By: Peggy Pryor

MIKVAH: An Introduction

I t is not the intention of the writer to criticize Christendom for the lack of understanding that abounds about immersion, or add to the controversy, or think that by this humble book there will be a great change across the world, that would be very much akin to trying to empty the Atlantic ocean with a tea cup. But for the few hungry souls that cry for understanding I pray that this will be a help. Understanding the Hebrew rites and rituals is a long journey for us that were not exposed to the teaching at an early age, and I dare say that not all that have had the privilege of experiencing them for most or all of their life, see the significance of their teaching as related to Yeshua. I shall endeavor to help in a small way to expand on the understanding.

      One of the most misunderstood teachings in the Bible is immersion. The Bible has much to say about immersion/or the doctrine of washing/baptisms. The first century believers understood the teachings of the different immersions and their purpose. In this brief writing it will be impossible to explore all the different immersions, but I would like to discuss briefly some of them, and in the process bring a glimmer of light to this most misunderstood teaching in scripture. In Hebrew 6:1 it is written:

"Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Messiah/Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God," (2) "Of the doctrine of baptism(s), and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment."

      Rav Sha'ul/Paul in the above referenced verses states that the elementary teachings of Messiah are as follows;

  1. Foundation of repentance from dead works
  2. Faith toward God
  3. Of the instructions/doctrine of immersions/baptism(s)... please note plural
  4. Laying on of hands
  5. Resurrection of the dead
  6. Eternal judgement

      Understanding of these six principals was considered by Sha'ul/Paul, to be elementary teachings of Messiah. If we fully understand the above six teachings then, and only then are we qualified to move on to the MEAT of the word leaving the milk.

      Ephesians 4:5 states that "One Lord, one faith, one immersion". To the casual student this might seem to be a contradiction in scripture, but we know that the Ruach haKodesh/Holy Spirit inspired all scripture so Rav Sha'ul/Paul is referring to one of the many immersions, and in particular to the immersion into Messiah.

      I was confused by what seemed to me to be a new doctrine when Yochanan haMatvil/John the Baptist arrived on the banks of the Jordan river preaching and immersing. Yochanan haMatvil/John the Baptist was not suspect, by the people, as to where he received the doctrine nor the validity of the teaching questioned. Never did anyone ask him why was he immersing. They all seemed to accept the teaching, even in light of Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32 and Revelations 22:19 stating that the Word could not be added to or taken away from. In Deuteronomy 4:2 it is written:

"Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

In Deuteronomy 12:32 it is written:

"What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

In Revelation 22:19 it is written:

"And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."

      The severest punishment is the penalty for such an act. It seems today that little thought is given to the fact that God said not to add to or take away from the form of worship that he gave to Adam in the Garden, had Moses write down on the mountain of Sinai and again gave to King David before the temple was built by his son Solomon. This form of worship/teaching, as prescribed by God, seems to have fallen by the way side in this present day of many doctrinal differences. I hear many times "we must have UNITY of the Faith" but the people that preach this the strongest, are the very ones that say the only way to have unity is for you to come and join us because we have the true revelation of the word, and you are lacking in your understanding. I dare say that UNITY will not be realized to any great measure until Messiah has returned and set up His Kingdom on earth. Then, and only then, will UNITY be enjoyed by all believers. Maintenance of this unity will require Messiah to rule with a rod of iron. In Revelation 19:15 it is written:

"And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron"... Rev 19:15 NAS

      The Jews were chosen by God to show all the world the ways of the Lord. To teach the world about Messiah, our relationship to Him, to each other, and end time events. All things must be centered on Messiah. In Romans 3:1-2 it is written:

"What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? (2), Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God (or words of God)."

      All the festivals, customs, foods, sacrificial system, laws of ritual purity including immersion were given to the Jewish people as teaching tools for us to learn more about Messiah. We must always keep Messiah in the forethought of our studies and realize that all things are to give us a better understanding of what Messiah has done for us, and what is in store for us. If we want rest, peace and contentment in our lives we must know of Him. In Matthew 11:29 it is written:

"Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls."

      The entire Bible is written about Messiah. In Psalm 40:7 it tell us this.

"Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me"

      To follow the instructions of our Lord and learn of Him, we must learn about the festivals, customs, foods, sacrificial system and laws of ritual purity. We must not only know about them as we are commanded, but put into practice the things that we can do. Some of the commandments require that the Holy Temple be standing in Jerusalem. The other commandments that do not require the standing of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, we must make a part of our life to please our Lord. The commandments in Torah fall into three major categories

  1. Mishpatim - Literally translated Judgements these are ethical / moral laws
  2. Edos - literally translated witnesses
  3. Chukim - literally translated Decrees

      Some of the commandments that the Lord requires of us are hard to understand. We can understand, do not kill or steal, as in "mishpatim/ethical" laws. We can understand the "Edos/witness" commandments. These are the rituals and festivals which teach us of important religious truths or commemorate key events. The third group of commandments "Chukim/decrees" does not seem to have a logical reason as to why we must obey them. The "chukim/decrees" are commandments which we must obey whether or not we understand their reason. In Exodus 24:7 it is written:

"All that God says, we will do and we will hear".

      This indicates that when Torah was given, we were ready to keep the commandments and "do" them before we "heard" reason or logic. When we keep commandments that have no apparent reason, we demonstrate our faith and inner security as followers of Messiah. Even though we may not be able to justify these commandments to the world, we feel secure to continue observing them. If a person is unsure of himself, or wavering in his faith the laws that are not understood are the first to be abandon. We understand what the Torah means when it says in Deuteronomy 4:6 as it is written:

"Observe and keep [commandments], for this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations"

      Messiah, Himself said in John 14:15 as it is written:

"If ye love me, keep my commandments".

      We do not observe the commandments because logic demands it, but simply because they were given by God. This shows a "heart attitude" set to please God.. One of the most important of these commandments is immersion in a mikvah, the ritual bath for the purpose of bringing about ritual purity, and that is the one that we are going to discuss.

      The Greek word for baptism is baptizo meaning to immerse or dip cloth into a vat of dye. The word is derived from an industry of dying cloth in Lebanon. The vats used to hold the different colors of dye, and the process of placing the cloth into the vats was called baptizo. As time passed the ritual purity process of immersion began to be known as baptism. The Hebrew word for immersion is tevilah and means literally immersing in a ritual bath known as a mikvah. Immersion is the act of washing performed to correct a condition of ritual impurity and restore the impure to a state of ritual purity. It is never for the purpose of cleaning or bathing the body.

      The mikvah/ritual bath was of great importance to the first century Jew. It was understood that if a community or village had only enough money for a synagogue or a mikvah, the mikvah would be built first. The Torah speaks of numerous things that make a person Tomeh/ritually unclean, and a number of processes of purification. The one act required in all purification processes was immersion in the mikvah.

      Life for the average Jew, in the average village, depended on access to the mikvah. A man from the tribe of Levi, a son of Aaron could not assume his office as priest until he had gone through a mikvah. Before a person could be tahor/ritually clean to enter the grounds of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he must be immersed in the mikvah. The severest punishment was imposed on a person for entering the Temple area in the state of tomeh/ritual impurity. A woman in her monthly cycle was required to ware special clothing so all would know that she was in a state of niddah (ritually unclean due to monthly cycle). She would not be tahor/ritually clean until after entering the mikvah. Immersion in a mikvah is an integral part of conversion to Judaism. Without immersion conversion is not valid. There are many more times an immersion in a mikvah is customary, we will endeavor to explore as many as space permits.

      There are two basic parts of Torah, one is the written Torah consisting of the first five books of the Bible, with which we are all familiar. The second part of Torah is just as important but not as well known. It is what we call the Oral Torah or unwritten law. This was handed down orally from generation to generation for about 1,500 years. About the third century C.E. Oral Torah was put into writing by Rabbi Yehudah the Prince and is the foundation of Mishnah. The Talmud was formed after discussion and commentary was added. All Jewish law is derived from this Oral Torah. We might call it the "how to" book. Detail instructions on how to carry out all worship, the festivals, sacrifices, commandments, including ritual purification and preparing the mikvah are in Oral Torah.

      The Mikvah is a ritual bath, the Hebrew word mikvah means a "pool" or "Gathering" of water. Two direct references in the Bible to Mikvah are in the Bible. In Leviticus 11:36 it is written:

"Only a spring and a pit, a gathering (Mikvah) of water, shall be clean..."
The second is Jeremiah 17:12-13 as it is written:
"A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary. {13} O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters".

      The word translated hope in verse 13 is Mikvah thus giving us the understanding that Messiah is the cleansing fountain/Mikvah or hope of Israel.

      While Messiah still hung, on the cross a Roman "soldier pierced His side, immediately there came out blood and water"; John 19:34 NAS the opening of the cleansing fountain or Mikvah for Israel. In Zechariah 13:1 it is written:

"In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness."


      The mikvah must meet six special requirements as described in Oral Torah.

  1. No other liquid but water may be used in the Mikvah, no coloring or chemicals, etc.

  2. The Mikvah must be built into the ground, or be a part of a building attached to the ground. It cannot consist of any vessel that can be disconnected and carried away, such as a tub, vat, or barrel.

  3. The water of a Mikvah cannot be running or flowing. The only exception to this rule is a natural spring, or a river whose water is derived mainly from springs.

  4. The water of the Mikvah be brought together by natural means not drawn.

  5. The water cannot be channeled to the Mikvah through anything that can become tomeh/unclean, such as pipes or channels made of metal, clay, or wood.

  6. The Mikvah must contain no less than 40 Sa'ah of water, that is approximately 150 to 200 gallons.

      As you can see the modern baptisteries, in the local church, do not fit the criteria of a clean ritual bath. Many houses in Israel have been excavated and found to have as many as nine Mikvot in them. The Holy Temple area had many Mikvot, a worshipper could not enter the area without going thru the Mikvah. In Masada, the fortress built by Herod the Great, Mikvot were found.

Today in the modern "church" there is controversy as to what part immersion plays is our life, and also how is a "Biblical" immersion performed. The three main divisions of this controversy are for the most part as follows;

  1. Is immersion necessary for salvation...is salvation a two-part process
  2. Which is Biblically correct, immersion or sprinkling;
  3. In what name is a person immersed or sprinkled, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or Jesus only?

Ritual purification or immersion is a Hebrew ritual, commanded by God and must be viewed in that perspective. Certain guidelines were commanded by God to be strictly followed by the person entering the Mikvah.

The method of immersion as practiced by all the Old Testament people and including Yochanan haMatvil/John the Baptist was very different from what we do today. The person was to already have taken a bath, washed his hair, pared his fingernails and make sure that he was very clean. The Mikvah was not for the purpose of taking a bath. The person being immersed went into the water by himself, stretching out his arms, flexing his fingers, fluttering his eyelids he squats down into the water until he is completely covered by water. Flexing the fingers and toes, fluttering the eyelids was to insure that the water touched every part of the body. Normally a person would do this three times. The witness was the person that stood out of the water to make sure that the immersing person was completely covered by the water.

There are three types of immersion;

  1. Immersion of the whole body in water
  2. Washing of the hands
  3. Washing of the hands and feet

Immersion of the whole body will be the first of the three types we will discuss beginning in Part One of this teaching.