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Mikvah: Slam Dunk or Cannonball?

So maybe I’m a bad feminist, but all the problems with the Mikvah that Laurel wrote about yesterday—they never really bothered me.

That’s not to say I’ve always been Ms. Mikvah. At the Orthodox high school I went to the girls were told repeatedly about how wonderful it feels to go to the Mikvah, but I didn’t buy it. Dunking in acid rain while your husband waited in the station wagon parked in the McDonald’s lot next door? So not sexy. Plus, two whole weeks without sex? Wasn’t the whole point of being married that you had a built-in person to make out with? And getting naked in front of some frum old lady who you’d probably run into in the grocery store? Gross!

In theory, of course, I could see how delayed gratification might enhance one’s bedroom activities, but at seventeen I wasn’t interested in theoretically good sex. I was interested in having a boyfriend, period. Maybe not being able to be with him sometimes would be cool, but that was pretty low on my list of concerns.

And then I got a boyfriend. And I dated, and fell in love twice and had my heart broken twice. And every time I found myself in a relationship I had this weird duplicitous thing going on. I couldn’t wait to be alone with my boyfriend. And then, not too long after, I couldn’t wait to be alone. Being part of a couple was exhausting and annoying.

Even unrequited love, especially unrequited love, made me crave privacy. I wanted mental space. I once heard someone say to his girlfriend, “I think about you all the time, but I don’t have to think.” I always thought that sounded so romantic, but after months of grief and anger I wanted to be able to think without a man lurking in the background. Eventually I felt myself surfacing from heartbreak, and when I wrote a letter to my friends about my recovery I found myself using mikvah-ish language. I felt like I was finally emerging from grief, alone, and cleansed.

It was while I was still grappling with my broken heart, living in Iowa City, that I started learning once a week with the Chabad rebbetzin. When I moved to Nashville she sent me a little gift: a book called Total Immersion about going to the Mikvah. This seemed like a rather blatant hint. I read the book anyway, despite feeling like I was being shoved towards the chuppah, because I am genuinely interested in what the Mikvah is about.

And yeah, parts of it were cheesy, and it was very preachy, but here was a collection of 47 essays about going to the Mikvah, and none of the essays were about anyone’s husband. Each essay was personal appreciation for privacy with self in the preparation for the act, and privacy with God in the act itself.

I still haven’t been to the Mikvah, but I see the appeal of it now. Even just a few seconds to be alone with God, and then the rush that comes with the gasping breath for air… Sounds pretty great, actually.

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