The Royal Mikve – Jpost Talkbacks

by Brian on May 4, 2007

in In the News,Jewish Holidays and Culture

Last Friday the Jerusalem Post, as part of a new arrangement to reprint articles from This Normal Life, published my piece “The Royal Mikve,” Jody and my adventure searching for a mikve while on vacation at the Dead Sea. The story, which chronicles a less than modest encounter with the staff in charge of the ritual bath at the Royal Hotel just south of Masada, was first printed on the This Normal Life blog in June 2006 and elicited strong responses at the time for its frank discussion of Jewish laws surrounding sex. But the Jerusalem Post “talkbackers” have taken the debate to a whole new level. In case you missed the piece last year, here’s the link to its page on the Jerusalem Post.

The discussion on the website has been divided between folks who were offended by my broaching the subject matter entirely and those who thought me a loony for ascribing significance to the ritual of mikve in the first place.

Baruch summed up the first position succinctly. “So if the whole mikve experience is supposed to be discrete, why is the author sharing the experience with the entire world?” “You should read more Torah before you make your comments,” added Yosef. “I pray that HaShem (God) accepts the author’s t’shuva (repetentance) speeedlisly (sic) and that in the future he will be both more inspired and more discrete,” wrote Mookie. “Do you believe that, as an American, following the law is optional? Is filing taxes optional? The Jews have their own law, the Torah, that we are required to follow as well,” added Yoni.

Then there was Mo who threatened that I was in for a harsh response for not following the laws of mikve down to the letter. “Most of us are not refined enough to perceive how our actions affect our neshamah (our soul),” he wrote. “So the manufacturer (G-d) gave instructions on how to operate this precious equipment. Mikve is just one of the calibrating tools.  In the next world, you will see. Yes, G-d will fix the damage, but it is an unpleasant experience. This isn’t a threat, just a fact of faith.”

David J was representative of the opposite tack. In his response, titled “That’s why there is Reform Judaism,” he wrote: “While I applaud the resourcefulness and religious fervor of the author and his wife, in my view it would have been a lot better to simply enjoy their love without feeling guilty. I am glad that my wife and I do not have to deal with those marital constraints while I still am able to feel comfortably Jewish. I hope G-d understands.”

Another talkbacker, Adam, supported David’s position: “You may have just as well dunked your wife in the hotel room tub and called it a day. Do you really think GOD knows the difference?” And a writer named Harris said that while he enjoyed the article “the entire trip was unnecessary. Any natural body of water, sea, pond or river is a natural mikve.” Yes, Harris, but have you ever tried to dunk in the Dead Sea? You can’t – you float!

The article elicited some helpful tips as well. Shalom wrote to share how he handled a similar situation at the Dead Sea. “Normally a woman who needs to go discretely asks another female guest to act as attendant. One does not use their husband for the job!” A writer named Shlomo concurred. “My wife went to the Royal. She found a religious woman in the foyer of the hotel and asked her to accompany her.” Maybe, but somehow the idea of asking a complete stranger to come witness you naked in a pool strikes me as more than a little uncomfortable!

Then there was Jonathan who berated me for expecting a lower price. “Mikve is a service like any other. If you get a service that is in low demand that involves complicated technical laws that must be adhered to, wouldn’t you expect to pay for it? Has it never occurred to you that the 25 shekels you pay in Jerusalem are probably subsidized?” OK, but Israel already pays residents when they have a baby – new mothers walk out of the hospital with a check in hand. By that logic, shouldn’t foreplay carry a discount too?

While I’m delighted my article elicited such strong response – both positive and negative -  one comment did disturb me. A woman named Eileen wrote: “All I can say about the article is that I was quite disgusted by it. For someone who has been buying the Post religiously every Friday for the past 27 years, articles like yours puts me off buying the Post forever.”

Eileen’s comment reminds me of an exchange from the Howard Stern movie “Private Parts.” When Stern’s antagonistic station manager asks how it can be that Stern fans listen for an average of an hour and 20 minutes, far above the average, he is told the most commonly given answer is “I want to see what he’ll say next.” What about the people who hate Stern, the manager asks? They listen for nearly twice as long, comes the reply. Why? The most common answer: “I want to see what he’ll say next.”

While I’m not in any way comparing myself with Howard Stern, I do hope that Eileen and all the other Jerusalem Post talkbackers who took issue with the piece will stick around and keep reading This Normal Life. Because you never do know what I’ll write about next!

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