Royal Response

by Brian on July 11, 2006

in Jewish Holidays and Culture

My recent post on “The Royal Mikveh” generated more than the usual amount of response. Not since I was branded a “settler” for living in West Jerusalem have I received so much feedback on a blog article. So I wanted to share a little of what readers have told me.

If you haven’t read the piece, the link is here. A quick summary: my wife Jody and I found ourselves at the Dead Sea for a romantic night away without the kids, but to make the evening truly special, we needed a mikveh in a hurry. The only mikveh in town – at the Royal Hotel – cost a pretty penny and didn’t even include a “mikveh lady.” So, as the dutiful husband, I was pressed into what some who wrote in called dubious service.

One reader said that what we did was plainly “non-halachic” – forbidden by Jewish law. Another chastised me for talking so openly about our activities while at the same time criticizing in the article the lack of discretion displayed by the hotel staff.

My fourteen-year-old son Amir predicted I’d lose half my readers for such a display of openness and subsequently pronounced that he’d never be able to look me in the eye anymore. My friend Bob put it more succinctly: “TMI” – short for “too much information.”

But the overwhelming majority of comments on the post were positive. One reader wrote that he and his wife had experienced the exact same problem at the Dead Sea and suggested there might be a mikveh at a nearby kibbutz that could serve as an alternative to the lavish and overpriced one at the Royal Hotel.

Several other readers questioned why we didn’t go farther – making the mikveh experience truly coed.

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, a leading figure in Modern Orthodoxy, once proposed that men and women ought to go into the mikveh together, wrote in one reader. There should even be a small room next to the mikveh with flowers and scented candles where the post-mikveh couple could retire for a short time afterwards, Greenberg suggested.

Greenberg’s proposal was apparently made in 1969. Since then Modern Orthodoxy has become decidedly less liberal.

But that hasn’t stopped my friend Haviva Ner-David, who recently made headlines when she received ordination from a respected Orthodox Rabbi in Jerusalem, from devising her own coed mikveh tradition (she’s writing about it for an upcoming book, so I shouldn’t worry that I’m spilling any overly personal beans, Haviva assured me).

On mikveh night, she and her husband Jacob steal away to a nearby spring in the Jerusalem Hills, park the car and hike into a valley where a swimming hole awaits (see picture at left). There they take turns dunking in this natural mikveh, followed by some romantic skinny-dipping together. It can get a little uncomfortable if there are other visitors, Haviva admitted, but most of the time they’re alone – in no small part because the water isn’t exactly heated like a Jacuzzi.

Haviva is now doing a home renovation and is planning to build a private mikveh into her basement – “for the winter months when it’s just too cold,” she says. She is also eaching classes to recently engaged and newly married couples, and I imagine her private mikveh may play a starring role.

“Didn’t you think about going in the mikveh at the Royal Hotel too,” Haviva asked me as we discussed the responses I’d received.

“I never said I didn’t,” I replied with a wink.

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