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Immersion: Connecting Jewish and Christian Traditions

Introduction

Water is essential to life and all forms of life depend on it to survive. Not only does water sustain all forms of life physically, but the liturgical and spiritual use of water is common in both the Jewish and Christian worlds. From the time the Torah was given to the present day, the Jewish people have practiced a ritual that is rich in beauty and symbolism: immersing in a mikveh.

The word mikveh is defined as “a gathering” of waters. This Hebrew word first appears in Genesis 1:10, “God called the dry land Earth, the gathering together [mikveh] of the water he called seas” (cjb). Reviewing the mikveh’s origins, symbolism, requirements, and evolution as well as how the Essenes, Yochanan the Immerser, and Yeshua practiced it provides a solid foundation that links modern-day Jews and Christians in a unifying way. In researching the mikveh and exploring this ancient ritual that has been practiced from antiquity to the present day, including how Yeshua himself was immersed and instructed the practice in the Great Commission, one can’t help but see how great the relevance is for today for the unity of believers from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds.

Origins of the Mikveh

The origins of the mikveh are richly described in the Law of Moses. The act of taking a ritual bath in a mikveh is called tevilah. From the earliest times, the people of Israel have been practicing tevilah, meaning “immersion” of the entire body in a mikveh for the purpose of removing ritual impurity.1 The mikveh was part of the process of spiritual purification and cleansing for the ancient Jews, specifically when the Temple was in use.2 Maintaining a status of ritual purity in order to worship in the Tabernacle or Temple was commanded by God specifically for the priests of the Lord. For example, Exodus 29 describes the process by which Aaron and his sons were consecrated. Before they could be dressed in their priestly vestments or offer the proper sacrifices, Moses instructed, “You shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting, and wash them in water. When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to make offering by fire to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die” (nrsv). Exodus 30 specifies the way Aaron and his sons were supposed to wash before serving in the tabernacle: “You shall make a bronze basin with a bronze stand for washing. You shall put it in between the tent of meeting and the altar and you shall put water in it” (nrsv).

In biblical times the people of God were to remain aware of their ritual status at all times to avoid inadvertently coming into contact with the holy while in a state of ceremonial uncleanness. According to Leviticus 15:31, ritual purity was required of all the people of Israel, not only the priests. Ritual purity was mandated in order to enter the Tabernacle or Temple, before making a sacrifice, and for receiving the benefit of a priestly offering. Immersing in a mikveh is further commanded in Scripture for a number of common life events that affect all people at one time or another. Some common reasons for immersion include restoring purity after childbirth, cleansing of skin diseases such as leprosy, purification after coming in contact with a corpse, and for women completing each monthly menstrual cycle.3 Another very notable instance in which immersion was required for the entire people of Israel was when they were commanded by God to prepare for a theophany or other public event.4 One such event was the preparation to receive the Torah of God on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19:10. In this instance, God commands Moses to sanctify the people and to let them wash their clothing before the third day when Adonai would come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Another time mentioned in Scripture is in Joshua 3:1–17, when Joshua commanded the people to consecrate themselves before crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land. God set apart the Israelites through the requirements of ritual purity in order to show his glory through them to the nations of the world.

Converts

The mikveh served as a requirement for those who made a life-changing decision to convert to Judaism from polytheistic pagan worship. A famous midrash attributed to the sage Resh Lakish, Tanhuma Lekh Lekha 6:32, states,

Dearer to God is the proselyte who has come of his own accord than all the crowds of Israelites who stood before Mount Sinai. But the proselyte, who saw not one of these things, came and surrendered himself to the Holy One, blessed be He, and took the yoke of heaven upon himself.5

The reason proselytes are held in such high regard is expressed beautifully in the Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 8:2, “The Holy One, blessed be He, loves proselytes exceedingly.”6 Philo of Alexandria thought of Abraham as the model convert who forsook his pagan heritage and became a worshiper of the one true God.7 Philo also stated,

And these he calls proselytes, from the fact of their having come over to a new and God-fearing constitution, learning to disregard the fabulous intentions of other nations, and clinging to unalloyed truth. And that these proselytes have left their country, friends, and relations, forsaking the pride of their fathers and forefathers.”8

In the Biblical period, non-Israelites became Israelites by surrendering their former identities. Their former identities faded into the background as they and their children were fully integrated into the Israelite community. Ruth the Moabitess, a renowned and beloved convert in Jewish history, may have the most well-known conversion story in the Bible, having left her people and her country to take shelter under the wings of the God of Israel. She not only marries a Jew but becomes the ancestor of King David.

The Talmud gives the following description of the conversion procedure:

Our rabbis taught: If at the present time a man desires to become a proselyte, he is addressed as follows: “What reason have you for desiring to become a proselyte; do you not know that Israel at the present time is oppressed, despised, harassed, and overcome by afflictions?” If he replies, “I know and yet am unworthy,” he is accepted forthwith. (Yebamoth 47a–b)9

The candidate for conversion is then warned about the punishments for transgressing the commandments and also informed about the rewards for fulfilling the commandments: “Be informed that the world to come exists only for the righteous.”10

Clearly, conversion to Judaism is held in high regard, and is to be accompanied by outward signs of the proselyte’s new identity as a Jew. A male convert to Judaism must be circumcised as a sign of the covenant of Abraham; both men and women converts must ceremonially immerse themselves in a mikveh and “thus are symbolically reborn into new Jewish selves.”11 According to Philip Birnbaum, Jewish law stipulates that “Tevilah must not be performed at night nor on a holy day, since it is regarded as a bath of purification, designed to remove the uncleanness of heathenism.”12

At the mikveh, the candidate for conversion immerses completely in the water and recites the blessing, “Blessed are you, Eternal God, ruler of the universe, who sanctifies us through mitzvot and has enjoined us concerning immersion.”13 The reason the blessing is recited after the immersion rather than before, as is the usual procedure with blessings recited on the performance of a mitzvah, is that the proselyte cannot say “who commanded us” before he has accepted the obligations of his new faith by immersing himself. The blessing that is recited by the convert is beautiful and richly symbolic of the new life and identity that has been chosen from the heart. It is also custom for converts to recite an additional blessing, which is “Blessed is the Eternal, the God of creation, who has blessed me with life, sustained me, and enabled me to reach this moment.”14 The immersion is followed by the candidate’s official acceptance into the faith, at which time the convert is symbolically regarded like a newborn child and “deemed to be an Israelite in all respects.”15 The conversion ceremony is typically conducted in the synagogue before a rabbinic tribunal and the convert is then given a Jewish name and considered to be an unequivocal member of the Jewish people.16 Being completely covered by water in every nook and cranny, as a ritual sign of cleansing from past deeds, is a unique and persuasive statement of deep, heartfelt spiritual change.

The very idea of formal religious conversion evolved during the period of Second Temple Judaism. Though Sadducees were not evangelistic at all, the Pharisees accepted and welcomed converts to Judaism. In fact, they were well known for seeking converts everywhere, though mostly converts to their own sect, a practice highlighted in Yeshua’s rebuke, “Woe to you, Torah scholars and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel over land and sea to make one convert. And when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of Gehenna as yourself” (Matt 23:15). Worth mentioning is the influence Pharisaic Judaism has had on Christianity. Christianity has become perhaps the most evangelistic religion of all time, as sharing the gospel is a high priority of the faith. In the time of the Second Temple, many Gentiles from around the world were drawn to convert to Judaism and were welcomed by the Jewish leaders. Well after the time of Second Temple Judaism, when many Gentiles were converting to Judaism in the Hellenistic world, a more elaborate protocol developed in regards to converts. All candidates for conversion would undergo an intensive educational process of one to three years, perhaps foreshadowing the Talmudic dictum, “An ignorant Jew will never be a pious Jew.”17

Mikveh Requirements

Prior to the Second-Temple period, a natural body of water such as a stream, river, or ocean was used by the Israelites as a mikveh for tevilah. The rabbinic requirement was for “natural water” (also translated as “living water”), which would exclude water drawn by a bucket or brought above ground by metal tubing. The most common source of water for a mikveh, however, was rainwater, typically captured on a roof and channeled into a cistern in the ground.18 In the springtime, melted snow would also provide a convenient source.19 Only natural water is sufficient because water is the symbol of life. “By using natural water, we therefore affirm that God alone is the author of life, and to Him and Him alone do we turn for continued life.”20

In modern times, a specially constructed pool called a mikveh is normally used. A mikveh is constructed under the supervision of an authoritative rabbi who is known for his piety and learning. He is also consulted about the proper procedure of cleaning the mikveh when the water has been removed.21 The Talmud lists very specific requirements for building a kosher mikveh. In order for a mikveh to be suitable for immersion, a mikveh must contain at least forty se’ah of water, which is about 191 gallons. The requirement for living water only applies to the first forty se’ah and the addition of any amount of drawn water does not disqualify it.22 This is an amount sufficient for a person to immerse completely since it must permit complete immersion in one act. In order to accomplish this requirement, the water level musts be about 10 to 12 inches above the navel of the person immersing, which is usually about 3½ feet deep.23 The mikveh must be built permanently into the ground, making it an integral part of the earth. A portable receptacle may not be used as a mikveh because of the principle that no object that can contract impurity can be used in connection with a mikveh. Such a receptacle would not be considered a natural body of water and would run counter to the idea of immersion being a symbol of life since impurity is the symbol of death.

Symbolism in the Mikveh Practice

Physical cleanliness has always been regarded by the Jewish people as close to godliness because, as Hillel taught, “the human body reflects the divine image of God.”24 When tevilah is performed, however, the individual has already bathed and removed every trace of physical impurity and so the chief importance of the mikveh isn’t the physical cleansing of the body but to symbolize a spiritual cleansing. Connecting physical cleansing to spiritual cleansing, Birnbaum observes that “some religious Jews began to see a greater spiritual significance to ritual purity as it embodied a state of nearness to God, as if one were truly present in the Temple.”25 It follows, then, that the ritual of the mikveh signifies a spiritual purification. Birnbaum also points out that Maimonides saw a symbolic meaning in tevilah: “The person who directs his heart to purify his soul from spiritual impurities, such as iniquitous thoughts and evil notions, becomes clean as soon as he determines in his heart to keep apart from these courses, and bathes his soul in the water of pure knowledge.”26

There is often an allegorical use of washing terminology in the Hebrew Bible involving situations in which the washing described cannot be performed literally. For example Isaiah 4:4 says, “When my Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and from Jerusalem’s midst has rinsed out her infamy—in a spirit of judgment and in a spirit of purging” (njps). Similarly, Jeremiah 4:14 states, “O Jerusalem, wash your heart clean of wickedness so that you may be saved” (njps). It is notable that ritual washing is found mostly in the Law of Moses and Deuteronomist history. Metaphorical washing, on the other hand, is found only in the prophets and Psalms and is rarely associated with ritual purity.27

There are many other beautiful scriptures that emphasize the deeper, spiritual meaning of the practice of mikveh. One such scripture that penetrates deep within the soul of the reader is David’s prayer in Psalm 51:4, “Wash me thoroughly of my iniquity, and purify me of my sin” (njps). One can sense the realization that only God can do the genuine work of washing the human heart stained with sin. David again prays in Psalm 51:9, “Wash me till I am whiter than snow” (njps). Another moving scripture is Zechariah 13:1, where the prophet proclaims “In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and impurity” (njps). Ezekiel 36:25 says, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and from all your fetishes” (njps). These verses undoubtedly express the message that only God himself is able to deal with sin completely.

Another fascinating and significant use of the term mikveh is found in Jeremiah 17:13–18, where the word is translated in most English versions as “hope”: “O Hope of Israel! O Lord! All who forsake You shall be put to shame. Those in the land who turn from You shall be doomed men, for they have forsaken the Lord, the Fount of living waters” (njps). This might explain in part why Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance not only defines mikveh as plenty of water or a pool but also as abiding and as hope.28 While immersing in a mikveh to wash spiritually is most often thought of as an individual practice, here the mikveh has a corporate connotation, being applied powerfully to the entire community of Israel. Moreover, the mikveh is personified in God himself! When one meditates on the idea that the Hope of Israel is also the “Mikveh [spiritual cleansing] of Israel” the symbolic beauty of the mikveh comes alive to reveal what God is communicating through this ritual. Although the person performs the ritual outwardly, there is deeper meaning that points to God as the ultimate provider and sustainer of purity. Pondering still further, one cannot help but see God’s intention for the redemption of the entire earth in the great mikveh of God as is prophesied in Isaiah 11:9, “for the earth will be as full of the knowledge of Adonai as water covering the sea” (cjb). This is made possible because of the Messiah’s ultimate plunge in a mikveh of death only to be raised by God in resurrection glory.

Evolution of Mikveh Practices in Second Temple Period

Writings during the Second Temple period show that general washing was mandated for most of the same circumstances described in the Hebrew Bible, such as leprosy or impurity caused by a corpse.29 Second Maccabees describes purification in preparation for the Sabbath: “Then Judas assembled his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the seventh day was coming on, they purified themselves according to the custom and kept the Sabbath there.”30 There are also instances where bathing and purification are linked with prayer such as that found in Judith 12:7–9: “After bathing, she prayed the Lord God of Israel to direct her way for the triumph of his people. Then she returned purified and stayed in the tent until she ate her food toward evening.”31 Another source, Wisdom of Ben Sira 34:30, refers to immersion after touching a corpse.32 Josephus reports that even during the years of war, the laws of ritual immersion were strictly adhered to.33

The Dead Sea Scrolls have shed light on new contexts undescribed in the Hebrew Bible in which ritual washings take place, such as immersing before the Sabbath. Both the Scrolls and other Second-Temple Jewish writings draw deeply from the Pentateuch while acclimating the Biblical traditions to new situations and presenting washing and purity into new contexts. The use of ritual washing in the Dead Sea Scrolls is distinctive in several ways because of the Qumran community’s self-perception as a substitute for the Temple. This change shifts many aspects of priestly washing onto the entire community, not just those of the Levitical priesthood. One particular development identified in the Scrolls is the reciting of a blessing in combination with immersion. For instance, Lawrence quotes from the Dead Sea Scrolls: “And then he shall enter the water and he shall say in response ‘Blessed are You . . .’”34

Another theme from the Dead Sea Scrolls is that of “living water.” Living water is mentioned several times in the Scrolls, which draw upon the ritual metaphorical references in the Hebrew Bible. The Scrolls also introduce two other important concepts into the understanding of washing and purification. The two new concepts are repentance and the Holy Spirit. Repentance is an important issue in the Scrolls. An example of the importance of repentance in connection with immersion in a mikveh can be found in a text taken from the Aramaic Levi Document which states, “Then I washed my clothing and purified them with clean water, and I bathed all over in fresh water, so making all my ways correct.”35 The Scrolls also note the work of the Holy Spirit in the context of spiritual or symbolic cleansing, as noted in the “Thanksgiving Hymn” (I QH VIII 18–21), which declares,

And since I know that you have recorded the spirit of the just man, I have chosen to purify my hands in accordance with your will and your servant’s soul detests every work of sin. I know that no-one besides you is just. I have appeased your face by the spirit which you have given me, to lavish your favour on your servant forever, to purify me with your holy spirit, to approach your will according to the extent of your kindnesses.36

The Essenes

The Essenes are thought to be comprised of several separate groups sharing similar ideals, and possibly included Yochanan the Immerser and his followers, Theraputae, the Dead Sea Scrolls community at Qumran, and another group in Damascus.37 The Essenes were known for their stringent observance of Jewish laws. These devotees were especially strict about ritual purity and Sabbath rest. Most Essenes were unmarried and lived in the wilderness away from the cities in order to keep away from defiling influences. Though most people viewed them as quite radical, they were nevertheless highly esteemed. Wylen notes that “Ancient Jews were impressed by the ‘back to the wilderness’ movements that had periodically arisen in Jewish history.”38 According to Josephus, the life of the Essenes was very well respected. He said of them:

And as for their piety towards God, it is very extraordinary. For before sunrise they speak not a word about mundane matter, but offer certain prayers which they have received from their forefathers, as if they make a supplication for its rising. After this every one of them is sent away by their superiors to exercise some of those crafts wherein they are skilled, in which they labor with great diligence until the fifth hour. After that, they assemble together again in one place, and when they have clothed themselves in linen garments, they then bathe their bodies in cold water. After this purification is over, they all meet together in an apartment to eat together.39

That the Essenes were unquestionably well known in New Testament times is evidenced by the existence of a small city gate in Jerusalem called “Gate of the Essenes.” Immediately behind the re-excavated gate on the hill which today is called Mount Zion, striking parallel purifying baths have been found, including the largest one ever found outside Qumran. Archaeologist and New Testament scholar Peter Carsten Thiede points out “While purifying baths are not uncommon in Jewish towns, their number and architecture have been interpreted as typical of the Essenes, who needed them for their frequent and daily self-purifications.” 40

New Testament References

Similarities between Essene practices and descriptions of Yochanan the Immerser in the New Testament have led some to believe that he was one of them. This link is perhaps most apparent because of John’s reference to a baptism of water and a baptism of the Spirit.41 The book of Mark states that “John appeared, immersing in the wilderness, proclaiming an immersion involving repentance for the removal of sins. All the Judean countryside was going out to him, and all the Jerusalemites. As they confessed their sins, they were being immersed by him in the Jordan River” (Mark 1:4–5 tlv). The Jordan River was the mikveh that John was using to immerse those convicted of their sins. One must remember that John was not a Gentile, but a Jew and that his father was Zechariah the priest. So his immersions in the Jordan River were not immersions into faith in the Messiah, but immersions of repentance in preparing for the Messiah’s arrival.

John was well thought of by the people, and even the Jerusalemites—the very segment of society that John had rejected by moving to the wilderness—went down to the Jordan to be immersed by him.42 John declares to the people at the Jordan River that the reason he came is that the Messiah might be revealed to Israel according the Prophets. John gave this testimony concerning the revelation of the Messiah: “I did not know Him; but the One who sent me to immerse in water said to me, ‘The One on whom you see the Ruach coming down and remaining, this is the One who immerses in the Ruach ha-Kodesh.’ And I have seen and testified that this is Ben-Elohim” (John 1:30–34 tlv). God sent John to immerse in a mikveh so that it might be revealed to John who the Messiah is and so he could give testimony that Yeshua is the Son of God.

John’s baptism was for repentance. It was fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah saying, “A voice rings out: ‘Clear in the desert a road for the Lord!” (njps). This was a tevilah for repentance. John said, “As for me, I immerse you in water for repentance . . . He will immerse you in the Ruach ha-Kodesh and fire” (Matt 3:11 tlv). John clearly introduces the Messiah in the context of mikveh and with the language of mikveh.

The public ministry of Yeshua started when he was immersed by John in the Jordan River. Yeshua later reveals his longing to complete the work that his Father sent him to complete, saying in the book of Luke, “I came to pour out fire on the earth and how I wish it were already ablaze! But I have an immersion to endure, and how distressed I am until it is finished!” (Luke 12:49–50). The immersion in this case is metaphorically speaking of the crucifixion for which he was sent to endure.

The core of Yeshua’s teaching is “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Moreover, Jesus’ emphasis on kavanah, meaning “heartfelt intent,” as an element of this repentance is clear in many of his teachings. Examples include his warnings against anger and lust, and the teaching that one should pray and fast privately rather than before the crowd. Perhaps Yeshua’s emphasis on kavanah in regards to the commandments of God is what drew Nicodemus, a Pharisee and one of Israel’s teachers, to Yeshua’s teachings. This would not have been inconsistent with the teachings of the Pharisees, as the School of Hillel accentuated the inner turning of the heart.43 Still, Nicodemus struggles with the words of Yeshua: “Unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God” and “Amen, amen I tell you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 5 tlv). Nicodemus had yet to learn that Yeshua was to bring a baptism of fire and of the Holy Spirit.

After Yeshua was crucified, buried, and resurrected, he further invoked the language of the mikveh in what became the clarion call for evangelistic efforts thereafter. “Therefore go and make people from all nations into talmidim [disciples] immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19–20 cjb). He then told his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit that would soon be poured out.

The act of immersing in literal water provides a physical, tangible context for carrying out the Great Commission that commands people of all nations to be immersed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit enables the believer to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” as is taught in Deuteronomy 6:4 (njps).

On the day of Shavuot (Pentecost), the pouring out of the promised Holy Spirit finally came as prophesied earlier by the prophet Joel. When Peter preached to the people, as recorded in the book of Acts, the people were “cut to the heart.” The people who heard Peter’s words asked him, “What shall we do?” Peter reminds them of Joel 3:1, where it was prophesied, “So it will be afterward, I will pour out my Ruach on all flesh” (tlv). He then replies to them, “Repent, and let each of you be immersed in the name of Messiah Yeshua for the removal of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Ruach HaKodesh” (Acts 2:38 tlv). These new believers were to receive the mikveh as a sign of their salvation. The book of 1 Peter states, “This also prefigures what delivers us now, the water of immersion, which is not the removal of dirt from the body, but one’s pledge to keep a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah” (1 Peter 3:21 cjb). The book of Acts is full of stories about believers’ experiences of immersion after receiving the good news. The Ethiopian eunuch to whom Philip told the good news of Yeshua replied, “Look, water! What’s to prevent me from being immersed?” (Acts 8:36 tlv). Another example is found in Acts 10:44–47, when Peter preached the good news of Yeshua and Cornelius and his whole household received the Ruach HaKodesh and Peter states, “Is anyone prepared to prohibit these people from being immersed in water? After all, they have received the Ruach HaKodesh, just as we did” (cjb). In Acts 16, the whole households of Lydia and the Philippian jailor were baptized. One highlight not to be missed is that it was Jews who were first immersing [baptizing] the new Gentile believers!

Present-Day Practices

In modern times the Jewish people still partake in the ancient ritual of the mikveh. For example, a bride immerses in a mikveh before her wedding day, symbolizing purity and a sacred, new beginning. Some brides even have mikveh parties.44 A married woman visits the mikveh once a month after her menstrual cycle is completed, in order to maintain family purity laws. Those who convert to Judaism are required to immerse in a mikveh. Immersing in a mikveh is also practiced by some Jews who desire to gain a greater sense of spirituality at certain times such as on the eve of Shabbat or Yom Kippur.45 The custom of immersing in a mikveh, therefore, continues to be a beautiful symbol of a new transformed life. Judaism today views water immersion as an important purity ritual rooted in the Torah that offers multiple opportunities throughout one’s faithful life to connect spiritually to God in the waters of mikveh.46 In the Christian tradition, immersing in the waters of baptism is typically a one-time act and is a sign to all that one has died to his old life and has been raised to walk a new life.

At first glance, the word “baptism” sounds alien to Jews. On the other hand, the words mikveh and tevilah sound alien to the modern-day Christian. The confusion originates from the word “baptism” itself. Baptisma, from whence the English term comes, is actually the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew tevilah which means immersion. The Christian baptism ritual clearly has its origin in Jewish practices and water baptism is therefore not something inherently “gentile.”

Conclusion

Both Jewish and Gentile believers in Yeshua can enrich their faith by feasting on the rich heritage that each share in the practice of immersion, whether in the context of mikveh or baptismal. As Paul says in Romans 6:2–6,

Or do you not know that all of us [Jew and Gentile] who were immersed [baptized] into Messiah Yeshua were immersed into His death? Therefore we were buried together with Him through immersion into death – in order that just as Messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (tlv)

Immersion into Messiah is a well-founded biblical practice that unifies both Jewish and Gentile believers. The writer of the book of Hebrews makes a thought-provoking statement: “Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instructions about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgement. And we will do this, if God permits” (Heb 6:1–3 nrsv, emphasis added). Some translations use the word “maturity” in place of “perfection.” Two thousand years later, the invitation of moving on to maturity cries out: but moving on to maturity cannot happen until the basic teachings of our Lord are understood and followed.

Physically, water has been essential for the survival of every living thing on earth since its creation. Spiritually, since the very beginning, humanity has needed to be cleansed of the guilt of its sin. There is no escaping these realities. As revealed through study of the mikveh’s origins, requirements, symbolism, and evolution, as well as how the Essenes, Yochanan the Immerser, and Yeshua and his followers through the centuries practiced and taught it, the mikveh incorporates these two realities into a beautiful symbol of the cleansing of sin, purifying of the impure, and rebirth from death. It becomes evident that there has always been a holy God longing to wash away the sins and guilt of His people. One could say that He instituted this practice as a signpost pointing to Yeshua as the Messiah, the one “who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 tlv). Therefore, an examination of the mikveh reveals a compelling potential element of God’s unifying plan for believers in Yeshua as the Messiah from both Jewish and gentile backgrounds.

Christen Coulter is pursuing a Master of Practical Theology degree with a concentration in Messianic Jewish Studies at The King’s University, Southlake, Texas. She enjoys writing and recording music, as well as spending time with her husband and son in Fort Worth.


1 Philip Birnbaum, A Book of Jewish Concepts, rev. ed. (New York: Hebrew Pub. Co., 1975), 240.

2 Jonathan David Lawrence, Washing in Water: Trajectories of Ritual Bathing in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Literature, Academia Biblica (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006), 30.

3 Ibid, 26.

4 Ibid.

5 Isaac Klein, The Moreshet Series, Vol. 6, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1979), 440.

6 Ibid, 441.

7 Samuel Sandmel, Judaism and Christian Beginnings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 231.

8 The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, new updated ed., trans. Charles Duke Yonge (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 1993), 538.

9 The Babylonian Talmud: Seder Nashim; Yebamoth 1, Isidore Epstein, trans. (London: The Soncino Press, 1936), 310–311.

10 Samuel Sandmel, Judaism and Christian Beginnings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 233.

11 Steven L. Jacobs, The Jewish Experience: An Introduction to Jewish History and Jewish Life (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 2010), 160-161.

12 Philip Birnbaum, A Book of Jewish Concepts, rev. ed. (New York: Hebrew Pub. Co., 1975), 240.

13 Alfred J. Kolatch, A Handbook for the Jewish Home (Middle Village, New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2012), 33.

14 Ibid.

15 Epstein, trans., The Babylonian Talmud: Seder Nashim; Yebamoth, 1, 311.

16 Klein, Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, 444.

17 Jacobs, The Jewish Experience, 160.

18 Epstein, trans., The Babylonian Talmud: Seder Tohoroth; Mikwaoth, 419.

19 Ibid, 423-426.

20 Birnbaum, Book of Jewish Concepts, 239.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid, 391.

23 Epstein, trans., The Babylonian Talmud: Seder Tohoroth; Mikwaoth, 426.

24 Birnbaum, Book of Jewish Concepts, 239.

25 Ibid, 240.

26 Ibid.

27 Jonathan David Lawrence, Washing in Water: Trajectories of Ritual Bathing in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Literature, Academia Biblica (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006), 38.

28 James Strong, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: with Main Concordance, Appendix to the Main Concordance, Topical Index to the Bible, Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible, Dictionary of the Greek Testament (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1984), 71.

29 Lawrence, Washing in Water, 47.

30 Jonathan A. Goldstein, trans., The Anchor Bible, vol. v. 41A, II Maccabees (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983), 431.

31 Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton, The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament: With an English Translation, and with Various Readings and Critical Notes (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1971), 50.

32 Patrick W. Skehan and Alexander A. Di Lella, The Anchor Bible, Vol. 39, The Wisdom of Ben Sira: a New Translation with Notes (New York: Doubleday, 1987), 411.

33 Flavius Josephus, Complete Works, trans. William Whiston (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1960), 529.

34 Lawrence, Washing in Water, 145.

35 The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English, Florentino Garcia Martinez ed., English ed. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), 266.

36 Ibid, 325.

37 Wylen, Jews in the Time of Jesus, 139.

38 Ibid, 139-140.

39 Josephus, Complete Works, 476.

40 Carsten Peter Thiede, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity (New York: Palgrave, 2001), 33.

41 Wylen, Jews in the Time of Jesus, 139.

42 Ibid, 90.

43 Ibid, 94.

44 Rahel R. Wasserfall, ed., Women and Water: Menstruation in Jewish Life and Law, Brandeis Series on Jewish Women (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1999), 145.

45 Blu Greenberg, How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), 49.

46 J.K. McKee, Torah In the Balance, Volume II: The Set-Apart Life in Action—the Outward Expressions of Faith (Richardson, Texas: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015), 229.