The Mikveh Monologues On Stage
A dramatic reading of The Mikveh Monologues, produced by the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company (MJTC) in partnership with the Minnesota Community Mikveh Initiative, will run from August 21 - 25, 2019. This special project includes a fictional but inspiring account of the many approaches people take to the modern mikveh. Told through a series of contemporary monologues, The Mikveh Monologues powerfully pull back the curtain and share the depth of each character's spiritual and life journey.
What is a Mikveh?
To put it simply, the mikveh or mikvaot (plural) is a Jewish ritual bath - which is a very short definition for a complex spiritual ritual with over a 2000 year history. The practice of going to a mikveh involves detailed instructions for the time before, during, and after a person immerses themselves underwater three times. This cleansing ritual involves an exact step-by-step process; even the water itself has rules! Traditionally, the mikveh is used by Orthodox Jewish women and men, but now, Jewish leaders are challenging what the modern mikveh can offer to all Jewish people. Either by marking an important transition or moment in their life, the mikveh can be there for solitary healing, renewal, or reflection.
People who experience the mikveh are encouraged to take their time. The ritual is not something easily rushed; going through each step needed to prepare one’s body, the silent reflection while submerged underwater, and saying aloud each reading or prayer after submerging certainly takes time! So take your own time learning about mikveh; continue reading this blog, and join us for The Mikveh Monologues - open to everyone - for a special insight into this unique ritual with a complicated history.
The Need for Change
Venture into the literature about mikvaot and the library will respond with essays on gender, works on architecture, and books on reconciling secular life to ancient rituals. All of these pieces of academic work will discuss secrecy and shame. The most prevalent example of when someone would use a traditional mikveh is a woman at the end of her menstruation before she can resume sex with her husband. This has been the source of a lot of negative perceptions; the history of this ritual intertwines with a larger history of shame over women's bodies. In addition, bad personal experiences and warped expectations have led people to take their meditations elsewhere.
Cantor Rachel Stock Spilker of Mount Zion Temple and other community organizers see the need to change this. The Minnesota Mikveh Community Initiative is pushing for an openness to Jewish people who may have felt alienated from this ritual. As Spilker emphasized, “Any Jewish person can immerse in a mikveh, regardless of their level of observance, Jewish knowledge, or ability to speak Hebrew.”
Given the mikveh’s history in expectations of sexuality and the experience of secrecy, there is a contrast to this ritual being secluded and personal while also deeply rooted in community. Spilker separates the time one has in the mikveh pool from the time after one emerges into a circle of supportive friends, family, or clergy. But even that time alone can be less than solitary as mikveh guides are present (but not required). Spilker says that this duality - between personal discovery and community - is part of what makes the ritual beautiful.
A Special Discussion After Each Reading
Spilker, with the Minnesota Community Mikveh Initiative, is working in collaboration with MJTC to put on this series of discussions following each reading of The Mikveh Monologues. For her, this is a part of a conversation in the context of a national movement to reclaim and re-imagine the ancient ritual of mikveh.
The newness of this movement is partly the point. Building on top of tradition creates a wave of new awareness of the mikveh. It also opens up life’s moments of transition - like those of coming out or preparing for bar or bat mitzvahs. The ancient ritual is often used to acknowledge and bring significance to a important life event, transition, or circumstance. The words that seemed to sum it all up best for Spilker were those from Rav Abraham Isaac Kook who said, “May the old become new and the new become holy."
A Purpose for the Play & Discussion
Do you have questions about the modern mikveh? Have you ever wondered about the role of a mikveh guide? When do people choose to experience the ritual, and why? Who is it for? Well, The Mikveh Monologues project is here to help answer all of that.
The Mikveh Monologues were written (so wonderfully by Anita Diamant and Janet Buchwald) to be approachable to any wary audience member - including those who know little about the mikveh, or those who are not Jewish. Characters in The Mikveh Monologues span across gender, age, and circumstance, and are specifically presented to challenge the previous conceptions of what a mikveh is thought to be. The mikveh is not just for women, and there is no need for secrecy or shame. Children, fathers, rabbis, brides, survivors, and guides are some of the voices you will hear in the piece. The monologues are the types of stories that can eulogize the bond between parent and child, but are also capable of clarifying the rules for belly button rings and acrylic nails.
The approach to these readings are to further the discussion on mikvaot and peel back the sigma along with the curtain. This push by the Minnesota Mikveh Community Initiative opens the door to new people and their needs in a more inclusive way. Spilker ultimately says that this special project is a way to introduce an “open community mikveh” which addresses both people’s misconceptions and questions while also raising their interest and imagination - and a journey in which we hope you will join us for.
Written by Lily Hart, Production Assistant & Intern, Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company