Columns - 2005

    Tzom Improvement

    By Doug Brook
    Deep South Jewish Voice Columnist

    Does everybody know what time it is?

    Shul Time!

    That's right. Ben-Ford Shuls is proud to present Shim the Shul-Man Shaeffer!

    Thank you, Hindy. Thank you, everybody. Welcome to Shul Time. I'm Shim the Shul-Man Shaeffer. And you all know my assistant Hal " so cold I want to say" Brr-man.

    Thank you, Shim.

    We are here, as always, courtesy of Ben-Ford Shuls, who have built more synagogues and temples in the tri-state area than anyone else. Yes, our motto at Ben-Ford Shuls is "why build one shul, when you can have two for twice the price?"

    What is the difference between a synagogue and a temple, Hal?

    The spelling.

    That's as funny as it is helpful, Hal.

    Thank you, Shim.

    But we're here to help you with another episode of Tzom Improvement, bringing you the tools and the techniques to build a better Jewish life.

    It seems like yesterday when we started out on a small five thousand watt station, giving tips and tools to help get you through the fast days a little easier.

    For those of you who are new this week, 'tzom' means 'fast.'

    That's right, Hal. Just last week I got pulled over and I said, "I'm sorry, officer, was I going too tzom?"

    For those of you who are not new this week, that's the thirty-ninth time you've heard that joke.

    And it keeps getting funnier every time.

    I don't think so, Shim.

    But anyway, we've expanded the show way beyond talking about fast days. In fact, today we are doing our salute... to mikvahs.

    It's not just a bathtub. And, no matter what your outgoing temple president says, it shouldn't be just another jacuzzi.

    That's right, Shim. A mikvah is a serious religious edifice.

    That's right, Hal, just like you. And that's exactly why it shouldn't be just another jacuzzi. It should be an exceptional jacuzzi!

    I say, pour in the hottub jets, the foot massage jets. And don't be cheap. Put in a good 250 horsepower engine. Make that mikvah a really religious experience.

    As my neighbor Wolfson recently said to me, a man isn't really wet behind the ears until he dunks his head in a really hot mikvah.

    I doubt that's what he said, Shim.

    Well you weren't there, Hal.

    But, Shim, you're not supposed to bear false witness against your neighbor.

    That's no problem, Hal. They can put me on the stand and I'll never admit that his front teeth are false.

    So, what is a mikvah? Traditionally, it's a ritual bath. But not just for any old ritual. It's not like you can hold Saturday morning services in a mikvah. We tried that.

    Yes, HE tried that. And the Torah ink ran everywhere.

    Yes, but in there it was much easier to recite the entire Torah while standing on one foot.

    Anyway, mikvahs can sometimes be found in synagogues. Often they're relegated to being in a downstairs room somewhere, right next to the kosher wine cellar. And that should tell you how valuably they're treated.

    A mikvah's not filled with normal water. It's filled with rainwater. In fact, strictest tradition says the rainwater must be collected and channeled directly to the mikvah. It can't even be transported in another container.

    Yes, the water that comes straight down from heaven. What could be more pure?

    In New Jersey, anything.

    Your JCC's pool is not a mikvah, even if it gets rained into. Neither is their hottub.

    What are mikvahs used for? It's intended to remove all impurity, bringing one closer to ritual purity. Sometimes people go for a dip in the mikvah as a means of repentance, sometimes just to get ritually cleaned up after a long session with a bar mitzvah student.

    Traditionally, people also visit the mikvah before completing conversion to Judaism or completing conversion from being single.

    But there's more to do with mikvahs than just build a tub and fill it with rainwater.

    Not really, Shim.

    Yes there is, Hal. Don't be such a wet blanket.

    You already had a wet blanket, last time you tried to dry off before you got out of the mikvah.

    I was trying to save time, Hal.

    But not your impending marriage.

    Anyway, speaking of marriage, many of us, though obviously not Hal, have been to those resorts down in the Caribbean. Endless beaches, more sand than your cat would know what to do with. And of course, swimming pools where you can get tropical drink service without leaving the water.

    So imagine this. You're kicking back, getting ritually cleansed for a wedding or other special occasion. It's warm, you get thirsty. Wouldn't you like to be able to just walk through (no, not on) the water and get a nice cool tropical drink? Yes, your temple or community can have your very own full-service bar mikvah.

    And just imagine the bar mikvah parties you could have.

    I don't think so, Shim.

    Unfortunately, mikvah rooms in so many synagogues fall into neglect and disrepair that they're left unopened for years. In fact, a rare new breed of rodent has evolved in these secluded spaces: the bat mikvah.

    So, please, help persuade your synagogue to restore their mikvah. Why not open it up during the offseason as a shvitz? It can help the building fund, right? And if you want to talk about staff retention, a weekly staff soak can really do the trick.

    That's all for this episode of Shul Time. Tune in next time when we do our salute... to tefilin straps.

    Doug Brook is a senior technical writer in Silicon Valley, where rainwater is sparse most of the year, mikvahs are even more sparse, and his hottub's been broken for three months. For more information, past columns, and other writings, theatre, and current events, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.