I had a general idea about what a mikveh was, but it wasn’t until I saw the illustration accompanying the article that I realized I had no idea what a real one looked like. My curiosity sparked, I went over to Google in search of images.
Some of the modern ones are quite elegant (I especially like the ones with spiral stairs), but it was the older ones, specifically from medieval times, that I was intrigued by (some were positively ancient like this one in Herodium that dates back to the late Second Temple period).
Anyway, one click led to another and I eventually landed at the site this Page is about. I found it fascinating once I figured out how to use it, so I thought I’d share. By the way, the mikveh that brought me to the site was the one in the Catalonian town of Besalú. I hope you enjoy exploring everything.
Routes of Sefarad is an interactive multimedia experience to discover and get involved with the Sephardic heritage
The footprints of the Jewish community in Spain span more than a thousand years. Explore this heritage in the Network’s cities and make your own searches in our illustrated interactive timeline.
Thanks to the technology provided by Google, the visitor can navigate through the layers of informations displayed in maps and timelines about the history, culture and heritage of the Jews in Spain in a single website. Routes of Sefarad offers an interactive experience about Spain’s rich Sephardic heritage.
About Using the Site
Just to save you some time, there are basically two options: Maps and a timeline.
Clicking on the “Begin Exploring” button on the homepage will take you directly to the maps version. Hovering over the menorah icons used as markers will show you a thumbnail photo & city name; clicking on it will take you to a map of that city with an info pane on the left that you can collapse to get to the map controls and zoom in closer to see the other map icons. The collapsible “Browse Places” pane on the right contains different things depending on where you are.
As far as I can tell, the icons that look like little crowns signify “districts”, the ones that look like castles are Christian churches, the flags are for public places (like markets & streets), and the menorahs are for specifically Jewish places like synagogues, businesses, private homes, etc.
This totally threw me off because it’s centered on 1492, when the Jews were expelled from Spain by Ferdinand & Isabella, which is basically the end of the timeline as all the Jews either converted to Christianity or went elsewhere, mostly to North Africa and south-eastern Europe Did you know that upon hearing of the expulsion, Sultan Bayezid II dispatched the Ottoman Navy to bring Jews to safety in Ottoman lands? I didn’t. Things sure have changed. *sigh*
So anyway, back to the timeline. You have to use the little tan colored left/right arrows under the slider thingy on the left to move back through the timeline. Each item opens a pop-up containing info and an image (some also have maps).
In both the maps & timeline there are words & phrases in the info panes that look like a clickable links, but aren’t—they’e “tooltip” type definitions that you just hover over. This annoyed me to no end because my first instinct is to click (and I do so quickly), which produces no result whatsoever unless you move your mouse pointer on/off the text slowly enough to trigger the hover behavior. Grrrr.
Things I Learned About Mikvot
- Men use them too
- Most oceans, lakes, and rivers qualify
- They cannot be portable--they must be built into the ground or as an essential part of a building (I'm not sure why, maybe someone can tell me?)
- Intentions & prayers accompany the ritual, just like Muslims' wudu & ghusl
- They are used for immersion of utensils when acquired from a gentile (I assume this is for reasons of keeping kosher, since even with new utensils there's no way to know what they might have come in contact with)
- The oldest mikveh in Europe is in Sicily (see here and here)
I still have one question though. It seems obvious to me that men & women would use the mikveh separately, so I assumed they’d also have separate facilities, however that seems to not always be the case (added emphasis mine):
In accordance with Orthodox rules concerning modesty, men and women are required to immerse in separate mikveh facilities in separate locations, or to use the mikveh at different designated times.
Can anyone confirm this? Also, if I misunderstood any of the other things I read, kindly point it out and provide the correct info.
Update: Confirmed by Lord of the Pies (Alouette). Thanks!
In most large communities there are separate facilities for men and women, the women’s facilities being more luxurious.
In small communities where there is only one mikveh, men & women use it at designated times, men during the day and women in the evening.
One Last Thing
In my web travels I also found out that there’s a Worldwide Mikvah Directory. Who knew? It’s interesting that with 370 mikvot, the Untied States has far more than any other country. As a matter of fact, if the numbers I’m seeing are accurate, then it appears we might have more than all the other countries in the world combined. That’s pretty impressive. Also of note, it seems that fully half of them are located in & around the NY/NJ/CT/PA area.
The Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion)
The Mikvah (Chabad.org)
First New World Synagogue Rediscovered (in Brazil)
Manhattan Journal; Tale of Past Jewish Life, Told in Tile (believed to be the oldest extant mikveh in NYC)
Update 2: Content rearranged for clarity.