Question: May a mikvah melt snow to fill the mikvah instead of water (i.e., if there is not much rainfall)?
Short Answer: According to many poskim, snow may be used to fill the mikvah, but one should not immerse until the snow melts. Nevertheless, there are certain stringencies involved in transporting and melting the snow.
I. The Problem
A mikvah must consist only of “ashborin,” i.e., stationary water, such as rainwater. See Article #6. As previously discussed, while there are numerous ways to use tap water as well, all of these methods rely on the existence of rainwater. See ibid.
But what should be done in a community with not much rainfall? How should the mikvah be filled? One option would be to transport snow from a different part of the country to the mikvah. Is this a viable option? The sefer Mikveh Mayim (Vol. 3, pp. 230-240) addresses this topic, as set forth herein.
II. Immersing in Snow
The Mishnah (Mikvaos 7:1) lists snow as one of the items that are kosher for a mikvah. The Rosh (Mikvaos 18) rules that a mikvah may be filled with snow, and further, the snow may be transported in a utensil. The mikvah is still kosher, even though the snow is now considered “sh’uvin” – drawn water (that is usually pasul in a mikvah). The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 201:30) codifies this Rosh.
The Rama (ibid), while agreeing with the Shulchan Aruch, adds that some are strict and require that the snow have melted before anyone immerses in the mikvah. The Rama writes that it is virtuous to adopt this strict ruling. Indeed, the Shach (71) notes that many Rishonim follow this strict approach.
The Chelkas Yoav (Yoreh Dei’ah 32) explains why we are so lenient with snow. According to the Gemara (Nidah 17a), snow is neither a pure food nor drink, but rather its status depends on the person’s intent. In other words, snow is only “m’tamei tum’as mashkin” when the person intends for the snow to be a liquid. Based on this, the Chelkas Yoav suggests that a person is only permitted to immerse in snow because through the immersion he or she is treating the snow as water, a liquid. However, without such intent, the snow is not considered water. As such, the snow (before immersion) may be “drawn” via a utensil, as the prohibition of sh’uvin does not apply to non-liquids.
III. Practically Speaking
The Mikveh Mayim thus concludes that it is permitted for a community that lacks adequate rainfall to transport and use snow to fill its mikvah. He cites numerous Acharonim who rule this way, including the Divrei Chayim, the Chasam Sofer, and the Tzemach Tzedek. Ideally, though, one should not immerse in the snow, but should only immerse after the snow has melted.
IV. A Few Caveats
However, many Acharonim list certain stringencies when transporting the snow and immersing in a snowy mikvah. The Chasam Sofer (Yoreh Dei’ah 200) advises that the snow be transported in containers with small holes. Because it is likely that some of the snow will melt en route to the mikvah, there is a concern that more than three lugim of water will coalesce at the bottom of the container. This water is sh’uvin and has the potential to pasul the mikvah. Transporting the snow in containers with small holes for this water to spill out avoids this concern. The Shulchan Aruch, which allowed transporting snow for a mikvah, invariably must only have allowed transportation in such boxes with holes.
Additionally, the Chasam Sofer warns against melting the snow by immediately pouring hot water onto the snow. Doing so will likely lead to three lugim of drawn water (i.e., the poured hot water from the tap) preceding the necessary 40 sa’ah of kosher (ashborin) snow-water into the mikvah. Rather, the Chasam Sofer suggests that the snow first melt on its own until there are 40 sa’ah of water from the naturally melted snow. Afterwards, one may pour boiling tap water onto the remaining snow to speed up the melting process.
V. Dissenting Opinions
The Mikveh Mayim does cite a handful of Acharonim, including the Beis Shlomo, who disagree with the above Shulchan Aruch. These Acharonim note that the Baal HaMaor argues with the above-mentioned Rishonim and rules that snow is pasul for a mikvah. Accordingly, in order to use snow to fill the mikvah, the snow certainly must be melted, but more importantly, may not be transported in any utensil, lest it become “sh’uvin.” The Mikveh Mayim, however, discusses how even according to these Acharonim, there are some solutions to transport snow for a mikvah. [A fuller discussion is outside the scope of this Article.]
New Topic Next Week: Honoring Rebbeim. Next week’s topic: Must one honor all rebbeim the same?