Beth Israel Mikvah
Beth Israel MikvaH
In May of 2006, during the renovations of the downstairs of the synagogue, we received a call from our contractor. He had unearthed something when gutting the kitchen and bathroom area that he had never seen before.
When we arrived, we found an area that looked like it had been filled in with rubble. On the outside wall were remnants of what appeared to be water pipes. In addition, the plumber found an area in the former bathroom that seemed to be piping for a bathtub.
We began to do research. When we read the instructions for the contractor, it became clear that the intent was to build a ritual bath, a mikvah:
“Tank: To be six feet square and built of concrete to be water tight connected with intake and outlet. To be built with one part cement and three parts sand and smooth on the outside in order to paint.”
Frances Smith summarized the Bath Hebrew Ladies Society minutes for April 23, 1922:
“The discussion of the meeting concerned the finishing of the Mikva. Whether the treasury was to pay or the individuals was an all-time high question. It was left for the next meeting giving members time to consider. At the April 30th meeting, the treasury was to pay for the Mikva and the society was to investigate systems suitable.”
And, as for the bathtub that was also there, how was it used? My Jewish Learning outlines the customary purpose of the bathtub in its entry on “The Mikveh”:
“Before immersing in the mikveh, Jewish law requires that one thoroughly clean one's body, typically including taking a bath or shower, clipping nails, and brushing teeth. This ensures that there are no barriers between the person immersing and the mikveh water.”
The evidence of both a tub and a mikvah suggests that the latter was used by congregants for some period of time…but perhaps not for long.
A later minutes book, translated from Yiddish, includes the following:
“The Bath Hebrew Ladies Society held a meeting January 9, 1927 in the house of Mrs. M.S. Povich in the presence of 13 members. We discussed remodeling the bathroom and kitchen.…Mr. Moss will do the bathroom for 40 dollars. It was decided that we should sell the bathtub to provide the committee with money to pay for the project. Mrs. Gediman and Mrs. Levin are in charge of the project.”
And, presumably, without a bathtub, the ritual bath could no longer be used, thus bringing to a close the use of the mikvah.