In the Eye of the Beholder?

by Akiva of Mystical Paths

Recently I had a humorous post up on my blog about an interesting morning at the (mens) mikvah. For those who don’t regularly utilize a mens mikvah, let me say that the conditions are (often) equivalent to a busy gym locker room.

I was somewhat taken to task for putting up a post that discussed (humorously) these conditions. After all, mens and womens mikvah experiences are just not the same.

The men coming through are very business like, taking care of a holy _optional_ ritual with alacrity, quickly spiritually cleansing themselves for the start of their day. Like when one goes to the gym, men are not usually not put off by the … heavy use conditions. They’re in and out, and on to other things.

This is significantly different from a womens mikvah. Their experience is once a month, the community often invests significantly to make sure the womens mikvah is a very nice place, and the mikvah attendants clean the facilities after every single use. Further, as an obligatory mitzvah, the concept of hiddur mitzvah (enhancing the mitzvah by enhancing the facility) can be applied. And of course, many woman would not tolerate, and indeed would possibly (G-d forbid) not perform the mitzvah, if the sanitary conditions were not of a high level.

So when we discuss mens mikvah experience, we discuss stories such as the Baal Shem Tov taking a mikvah in a frozen river. We discuss thousands of men who do the same by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Uman every erev Rosh Hashanah (where the river is not frozen that time of year, but is very cold and rather muddy, or so I’m told). We discuss the mikvah Ari in Tzfat (Safed), which bubbles out of the side of a mountain and has a chill that will take your breath away (and of which it’s said if you dip there, you won’t leave this world without doing teshuvah).

When we discuss womens mikvah experience, we discuss the beauty of the mitzvah and the facility to go with it. We discuss those who may travel far, very far, to the nearest kosher mikvah, and sacrifices to perform the mitzvah in it’s full beauty.

In the case of womens mikvah facilities, we have a halacha that a community must have a womens mikvah as a first priority, more important that a synagogue, even if one must sell the synagogue to build one. In the case of mens mikvah facilities, well, lets just say adequate is the rule, optional is the case, and it’s often late on the community’s list of things to get to.

Few men are put off by locker room conditions. You go, you change, if it’s not pretty you barely notice (same if it is), you get on to your workout. You finish, you shower off quickly, get dressed and get out. Neither the style of the tile nor a little mildew is going to affect you.

Few women would accept mens locker room conditions. And that’s ok, there’s nothing wrong with maintaining a higher standard, our ladies are worth it.

Some people get put off when you discuss some practical facts of Jewish observance. I think thats a bit sad. While we don’t focus on the fact that there’s a bunch of plumbing carrying away unwanted products in the bathroom, when that plumbing has problems we’re going to be faced with some unpleasantness. If we never discuss that it’s there at all, people are going to be ill equipped to deal with those occasional … back ups.

4 comments on “In the Eye of the Beholder?

  1. eww. I wonder though if more men would participate if the conditions were a little more sanitary. My husband was forced as a kid to go to the mikvah eruv shabbos. Now, as an adult he wants absolutely no part in it. Good God from what he has told me I do not blame him. I am not even talking from the perspective of a woman… Im talking from the perspective of a human.

  2. MIKVAHS are disgusting. Who wants to get naked in front of all those guys and then dip with them in the mikvah. Yuck.

  3. No one is arguing for unsanitary conditions. But the distinction between men and women’s mikvah use, as well as male and female sensibilities, is great. If men’s mikvaos were held to the same standards of meticulousness as modern women’s mikvaos, the cost would be utterly prohibitive. And in no time motivated men would start their own cheaper, down and relatively dirtier alternative.

  4. Nope, sorry. As a man who has used the mikvah on arvei shabbos and yom tov, I am greatly put off by mildew and other “locker room conditions”. Locker rooms are great places to spread infections, some relatively innocuous like athlete’s foot and some more serious like MRSA. Cleanliness must be a top priority in any locker room, and all the more so in a mikvah.

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