When a woman immerses in the mikveh, her entire body including all of her hair must be submerged in the water at one time. In general, anything which adheres to the body or hair and prevents contact with the water invalidates the immersion. Such a barrier is called a chatzitzah.
According to Torah law, a barrier (chatzitzah) invalidates a woman’s immersion in the mikveh when it meets two conditions:
(1) it covers the majority of her body;
(2) she minds its presence – that is, it is a substance that she considers foreign and plans ultimately to remove.
The rabbis decreed, however, that a substance meeting only one of these conditions (either it covers the majority of her body or she minds its presence) also invalidates the immersion.
Thus, in practice, a barrier of any size is considered a chatzitzah if it is destined to be removed. Even when the woman does not mind the barrier’s presence while she is immersing, if she would normally remove it at some other time (e.g., a ring that she removes only when kneading dough) it is a chatzitzah. Furthermore, if most women would be particular about an item, then it is considered a chatzitzah even for an individual who does not mind its presence.
Every attempt should therefore be made to remove even minute amounts of foreign material before immersing. If, however, a barrier is inconvenient, difficult or impossible to remove, then a rabbi should be asked whether the item is actually a chatzitzah. Some examples are:
1. The foreign material has a medical role (e. g., stitches).
2. Its removal would be dangerous.
3. It serves a cosmetic purpose (e. g., hair color).
4. It is permanently attached to her body.
In such situations consultation is essential. A woman should never assume on her own that foreign material is inconsequential, and risk an invalid immersion, but neither should she take it for granted that it is indeed a chatzitzah, and perhaps needlessly delay immersing in the mikveh.
According to Torah law, any item which covers the majority of the body (rov), and whose presence bothers the person (makpid) is considered a barrier to mikveh immersion (chatzitzah).
According to binding rabbinic decree, an item is also a chatzitzah if it meets only one of the criteria – either rov or makpid. Thus, an item that covers a small portion of the body but is undesired, or that covers the majority even if desired, is a chatzitzah. When calculating the majority, the hair is considered a separate unit. Thus, an item that covers most of the hair is a chatzitzah, even if the rest of the body is not involved.
It would appear that hair dye, which covers a majority of the hair, could present a problem of chatzitzah. In practice, there are several reasons for leniency:
- If a woman clearly wishes an item to be present for cosmetic reasons, then in some cases it may not be considered a chatzitzah.
- Items permanently attached to the body are considered subordinate to the body, and thus are no longer chatzitzot. Therefore, permanent dyes, which stay in the hair through multiple washings, are less problematic than temporary dyes.
- There is room for leniency if an item has no independent substance (it is absorbed into the skin or hair and cannot be felt above its surface). Thus, while efforts should be made to remove unwanted ink and dye stains prior to immersion, if they cannot be removed they are not chatzitzot.
A woman wants the dye for cosmetic reasons, it is permanently absorbed into her hair, and it has no independent substance. Therefore, it is permissible to immerse in the mikveh with dyed hair.
Timing of the hair treatment does raise some practical issues. Women want the dye to be present on the hair, but not on the scalp. Therefore, dye which remains on the scalp immediately after treatment could be a chatzitzah. Dyeing appointments should therefore be scheduled long enough before mikveh for the extra dye to be removed.
On the other hand, the woman’s preference for dyed hair is an essential factor in determining that the dye is not a chatzitzah. Therefore, the dye must be well enough maintained for her to feel comfortable being seen in this condition. If the roots have grown out to the point that she would not want to be seen this way in public, the dye is considered chatzitzah. Therefore, if she is planning to stop dyeing her hair, she should use temporary dyes until her hair has grown out to the point that it can be cut and left in a manner with which she is comfortable.
In general, a cast is considered a barrier to immersion (chatzitzah). This is due to the fact that it encloses a part of the body and does not allow the mikveh waters reach the covered section.
This is especially true for plaster casts, where the woman also does not want water to come in contact with the cast and is diligent to keep it dry. A woman should ask whether a cast that is allowed to get wet can be used. There are such casts today, which are meant to allow swimming and bathing.
There are situations when immersion with a cast can be permitted if the cast will be on for a long time. Each case requires individual adjudication to determine the correct course of action. The halachic authority will need to know the following information from the doctor:
- How long does the cast need to be in place?
- Is it possible to remove and replace the cast (as is occasionally done for clinical reasons)? What would be the cost of such a procedure?
- Can the cast be left under water for long enough to allow water to seep through without ruining the cast?
The halachic authority will also want to know from the woman for how long she will be niddah if she cannot immerse with the cast and whether there any factors that make it particularly hard for her to be niddah for a prolonged period.
Mikveh immersion requires that the entire body be immersed in the water of the mikveh at one time. Under normal circumstances, all foreign objects also need to be removed before immersion so that the mikveh water can reach all parts of the body unimpeded.
However, there are situations where it would be dangerous, painful, or medically problematic for a woman’s ears to be exposed to water. In such situations, a specific halachic question needs to be asked, and the woman should work together with her physician and a halachic authority to find a solution that will allow her to use the mikveh. Below are some general principles and guidelines:
(1) The usual practice among Ashkenazi women is to immerse in the mikveh, recite the bracha, and immerse again. Many women also have the custom to immerse additional times. However, in cases where immersion is medically problematic, one momentary immersion is sufficient. Ashkenazi women should recite the bracha after the immersion.
(2) The ear canal is considered beit hastarim, a “hidden area” similar to the inside of the mouth. While the mikveh water does not need to actually enter areas defined as beit hastarim, rabbinic law requires that they be free of chatzitzot. However, there is room for leniency in cases of need. Therefore, if water cannot be allowed to enter the ear for medical reasons, a piece of cotton coated in fish oil or vaseline may be placed deeply in the ear prior to immersion. In cases where an ENT has ruled out this option even for one momentary immersion, well-fitted earplugs inserted deep inside the ear might be permitted.
Insulin Pumps & Glucose Sensors
In general, a foreign object attached to the body is a barrier (chatzitzah) and should be removed before immersion. However, immersion is sometimes permitted with a device that needs to be attached for an extended period, and which it is problematic to remove. Here, we will address the general principles and guidelines affecting insulin pumps and glucose sensors. As always, the halacha depends on individual circumstances and specific questions should be asked when necessary.
An insulin pump delivers insulin as needed throughout the day. The pump is attached to the body with an infusion set that consists of an adhesive patch and a thin tube called a cannula. The infusion set is changed approximately every three days. When it is not expensive to change, the infusion set should be removed before immersion and the area cleaned well to remove all traces of adhesive from the patch. Then a new infusion set should be inserted after immersion. When cost is prohibitive, and a woman might lose access to insulin if she removes her infusion set early, one alternative would be to delay mikveh for a night or two, until the set is due to be replaced. When neither of these options is feasible, a woman should seek individualized halachic guidance.
A glucose sensor continuously monitors the level of glucose in the blood. It is a small device that is attached to the body with adhesive, often with a tiny needle that enters the skin. The sensor is waterproof and can be worn while bathing or swimming. There are different types of sensors; some are changed every 5-7 days, and others every 14 days. The new sensor needs to be placed on a different site than the old one.
Ideally, the sensor should be removed before immersion, and replaced afterwards. In practice, this presents a number of difficulties:
- If a sensor is removed early, it cannot be returned. It must be replaced with a new sensor.
- The sensor needs to be changed on time. If a sensor is left in place longer than the prescribed time, its measurements become unreliable. Therefore, a woman cannot delay changing the sensor until mikveh night.
- The cost of each sensor varies based on location and insurance. Often, medical insurance covers the cost of an exact number of sensors per month, and a woman who needs an extra sensor to allow for mikveh immersion must pay for it herself. Sensors are not inexpensive.
There are several possible ways to remove the sensor for immersion:
- The woman can buy an extra sensor. Financial difficulty is a factor in determining halacha, so whether she is required to do so would depend on the cost of the sensor and on her financial situation.
- If there will be only a few days from immersion until the date that the sensor should be changed, the woman may be able to remove the sensor before immersion and use test strips to monitor her glucose levels until it is time to attach the new sensor. Whether this is medically advisable depends on her particular situation. Some people require continual glucose monitoring for medical reasons, while others choose the method because it is convenient. Therefore, this should be done only after consultation with her doctor.
- If both spouses agree, and there are no extenuating circumstances (trying to conceive, a short cycle, travel, shalom bayit, etc.), the woman can delay immersion for a few days to coincide with the day she needs to change the sensor.
- If the woman is already using combined hormonal contraceptives, she may be able – with her doctor’s permission – to manipulate her cycle so that mikveh comes out on the day she needs to replace the sensor. However, it can be difficult to time this exactly.
If none of these options are realistic, she can immerse with the sensor as long as it will remain on her body for at least seven days after mikveh immersion, which gives it a more permanent status, and she cleans the area around the sensor thoroughly.
If none of these options are realistic, and the sensor will remain on her body for less than seven days, she should ask an individual halachic question about whether she can immerse with the sensor.
“Insulin Pumps & Glucose Sensors” is based on a response by Yoetzet Halacha Sarit-Chein Kroitoro for an upcoming volume of Nishmat HaBayit.