This Normal Life: The royal mikve

Where does it say in Jewish tradition there should be a luxury tax on sex?

april 27 my story image  (photo credit: )
april 27 my story image
(photo credit: )
My wife, Jody, and I recently had an opportunity to get away for a day without the kids. Our destination: Le Meridien Hotel and Spa at the Dead Sea, for 24 hours of floating in the hot salt water pool, luxuriating in the Jacuzzi and taking in a couple of massages. There was only one hitch. The date that worked best for the babysitter just happened to be mikve night. According to Jewish tradition, a married couple abstains from intimacy when the woman is menstruating and for seven days afterward. At the end of this period - called nida - the woman visits a mikve (ritual bath), immerses herself three times while saying a blessing, then returns to her husband. No mikve, no relations. Which would kind of kill the romance for our one-night-away-without-needing-to-get-up-and-get-the-kids-off-to-school trip. Ever resourceful, Jody picked up the phone and called her regular Jerusalem bath to see if there was a mikve in the Dead Sea area. The woman on the other end was not encouraging. "You'll have to go up to Arad," she said, referring to the nearest town, a 30-40 minute drive each way. Not exactly how I wanted to spend the evening. Jody next decided to call the hotel. No, they didn't have a mikve, but there was one at the nearby Royal Hotel. "That sounds nice," I said, imagining a hi-tech mikve complex, posh enough for the many wives of King Solomon. Jody made a reservation for that evening and we set off for our mini-vacation. At the appointed hour, we walked over to the Royal Hotel. The lobby was an immediate disappointment. A single clerk sat behind a shabby desk. Loud disco music blared from an adjoining room - Israelis for some reason cannot go on vacation without there being a nightclub where the hotel staff coerces them into some kind of garish display of public dancing and/or Hebrew karaoke. "Are you a guest in the hotel?" Galit, the front desk clerk, asked. "No," Jody replied. "Well, that will be NIS 100 then," Galit said, almost apologetically. "NIS 100!" I sputtered, turning to Jody. That was four times what we pay for the mikve in Jerusalem. Where does it say in Jewish tradition there should be a tax on sex? But then, this is one of those things where there's not much wiggle room for negotiation, as it's mighty hard to just walk away. "This 'Royal' mikve better be nice," I said. We handed over a NIS 100 bill and Galit got on her walkie-talkie. "Shlomi, to the front desk. We need you to open the mikve. Got a lady here." Could she be any more obvious? Going to the mikve is supposed to be discreet, modest. The whole episode reminded me of the scene in the movie Summer of '42 where the embarrassed kid goes up to the drug store checkout counter with his first pack of condoms and the clerk yells out something along the lines of "we need a price check on Trojans, Aisle 12." Shlomi - a man, by the way - arrived after a few minutes. Jody looked confused. "Is there a balanit?" she asked Galit, referring to the female mikve attendant who checks to make sure the woman is properly prepared and then observes the dunk to pronounce it "kosher." "No," Galit replied. "It's a self-service mikve." Jody looked at me. "You're going to have to be my balanit," she said. Now that was a twist. Now, it's not like I've never been in a mikve before. When I was a participant on the Livnot U'Lehibanot program in Safed 20 years ago, a bunch of us guys used to go to the men's mikve - mainly because the mikve complex had abundant hot water, something in short supply on the Livnot campus. And before Jody and I got married I even took a ceremonial dunk in the local Berkeley mikve. But this would be my first coed mikve experience. Sounded kind of like fun. Shlomi walked us to the mikve, which was located deep inside the hotel's spa. He unlocked the cavernous room which was dark and empty at this hour, led us past the oversized heart-shaped salt water pool with its float-over ice cream bar at the side. And I thought: Hmmm… maybe this will turn out OK after all. He then escorted us out a side door and into a dank, plain stairway that wasn't at all like the spa. Shlomi fumbled with two sets of keys, which unlocked another door that looked more like the opening to a bomb shelter than the opulence we had at this point come to expect. Shlomi told us to take our time and tell Galit at the front desk when we were done. I'm not sure if he winked. The room was as old and run down as the stairwell outside. The bathtub was cracked, the plumbing loud. Dead mosquitoes stuck to the walls. At NIS 100 for the "experience," this was turning out to be one expensive bit of foreplay. Nevertheless, I am happy to report that I acquitted myself admirably on my first - and probably only - stint as a coed mikve attendant, calling out "kosher" with all the aplomb and enthusiasm of a true balanit. We walked back to the front desk holding hands, like a couple of giddy teenagers. Galit was waiting there and handed us our receipt. When Jody and I looked at it, we burst out laughing. The bill, which was clearly - and as indiscreetly as possible - marked "mikve," was broken down into a base fee of NIS 84.50, plus another 15.5 percent for value added tax. It seems that when it comes to the business of taxing sex, even the government wants a piece of the action. The writer has a blog at