The practice of immersion in a “mikveh” unites all generations of Jewish women through the laws of family purity. Following the immersion ritual, three stars are seen in the sky indicating the onset of the Sabbath. Now the woman may return home to light the Sabbath candles and preside over her family gathering. The Mikvah teaches that a woman must always be related to as a person, not as a sex object. The husband is made aware by the mikvah procedure that his wife was not created for his pleasure alone, but for her own personal worth. Not having sex at specific times preserves condition, and enhances the relationship by reaffirming their love and devotion to one another.
In preparation for the spiritual cleansing, the woman must bathe thoroughly. The bath should last about thirty minutes and must clean every part of the body. All foreign objects such as jewelry, nail polish, and false teeth must be removed before the immersion. Hair should be cleaned, brushed, tangle-free and fingernails also trimmed. The woman must be completely free from anything that prevents water from reaching every part of her body. The preparation is usually done at home, and the woman showers before entering the Mikvah.
The immersion in the Mikvah follows specific procedures. Do not enter the Mikvah before stars come out at night (45 minutes after sunset). Once in the water, the woman must completely dip cover herself from head-to-toe. The Mikvah looks like a small pool with steps and water about chest high. The natural source of rain is purified and circulated throughout the tubs. While not holding onto anything, every strand of hair must be dipped. After immersing once, the following prayer is said and the usual custom has the woman immersing two more times:
HEBREW: Baruch atah ado-nai elohenu melech haolam asher kiddeshanu b’mitzvotov v’tzivanu al ha-tevilah.
ENGLISH: Blessed art thou, O Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us by His Commandments, and commanded us to perform the ritual immersion.
Although primarily taken by women, the Mikvah is also frequented by men. The major difference lies in the fact that men use the Mikvah by custom and women by commandment. Time of day is another difference in the use of the Mikvah: the men use it during the day and women at night. Mikvahs sometimes have separate entrances and pools for the men and in some cases, there are Mikvahs for men only.
The Mikvah also plays a major role in the conversion process. This is the final step to become a Jew. It is also used for the immersion of dishes and other utensils, as a way of sanctification.
Observant Jewish women immerse themselves in the Mikvah once a month, based on menstruation, to uphold Taharat Hamishpacha.