The Royal Mikveh

by Brian on June 22, 2006

in Jewish Holidays and Culture

With our months-long home renovation finally done, my wife Jody and I needed a break. My father-in-law Ron had come to Israel and was willing to stay with the kids, allowing us a quick getaway.

Our destination: Le Meridien Hotel and Spa at the Dead Sea, for 24-hours of floating in the hot salt water pool, luxuriating in the Jacuzzi and taking in a couple of massages to obliterate the stress of cantankerous contractors and clumsy carpenters.

There was only one hitch. The date that worked best for my father-in-law and the kids just happened to be mikveh night.

According to Jewish tradition, a married couple abstains from intimacy when the woman is menstruating and for seven days afterward. At the end of this period – called nidah – the woman visits a ritual bath known in Hebrew as a mikveh, immerses herself three times while saying a blessing, and then returns to her husband. No mikveh, no relations.

Which would kind of kill the romance for our one-night-away-without-needing-to-get-up-and-get-the-kids-off-to-school trip.

Ever resourceful, Jody picked up the phone and called her regular Katamon-area bath to see if there was a mikveh in the Dead Sea area.  The woman on the other end was not encouraging.

“You’ll have to go up to Arad,” she said, referring to the nearest town, a 30-40 minute drive each way. Not exactly how I wanted to spend the evening.

Jody next decided to call the hotel. No, they didn’t have a mikveh, but there was one at the nearby Royal Hotel.

“That sounds nice,” I said, imagining a hi-tech mikveh complex, posh enough for the many wives of King Solomon.

Jody made a reservation for that evening and we set off for our mini-vacation.

At the appointed hour, we walked over to the Royal Hotel. The lobby was an immediate disappointment. A single clerk sat behind a shabby desk. Loud disco music blared from an adjoining room – Israelis for some reason cannot go on vacation without there being a nightclub where the hotel staff coerces them into some kind of garish display of public dancing and/or Hebrew karaoke.

“Are you a guest in the hotel?” Galit, the front desk clerk, asked.

“No,” Jody replied.

“Well, that will be 100 shekels then,” Galit said, almost apologetically

“100 shekels!” I sputtered, turning to Jody. That was four times what we pay for the mikveh in Jerusalem. Where does it say in Jewish tradition there should be a tax on sex?

But then, this is one of those things where there’s not much wiggle room for negotiation, as it’s mighty hard to just walk away.

“This ‘Royal’ Mikveh better be nice,” I said.

We handed over a 100 shekel bill and Galit got on her walkie-talkie.

“Shlomi, to the front desk. We need you to open the mikveh. Got a lady here.”

Could she be any more obvious? Going to the mikveh is supposed to be discreet , modest. The whole episode reminded me of the scene in the movie “Summer of 42” where the embarrassed kid goes up to the drug store checkout counter with his first pack of condoms and the clerk yells out something along the lines of “We need a price check on Trojans, Aisle 12!”

Shlomi – a man, by the way – arrived after a few minutes. Jody looked confused. “Is there a balanit?” she asked Galit, referring to the female mikveh attendant who checks to make sure the woman is properly prepared and then observes the dunk to pronounce it “kosher.”

“No,” Galit replied. “It’s a self-service mikveh.”

Jody looked at me. “You’re going to have to be my balanit,” she said.

Now that was a twist.

Now, it’s not like I’ve never been in a mikveh before. When I was a participant on the Livnot U’Lehibanot program in Safed 20 years ago, a bunch of us guys used to go to the men’s mikveh – mainly because the mikveh complex had abundant hot water, something in short supply on the Livnot campus. And before Jody and I got married. I even took a ceremonial dunk in the local Berkeley mikveh.

But this would be my first coed mikveh experience.

Sounded kind of like fun.

Shlomi walked us to the mikveh, which was located deep inside the hotel’s spa.

He unlocked the cavernous room which was dark and empty at this hour, led us past the oversized heart-shaped salt water pool with its float-over ice cream bar at the side. And I thought: hmmm…maybe this would turn out OK after all.

He then escorted us out a side door and into a dank, plain stairway that wasn’t at all like the spa. Shlomi fumbled with two sets of keys, which unlocked another door that looked more like the opening to a bomb shelter than the opulence we had at this point come to expect.

Shlomi told us to take our time and tell Galit at the front desk when we were done. I’m not sure if he winked.

The room was as old and run down as the stairwell outside. The bathtub was cracked, the plumbing loud. Dead mosquitoes stuck to the walls. At 100 shekels for the “experience,” this was turning out to be one expensive bit of foreplay. Kind of like paying for premium and still having to pump your own gas.
Nevertheless, I am happy to report that I acquitted myself admirably on my first – and probably only – stint as a coed mikveh attendant, calling out “kosher” with all the aplomb and enthusiasm of a true balanit.

We walked back to the front desk holding hands, like a couple of giddy teenagers. Galit was waiting there and handed us our receipt. When Jody and I looked at it, we burst out laughing.

The bill, which was clearly – and as indiscreetly as possible – marked “mikveh,” was broken down into a base fee of 83.5 shekels, plus another 16.5 percent for value added tax (our local version of sales tax).

It seems that when it comes to the business of taxing sex, even the Israeli government wants a piece of the action.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous June 23, 2006 at 1:14 am

Thank you for this terrific story, which made me smile. Funny and sweet and well-told!

2 Anonymous June 25, 2006 at 2:11 am

“Going to the mikveh is supposed to be discrete, modest.” Then why do you describe it so indescretely? The hotel staff was so “obvious” presumably due to lack of consideration and sensitivity. What's your excuse?

3 Anonymous June 25, 2006 at 3:13 pm

we had that question once when we were going to go to the dead sea. i think there was some talk once about opening a public mikva in the hotel area but i guess it has not happened yet.
nice piece

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