The evening before the wedding, after dark, brides go for immersion in the mikveh. In some of the Eastern communities, the bride goes escorted by the women of the family and the friends celebrating with her. It is recommended that you go accompanied by someone with experience.
What is a Mikveh?
A mikveh is a body of water that Jewish tradition associates with the power of purifying. Any open water reservoir fed by rain water can serve as a mikveh. Because of the desire for privacy and a comfortable temperature most women immerse in an artificial mikveh. The dressing rooms of a mikveh look like those of a swimming pool or beauty parlor. The building has toilet facilities, showers and baths with a waiting area (with magazines and reading material), and towels. The mikveh itself is a lined water pool about four square meters containing warm water to a height of about a meter. The mikveh is dug below ground level with steps leading down to the bottom. In principle the mikveh should be filled with rainwater but to simplify regular change of the water, the custom is to fill it with tap water and connect it through a small hole to a pit of rainwater (containing at least 19 liters of water [40 seah]). All mikvehs in Israel are chlorinated.
The Concept Underlying Immersion
Tradition sees the periodic cycle of a woman's body as an ongoing process of renewal and creation. Each month the woman's body prepares to absorb new life. The menstrual bleeding completes the previous cycle and the subsequent immersion purifies the woman and prepares her for the next periodic cycle.
What is done in the Mikveh?
On entering the mikveh, you will be greeted by an attendant. She may give you a towel and will collect the service fee (between 15 and 25 NIS depending on the location and the room you have chosen). In the waiting room for immersion you are likely to meet other women who are not brides. These women come for immersion in the mikveh every month, a week after cessation of the menstrual flow, as part of the routine according to the laws of Jewish family purity. When a bathing room is available, it will be cleaned and then you can enter. The immersion in the mikveh consists of two stages: the preparation and the actual immersion. As part of the preparations (which can be carried out at home), the woman bathes, shampoos and combs her hair, removes jewelry (and contact lenses, makeup and polish), brushes her teeth, cuts her nails and ensures that she is completely clean. The bathing rooms are generally supplied with the necessary accessories. At the end of the preparations, the woman wraps herself in her towel and summons the attendant. The attendant accompanies the immersing woman to the mikveh room (most bathing rooms have direct doors to the mikveh), and monitors the immersion procedure. The bride descends to the mikveh, stands in the center of the pool and immerses her entire body with her arms outstretched but not touching the walls of the mikveh. Most women immerse twice or three times and some immerse seven times. Between immersions (generally after the first) the bride recites the blessing:
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who has consecrated us with His commandments and commanded us on the immersion.
After the immersion, the woman wraps herself in the towel and returns to the dressing area.
Where can you find a Mikveh?
Almost every neighborhood in Israel has a mikveh. The addresses can be obtained from the local religious council, the yellow pages or from other women near you. The mikvehs are open every weekday and after the end of the Sabbath or festivals from half an hour after sunset for about an hour. Some places have central mikvehs that are open longer. Mikvehs are also open the eve of Sabbath (Friday evening) and festivals but brides are not likely to immerse at this time. Some brides like to schedule an appointment at the mikveh while others like to blend in with the other women who are using its services.
What to bring to the Mikveh?
It is recommended that you bring with you to the mikveh a large towel or bath robe (the towels at the mikveh are usually short and narrow), a hairbrush, a toothbrush and a change of clothes. If you prefer specific brands of soap and shampoo, bring them too. Also have on hand small change for payment. You may want to call ahead for an appointment, but this is not necessary. Some mikvehs ask brides to provide a letter from the officiating rabbi regarding the upcoming wedding.