Ritualized Self Care for Jewish Women

Self care. It’s something that you hear witchy and holistic types talking about a lot. Self care is critical because if we don’t care for our own needs we soon run out of steam when caring for others. What exactly is self care? It’s anything you do for yourself in order to recharge your physical, mental, and/or emotional health. Self care is something that you actually enjoy doing, not something you feel like you have to do. 

Judaism has self care built right into it in the form of the mikveh. If you don’t know what the mikveh is you can read about it here. 

I can hear many of you right now wanting to argue about how I can refer to the mikveh as self care. The mikveh? The ritual bath for women to make themselves clean after the impurity of menstruation and childbirth? Feminists have long argued about the archaic idea of the patriarchy seeing women as unclean due to biological functions. 

I argue here, however, that the mikveh has nothing to do with physical cleanliness and everything to do with spiritual ascension. Does a woman’s blood make her spiritually unclean? No. It does, however, result in a groundedness that makes it more difficult to tune in to our inherent intuition. 

When looking at the chakra system we notice that there are seven centers within each of us. Within our center we find the heart chakra. Below this we have the three lower chakras – root, sacral, and solar plexus. Above the heart are the three higher chakras – throat, third eye, and crown. Each one of our chakras are important for proper balance within our physical, emotional, and mental self. The lower chakras, however, are tuned into our physical needs – groundedness, physical pleasure, and sense of self worth. The upper chakras are concerned with our ability to speak our truth, intuition, and our relationship with or merging with our higher Spirit. These upper chakras are what are viewed as the spiritual self. The heart chakra is the bridge between the lower and upper chakras. It focuses on love for self and others as well as love for humanity and all things. 

Women are generally more intuitive and spiritually minded than men. When women bleed, however, they come out of the higher realm and into a more grounded state. There is nothing wrong with being grounded, and bleeding is the way in which women bring life into the world. Both are necessary. We must be grounded at times to ensure that we can function in this life. But just as we don’t bleed continuously, we are not meant to be grounded continuously. Ascension is the process of reaching for the divine and being grounded is a state of not being there. Bringing life into the world and bleeding are sacred acts, but when we are not doing this we are supposed to be seeking higher states of ascension. 

The mikveh provides an opportunity for women to delineate between the bleeding time and the time they return to higher states of intuition. It provides women a time to be alone and contemplate our spiritual selves. Preparing for the mikveh allows women to care for their bodies in a deeper and more ritualized way than normal. Immersing in the mikveh is a ritual that allows women to focus on their own needs and serves as built in time for meditation. 

Going to the mikveh after menstruation and before resuming sexual activity with a spouse provides women the opportunity to prepare for the ascended sacred act of sexual intercourse. When we see the Divine as both masculine and feminine then we see the marriage of male and female as the coming together of the two divine halves. Sexual intercourse is the physical act of the divine halves merging. Women need the mikveh after menstruation and childbirth in order to bring them back into the higher realm prior to engaging in this sacred union. The mikveh isn’t needed prior to all sexual acts because women are already in the higher realm. It is only after the grounding nature that results from bleeding that we need to bring ourselves back to our naturally intuitive state. 

I truly believe that the mikveh is a gift to women from the Divine. Sadly, men have not traditionally understood this and saw a woman’s natural time of bleeding as something dirty and worthy of being ashamed of. As women, it is up to us not to allow a man’s lack of understanding to rob us of the sacred self care that is inherent in going to the mikveh. 

Sometimes you can’t go to the local mikveh. What if you are travelling and there is no mikveh available? What if you’re not Jewish but you are really drawn to the idea of the mikveh? What if you are Jewish and have never been but aren’t thrilled by the idea of going to the local mikveh? No matter what the situation is you can usually find a way to indulge in the self care ritual of the mikveh. A man made mikveh isn’t necessary. All that is required is a natural body of water. If you don’t have access to one or it’s too cold to go outside and immerse in the river (or other natural body), you can collect rainwater and add it to your bath. Ideally, your tub is large enough to allow you to completely immerse yourself in the water. Of course, depending on your level of observance (or if you aren’t Jewish) complete immersion of every hair may not matter to you. If you are Jewish and feel comfortable with reciting blessings, you can recite the mikveh blessings after each immersion. If you are intrigued by the idea of immersing in a natural body of water you can read the kosher aspects regarding just this. Whether you already immerse or are intrigued by the idea, I hope you have at least come to see that the mikveh is not degrading to women. 

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