like a fish

dipping in the mikveh…

Someone was told it was getting more area exposed to water?  Nah, it doesn’t really work like that.

Let’s see what it says here:

During immersion, a woman’s entire body and all of her hair must be in simultaneous contact with the mikveh water. Therefore, the ideal position for immersion is “as if she is weaving or nursing her child” – slightly crouched, arms extended, hands open with the fingers slightly separated, eyes and mouth gently closed, but NOT clenched – so that the mikveh water reaches every part of her body. (The eyes and the inside of the mouth must be free of chatzitzot, but need not come into contact with the mikveh water.) A woman who has difficulty assuming the recommended position should wet all parts of her body with the mikveh water and then immerse in any position in which her body and hair are completely submerged. The custom in Chabad is to immerse while spread out “like a fish”.

This is what is called “being polite.”  It is a custom, but it is not the original halachah from the Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah, coming from the Gemara.

שולחן ערוך יורה דעה סימן קצח

סעיף לה

לא תטבול בקומה זקופה, מפני שיש מקומות שמסתתרים בה; ואל תשחה הרבה עד שידבקו סתריה זה בזה, אלא שוחה מעט עד שיהיו סתרי בית הערוה נראים כדרך שנראית בשעה שהיא עורכת; ויהיה תחת דדיה נראה כדרך שנראה בשעה שמניקה את בנה; ויהיה תחת בית השחי נראה כדרך שנראה כשאורגת בעומדין, ואינה צריכה להרחיק ירכותיה זו מזו יותר מדאי וגם לא להרחיק זרועותיה מהגוף יותר מדאי, אלא כדרך שהם בעת הילוכה; ואם שינתה, כגון ששחתה ביותר או זקפה ביותר, עלתה לה טבילה (ערוך וסמ”ג ורשב”ץ ורמב”ם); ויש מי שאומר שלא עלתה.

“She should not immerse in a bent manner because there are crevices that are hidden (in the body that should be reached) … she should bend a little so that…it should be like she is setting (the table; arranging, as in the term Shulchan Aruch)…under her breasts like she is nursing a child, (standing) like she is weaving while standing, and she shouldn’t be stretching out her arms or her legs too much, but should be like the way she is while walking, and if she is too bent or too stiff, some say it counts, but some say it doesn’t.”

Now, even though the ט”ז Taz questions why בדיעבד a postiori a woman shouldn’t be יוצאת fulfulling her obligation if she did it in the wrong position, since as she goes into the water, most areas of her body are in contact with water at SOME point in the correct position, and therefore even if an area that needs to be crevice-free gets filled with crevices, it is attached to the mikveh through the water that got stuck in the crevices- still, it should be pointed out how strongly חז”ל the rabbis felt about their initial description of what טבילה immersion should look like, to the point of possibly disqualifying an immersion that was done in an alternate position. (Thanks, A, for the help.  Nachas.)

The only reason that someone would need to immerse in a different way is if there was not enough water in a natural setting to cover the body if standing.  It is a way to do it only after the fact.  We in the Jewish world don’t try to do things after the fact.  We try to do things the optimal way a priori.

And then there’s this.  I know it sounds lovely, but being told to dive into the water is not halachah for us Ashkenazim and even for Sephardim.  This is where I start getting into problems understanding how Chabad Halachah could vary so much.

Again, I have problems with the whole charisma thing, and I don’t get doing something because people heard that someone (okay, the rebbe) did it 3 times “pashut” (straight up and down!!!), 3 times “dag” (like a fish), and 3 times “pashut”.  Even here, you see, it is clear that pashut means up and down.  Pashut!  Simple!  We don’t need hearsay; we need purity and simplicity.

The real issue is that the body should be in a position that it should not cover itself.  Diving like a fish will more than likely not allow a woman to relax enough to have the legs slightly apart and let the water reach all the parts of the body.  Naturally.

Why do we have to make things so hard?  So unnatural?  I have served as a mikveh attendant for many years now, on and off.  Most of the time, it’s pretty business-like, making sure that women take off their jewelry (you’d be amazed how many women forget!), trying to keep women focused on the mitzvah at hand, not getting into conversations about other things.  Sometimes I see women who are not rushing to go home and I get worried, but that’s for another time.  But I am very grateful to have experienced some women’s immersions that are truly inspiring.  Once, one woman was coming out of the water with her hands reaching up to the sky bursting through to the surface, reaching for G-d, if anyone could do that.  And it was as natural as it could be.


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