zuta (Y.D.200:4), printed in Kossov 1902
[22] See Mishna, Menachot, 10:3
[23] Shiurei Shevet HaLevi, 200:6 and Tahara KeHalacha, 22:23
[24] Mishna, Avot, 5:20
[25] Rav Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam, the Klausenberger Rebbe, in his responsa, Divrei Yatziv, Likutim, 83
[26] Tractate Derech Eretz, 10
[27] Tanchuma, end of Parshat Metzora
[28] Bava Batra, 60b
[29] Sotah, 11b
[30] Tana Devei Eliyahu Rabba, 7:6
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

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