Mikveh (Mikvah, mikve, or mikva) is a Pool or Bath of clear water in which full immersion is required to regain ritual purity, after specific impure incidents. The Mikveh is a Jewish tradition, and several biblical texts spiritually associate it with the natural source of water.
No specific architectural form is specified or has emerged over the years. However, several conditions based on classical rabbinical literature define the nature of the immersion ritual and its place.
According to these rules, a Mikveh must be connected to naturally occurring water or collection of living water. It requires groundwater wells, springs or rivers. It is believed that living water is able to purify with the flow as opposed to the rainwater which must be stationary in order to purify. A cistern filled by the rain is also permitted to act as a Mikveh’s water supply. Similarly snow, ice and hail are allowed to act as the supply of water to a Mikveh, as long as it melts and flows. Ocean is considered proper for immersion where there is no Mikveh available.
The Mikveh must comply with a number of precise halakhic [Jewish legal] qualifications. The Mikveh must be built into the ground or the structure of the building. It must hold a minimum of 24 cubic feet of water–200 gallons. The depth must be such as to enable an average adult to stand upright and have the water reach at least 11 inches above the waist, so that immersion can be performed without backbreaking contortions.
Ancient Mikvehs dating from 1st C are found throughout Israel as well as in historic settlements of Jewish communities. ‘In the days of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, the Mikveh was used by all Jews who wanted to enter the precincts of the Sanctuary’. In modern times, Mikvehs can be found in most communities in Orthodox Judaism. Jewish funeral homes have a Mikveh for immersing a body during the purification procedure (Tahara) before burial.
A convert to Judaism is required to immerse in a Mikveh as part of his/her conversion. A woman is required to immerse in a Mikveh after her menstrual period or childbirth before she and her husband can resume marital relations. Often newly acquired utensils used in serving and eating food are immersed in Mikveh. Today, Mikveh is ceremonially used by women prior to the marriage.