As much as we want mikveh attendants to provide us with a space that is supportive of our emotional and spiritual needs, it is crucial that they protect us by making sure that the mikvah is kept at the highest standards of cleanliness. This blog comes as a response to a question we were asked by Sharon, a mikveh lady in a small community:
I’d like some guidance on the technical details of the mikvah upkeep. Recently a few kallot who have not been yet have been have been asking me about the water-chlorination. We chlorinate and have a filter but there is no stamp of approval from the dept of health or anything. What standards exist in other mikvahs that are of an official nature that can assure customers? Also, whenever we have someone coming who is going through chemo I always clean and fill the mikvah with new water for them but I worry that there are perhaps standards outside of common sense that I should be following for the safety of everyone who uses it. I hope I am not freaking anyone out here. Thank you.
Thank you for your question. We address health and safety in The Eden Center mikvah attendant course (a brief outline of the course can be found here).
In my mind it is vital that women are assured that the mikvah waters, which are suppose to cleanse us spiritually, are physically clean and sanitary as well.
As part of the course we were privileged to have a session with Inbar Primor from the Misrad HaBriut (Israel’s department of health), who is and Inspector and Chief Coordinator of Environmental Health Services at the Ministry of Health. Inbar explained that much of the regulations governing mikvot were similar to the regulation regarding pools.
Specific to mikvah:
1) Chemicals (chlorine and bromine are used in Israel) are checked and added as needed- every “x” amount of tovlot and certain # of days (according to instructions on the product). We learned that there needs to be 1.5-3mg of chlorine per liter of water or 3-6 mg of bromine per liter of water. Too little doesn’t disinfect, but too much is damaging to the skin, irritates the eyes and produces gasses that can harmful – especially to the mikvah lady who is there more than a tovelet.
2) Filtering without chemical disinfection isn’t effective. Failure to follow instructions in cleaning out the filters can lead to breeding of diseases within the filters themselves.
In terms of illness – some people need to go in when there is no chlorine, others after the chlorination has been added. The tovelet should check with her doctor requiring her particular needs. If someone goes in before chlorination, make sure to chlorinate after her to protect others!
Important to be aware:
Ear and eye infections can be spread in the water, as well as nail fungus. Schedule those suffering with one of these as last appointments.
- Yeast infections can spread in the mikvah — chlorinate properly and think about hanging a sign to let tovlot know that they should come toward closing time if they have one.
- Psoriasis isn’t contagious, but chlorine may worsen the condition.
These are the standard procedures that we teach in our classes.
Carrie Bornstein of Mayyim Hayyim noted to me that sometimes people want assurance about the cleanliness: Most mikva’ot exist outside of the bounds of department of health regulations. I find that many people who ask this question just want to know that you have a system in place. It’s helpful to have them think ‘small swimming pool’ rather than ‘large hot tub’ as the sanitation standards and needs are similar.
Lastly, sometimes when a woman asks about the cleanliness she has other concerns on her mind. You may want to ask the woman if she has any specific needs. Some women may feel uncomfortable telling you they are suffering from an illness, or asking direct questions themselves. They may be embarrassed or feel they don’t want to add to the attendant’s burden. Others just want to know that you are on the same page about the importance. But you will be able to address her needs more appropriately if you can identify where the question is coming from.
Of course anyone with a medical concern should check with their doctor for guidance with additional questions both for their sake and the sake of other mikvah goers.
If you have any questions about the health regulations, or how to make sure your mikvah is up to the standards, call the local representative of the Ministry of Health, Division of Environmental Health (In the greater Jerusalem region 02-6217381 or 02-6253835).