Mikveh - Why?

Why are a man and woman prohibited from marital relations during her menstruation? Does Judaism consider women somehow “unclean”? And if a woman always has to go to mikveh, when is the couple together?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah speaks of a spiritual concept called "Tuma." Often mistranslated as "dirty," Tuma is not a description of spiritual inferiority, impurity or uncleanliness. Rather, it is a metaphysical phenomenon representing the "loss of human life." For example, a dead human body contains the greatest degree of "Tuma."

Similarly, after having marital relations, men are in a state of Tuma, because of the loss of the "building blocks" of life within them (Leviticus 15:16).

Women incur this state of Tuma when they menstruate, because of the loss of potential life, as the unfertilized ovum is expelled from her body (Leviticus 15:19). The Talmud calls this a "whisper of death."

Upon menstruating, a woman must not have physical contact with her husband. The woman waits until the bleeding stops (usually five days) and then counts seven “clean days.” At this point she goes to the mikveh, a special pool containing "natural" water untouched by human hands – such as rainwater, a river, or underground spring.

A mikveh is a spiritual tool; it has no association with hygiene. Indeed, one who enters a mikveh must be perfectly clean before immersion. To understand mikveh in depth, consider the Yom Kippur service as once practiced in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. At the apex of the service, the High Priest would enter the innermost chamber of the Temple – the Holy of Holies. For seven days beforehand, the High Priest prepared himself for this moment. But the High Priest had one final preparation before the awesome moment of entering the Holy of Holies: He immersed in the mikveh.

The resumption of the act of intimacy of a Jewish woman with her husband is a similarly awesome moment. After her seven days preparing for that moment, a woman immerses in a mikveh in order to elevate her marital relationship. The mikveh experience is like a "spiritual rebirth."

With mikveh – and God's presence – the relationship changes from something that's completely physical, an act which subhuman species also engage in, to an act of holiness and the highest human expression. At the mikveh, the woman utters a prayer inviting God to sanctify their forthcoming intimacy.

The mikveh is key to building a healthy Jewish marriage. Intermittent abstinence from physical relations strengthens the relationship, since the husband and wife must relate on an emotional level independent of any issues of physicality. During the two weeks without physical contact, a couple has to learn how to communicate better with each other.

This is an invaluable lesson in our society which, for all its obeisance to feminism, continues to treat women as objects, in advertising, at the workplace and too often in the home itself.

Furthermore, any relationship works on desire. If the woman is always available, then the man can become bored and seek other outlets. When everything becomes permitted, he eventually becomes accustomed to it and disinterested. There is nothing left to stimulate his imagination. Boredom in marriage is no small matter. It is extremely destructive and is a leading cause of divorce.

During the period of separation, a strong yearning builds between the husband and wife. The fact that the husband has such a strong attachment to his wife means that even when she is not available, he will not seek outside pleasure; he will wait for her because he is so attached to her. When they resume the physical side, it is a monthly “honeymoon” all over again. This keeps the marriage alive and fresh.

Mikveh also teaches the value of restraint. In a world where infidelity is as common as it is today – there have been estimates that almost one of every two married men has been unfaithful – people have to learn the art of restraint. Within the Jewish marriage relationship, if a husband and wife can't have access to each other at regular intervals, it means they must learn to control themselves within the marriage relationship. Outside the marriage relationship, when a temptation suddenly develops and they're called upon to exercise restraint, they know how to respond.

Jewish couples who were initially unaware of the mikveh practice, and who learned about it and incorporated it into their lives, report that the genius of this practice is so great that no human mind could have invented it. Indeed, modern therapists have taken a clue from the Torah and are recommending a cyclical on-off period for married couples. It gives the woman a break during the time when she is most physically uncomfortable. And it removes the ever-present question of waiting for “the moment” to strike.

This also helps maximize the potential for procreation. Studies show that ovulation – the most fertile time of a woman’s cycle – occurs precisely at the time the woman goes to the mikveh.

The observance of Taharat Hamishpacha (lit: “family purity”) has been a central feature of Jewish life for millennia. Indeed, Jewish law mandates that even before a town’s synagogue is built, a mikveh must first be established.One finds mikvehs in medieval Spain, in ancient Italy and in the famed desert outpost of Masada. In fact the single most decisive element archaeologists use in determining whether or not an unearthed settlement is Jewish is the presence of a mikveh.

Read more by Rebbetzin Feige Twerski at

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