The House of Secrets: The Hidden World of the Mikveh

Most Christians have little understanding of the practice in which baptism has its origins: ritual bathing for purification in the Jewish tradition. Israeli author Varda Polak-Sahm takes us into the contemporary Jewish ritual bath, the mikveh, not only as a cultural anthropologist but also as a woman on a spiritual quest.

Her first venture to the mikveh came as a young bride on the eve of her wedding. She was secretly pregnant and terrified that the waters would somehow give her away. She went again to the mikveh more than a decade later, before her second wedding, following her family’s tradition of bridal bathing as well as Orthodox rabbis’ demand for a kosher marriage. She viewed the rabbis’ role in her wedding as invasive of her privacy, and she found the whole practice of the mikveh to be archaic and even, ironically, unclean.

 

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