Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Two Methods of Constructing a Mikvah

With the improvement of pumping systems and the supply of water, the need arose to replace the water in which the public immerses in the mikvah * Two solutions were given for this, but each has a disadvantage: ‘otzar hashakah’, and ‘otzar zeri’ah’ * Today, with the improvent of engineering capabilities, mikvahs are usually built using both techniques * A mikvah according to the minhag of Chabad or Satmar is an unnecessary stringincy that should not be practiced, except for those whose rabbis of their community follow this minhag

This week’s Torah portion also deals with the laws of purity, and therefore, it is fitting to continue discussing the laws of a mikvah. As we have learned, natural water sources are kosher for a mikvah tahara (a pure mikvah), such as springs, cisterns in which rainwater gathers, seas, and lakes. The idea is that purity is associated with a return to the source of life, and natural water is the source on which all living things in the world are based, as we have learned from the first three days from the six days of Creation.
In the past, many people used to immerse in springs, seas and rivers, because in the absence of a system of water supply pipes, people needed to live close to water sources, and consequently, used them for immersion. In places that were not close to available water sources, people would dig pits in their yards to store rainwater, and Jews would dig an additional pit for pure immersion.
After solutions to transporting water were found, large cities and towns were built, and the need arose to build mikvahs that could be used by many people. However, if everyone immersed in the same mikvah, the water would become polluted, therefore the need arose to separate the ‘otzar‘ (reservoir) of rainwater from the immersion pool, so that the water in the immersion pool would be made by one of two methods – either zeri’ah (literally, “sowing”), or hashakah (literally, “kissing”). In this way, they could change the water in the immersion pool frequently.

Otzar Zeri’ah Method
Just as a kosher mikvah purifies those who immerse in it, it also purifies and “koshers” pumped water that has been “sown” in it – in other words, water that has fallen, or flowed into it. And even if one were to pour into a kosher mikvah a thousand times greater amount of pumped water, all the water poured into it will become kosher water for immersion. And if a lot of water is “sown” in the mikvah that overflows and fills many other pools, all the pools will be kosher for immersion, since the water in them was made by “sowing” from a kosher mikvah.
We find then that whenever one wants to replace the water in the immersion pool, more tap water is added into the otzar zeri’ah, and when it is filled, its water slides through a ditch into the immersion pool, and since the water was “sown” with kosher water for immersion, they also become kosher for immersion.

Otzar Hashakah Method
If the pumped tap water that is not suitable for immersion were “kissed” with mikvah water – in other words, comes into contact with the mikvah water, they would also be made kosher for immersion. Namely, if there was a kosher mikvah, and next to it, a pool of pumped tap water, if they were connected by means of a hole five centimeters in diameter (“ke’shfoferet ha-nod“), as soon as the pool water “kiss” and “touch” the mikvah water, they are made kosher, and the pool would become a kosher mikvah. And even if the hole between the mikvah and the pool was plugged afterwards, the water in the pool has already become a kosher mikvah.

The Certain Disadvantages of Both Methods
The disadvantage of the otzar zeri’ah method is that in the opinion of the Ravaad, who is in disagreement with all the other Rishonim, pumped tap water can be “sown” into an otzar of rainwater, provided that the amount of original rainwater remaining in the original kosher mikvah, is the majority of a kosher mikvah, specifically, more than twenty se’ah. And if this amount did not remain in the otzar, the mikvah is invalidated from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinically). It turns out, therefore, that after a number of times pumped tap water is “sown” into an otzar, presumably, less than twenty se’ah of original rainwater remains in the otzar, and in the opinion Ravaad, the mikvah is invalidated from Divrei Chachamim.
The disadvantage of the otzar hashakah method is that in the opinion of Rabbeinu Yerucham, if the hole that connects the immersion pool to the otzar hashakah is re-plugged, the water in the pool is invalidated for immersion. And since preferably the water of the immersion pool should not mix with the water of the otzar hashakah making them dirty, after operating the hashakah, the hole is usually plugged-up, and then, in his opinion, the pool is invalidated for immersion. This problem can be solved by making sure to always open the hole before immersion, and yet, some poskim are concerned that it might be forgotten to open the hole.

The Hiddur to Use Two Otzars
In recent generations, with the rise in living standards, many people have begun to beautify the mitzvah of mikvah by “koshering” the water in the immersion pool in both ways, by zeri’ah and hashakah. In other words, the mikvah is “koshered” by two otzars, each with forty se’ah of rainwater. 1) Otzar zeri’ah – into which tap water flows, from which the water slides gravitationally into the immersion pool. 2) Otzar hashakah – into which the immersion pool “kisses” through a hole at least five centimeters in diameter.
When immersing, the hole is opened, and closed when not in use, so that the water in the otzar hashakah will not get dirty from the water people immersed in. However, even if at the time of immersion the hole connecting the immersion pool to the otzar hashakah was closed, the immersion is kosher, since the opening of the hole is a hiddur (see, Iggrot Moshe, Y.D. 1: 112).

The Remaining Problem
However, even when constructing a mikvah in both ways, there is still a problem. For if they make certain to open the plug between the otzar and the immersion pool during immersion, to take into account the opinion of Rabbeinu Yerucham, there is concern that in a gradual process, the water in the otzar hashakah will be replaced with the water in the immersion pool, to the point where there will not remain more than twenty se’ah of rainwater in the otzar hashakah, and then, in the opinion of Ravaad, the otzar will be invalidated.
And if a hashakah is done while filling the pool, and afterwards, during immersions, the plug is closed, in the opinion of Rabbeinu Yerucham, immersion would be invalid.

The Chabad Mikvah
Due to these concerns, in recent generations chassidut Chabad routinely build the otzar hashakah under the mikvah, and seeing as people in recent generations commonly enhance the mitzvah of the mikvah by heating the water in the immersion pool, the cold water in the otzar hashakah under the immersion pool tends to stay below, and consequently, does not mix with the hot water in the immersion pool. Thus, although the hole that connects between the otzar hashakah to the immersion pool above it will always remain open, there will always be more than twenty se’ah of the original rainwater in the otzar hashakah below the immersion pool. Chassidut Satmar also have their own method – they build an otzar hashakah below another otzar hashakah, and make sure the hole between the two otzarot hashakah, and in between the upper otzar hashakah and the immersion pool, always remain open.

Should the Chumra Be Taken Into Consideration?
Arguments arose in various localities, when some people wanted the mikvah to be built according to the Chabad or Satmar method. To strengthen their demand, they argued that because of the virtue of ‘kedushat Yisrael’ (the holiness of the People of Israel), and because the mikvah serves many people, le-chatchila (ideally), when possible, the Jewish minhag is to enhance the mitzvah, and be machmir to construct the mikvah in a way that is kosher even according to the individual poskim’s opinions, which were not ruled as halakha (Tashbetz 1: 17). The question is whether it is correct to take their method into consideration.

According to Halakha, Their Method Should Not Be Considered
The basis of the chumra is in consideration of Ravaad’s method, who believes that if there does not remain more than twenty se’ah of original rainwater, the otzar zeri’ah or hashakah cannot make the immersion pool kosher. However, in practice, the halakha does not follow his opinion, since in the opinion of the rest of the Rishonim, Rashi, Rabbeinu Tam, Ra’sh, Rashba, Rosh and others, a mikvah can become kosher through the limitless “sowing” of a lot of water, and there is no need for original rainwater to remain in it, since all the water “sown” into it have become kosher like rainwater, and the halakha was ruled as such (S.A., Y.D. 201: 15; 23).
In addition, the entire hiddur done to make the otzar hashakah, in addition to the otzar zeri’ah, is so that the mikvah will also be kosher according to Ravaad, because the Achronim understood from his words that he was speaking only about when the loss of rainwater was noticeable, as said in the Mishnah: “Natan se’ah, ve’natal se’ah” (“A se’ah was put in, and one se’ah was removed”) (Mikvaot 7: 2), but when it occurs gradually, slowly, and in an unnoticeable way, the mikvah is not invalidated.
Additionally, even Ravaad who was machmir, also agrees that from the Torah, the mikvah is kosher and all of his chumra is from Divrei Chachamim. In other words, it is a d’Rabanan (rabbinical) law, in which the halakha goes according to the meikel (lenient) opinion, even if the opinions of the machmirim are equal to the meikalim. Kal ve’chomer (all the more so) in this case, when the meikelim are all the other Rishonim.
Moreover, it is customary to flow the water entering the immersion pool from the otzar zeri’ah on a soft concrete channel three tefachim in length, in a manner called homshachah (natural pressure gradient). By the method of homshachah, in the opinion of some Rishonim (Rif and Chachmei Ma’arav), pumped tap water, as well, becomes kosher, and for the rest of the Rishonim, the water remains invalid, but only from Divrei Chachamim.
Consequently, it turns out that this is a chashash (concern) of a daat yachid (individual opinion) in a s’fake-s’faka (a halakhic double doubt) in a d’rabanan law according to the machmir interpretation of that daat yachid, an interpretation that is not acceptable to many of the poskim. And according to all the rules of p’sika (halakhic ruling), there is no reason to be concerned about a safake of a daat yachid in this manner.

The Problems in the Proposal
Moreover, in the estimation of scientists, in a mikvah according to the Chabad and Satmar method, although the process of mixing water is slower, in practice, after a few weeks there will not remain more than twenty se’ah of original rainwater in the lower otzar hashakah, consequently, their method does not solve the problem, as Rabbi Feinstein wrote (Iggrot Moshe, Y.D.,3:65).
Furthermore , the argument was raised that a mikvah according to their method is invalid, since the otzar under the mikvah is not considered hashakah, but rather a katapreis (connection on a slope and not at an equal height) that is not a connection to the mikvah (according to Divrei Chaim 2: 88). Accordingly, an immersion pool constructed by the Chabad and Satmar method is invalid for a mikvah.
And although the claim for the invalidation of the mikvahs of Chabad and Satmar is a bit far-fetched (see, Tahav Mikvahot 2), it is no more implausible than the claim of the machmirim who do not rely on the vast majority of the poskim in the d’rabanan law.

It is Inncorect to be Machmir in this Issue
In practice, it is inncorrect to take into consideration these chumrot because they contradict the rules of halakha, for we do not consider the methods of a yachid in s’fake-s’faka d’rabanan. This was the custom of Gedolei Yisrael (eminent Torah scholars), who relied on the opinion of the vast majority of the poskim, and their wives immersed in a mikvah based on otzar hashakah, or on otzar zeri’ah. And although we are customary to exceedingly enhance mikvahs, and today make two otzarot, nevertheless, these otzarot are the same ones that have been used for generations, and the hiddur is to use both methods – both an otzar hashakah, and an otzar zeri’ah. But a new chumra should not be invented, and build a mikvah of a new kind, contrary to the rules of halakha. In addition, those who claim that this is what should be done slander previous generations, as if their immersions were invalid. Nevertheless, a community whose rabbis follow the customs of Chabad or Satmar, and admit that all other mikvahs are kosher le-chatchila, have a hiddur in their minhag.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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