CU MIKVAH FORUM:
LEND YOUR VOICE (AND EARS!)
By Paul Weichsel
News travels fast these days and I am sure that many of you have heard that all of the Jewish institutions in Champaign-Urbana are in discussions to plan a community mikvah. As most of you know, the institution of the mikvah has been with us since Bibilical times (recall the mikvah in Masada) It is natural to ask, whether the mikvah is relevant for Jews today, in particular, for Reform Jews.
The Mikvah in Reform Judaism
To illustrate the role of the mikvah in Reform Judaism, I can do no better than to quote from an article in the Fall 2008 issue of Reform Judaism by Sue Fishkoff.
"Like kashrut (dietary laws) and Shabbat, mikveh is nowadays being reexamined by increasing numbers of Reform Jews. Long rejected by Reform Jewry as an outmoded ritual rife with sexism, this tradition is being mined—slowly, carefully—for its spiritual potential, in new as well as traditional ways.
In observant circles, mikveh is used most often as part of niddah, which requires married Jewish women to immerse monthly after menstruation; for conversion; and by brides and grooms before their wedding.
Mikveh made its first incursions back into Reform use about twenty-five years ago, when Reform clergy began bringing more converts to the mikveh, partly to reconnect with tradition in the conversion ritual and partly out of a desire to sanctify the ritual aesthetically. By 2001, the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ conversion committee had issued new guidelines for Reform conversion. Along with convening a beit din (an examining body of clergy and educators) and encouraging male converts to undergo hakafat dam brit (ritual circumcision, through the taking of a symbolic drop of blood from the penis), the guidelines recommended a mikveh ceremony. “Mikveh adds an emotional, physical, and ritual element to the conversion process which many Jews by choice find meaningful,” says Rabbi Steven Sirbu of Temple Emeth in Teaneck, New Jersey, who “strongly encourages” converts to immerse in the community mikveh (built on the synagogue’s property by an Orthodox-controlled mikveh association with the stipulation that it remain accessible for Reform conversions).
Reform Jews are using mikvaot today in a wide variety of alternative ways: to mark lifecycle events or a change of personal status, to celebrate joy or sanctify grief. Immersions before a bat or bar mitzvah, to mark divorce or the death of a loved one, to celebrate graduation or a trip to Israel, as gratitude after recovery from a serious illness are increasingly common.
Another indicator of mikveh’s new inroads is its personal use by Reform rabbis. Rabbi Sue Ann Wasserman, director of the Union’s Department of Worship, Music and Religious Living, says she was taking conversion candidates to mikveh “for years,” but did so herself for the first time just seven years ago before her wedding. “I came out of the water in tears,” she recalls. “Everything just poured out of me. There’s something unbelievable about being naked in a body of water that has such a connection to God." Full report
Community Mikvah of Champaign-Urbana
The Champaign-Urbana Mikvah is being created with the vision of establishing a community mikvah. As the cornerstone of a healthy and thriving Jewish community, it is our hope that the institution will bring the Jewish community together to strengthen, educate and enhance our Jewish quality of life. Community Mikvah of C-U
You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
Donate to the mikvah project
Do donate to the CU Mikvah project click on the donations link and donate using the "in memory/honor of" option and listing "CU Mikvah" as the honoree. 100% of your donation goes to the Mikvah Project