While media representation and public opinion of mikvah has been sullied over the years (check out our mikvah video), Naomi Rosenbach, a PhD student at Hofstra, got to thinking about how Jewish women are experiencing the mikvah in real life and what factors might impact their experience. She decided the only way to know for sure was to conduct a study, which she completed alongside Dr. Michael Salamon and Leora Levine, and was recently published in Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Social Work and Social Thought.
Rosenbach says “Studies in general are a wonderful way to help the community…there are valid and reliable ways to look at the research and [note] the themes that [come out of it].” She wants to help Orthodox Jews, to “really make life better for them in whatever way they need.” She wanted to start by asking the question, “Why mikvah?” From hearing people say that they were struggling in this area, she thought that there might be help available and ways to make it more pleasurable and meaningful.
When the study began in December 2020, Rosenbach knew that she wanted multiple eyes on the same data. When she spoke with Dr. Salamon about his experience in hearing women talk about this issue in his own practice, he also saw the need. 368 women eventually were included in the results from a wide range of communities in terms of location, observance level and age. The women rated their mikvah experience from very pleasant to very unpleasant. The women elaborated on why that was the case. It turned out that 61% of women rated their mikvah experience as positive, 21% rated it as neutral and 18% rated it as unpleasant.
They were then asked how they would describe their education regarding family purity and mikvah. Rosenbach interviewed over 30 women as a pilot study to find out what they should ask. When she realized that she had a skewed perception as to what was halacha versus chumra (community norms), she edited her questions accordingly. People whose mikvah ladies were respectful of them had a more positive experience. Further, she asked them what makes them feel respected. They also explored the issue of abuse, and found that those who have experienced it were more likely to have a difficult experience with being triggered by Mikvah. Participants were also asked about their comfort level in broaching their discomfort to the mikvah lady.
Rosenbach has received overwhelmingly positive feedback and zero negative feedback. “Reading this has been so validating, thank you so much for doing this,” was a typical comment she received. The next study that she hopes to look at is how mikvah and sex education, kallah classes, sexual satisfaction and marriage satisfaction are all related to each other. One of the most surprising things that Rosenbach learned is that more women wanted the opportunity to spend more time in the water praying instead of feeling rushed. Upon hearing more about the study, many different people involved in the mikvah process have made contact. People that train mikvah ladies have already reached out as to how to incorporate these findings into their training. “It has already started to affect change.”