Sunday, September 11, 2005

Going for a Dip

I’m going to a wedding early next week, so yesterday I went looking for a gift. After seeing many choices, I decided on some lovely, delicate teacups with a pattern etched near the rim and a set of wooden coasters to go underneath.

So what’s with the water, you may ask? According to Jewish law, new kitchen utensils made of certain substances (usually metal and glass, but ask your rabbi if you’re really interested) must be dipped in a mikveh (pool of water used for ritual purposes) before use. (You can find out more about the custom and its origins here.)

Long ago, back in the US, I happened to be in the local mikveh dipping a bunch of new kitchen stuff. This particular mikveh had no special place to dip utensils, so those who wanted to dip anything had to go to the actual mikveh, take their shoes off, sit on the top step with their feet in the water and bend over.

So there I was, dipping my few things, when I saw a newly-married couple come in with a cart full of new kitchen utensils, evidently wedding gifts. And while I was happy for them, I couldn’t help but think of what their backs would be like by the time they finished dipping everything in that cart.

And then I thought how much easier things would have been for them if each person had dipped his or her own gift before giving it.

So now that’s what I do. I guess you could call it my own little custom, though I’m sure that other people do it, too.

Funny dipping story: once, long ago in the US, I had some new utensils to dip but couldn’t get the key to the mikveh before Shabbat. So I headed for the local river. I was hard at work when a young man called to me from a nearby boathouse: “If you want to wash your dishes, there’s a sink up here.”

When I explained that I was following a Jewish custom, he replied: “That’s strange. My parents are Israeli, and I never heard of such a thing!”

“Your parents are from Israel? You’re Jewish?” I said. “Good, then you can come down and help me out here. My wrist feels like it’s about to break off.”

So I finished dipping my new utensils—in the middle of nowhere—with the help of that young man. Neat, huh?

Anyway, the teacups are safely dipped.

The container of water specifically used for dipping kitchen utensils:

Mikveh for kitchen utensils

One of the cups, between dips (many people dip more than once, just to be sure):

The glass, between dips

The cup in the water:

A few notes: Since the water must touch the entire utensil at the same time, I formed a loop around the cup’s handle with my thumb and forefinger and jiggled my hand a bit to make sure that there would be a point when the cup wasn’t touching my skin. (Some mikva’ot for utensils have a plastic market basket on the premises, which makes things a whole lot easier. Unfortunately, this one didn’t.) Also, in the interests of accuracy, I dipped the cup in the pictures before photographing it.

Some people like to give wedding gifts that make a splash. With mine, the splash has already been made.

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