Question: May women insist that the sole community mikvah be used only for women at night, and that men not use the mikvah during the day?
Short Answer: While the simple understanding of the Ein Yitzchak and the Sho’eil U’Meishiv is that women may not prevent men from using the mikvah, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l rules that women may bar the men if that is the only women’s mikvah in town.
As stated clearly in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 197:3), women only go to the mikvah at night. Men, on the other hand, when they go to the mikvah on Erev Rosh HaShanah or Erev Yom Kippur, based on the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 606:4), go during the day. Additionally, men who dip in the mikvah because of t’vilas Ezra also go during the day.
What should a neighborhood do where there is only one mikvah and the women insist that they do not want men using the mikvah during the day – either for tz’nius or cleanliness reasons?
II. The Ein Yitzchak’s Response
In 1858, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor (Ein Yitzchak 1:2) was asked this very question, whether women can prevent men from using a community mikvah. Rav Yitzchak Elchanan responds by extolling the virtues of t’vilas Ezra. First, the Tur (Orach Chayim 241) writes that “tavo alav brachah” to those who observe this takanah. Certainly those who accept upon themselves this t’vilah have accepted this chumra as a vow, and thus according to many, may not even annul this practice. Additionally, t’vilah for men on Erev Rosh HaShanah and Erev Yom Kippur is very important, as well.
Rav Yitzchak Elchanan likewise cites the Yerushalmi (Kiddushin), which states that a convert who performed bris milah but did not dip in the mikvah is still permitted to marry a Jewish woman and is considered Jewish. Since we assume that the convert (over the years) went to the mikvah because of t’vilas Ezra, we assume that he had a valid t’vilah (even if not intended for conversion). Even though the convert dipped for t’vilas Ezra without intending for it to be a t’vilah for conversion, the t’vilah counts as a t’vilah for conversion, because it was done for “k’dushas Yisrael” – for sanctity and holiness. Rav Yitzchak Elchanan proves that the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 268), which codifies this halachah, holds that the conversion is valid nowadays, even after the abolition of t’vilas Ezra as a widespread practice. Thus, it is clear that the Shulchan Aruch understands that there is a virtue in t’vilas Ezra nowadays, and it is considered as a t’vilah for k’dushas Yisrael even in our time.
Rav Yitzchak Elchanan thus concludes that men must be allowed to use the women’s mikvah during the day hours, even if the women protest. He hopes, though, that the community understands the importance of this mitzvah and is able to avoid machlokes by building a second mikvah.
III. The Sho’eil U’Meishiv’s Opinion
The Sho’eil U’Meishiv (3:1:123) likewise addresses this question. The Wurzburger Rav wanted to deny men the right to use the mikvah in his community because of the fear that women would refrain from using the mikvah if men were also allowed to use it during the day. The Sho’eil U’Meishiv responded sharply that he doesn’t understand the case. How can it be that women in Germany are not going to go to the mikvah simply because men are using the mikvah during the day! And women who don’t observe mikvah will refrain from attending mikvah regardless of whether men use the same mikvah. Moreover, the Sho’eil U’Meishiv testified that he witnessed the mikvah in Prague which is used by men (during the day) and women (at night) and there are no complaints.
The Sho’eil U’Meishiv adds that there is an important reason why men must be allowed to use the women’s mikvah, because if there is a halachic deficiency, only the men (who presumably are well-versed in hilchos mikvaos!) will notice. The Sho’eil U’Meishiv concludes that he hopes the Wurzburger Rav will reconsider and not be m’vateil an important minhag (of men using the mikvah).
IV. The Igros Moshe’s Interpretation
The Igros Moshe (Yoreh Dei’ah 2:90), in a 1970 t’shuvah concerning the Detroit mikvah, discusses the above opinions of Rav Yitzchak Elchanan and the Sho’eil U’Meishiv. Rav Moshe was asked whether the Detroit women’s mikvah house, which housed two actual mikvaos only for women, may exclude the community from building a third mikvah for men for t’vilas Ezra in the same building but with a separate entrance.
Rav Moshe ruled that if the new mikvah was the only mikvah available to women, then they could exclude men from using the mikvah. Rav Moshe amazingly cites a proof from Rav Yitzchak Elchanan and the Sho’eil U’Meishiv. Rav Yitzchak Elchanan, although he extolled the virtue of t’vilas Ezra for men, concluded that he hopes the neighborhood will be able to build a separate mikvah for men. Only until that point did he allow men to use the mikvah of women; but otherwise, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan would rule that women may prevent men from attending their mikvah during the day. Similarly, the Sho’eil U’Meishiv only responded harshly to the Wurzburger Rav because the Wurzburger Rav was only assuming that women would protest the use of the mikvah by men. The Sho’eil U’Meishiv ruled that it was unlikely that such protest would occur. But even the Sho’eil U’Meishiv agrees that if women did actually protest, the community must listen to them and bar men from using the women’s mikvah during the day.
Practically, for the Detroit situation, Rav Moshe ruled that the question had nothing to do with the case of Rav Yitzchak Elchanan and the Sho’eil U’Meishiv, as the women had the two other mikvaos in the building, which were exclusively for women, and it was cheaper to build the third mikvah in the same building than in a different location. Rav Moshe did note, though, that, for the sake of avoiding machlokes, the proponents of the men’s mikvah in the same building may want to rethink their position and build the mikvah elsewhere, especially because there already existed separate men’s mikvaos in a nearby town.
V. Explanation of Rav Moshe
The sefer Shaarei Mikva’os (p. 271) explains the reasoning of Rav Moshe and why we should follow his ruling and bar men from using the sole women’s mikvah in a community. Even though Rav Yitzchak Elchanan and the Sho’eil U’Meishiv do not imply the stringency (against men) that Rav Moshe ascribed to them (that they are barred from using the mikvah), Rav Moshe is teaching us the importance of ensuring that every woman feels perfectly comfortable attending mikvah. Who wants to shoulder the responsibility of ruling that men are not barred and thus risk having a woman accordingly refrain from attending mikvah?
Next Week’s Topic: Should observant Jews strive to build mikvaos in non-observant communities? Should a mikvah (run by observant Jews) allow non-observant Jews to use the mikvah for conversions?