These summer months have been busy. People traveled the world. Yet, monthly menstruation didn’t stop and women across the world found themselves looking for a mikveh at the end of their 7 clean days. Often women turn to their local Rabbis or Yoetzet Halacha asking whether a lake is okay for mikveh immersion. Other couples just assume, mistakenly, that every body of water is okay for immersion.

For whatever reason a woman is looking to toivel (immerse) in a natural body of water, she must be aware that there are quite a few nuts and bolts that need to be attended to first.

The laws regarding a kosher mikveh are learnt from the passuk (verse) in VaYikra (11:36)

אַךְ מַעְיָן וּבוֹר מִקְוֵה-מַיִם, יִהְיֶה טָהוֹר;”But a spring or a cistern, a gathering of water remains clean.”.

Rashi writes: that the sources of water that are attached to the ground do not receive tumah, impurity. In addition, he writes that we learn that a person who dips in one of these bodies of water becomes pure.

Simplistically, this sounds quite exciting, easy and perhaps spiritually uplifting. However, it’s not quite that simple. Firstly, we learn in the Gemara (Hagiga 11,1) that there must be enough tahor (pure) water collected naturally to cover the whole body – a minimum of 40 seah (a halakhic measurement equivalent to 8.5 liters – although opinions on the volume range between 7.7 and 14.3 liters). Secondly, the water must be gathered in a way that it won’t become impure, tameh.
There are 3 basic principles regarding what makes the water kosher for immersion: (Pninei Halacha, Mikveh Ch.10):

  1.  That it may not be pumped, sheuvim. 
  2.  The body of water may not be man-made, rather it must be found in nature. 
  3.  The vessel holding the water should not be from a material that receives impurity, mekabel tumah.

Regarding natural bodies of water, the issue of which bodies are kosher for tevillah is complicated. There are different halachic requirements for a natural spring and a river to be considered a kosher mikveh.

The Gemara (Behorot 55,2) tells that Shmuel would make a mikveh for his daughters in Nissan, the springtime, because most of the water in the river was flowing rainwater and not the natural flowing water of the river itself (like in a spring). However, Shmuel is also quoted as saying (Shabbat 65,2) that a river is blessed by its natural water, which overrides the rainwater that flows into it. The question of whether the water’s source is rain or river-water that flows from the ground is at the heart of the debate. Poskim had different approaches to solving the contradiction in Shmuel’s comments. The complex halachic discussions include issues such as  what type of water is considered a kosher mikveh, the differences between a river, stream, spring, lake, sea, etc., and the question of whether there are halachic ramifications to the time of the year (before or after the rain season). Therefore, a river that flows strongly all year round, and not just flows when it rains or from melted snow from the mountain tops would be good for dipping. A spring may be a kosher mikveh even if the water is flowing, unlike the mikvaot that are built where the water must not be flowing. Furthermore, the water in the spring must not be gathered by man and as previously mentioned hold least 40 seah of water. Similarly a lake may be used as a mikveh if it is natural and not man made. The Shulchan Aruch takes a more stringent approach  and suggests that a wall be created around the river during the rainy season, so the water would be standing and not flowing. The Rama agrees with this approach, but adds that one should use such a river as a mikveh only in a place where no other mikveh can be found. Even so, a river that is completely dry in the summer days remains problematic in the winter.

The sea is less problematic in Jewish law. However, safety can sometimes be a real hazard and therefore safety precautions should be taken. (see further in the article Tevilla at Sea)

It is possible that a man-made body of water, such as a dam, could be used as a kosher mikveh. However, there are specific halachot involved to make sure it fills the requirements in order to be a kosher mikveh (Shulchan Aruch, Yoeh Deah, 201). Likewise, the Shulchan Aruch explains that even a large plastic container or water receptacle like a tub, could be used as a mikveh, but only after a hole has been made at the bottom (so it is not considered a vessel) and then it is connected to the ground, as specified in the Shulchan Aruch. He further explains that even if Later the hole is later may be closed up, as long as  and the water inside is from a natural source and water be was gathered naturally, it is okay inside. However, gathering the water is also complex because during the process it may lose its tahor status. This is something the Chatam Sofer (Yoreh Deah, 213) addresses when writing about how to defrost the snow to be used in a mikveh – an interesting topic but beyond the scope of this blog. Suffice it to say that there he writes that water that is disconnected from the ground by man or a vessel is no longer tahor water.

The laws of building a kosher mikveh are clearly very complicated and so someone who is well versed in the laws must be involved when creating a kosher mikveh. For this very reason a community is required to use their communal funds for building a mikveh, as one of the first things they do (Rama, Choshen Mishpat 163,3). And, communal mikvaot are the safest and the best solution halachically when needing to dip.

Dipping in a natural spring with the surrounding serenity and the flexibility to remain in the water for personal meditation can be spiritually uplifting. The desire to have a positive and meaningful experience when immersing is admirable. Having said that, one must inquire prior to dipping to ensure that the body of water fits the requirements of a kosher mikveh, as described above.

In conclusion, when a woman wants to check if a natural body of water can be used as a mikveh, she should contact a local halakhic authority to find out what the local custom is of where to toivel. She can also find out the physical aspects of the water sources (are they flowing, do they include rainwater or spring water, does the amount of water drastically change from season to season, is the water in the spring coming from a pipe…) and with that information contact an authority on the laws of mikveh in order to understand if that body of water is kosher for mikveh. Have a great summer and stay safe!