Sivan Ritual: Summertime Mikvah-Tevilah in Your Nearest Ocean, River, or Lake

Naomi Malka contributed the following ritual. She lives in Washington D.C and runs the a progressive mikvah at Adas Israel Congregation. As the “mikvah lady,” Naomi holds space for the diverse needs of her community. Learn more about Naomi’s work at Adas Israel Mikvah and www.bodies-of-water.org.

Shavuot is a special time of renewal, a time when we renew our relationship to Judaism, the Torah, and the Divine each year. For many ritual practices on the Hebrew calendar, we celebrate this time of renewal by immersing in a mikvah, just as the Jews at Mount Sinai did for three days before receiving the Torah, by washing their bodies and clothes.

The Background on Mikvah-Tevilah

In Hebrew, the word tevilah means “dipping.” It refers to dipping pita in hummus (yum!), jumping in a lake (fun!), and the ritualized immersions in a mikvah (wow!). A mikvah is a sacred, ritual bath in the Jewish tradition. It’s one of the oldest and most important practices of this faith. Fun fact: every ancient building in Jerusalem has a little room at the bottom for a mikvah.

Traditionally, a Jewish community builds a mikvah and designates that space for conversion to the faith, making dishes kosher, preparing spiritually for Shabbat or holidays, and helping brides and grooms take their first steps toward the chuppah. Jewish people have practiced these types of immersions for centuries. In the last 20-30 years, many other immersion ceremonies have developed too, for those who are unmarried and for those who don’t identify as heterosexual. There are now liturgies and ceremonies for birthdays, anniversaries of times both joyous and sad, b’nai mitzvah, in/fertility cycles, healing, and mourning. Each time a creative Jewish soul links a mikvah to a lifecycle moment, a new ceremony is born. Every immersion marks some kind of transition, each person immersing to mark a shift out of a former state, connecting to the present, and turning towards some new future.  

Unfortunately, throughout Jewish history, and even in some communities today, going to the mikvah can be an experience of body shaming and negativity. In many Jewish communities, only married women are allowed to immerse. That said, the mikvah can also be a source of body positivity and great blessing. Hopefully, you live in a city with a progressive mikvah where this is the case.

Tevilah — entering water in a ritualized way — is a powerful way to interact with this primal element, giving us an opportunity to experience the holiness of our own bodies, connecting to Jewish tradition and to God.

Whether you immerse in an indoor mikvah, or in an outdoor body of water, tevilah is tevilah. Know that the waters of every mikvah once fell as rain. Before that, they were clouds, fog, lakes and oceans. Earlier still, they ran in rivers from deep springs that bubbled up from inside the earth. Our ancestors told stories about water — the Creation of the World, the Flood, the Wells, the Red Sea, and many others — that we still tell today. Water is an essential part of life and a primary Jewish symbol. Every culture has its water ritual — think of Japanese bath houses, fountains for washing hands and feet before Muslim prayer, and Christian baptisms.  

How Mivkah and Tevilah Promote Positive Body Image

Tevilah is a uniquely Jewish way to experience a rare moment of peace in your relationship to your body, because the message of this ritual is that your body is holy. Whether it is small or large, well or ill, dark or light, old or young, partnered or sleeping alone, your body is your vehicle for moving through this world. What you do with it matters far more than how you look inside it!

You don’t have to go far out of your way to find a mikvah; any natural and flowing body of water is a mikvah. So if you’re hitting the beach this summer, jumping in a lake, or floating somewhere in the Dead Sea, you can perform a tevilah/mikvah ritual.

You don’t even have to take off your bathing suit!

How to Immerse in a Mikvah

  • Bathe before and/or after your mikvah. Try going about it in a way that brings love and care to every part of your body — it should feel different and better than your ordinary shower or bath!
  • Find a nice, quiet area near the shore of an ocean, lake, or river, where you can stand in about four feet of water. Take intentional steps into the water if you can. Indoor mikvahs are built with seven steps, seven being a special number in Judaism to symbolize wholeness and completion. If you can take seven steps, good. If you’re jumping off a dock, try backing up or counting to seven beforehand.
  • Immerse your whole body once. (Meaning, submerge yourself entirely under the water.)
  • When you break the surface, say the blessing:
    Baruch Ata Adonai Elohenu Melech Haolam Asher Kidshanu B’mitzvotav vitzivanu al ha Tevila.

If you can’t remember that, it’s okay! Or offer your own blessing for the ability to go in and out of the water safely. Remember what you are moving away from.

  • Immerse a second time.
  • Say the Shehechiyanu, or another blessing that thanks God for keeping you alive and bringing you to this very moment. Focus on where you are in the big, wide universe:
    Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam she-heche-yanu, ve-ki-y’manu, ve-higi-yanu la-z’man ha-zeh.
  • Immerse a third time. Offer your own blessing. Remember what you are moving toward. It can be a word, a song, a sound, or a motion that symbolizes this transition for you.

Sivan Ritual: Summertime Mikvah-Tevilah in Your Nearest Ocean, River, or Lake
At The Well
At The Well

We're here to support your journey to wholeness throughout every stage of your life. At The Well is spreading the word about Jewish rituals that can help you connect more deeply — to yourself, to your body, and to community.

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