Friday, April 5, 2013

The Okinawan Mikvah

There was a major article in the Chabad world about the brand new Mikvah that opened this year in Tokyo.  Rumor had it that the Mikvah at the Jewish Community Center (Conservative) in Tokyo had mysteriously been broken, but that is no longer the case.  After a year hiatus, it is back in service.  

There was a rumor that there is a Mikvah in Okinawa, but I’ve investigated that to where I do not believe that has ever been the case. 

Rabbinic Note:  A Mikvah is a physical bathhouse used for ritual immersion.  The requirement being that the water has to be “mayim chayim”, or “living water”.  Rivers, natural springs, and rainwater make up the base water for most Mikvaot.  There is a Responsa out there that one can turn a pool into a Mikvah by adding some ice; as the ice transforms, it is considered “mayim chayim”, and thus a Mikvah.  It is possible that a Mikvah of this style existed in Okinawa before my time.  However, the only area set aside for ritual immersion is the Baptistery in the Kinser Chapel.  A Mikvah it is not.

That said, I live on a tiny island in the middle of the West Pacific Sea Currents; we have a Mikvah.  The coral reefs make it a little complicated to use, but it does the trick.

I tell you this not to give you laws of mikvah, but to share a story from my week.  Having returned mid-week from Yokota Air Base in Tokyo, I was asked (prior to my expected flight out to Guam) to make a baby girl (whose father is Jewish and whose mother is in process of converting) into a Jewish baby girl.

I love simchas and I was more than delighted to put together a little ceremony for them (we are also going to have a simchat bat in synagogue in a few weeks).  Originally, I was going to have us all wade into the East China Sea – as we did for the  adult conversions this past Spring.  But then, Betty Hoffman had a brilliant suggestion.

Just below her house (which is on a beautiful cliff and the beach that we were going to use) is a natural spring.  At one point considered a sacred spring (like most springs in Okinawa), it is set into the cliffs and surrounded by a series of caves.  The water in the spring is beautiful, clear and fresh; it pools at about one foot of depth and then flows down into the ocean 10 yards away.  “Can we use the spring?”  Not only can we use the spring, but it is an ideal Mikvah.  While not quite big enough for an adult, we immersed Chloe Ayumi Beyer (Esther Chanah bat Avraham) in the Ancient Okinawan Mikvah.  
The walk down to the Mikvah.  The New Abba is carrying the New Baby.
The New Grandma is walking the Grand-Puppy.

We gave her some wine - because everybody is entitled to some wine at Jewish rituals.
I sang HaMalakh HaGoel as I explained to Chloe how luck of a girl she was and all that she was about to experience.
There is no reason for me to be the only one getting wet.  Bath time is fun for rabbis, abbas and babies.
We rolled up our pants as we walked into the Spring.

"And now you have a whole new Jewish name!  Esther Hannah - a pretty good name for a girl born on Purim".  Esther's Abba, Ema and Rabbi give her a blessing.


  1. Dear Yoni,
    After a one year hiatus, due to the fact that the JCC building had been torn down, we have had a mikvah since September 2009. The mikvah was designed under the supervision of R. Lerner, a Denver-based charedi authority on mikvaot, and its usage was open to whoever asked (we had actually a few tourists referred to us by one of the Chabad rabbis, of all people).
    Two false rumors, however, have been circulated (I wonder by whom...): 1) that there was no mikvah in Tokyo until last month's inauguration; 2) that "the first thing the new Conservative rabbi of the JCJ - I guess that would be me - has done was to destroy the mikvah" (quoted from an interview on the internet they now took down, but I have a jpg of it).
    The truth is that rather than using the mikvah located in my community, given that I am Conservative and gay, they'd rather had their wives travel to Kobe or use the ocean. And I can understand and accept this, what I can't accept or justify are the lies spread about us, the less Jewish of the communities.
    Why tell the truth if you can present yourself as the poor victim or as the holy remnant preserving Judaism in Tokyo?
    Kol Tuv.

    1. Dear loyal reader,

      The post has been edited to recognize that the Conservative Tokyo Mikvah is still in operation. Thank you for your continued support of this and other Japanese Jewish Communities.

      Very Respectfully,

      Yoni Warren
      Incoming President, Rabbinical Assembly (Japan Region)

  2. Love it. One of the best parts of being a rabbi, I'm sure!