Today we're releasing the next installment in our series about Jewish wedding traditions and alternatives with an exploration of immersing in a mikveh before the wedding. Curious to learn more about the wedding guide we created with Ketuv Ketubahs? Sign up below to download our free 36-page guide about planning a Jewish wedding!
Immersion in a mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath, can be a powerful act, often used to crystallize a “state change” in a person’s life. Fittingly, Jews throughout history have used the mikvah not only before marriage, but also during religious conversion, in the ninth month of pregnancy, and to usher in Shabbat and holidays. Bathers prepare for the mikvah by cleaning themselves thoroughly and removing any and all adornments, thereby eliminating barriers between one’s body and the water.
Though some people express discomfort with the idea of mikvah, believing it to be coercive or shaming, mikvah is currently enjoying a kind of renaissance. Inspired by the symbolic weight of the mikvah ritual, and drawn to its powerful narrative of transformation, many women are reclaiming the practice in creative ways, and focusing on its potential as a space for female bonding. In fact, in Sephardic communities, the mikvah has long been a place for a community of women to convene before a wedding. On the occasion of a bride’s henna or noche de la novia celebration, her entire female network will often accompany her to the mikvah, filling its corridors with song and dance.
If you live in an urban area, a little online research will likely turn up a mikvah in your area. What’s more, many of these mikvahs now boast all the comforts of a modern spa, adding a note of luxury. But if you can’t find a mikvah nearby, or can’t imagine being comfortable in a traditional space, you have the option of performing the ritual in a natural body of water, like an ocean or a river.
Some mikvahs are more egalitarian and open to non-Orthodox Jews than others. It is worth calling your local mikvah beforehand to determine if it is the right fit for you. For example, Mayyim Hayyim, a mikvah in Newton, MA, is fully welcoming and inclusive to transgender and queer people, and also has a fully wheelchair-accessible mikvah.
Mayyim Hayyim offers these wonderful scripts for mikvah ceremonies for both brides and grooms. While mikvah is usually a solitary undertaking, this alternative mikvah ceremony from Rabbi Leila Gal Berner creates an opportunity for both partners to undergo the ritual together.