Dr. Ilana Chertok recently articulated an active goal of The Eden Center. “In addition to Halakha (Jewish law) and Mesoret (tradition), culture influences many women in their attitude and practice regarding mikveh. As such, we need to develop an understanding and sensitivity to culture and its role in the mikveh experience.”
This blog certainly resonates as part of that work— to ensure that all cultures are embraced and understood at the mikveh to allow customs to remain and flourish.
Many women in Israel, regardless of their level of observance, come to the mikveh in their ninth month of pregnancy— a segula (practice) that is believed to make birth easier. This practice is especially common for women of Mizrachi/Sepharadi descent, but becoming more popular across the board.
This woman’s immersion evokes the idea of bringing tahara, purity and God’s presence, into the birth process. The living waters of the mikveh parallel the waters of the womb. By immersing, the woman unites the spiritual aspects of the mikveh waters, that symbolize being enwrapped by Torah and the Shekhina, with the physical nature of the womb and birthing process. Tevilla is therefore a very female way to bring Hashem into the process of preparing for labor.
Tevilla for a pregnant woman is a kabbalistic segula, not a halakha. Therefore, there are no specific rules about the procedure, and no special preparation is needed. There is no requirement to remove hatzitzot (physical barriers), though washing one’s body before entering makes it nicer for those coming after. Likewise, there is no bracha (blessing) to recite (as it is not a mitzvah).
Some women come to the mikveh as close as possible to the due date, others – as soon as they begin the 9th month, others – at any other convenient point. You can ask the balanit (mikveh attendant) to supervise, but she does not need to be in with you at the time of immersion, nor say “Kasher”. As this tevilla is a minhag (custom), there is also no specific required number of immersions.
Once a woman is in the waters, it’s an opportune time for personal prayers for the baby, the birth process, herself, parenting, others, or whatever is on her mind. Much has been said in Hassidic philosophy regarding the connection between the womb and the mikveh; from one we emerge into life, from the other we emerge pure and spiritually elevated – a new spiritual life. Thus it is an ideal time for davening (praying) from the heart, sharing fears with God, as well as concerns for one’s health, the health of the child and in general asking for help on the practical level regarding the birth.
For a woman who is immersing–try to transform it into a mindful experience, focus on what you are feeling in the present, and any feelings you have going into birth. Concentrate on your fears, concerns, hopes, desires. Allow your feelings to come to the surface, rather than hide from them. Feel the embrace of the mikveh waters, and realize that just as the waters surround you, so too are you surrounded by God’s presence. This is also what your baby is feeling. Connect to the warmth and flow of the waters and Hashem’s presence, the connection of living waters (מים חיים) with the waters that will bring forth life. Allow that feeling to fill you and carry it with you into the birth process, a moment between you and the Divine. God is there with you, in the mikveh and during birth, as you partner in creation.
Addendum: There is also a segula that many women connect to, of doing this immersion with someone who is going through treatments for infertility. Women sometimes reach out to friends who are experiencing infertility or ask the attendant if any women have expressed desire to immerse this way. Then, both women come to the mikveh on the same night (either on a night that the woman experiencing infertility has to immerse anyway, or just a night of their choosing) and immerse one after the other – usually with the pregnant woman immersing first. A beautiful custom around this immersion is that each woman davens for the other, one davening that her friend should get pregnant and have a baby and the other davening that her friend should have an easy birth.