The sanctity of life – of the nation – of all the generations

We must all unequivocally reject the mistaken opinion that considers cleansing oneself in a bathtub using faucet water equivalent to immersion in a mikvah. The corona virus does not make this method a substitute for ritual immersion.

Rabbi Baruch Efrati

Judaism Ancient mikvah in Syracuse, Italy
Ancient mikvah in Syracuse, Italy

At this time, so soon after the Jewish holiday of freedom commemorating how G-d chose us from among all the nations, delivering us from the defilement of Egypt to the purity of Israel, it is obligatory to recall and review the unambiguous, clear halakha that a woman's ritual immersion after the time in which she is a niddah can take place only in a kosher ritual bath, not in a bathtub at home and not with water drawn from underground pipes.

We must all unequivocally reject the opinion that considers cleansing oneself in a bathtub using faucet water equivalent to immersion in a mikvah.

Accordingly, I wish to remind us all of a letter penned by Israel's first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi, Torah luminary and Religious Zionist icon Rabbi Avraham Yitschak Hakohen Kook zts"l, dealing with purification at the mikveh, and the strict prohibition against considering cleansing oneself in a bathtub as ritual immersion:

תמונת הרב קוק מתוך עטיפת החוברת
צילום: דוברות

The following are his words:

"To our dear brothers living in the Holy Land and to the entire Diaspora.

"Out of the great love I hold for you arising from the most inner depths of my soul, I am able to find the courage to tell you my thoughts in this letter.

"Modesty and holiness are the essence of Judaism, and that Judaism knows no fear or reticence. It knows when the time has come to sense something happening and to speak about it…

"And now I am totally free to bring you my words about the purity to be found in our lives here, the land of our rebirth, this period of redemption and freedom, and it is for that reason I require of you, our brothers and sisters, to live up to the standards of practical purity in every aspect of life, as this is the purity of Torah.  

"Sanctify life with the holiness passed on by generations since time immemorial, with the sanctity of Torah and steadfast tradition.

"Kosher ritual immersion which purifies the home, the purification of the daughters of Israel in a kosher mikveh, is what preserves the mystic existential and wondrous sanctity of the souls of all times.

"My brothers and sisters, I entreat you to guard the majesty of your souls, guard the sanctity of the nation, the sanctity of life, the sanctity of generations.

"Do not make light of this commandment, beloved brothers and sisters.

"Do not delude your souls with the falsehoods propagated by individuals or groups. Do not expect to find a substitute for the Torah's purification attained in a mikvah built to the holy Torah's specifications – no secular purification and no natural cleansing, even the most beautiful of fittings, all are rejected and will not bestow the purification that befits Israel's sanctity.

"The purification that stood and still stands by Israel for eternity is only that found in the words of G-d, Who in His holiness, granted the Torah to His people, the Nation of Israel.

"This mistake is a terrible and awful one, most terrible and awful, it is a transgression that leaves a stain, defiles the future generations, shadows their brilliance in darkness.

"Do not err by thinking of G-d's commands as merely repetitive actions, G-d's commands are alive and exist forever, they and His religion are unchanging, the Eternal G-d of Israel does not lie and his words live and exist for eternity.

"Preserve the pure sanctity of family life, act towards the purity of life as seriously and as awesomely as one must to the cornerstone in the foundations of all the generations and to the rebirth of our nation, its soul's light. Preserve its uniqueness.

"Beware of destroying the soul, beware of the defilement of death!

"Return to the words of G-d, return to the truth of His commandments, to the integrity of His testimony. Guard the purity of my people's daughters, be exacting when in doubt, ask our rabbis who know the law's decisions,  in a respectful manner with the natural modesty of our people, the way of your holy mothers from whom you received the golden, pure and unblemished heart of Israel which lives forever, bravely vanquishing  all who attack it.

"Preserve the purity of kosher immersion. And the glow of joy and life will shine on the enterprise of our rebirth and we will be a blessing in our cherished land,  witnessing the rejoicing of generations at our people's return to life on its holy land.

"Heed the words of he who loves you faithfully, who sends you immeasurable blessings from our holy city, from the hills of Jerusalem.

"Your ever loyal servant and brother whose heart is dedicated to you,

"Rabbi Avraham Yitschak Hakohen Kook.."

Translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky at Rabbi Efrati's request.