Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Man and the Mikva

The Man and the Mikva

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin
Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel

While there is no occasion today that a man is truly required by Torah law to immerse himself in a mikva, a number of customs have evolved throughout the years in which men have voluntarily taken upon themselves to do so. Among these occasions are immersions prior to Shabbat and Holidays. Some even immerse daily.

The most widespread of these elective immersions is that of Erev Yom Kippur. Immersion in a mikva to prepare for the holy day of Yom Kippur is an ancient custom which serves a dual purpose. Firstly, any time a man has a seminal emission he becomes tamay, spiritually impure, which a mikva promptly remedies. In fact, in ancient times men would immerse themselves in a mikva following all marital relations prior to resuming prayer or even Torah study. While this is certainly not obligatory today, it is however meritorious to do so.[1]

Elevating our level of physical and spiritual purity ahead of Yom Kippur is certainly a commendable thing to do.[2] Indeed, there is a repeating theme on Yom Kippur of striving to emulate the holiness of the angels and a mikva serves as a leading channel towards this goal.[3] Additionally, immersion in a mikva Erev Yom Kippur in advance of our personal declarations of regret and repentance to God mirrors the immersion of a convert who now accepts upon himself a commitment to God and Torah as well.[4] Nevertheless since this immersion is essentially optional, no bracha is to be recited,[5] though some authorities do label this immersion “a mitzvah”.[6]

Although the regulations and preparations are immense regarding the immersion of women in a mikva,[7] it is generally accepted that a man need not be particular about chatzitzot, minor obstructions, between his body and the mikva water.[8] An alternative and somewhat fascinating method for a man to attain ritual purity is the uninterrupted pouring of “nine kabin” (11-24 liters) of water upon him where proper immersion in a mikva is not possible.[9] These nine kabin of water must reach all parts of the body from head to toe. A three to four minute shower may be used for this purpose.[10] Similarly, a man can discharge his immersions in any body of water, even those which would ordinarily be disqualified for mikva use. As such, a municipal swimming pool would serve this purpose.[11]

When even showering with “nine kabin” is not possible, some of the more mystically inclined authorities recommend washing one’s hands forty times which can effect at least a lesser form of purity. When exercising this option one is to meditate on the 72 letter name of God along with the recitation of a specified order of prayers.[12]

A man should be sure to urinate prior to immersing in a mikva, especially following a known seminal emission, in order to ensure that all sources of impurity have been eliminated from the body.[13] And finally, for reasons of proper modesty, one should not go to the mikva together with any of one’s closest relatives.[14]

[1] Mishna Berura 88:2
[2] Rama O.C. 606:4
[3] Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer 46, Kaf Hachaim 606:50
[4] Mishna Berura 606:21
[5] O.C. 606:4, Matte Efraim 606:17
[6] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 131:6, Mateh Efraim 606:8
[7] Though it is best to ensure no chatzitzot for the Erev Yom Kippur immersion. Elef Hamagen 606:17, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 131:6
[8] Misgeret Hashulchan 131:4
[9] Mishna Berura 88:4, Matte Efraim 606:10
[10] Piskei Teshuvot 88:5
[11] Teshuvot V’hanhagot 1:123
[12] Piskei Teshuvot 88:4
[13] Matte Efraim 606:15
[14] Pesachim 51a, Elef Hamagen 606:19

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