Mikva and those with a disposition towards the same gender

I am going to confine this question initially to men; that is, those with homosexual preferences. I am also going to confine myself to religious men, because I don’t think that it is likely that non religious Jewish homosexuals would have any connection to this custom.

There is a custom mentioned in the Gemora, which was enacted as a Takana from the Prophet Ezra, that men should visit a (male) Mikvah when they had an ’emission’. It is also true that Mikva was used to purify: the Cohen Gadol used to immerse in a Mikva many times during the services on Yom Kippur. In the days of the Temple even if one was טהור the male went to the מקווה in order to enter the עזרה. Even today, some Chazonim will immerse themselves before certain parts of the davening and this is brought in Acharonim. [ When I led Tefillos on Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur, I went to the Mikva (also Pesach and Shavuos)]

The main reason for טבילת עזרא (which actually was enacted for both women and men) appears in Talmud Bavli Brachos 22a, and Baba Kama 92a.

The purpose of the תקנה was to “cool down” the tendency to engage in marital relations in an unfettered way, and to keep it “regular” for want of a better term. I am not using the exact words of the Gemora.

The enactment of Ezra was annulled (אורח חיים סימן פח).

כל הטמאים קורין בתורה וקורין קריאת שמע ומתפללין חוץ מבעל קרי שהוציאו עזרא מכל הטמאים ואסרו בין בדברי תורה בין בקריאת שמע ותפלה עד שיטבול כדי שלא יהיו תלמידי חכמים מצויין אצל נשותיהן כתרנגולין ואחר כך בטלו אותה תקנה והעמידו הדבר על הדין שאף בעל קרי מותר בדברי תורה ובקריאת שמע ובתפלה בלא טבילה ובלא רחיצה דתשעה קבין וכן פשט המנהג.

All the impure read the Torah and Shema, and pray (Shemoneh Esreh) except for the one who had an emission, until they go to the Mikvah. The idea is that there is a “process” before marital relations resume, so that the men are not like unfettered  birds who just do it when they want. Later they annulled this … and it was enough that the person has washed in 9 Kavin of water

Chassidim and I suspect Mekubalim say that the enactment was annulled only for learning Torah. However, before one could Daven, one still had to perform Tevilas Ezra daily. This is why one can witness many people go to the Mikva before they have davened.

There is a story from the genius Posek, R’ Avraham Chaim Naeh, the author of the highly regarded Ketzos HaShulchan,

Rav Avraham Chaim Naeh (from wikicommons)

(whose measurements for Mitzvos I’d say the majority of the world outside B’nei Brak follow), and who asked (or was asked) rhetorically, “the words of Torah can’t become Tameh” [so what’s wrong if someone learns Torah without being to the Mikva? R’ Chaim answered, yes, the Torah doesn’t become Tameh, but can the vessel which is receiving the Torah (the person) who is Tameh, absorb Torah.

These days, one sees Chassidim go to the Mikvah (on Shabbos, and every day) and they have a custom (I believe from the Shulchan Aruch HoRav) that the water should be warm.

Even though it seems the Rambam still engaged in Takonas Ezra (I saw this but alas can’t remember where). Many Brisker wouldn’t have even seen the inside of a male Mikva let alone gone into one. On the other hand, other Litvaks, such as Rav Kanievsky (who is also a Mekubal) certainly go to the Mikva on occasions (I do not think every day, but I stand to be corrected).

This brings me to my essential question, and I’d value the opinion especially of those Rabbis who laudably make a quiet but effective effort to ensure those of an LGBTIQA preference don’t feel ostracised in an Orthodox Shule. I mean strictly Orthodox, not “Open Orthodox” and various break aways.

Here is my question:

“What if a religious person knew that he had preferences towards men (he might not act on these, I assume). He doesn’t find himself attracted to women. If he goes to the male Mikva (daily) (where I regrettably note some of the pedophilia mentioned in the Royal Commission in Australia occurred in the Mikva), even for the holiest of purposes, he will see loads of men in various stages of nudity. The showers have no doors and it is completely Hefker in my experience. Indeed, if you want to turn a non-chassidic young kid off, take him to these types of Mikvaos, where they will also pick up tinea and feel very strange. I would imagine, this is akin to a man, going into a sauna (lehavdil) full of women, where the women are in various stages of nudity. (This is a practice in some parts of Scandinavia). In such a Mikva environment, it seems to be that attendance is stoking the fire, so to speak, and making it harder to avoid stirring up homosexual tendencies towards the forbidden act. The religious homosexual knows they may not do the homosexual act. This would introduce a huge temptation to such a person (outside of the Mikva). Should they be allowed to go to a Mikva given that the Takona has been annulled and the temptation is very real.

Those who still keep Takonas Ezra, do so as a matter of Kabalistic piety. If I was a Posek, I would make it known (in a quiet way—need to think how) that those with homosexual tendencies, should never visit a Mikva (unless they are the only person there) as they will be putting themselves into a place that will make it harder to keep the Torah, especially if another homosexual in the Mikva responds to various eye movements etc or even if they are stirred up by it all.

Equally, I would say (not in the spirit of egalitarianism) that a Mikva woman, should not be a Lesbian or the like, as that experience would likely “fuel her fires” in the same way.”

But I am not a Posek. How would Rabonim pasken?

Would we see the more left-wing types, forbid it, but the more Chassidic types cast a blind eye to this practice? Or would it be the other way around. Would left-wing types permit it (equal opportunity, they can control themselves) and the right-wing forbid it, in the same way they would forbid a man to walk into a woman’s sauna?

I know it’s not a comfortable topic, and I have long argued that there is an opportunity for someone to come up with a better specifically architected/engineered male mikva, such that there is no nudity on display, and the volume needed to be accommodated maintained.

In case you are wondering whether I am inventing new laws/problems, consider learning the laws of Yichud (being alone with someone) and you will find that in our own Shulchan Aruch  אבה”ע סי’ כד, it states where there is a concern that men are attracted to each other, then they are not permitted to be alone, in the same way that a male and female are not permitted to be alone unless it’s in a public area with people still awake etc

“ובודרות הללו שרבו הפריצים יש להתרחק מלהתייחד עם הזכר”

I did ask Mori V’Rabbi, Rav Hershel Schachter this question (among others) and although he is certainly not a Chosid, he said it would be prohibited for someone with such tendencies/preferences to go to a male Mikva, where nudity is everywhere, as they would be making life harder for themselves. לפני עיוור לא תתן מכשול (don’t provide fodder to help someone do the wrong thing)

A desirable side effect of such a ruling is that potential abusers would not have the outlet they used, as outlined clearly in evidence in court, where abuse occurred with two people in the Mikva.

Please note: I have not engaged in the issue of homosexuality. Rather, the laws of Tzniyus as they pertain to different tendencies.

Ideally, I’d like to see someone clever come up with a new architecture for Mikvaos for men. I find them a tad gross, and I’m heterosexual.

A sensible start to Mikva reform

Dear Mispallelim,

Due to our concern for the safety of children, the Mikva will not be available for any children under 18 years old. This applies whether or not they are accompanied by an adult. Failure to adhere with this rule will result in the closure of our Mikva.

Mispalelim should remain cognizant of their responsibility to ensure their children’s safety. Parents are reminded to supervise and ensure the safety of their children while in our Chabad House

We would like to take this opportunity to again convey our unequivocal recommendation that anyone who has been abused, knows someone else who was abused or has concerns about inappropriate behaviour of an individual, should report it to the police immediately. If for any any reason, the individual is apprehensive about contacting the police directly, s/he may feel free to report it to myself or Rabbi Shmerling who will then pass on the information to the police, as we have indeed done recently.

With wishes for only good in the future,

Rabbi Y. Gutnick
Chabad House of Caulfield

I would say this is a proper position based on

  1. עת לעשות לה׳ הפירו תורתיך
  2. It’s a Middas Chassidus, which is outweighed by the scourge
  3. Some Poskim hold that a shower is a Mikva (for a male)
  4. They can get sound חינוך that they can’t go because of potential danger until they are older.
  5. It’s not a Chiyuv today anyway but a good הנהגה

Re-architecting our Mikvaos

The scourge of male perverts, pedophiles and sickos is challenging communities across the globe. The Halachos of a Mikva are complex and need expert Rabbinical advice and architectural nous. Our Mikvaos are cleaner and more acceptable than in times gone by. My father’s description of the scene at the Mikva in Rawa Mazowiecka in Poland before World War 2 was, how do I put it delicately, “off-putting” especially by today’s standards.

I recall when I was learning in Israel that, before Pesach, I sought out a Mikvah near Rechov Har Sinai in Ra’anana. I was the only person there apart from the Mikvah Warden. After completing my spiritual oblution, I opened the door to leave the Mikvah proper only to find the warden “too close to the door”. I had the distinct impression that he may have peered through the key hole. You don’t forget scenes like that.

I do realise that it is only Chassidim who dip in the Mikva daily today. Some, like me, have the custom to do so before the שלש רגלים. Most will do so on Erev Yom Kippur. Strictly speaking, one could also dip in a swimming pool (heated, one would hope 🙂

It’s perhaps worth considering a few changes to future or renovated Mikvaos. My suggestions are:

  1. The change area no longer be a common open area. Rather, there should be a series of say 10 little cubicles with a swinging door behind them where one undresses and then girds a towel.
  2. Showers must have self-closing doors behind them
  3. In high use communities, for example, Chassidim, a total of four consecutive mikva pools should be available. Each pool should be fully enclosed so that nobody can peer in.
  4. There should be a maximum of one person in a pool at a time, unless it is an older or incapacitated man who brings someone to assist them.
  5. The absolute maximum time for an individual to be in the Mikvah should be 60 seconds. There should be an LED timer on the back of the self-closing door which should start warning that time is elapsing, from 30 seconds into the process.
  6. There should be a separate entry door and exit door to each pool. The entry door should be accessible from the shower area. Only when a person has exited through the exit door, should the entry door unlock and indicate that the pool is available.
  7. If a person has not emerged after 120 seconds an alarm should sound.

It is important that we not only strengthen Tzniyus in our community by focussing on the translucency of female stockings (which is only a matter of Minhag) but return to fundamentals. Some reformation of Mikva architecture, based loosley on my suggestions above, would seem to be necessary in our times.