The Tabernacle Times
May 2017 .........................Iyyar - Sivan 5777 ......................... Volume 12 Issue 5

History of the Jewish Mikveh

by Dr. Ron Moseley

Rabbi & Brenda
Rabbi Jeremy
Brenda Storch
  The term Mikveh in Hebrew literally means any gathering of waters, but is specifically used in Jewish law for the waters or bath for the ritual immersion. The building of the mikveh was so important in ancient times it was said to take precedence over the construction of a synagogue. Immersion was so important that it occurred before the high Priest conducted the service on the Day of Atonement, before the regular priests participated in the Temple service, before each person entered the Temple complex, before a scribe wrote the name of God, as well as several other occasions.
(Deuteronomy 29:9- 14). This ritual demonstrates the willingness of the convert to forsake his Gentile background and assume his Jewish identity by taking on the status of one who keeps the commandments.

2. The Jewish baptism candidates were often immersed three times. One reason it was customary to immerse three times was because the word mikveh occurs three times in the Torah.

3. According to Jewish law the immersion had to have a required witness.

4. The immersion candidate was not touched by the baptizer in Jesus' day. Because Leviticus 15:16 says "He shall wash all his flesh in the water," Judaism stresses that the entire body must come in contact with the water of the mikveh.

5. The baptismal water (Mikveh) in rabbinic

The New Testament tells us that many of the early church's daily activities were centered around the Temple. Historically, we know that there were many ritual immersion baths (mikvaot) on the Temple Mount including one in the Chamber of Lepers situated in the northwest corner of the Court of Women. Josephus tells us that even during the years of war (66-73 A.D.) the laws of ritual immersion were strictly adhered to (Jos. Wars, 4:205). The Temple itself contained immersion baths in various places for the priests to use, even in the vaults beneath the court. The High Priest had special immersion pools in the Temple, two of which are mentioned in the Mishnah. There was an additional place for immersion on the Mount of Olives which was connected with the burning of the red heifer. A special ramp led to the mikveh on the Mount of Olives from the Temple Mount, which was built as an arched way over another arched way to avoid uncleanness from the graves in the valley below. Recent archaeological excavations have found 48 different mikvaot near the Monumental Staircase leading into the Temple Complex.
According to Jewish law there are three basic areas where immersion in the mikveh is required.
1. Immersion is required for both men and women when converting to Judaism. There were three prerequisites for a proselyte coming into Judaism: Circumcision, baptism, and sacrifice. 2. Immersion is required after a woman has her monthly period. 3. Immersion is required for pots and eating utensils manufactured by a non-Jew.

Besides these, there are other times when it is customary to be immersed in the mikveh such as the occasion before Yom Kippur as a sign of purity and repentance and before the Sabbath in order to sensitize oneself to the holiness of the day.

There were six basic restrictions on the water used in the mikveh including such rules as:
(1) the mikveh can not contain other liquid besides water. (2) The water has to be either built into the ground or be an integral part of a building attached to the ground. (3) The mikveh cannot be flowing except for a natural spring, river or ocean. (4) The water cannot be manually drawn. (5) The water cannot be channeled to the mikveh by anything unclean. (6) The mikveh must contain at least 40 sa'ah or approximately 200 gallons of water. (The term sa'ah is an ancient Biblical measurement equivalent to approximately five gallons.) All six requirements come from the original Hebrew words found in Leviticus 11:36.

To the ancient Jew, the mikveh was a process of spiritual purification and cleansing, especially in relation to the various types of Turmah or ritual defilement when the Temple was in use. Although God has not revealed all the meaning of the mikveh, it is obvious because of the amount of space given to it in Scripture, and the effort of Yeshua (Jesus) to fulfill it, the command is of utmost importance.

Jewish baptism has never been taken lightly, but in ancient times immersion was to be performed in the presence of witnesses. The person being baptized made special preparations by cutting his nails, undressed completely and made a fresh profession of his faith before the designated "fathers of the baptism". This is possibly where churches, sometime later, got the term Godfathers. The individual stood straight up with the feet spread and the hands held out in front. The candidate would totally immerse themselves by squatting in the water with a witness or baptizer doing the officiating. Note the New Testament points out the fact that Jesus came up straightway out of the water (Matthew 3:16).

The earliest drawing of Christian baptism was found on the wall of a Roman catacomb in the second century showing John standing on the bank of the Jordan helping Jesus back to shore after self immersion.
Note six important aspects of ancient Jewish immersion:

1.Immersion was accompanied by exhortations and benedictions. A convert would reaffirm his acceptance of the Torah by declaring, "I will do and I will hear" which was a phrase from the oath that was originally taken by the priests not to forsake the Torah
            (Continued at top of next column)

  literature was referred to as the womb of the world, and as a convert came out of the water it was considered a new birth separating him from the pagan world. We see the New Testament using similar Jewish terms as "born anew," "new creation," and "born from above." According to Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum rabbinic literature uses the term "born again" to refer to at least six different occurrences. Note each of these life changing experiences: (a) When a Gentile converts to Judaism. (b) When an individual is crowned king. (c) At age 13 when a Jewish boy chooses to embrace God's covenant and be numbered with the believers. (d) When an individual gets married. (e) When an individual becomes a rabbi. (f) When an individual becomes the head of a rabbinical school.


6. Jewish law requires at least three witnesses made up of qualified leaders to be present. Ordinarily a member of the Sanhedrin performed the act of observing the proselytes immersion, but in case of necessity others could do it. Secret baptism, or where only the mother brought a child, was not acknowledged.

One of the most important teachings in Judaism is that of repentance. According to both Scripture and rabbinic literature, no matter how great the sin, if a person repents and forsakes the sin before God he can be forgiven. As we see in the case of John and all New Testament writers, repentance was always involved.

A detailed study of the Jewish background of Christian baptism shows that it is vitally important, but God doesn't always tell us why. Obviously, the convert could repent and have a part in the life to come without it, but the emphasis seems to be pointing to the taking on of a new "believer" status illustrated as a "new birth" by immersion. In any covenant with the Lord the three items of God's Word, the blood, and a token are always present (Genesis 17:11). Yeshua (Jesus) was always cautious to have three witnesses in everything He did (I John 5:7-8). In the Old Testament circumcision was considered the token of God's covenant, and in the New Testament we see the same wording concerning baptism as it is referred to as "circumcision made without hands" (Colossians 2:11-12). Whatever religious denomination, all believers should agree that immersion has its roots in the Jewish mikveh of Yeshua's day, and it is of utmost importance for each of us to fulfill this righteous deed.

Plan to join us for our annual BBQ and Mikveh on Sunday June 18th at Indian Point Campground - call our office for more information.

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