The bluest mikveh you’ve ever seen is in Seattle

Blue in the sense of sad, because there’s apparently something wrong with the water in Seattle.

A friend recently sent me an article by Rabbi Yossi Azose that was – broadly – about halakhic stringencies and leniencies in America, and – narrowly – about the mikveh in Seattle in the years prior to 1963. More specifically, Rabbi Azose discussed the practice, prevalent at the time, of filling mikvaot with tap water.

I’m not going to get into the technical details, because I already gave you the hyperlink, but as I wound my way through the 5,500-word article, two things occurred to me. One, I found it fascinating that in an article of this length about mikvaot, Rabbi Azose didn’t seem to mention women once (maybe I’m just more alert to this after the uproar over Darrell Issa’s hearings on contraception). And two, I thought it was interesting that finding sufficient rain water in Seattle was ever an issue.

Both my musings were addressed just past the 4,000-word mark, with the first – and only – appearance of the word ‘women’:

[Rabbi Shapiro] had arrived in the city after Rabbi Halpern had already built the community mikveh using city water with the blessings of Rabbis Widrewitz and Gordon. Years later, when the mikveh was in need of repair, he spent much time delving into the laws of mikva’ot together with the members of his chevre shas study group, and they all concluded unanimously that, given the specific situation in Seattle, it was permitted to use tap water. They had in fact considered building a rain water mikveh, but discovered that the rain water in Seattle when collected emitted a foul odor, and it would be objectionable to the women to immerse themselves in such water.

Turns out, Rabbi Azose was fully justified in his exclusion of women from the article about mikveh. One second, you give them an opinion, and the next they’re complaining about the rain water in Seattle. Yes, that Seattle rainwater (article from 1977 – if anyone knows how to get rid of Google’s blue highlight, let me know):

OK, granted, the article does not quite describe said water as pure, but have you ever been to the rest of the country??

(Not that it ever rains in Seattle…)

Featured photo courtesy of PostSecret by way of Patricia


3 thoughts on “The bluest mikveh you’ve ever seen is in Seattle”

  1. MNTreiger:

    Rabbi Yossi Azose here. Thank you for your interest in my article on the Seattle Mikveh. I wanted to clarify a couple things. First of all, it never crossed my mind to throw in a mention of women into my narrow treatment of the Seattle mikveh controversy, simply for the sake of hoping to avoid being compared to Darrel Issa. In the context of my discussion, the topic of women as a subject simply never came up.

    I would like to add, however, that though Rabbi Angel was gracious enough to post my article on his website, he did not include the many accompanying footnotes to the article. In these notes, you would find that mention was made of Mrs. Gordon, the mikveh lady in the old neighborhood, and also a discussion between Rabbi Pesachya Hornblass of Warsaw and some Jewish women he met in the Bavarian resort town of Karlsbad that factored in to his halakhic . I’m not sure whether or not that qualifies for dropping the comparison of my essay to a congressional hearing on contraception in which no female witnesses were called. I can only assure you that there was no conspiracy on my part to whitewash every reference to women in my research in order to offend those in the blogosphere who share interests in mikveh controversies.

    Regarding the smelly water in Seattle in those early days, I only relate what Rabbi Shapiro himself wrote in black and white as one of the reasons he decided against building a rain-water mikveh in Seattle. Understand that while today’s modern mikva’ot utilize halakhically permissible methods of changing out the stagnant water in the cistern, the mikva’ot of yesteryear did not resort to such methods. In addition to this, in an attempt to provide a possible justification to Rabbi Shapiro’s comment, I included the following footnote in the full version of the essay:

    “39 It should be noted as a possible factor that Seattle was a heavy industrial town for the better part of the 20th century, during which time it was plagued by a serious problem of air pollution, which contributed to the presence of acid rain. It wasn’t until the late 1960s when significant efforts toward air pollution reduction were initiated in Seattle, leading to greater degree of cleaner air. See McCloud, Maria. “When the Sky was Falling, Air Pollution’s Early Years: An interview with Alan Newman, Senior Air Quality Engineer, Washington State Department of Ecology”. Washington State Department of Ecology, Historically Speaking, An Oral History In celebration of the first 35 years, 1970 – 2005. Olympia, WA: WS Dept. of Ecology, 2005, 403-416. Accessed here – on Feb. 7, 2012.”

    So chalk one up for METRO and the EPA and whichever other govt. agency was responsible for cleaning up the Seattle air and water in the ’60s and ’70s. By the time I entered the world, the Seattle water was so clean that I remember as a kid kneeling down beside Pier 55 (you know, where all the driftwood and sea scum pools together) and slurping a cupped-handful crisp Puget Sound water.


    1. Thanks for the comment – and don’t worry, my goal is typically to avoid addressing the main point of whatever I’m responding to. It was an interesting article, and now I learned even more 🙂


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