The last step in the conversion ceremony, immersion in the mikveh, is incumbent upon both men and women. Once you have received the tevilah form from the bet din, and the circumcision has healed, you can schedule a time and date for immersion with the national scheduling coordinator. The religious courts have set days for tevilah in specific mikvehs throughout the country. There is some flexibility, however, regarding the place and time in order to accommodate the needs of those immersing.
Click here for a Hebrew list of Mikvaot
What is a Mikveh?
The mikveh is a tiled pool of water measuring approximately 2 square meters in area, with stairs leading down down to the bottom. It is filled about one meter high with warm water. In principal, the mikveh is supposed to be filled with rainwater. In order, however, to facilitate regular changing of the water, it is customary today to fill it with tap water and connect it (hashaka) by a small hole to a pit of rainwater. Mikvehs maintain strict health standards and they are subjected to regular inspection. The water is changed almost every day, or after every eight immersions, and it is chlorinated. In the same facility as the actual mikveh itself, there are bathrooms, showers, bathrooms, waiting rooms, and preparation rooms. Converts immerse during the daytime, while women who must immerse, in fulfillment of Family Purity Laws, do so at night.
The Significance of Immersion
Jewish tradition confers legal-symbolic force to the waters of the mikveh. These waters effect a change of status; they transform the impure to pure and the forbidden to permitted and they create a new reality, turning the gentile into a Jew. Immersion is done specifically in rain or spring water, which symbolize life and growth, creation and birth.
Preparations for Immersion
Women of childbearing age who are married must take a pregnancy test since the time of conception relative to the completion of the conversion process bears halachic ramifications for the child who is born. (Note that a child is born Jewish if his mother began studying for conversion before he was conceived and completed the process before he was born.
A short review of the theoretical material you studied before coming before the religious court, in preparation for the questions they will ask you in the mikveh.
In the hours right before immersion – hygienic preparations for immersion. This includes bathing, shampooing, brushing teeth, cutting your nails, removing all makeup, nail polish, contacts, and scabs that come off easily.
What to Bring?
• Identity card
• The tevilah form that you received from the bet din, signed by the dayanim.
• For women of childbearing age who are married, the results of a pregnancy test.
• If the mikveh does not provide robes, a wide long cloth robe to be worn during immersion.
• A large towel or robe to wear after tevilah.
• A hairbrush, toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo, and soap.
• A change of clothing.
• A pair of glasses are recommended even if you generally wear contacts.
• Light refreshments, whiskey, and a camera, if you will want to celebrate after your immersion and capture the moment.
Who Should Accompany You?
Friends, family, spouses all may accompany you to the mikveh, especially if you are planning to make a party or to marry your partner in a Jewish wedding, following your immersion. Your friends and family (who are of the same sex as you) are generally permitted to come into the room of the mikveh when the members of the bet din are present.
At the Mikveh
Preparation for immersion:
When you enter the building of the mikveh, you will be met by a mikveh attendant – a male attendant (balan) if you are male, a female attendant (balanit) if you are female. Preparations for tevilah and the tevilah itself are carried out in completely separate rooms for men and women. The attendants will direct you to a bathroom, and provide you with a towel, soap, and sponge. They will instruct you to briefly repeat the preparations you already did at home and to conduct a self examination in order to verify that there is nothing on your bodies that could constitute a barrier (chatzitza) between you and the waters of the mikveh. The bathrooms in the mikveh are generally stocked.with the necessary supplies (Q-tips, alcohol, nail polish remover, tooth picks, etc.). When you complete all the preparation, you will wrap yourself in a towel and call for an attendant to accompany you to the tevilah.
A typical tevilah:
After the mikveh attendants help you check that there is indeed nothing on your body that will interfere with the tevilah, you will remove your towel and descend the stairs into the mikveh. You will then stand in the center of the pool and immerse your entire body, including your head, in the water. Girls below the age of 12 and boys below the age of 13 immerse in the mikveh together with one of their parents or another adult. After the initial immersion, a female convert will don a long, dark, wide robe, in which she will immerse again, which, on one hand, will allow water to penetrate, but which will on the other hand, insure that she is modestly covered. Male converts remain in the water unclothed also for the subsequent immersions.
Three men, who constitute a bet din for the purpose of tevilah, will then enter the area of the mikveh. These men will usually not be the same dayanim whom you met when you were tested by the bet din. You are now ready to complete the conversion process. The dayanim will speak to you briefly, while you are still in the water, and ask you a few questions about Judaism, similar to ones you were asked in bet din. These moments are apt to be both moving and unnerving. If you don’t see well without glasses or contacts, you will feel very disoriented and find it difficult to answer the questions of the dayanim. It is therefore, advisable that you leave a pair of glasses (not contacts) next to the mikveh, so that you can put them on during the questions of the dayanim, and then remove them before the next immersion. The point of these questions is not to reassess your eligibility, but rather to bridge the time between the final decision of the bet din regarding your conversion to your acceptance of the mitzvot and the completion of the conversion process. After you answer their questions, the members of the bet din will bless you and ask you to repeat after them Shema Yisrael, and the same declaration accepting upon yourself the mitzvoth -which you said it in bet din.
After accepting upon yourself the mitzvoth, you will recite the bracha on the tevilah:
Blessed are You, O Lord, King of the universe, who sanctified us in His commandments and commanded us about tevilah
.בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קְדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ עַל הַטְּבִילָה.
Immediately after the bracha, you will immerse yourself fully in the presence of the bet din. The bet din will bless you and announce your new Hebrew name:
“And his/her name shall be called in Israel, [insert the Hebrew name] the son/daughter of our forefather Avraham.
“וְיִקָּרֵא שְׁמוֹ / שְׁמָה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל פלוני/ת [כאן נאמר השם העברי] בֵּן / בָּת אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ”.
The members of the bet din will wish you mazal tov and leave the room. Women will sometimes immerse one more time in the presence of the mikveh attendant. After immersing, you will come out of the water, wrap yourself in a towel, and return to the bathroom where you left your clothing. The members of the bet din who witnessed your tevilah will sign your tevilah form and then forward it to the conversion court so that it can be entered into your conversion file.
Upon leaving the mikveh, you may, if you wish, recite the bracha of Shehecheyanu, a bracha said at occasions of joy and renewal. Some people have the custom to put on a new article of clothing or accessory or to eat a new fruit and to say one bracha of Shehecheyanu on both the new item and the completion of the conversion process.
Blessed are You, O Lord, King of the universe, who has given us life and sustained us and enabled us to come to this time
. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְמַן הַזֶּה.
After your tevilah, you can celebrate with your guests in the mikveh building or in a nearby Synagogue.