By Chana Shloush
Women’s immersion in the mikvah the day before Yom Kippur is an ancient custom whose roots lie in the Yom Kippur immersions of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) in preparation to enter the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple in Jerusalem. At Mount Sinai, too, before receiving the Torah, the Jewish people immersed in a mikvah.
Mikvah immersion, when prescribed by the Torah, results in a status change from tumah, an untranslatable word indicating spiritual impurity, to taharah, spiritual purity. It has no connection to physical dirt or unsanitariness. Maimonides addressed this issue eight centuries ago in his Laws of Mikvaot, 11:12: “It is clear and obvious that tumah is not some adhesion of filth that can be removed with water, but a Torah decree, and it is dependent upon the intention of the heart.”
While the woman immerses physically on Erev Yom Kippur, she of course prepares herself emotionally and spiritually to let go of the transgressions or shortcomings of the past and to embrace a renewed commitment to G-dliness and mitzvot.
For regular mikvah immersion in accordance with Jewish law, where women immerse in order to reenter the holy, mindful intimacy of the marital relationship, women make certain specific preparations. In contrast, the Erev Yom Kippur immersion does not call for advance physical preparation. Portland’s Mikvah Shoshana, which is reserved exclusively for women, will be open on Erev Yom Kippur, Oct. 11, for all Jewish women who would like to partake in this beautiful custom of the day.
For information or an appointment, call Simi Mishulovin at 503-309-4185.
Chana Shloush, originally from Portland, is the author of Mikvah Meditations.
Chana Shloush Mikvah Meditations
By Chana Shloush