Monday, 13 July 2015

What is a mikvah?

According to Jewish law every community, whatever its size, should have a mikvah. The existence of a mikvah is considered so important in Orthodox Judaism that an Orthodox community is required to construct a mikvah before building a synagogue. In the Hebrew Bible, the word is employed in its broader sense but generally means a collection of water. 


Mikvah at the Pryme Street Synagogue (ref C DJC/2/4/11/4)
Several biblical regulations specify that full immersion in water is required to regain ritual purity after ritually impure incidents have occurred. The Trippett plunge bath was for the use of ladies only but mikvah’s are generally used:
  • by Jewish women to achieve ritual purity after menstruation or childbirth.
  • by Jewish men to achieve ritual purity.
  • as part of a traditional procedure for conversion to Judaism.
  • to immerse newly acquired utensils used in serving and eating food.
There are strict rules about the requirements of a mikvah and how it is filled. Come and find out more by looking in our collection of Jewish Archives at the History Centre (Ref C DJC)

Mikvah stonelaying at Pryme Street Synagogue (ref C DJC/2/4/11/4)
My story about this facet of Jewish culture ends with something about the mikvah that exists for members of the Jewish faith in Hull today. It is true that, working at the Hull History Centre, you really do learn something new every day. I had no idea that such a thing existed in our area. Completed in 2010 at a cost of over £60,000 a mikveh/mikvah was built adjacent to the north wall of the Pryme Street Synagogue. The cost was met mainly by members of the Jewish community and it continues to be used today.

www.mikvah.org/directory is a website where you can find mikvah’s throughout the world and learn more about how they are used and the regulations governing how they are filled. It lists 31 mikvah’s in England. Interestingly, when Hull was without a mikvah, members of Hull’s Jewish community would have had to travel to Leeds or Sheffield to use one.

I would like to thank Dr David Lewis for his painstaking research on the Hull’s Jewish Ritual Immersion Baths which can be found in our collection at C DJC/4/2/18.

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