Mama Deb (mamadeb) wrote,
Mama Deb

Probably TMI

But I had a first time experience (no, not *anything* you might think) last night, and I need to talk about it.

Therefore, I'll put

Brief note: as an Orthodox Jewish married woman, I go to the ritual bath or "mikveh" seven days after the conclusion of each period, so that I can again be with my husband. This separation is fairly extensive - from the moment I know the period has begun, we can not touch at all. Among the precautions we should take is to not hand each other items directly, to not share a bed, although sharing a room is fine and to not see each other undressed. I must admit, we're not very good at much of these, but we try and we do reduce physical contact way, way, way down. The not sharing a bed thing is managed by having a pair of twin beds that we make up as a king sized bed for the on weeks and as twin beds for the off. Other options are keeping them permanently as twin beds, having two full sized beds, or having a queen and a twin, with husband banished to twin in the off days.

Anyway, I've been going to mikveh since just before my wedding. I've gotten the routine pretty well down pat - cutting the finger and toe nails, teeth brushing, taking a very thorough bath and shower and making sure my hair is tangle free - that last being difficult because conditioner is iffy to use, and my hair is fragile in the best of conditions, tangles easily and is very long. I end up having to use a finetoothed comb on long wet hair. I can hear the screams from here. :) This preparation can be done at home or at the ritual bath house itself, all of which provide private bathrooms with all necessary supplies - even contact lens fluid. All possible separations between the woman and the mikveh water must be removed, you see, so the contacts go off, and there has to be discussions with rabbis about casts and temporary fillings and stitches.

So, there is a normal routine. You do what you want or can before going there, w hich you do as soon as feasible after full dark. In the winter time, this may well mean right after work. You get there, you tell the lady if you want a bath or a shower, and pay the fee, plus whatever extra for supplies such as calendars or checking cloths. When there's a bathroom free, you go there, complete the prep and, without drying yourself, put on the robe provided and signal that you're ready. A woman comes and takes you to the ritual bath area - mikva'ot are all constructed according to strict rules and are fed by natural sources, such as rain. They're also heated nicely. :) She checks to make sure you've prepared properly - or, in the one I go to now, they do a thorough check in the bathroom before taking you out. Doesn't matter. You go in to the bath, you dunk once while the lady makes sure you've immersed thoroughly, you say the blessing (which creates this image - a woman standing stark naked, up to her neck in water, arms crossed over her chest, with a wet washcloth covering her head.) and dunk several more times according to your custom. I dunk twice, others dunk eight times. Each time, the mikveh lady makes sure all is "Kosher!" - which is what she says to assure you. They offer long-haired women nets but I can go deep enough that my hair all goes under.

Then you put on your robe and gather your paper slippers and go back to dry off and get dressed. Some places also offer rooms where you can blow dry your hair and put on make up if you want. Others are very concerned with privacy, so you do that sort of thing in the bathroom instead and signal when you're ready to leave. And you wash your hands ritually before you do.

This is all the normal stuff, the six day a week stuff. The stuff I'm used to doing because until a few months ago, I lived in a very secular neighborhood and there was no mikveh in walking distance. So, if "mikveh night" fell on a Friday, I'd wait until Saturday night. This is not to make it seem like a tremendous hardship. The mikveh was only a few miles away, and easily accessible by car. I know of women who had to travel overnight or even fly.

But now I'm in walking distance. I've already exalted in that, since I'm no longer at the mercy of car services or, if I drove (back when I owned a car), finding a space on the return trip. Instead, it's either a twenty minute walk on some very flat streets or, if I'm fortunate, a couple of five minute bus rides. It's total freedom, so far as I'm concerned.

But last night was the first time since I moved here that I had to go on a Friday night. I called the place Thursday with so many questions. I was told to do all prep work at home, to show up at 6:45, or at least before 6:55, which was the earliest time and to mail a check for the fee. They also asked for my name and phone number.

So, fine. I prefer to do everything *there*, but after I got my chicken in the oven, I did what I had to do. Took me a relaxed half hour, which isn't bad at all. I got dressed for the Sabbath, finished the Sabbath stuff - setting lights, setting up the oven, making coffee, putting frozen vegetables to cook - and lit my candles at the right moment. Jonathan came home, changed and went off to synagogue, and a half hour later, I strolled off, leaving my rings behind for safe keeping.

I met another woman clearly on her own way to the mikveh at a corner, so we walked together. I knew the combination for the lock but the doors were open. We found other women sitting in the waiting area reading or praying and waiting for the right time. To our surprise, a young woman emerged with wet hair. Turns out she was from a different tradition and could dunk earlier. Upon hearing this, a woman from the same tradition who had been waiting went into the bathroom area.

We sat and read or chatted until we were called in ourselves. And we went in as a group and were assigned bathrooms.

It was *weird* - all we did was get undressed and put on the robes and paper slippers. Well, I did rinse out my mouth and blow my nose, but that's about it. And while we waited, we stood outside our bathroom doors and chatted. This is not actually "licit", but we did it anyway. We were bored and we had stuff to talk about it. What was also interesting was the *hair* - their's and mine. Around here, married women tend to keep their hair covered outside their homes, mostly with wigs, but also with hats or turbans or the long turbans we call snoods, or scarves. Andt hat's what I'm used to seeing, and I'm certainly not used to standing around with my hair all down my back, instead of pinned up and covered by a hat. But I did. And while I stood chatting, my hair dried. which it hadn't when I had it pinned up.

Eventually, they came to our side of the hallway, and we were told to go back to our little rooms and stop chatting. Which we did. I was third in line.

And this time, my hair *floated*, because this time it was *dry*. I had to dunk a second time before I could make the blessing. Next time, I splash mikveh water over it before I dunk. I got out, wished the lady a good shabbos and a happy passover and went back to my bathroom to dry off as best I could, considering that I was not permitted to *rub* with the towel, and wrapped a towel around my dripping hair that I could not wring out or comb or blow dry or rub, but had to hope the towel would absorb enough water. Because it's the Sabbath and those things are forbidden.

I got my hair to just very damp, which was the best I could do. I pinned it back up and, after getting dressed, settled my wool Sabbath hat on top. I wouldn't have minded the wetness so much except it was *cold* outside. I walk back with the lady I met until her corner, and then the rest of the way alone, but it was only 7:30, so it wasn't a big deal. Of course, the stores were closed - some because it was 7:30, but many, many because it was Friday night and they'd been closed since 4PM. Made me feel all shabbosy.

And Jonathan had set the table and was waiting for me with a big kiss.

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