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Keilim Mikvah on Jewish Herald Voice front page

Friday, 6 July, 2007 - 1:43 pm

Chabad home to Houston’s first-ever designated-dishes mikvah

<font color='red'><i>Photo by JHV: MICHAEL C. DUKE</i></font color><P align='left'>Rabbi Mendel Grossbaum and a subcontractor shovel wet concrete into a wooden frame, forming the Chabad Lubavitch Center-Texas Regional Headquarters’ new dishes-specific mikvah. Rabbi Mendy Traxler was there to assist, as Rabbi Gershon Grossbaum, who oversaw the construction, kept a close eye to ensure that the concrete settled properly.

Rabbi Mendel Grossbaum and a subcontractor shovel wet concrete into a wooden frame, forming the Chabad Lubavitch Center-Texas Regional Headquarters’ new dishes-specific mikvah. Rabbi Mendy Traxler was there to assist, as Rabbi Gershon Grossbaum, who oversaw the construction, kept a close eye to ensure that the concrete settled properly.

Benefits include better availability, accessibility and safety

Bouncing on the balls of his feet, soon-to-be-65-year-old Rabbi Shimon Lazaroff hardly could conceal his excitement as the massive concrete mixer rounded the corner of Fondren and Portal the morning of June 27. “This is a historic occasion!” he proclaimed, hoisting a large push broom into the air. “No more trips to the chiropractor!”

The Chabad Lubavitch Cen-ter-Texas Regional Headquarters, located at 10900 Fondren Road, will be home to the first kailim, or dishes-specific mikvah (ritual bath), in Greater Houston. The kailim mikvah is among the many new additions to the Chabad Lubavitch center, which currently is undergoing an extensive, expansive building renovation project. The purpose for the renovation, noted Rabbi Shimon, the center’s founder and executive director, is to better serve Houston’s Jewish community.

Rabbi Gershon Grossbaum, aided by his son, Rabbi Mendel Grossbaum, oversaw the arduous process of pouring the concrete for Houston’s new kailim mikvah. Rabbi Gershon, with expertise both in Jewish law and construction, travels the world to help build mikvaot.

According to the Chabad Lubavitch Center’s director of development, Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff, the benefits of having a special designated dishes mikvah, apart from one used for the purposes associated with the laws of family purity (taharat hamishpacha), conversions and the like, are threefold:

The first benefit, Rabbi Chaim explained, is an increase in availability: “With having just one mikvah, the time in which a person can use it for dishes has been very limited – between 8 and 10 a.m. only – which made it very difficult for people, especially if they have a whole new set of dishes to dip,” he said. Having separate mikvahs will make it easier both for the women who are the primary users of the mikvah, and for those needing it for dishes, Rabbi Chaim noted, adding that in addition to the new dishes mikvah, the Chabad Center’s expansion project also includes the building of an all new women’s mikvah, with the old mikvah being renovated as the men’s mikvah. Having separate and new and improved mikvahs “will be much more convenient for all,” he said.

The second benefit pertains to accessibility. With the current single mikvah, dishes and utensils have to be carried from one’s car into the mikvah building; then they have to be placed inside a special perforated container, which then has to be carried into the mikvah, down the steps, and immersed by hand. “This can be back-breaking,” Rabbi Chaim said, “because you’re leaning over, holding this heavy load, and you’re trying to dip it and not fall in yourself.” In contrast, the new dishes-specific mikvah will be counter-height. And, adding to its accessibility, the new kailim mikvah will face the parking lot, eliminating the need to carry heavy boxes of dishes over long distances. “It’ll have the convenience of a drive-thru,” Rabbi Chaim noted. “This new mikvah will make it a pleasure to dip dishes.”

The third benefit of having a designated dishes mikvah has to do with safety. “This is, perhaps, the most important aspect,” Rabbi Chaim stated, “because with a regular mikvah, dishes inevitably fall into the mikvah, and if they’re made of glass or ceramic, they can break, and if a small shard gets overlooked by mistake, people using the mikvah later might cut their feet.” When such accidents happen, he added, the mikvah has to be closed and cleaned, which is both time consuming and expensive. Having a mikvah especially for dishes eliminates this concern altogether.

Though the concrete form has been poured for the kailim mikvah, the mikvah itself will not be operational until the surrounding building and roof are built. This is because the building’s roof has the added function of collecting rainwater, which is necessary to making the mikvah kosher. The new kailim mikvah is expected to be open for use near the end of October, or early November 2007, Rabbi Chaim added.

A special nonpermeable concrete is used in construction of a mikvah, and must be poured in such a way as to avoid air and moisture pockets. As rain falls, it is collected in a cistern connected to the mikvah, from which it flows by gravity through a pipe into the mikvah’s main basin. Once the minimum required amount of rainwater is reached, tap water then is added, and the mikvah is ready for use.

Houston’s kailim mikvah is expected to have a protective, retractable electric shutter, Rabbi Chaim said, which members can access with a special key card. Non-members also can use the kailim mikvah, but will have to go through the office.

Chabad’s decision to build this new mikvah is indicative of the growth in awareness of the importance of keeping a kosher kitchen, Rabbi Chaim explained. “Building this new mikvah will make Judaism and mitzvahs more accessible to more Jews; it makes the mitzvah of dipping dishes more convenient and more easily achievable, so that more people will actually fulfill it.”

The ritual dipping of dishes in a mikvah – known as toveling – is biblical in origin (Num. 31). Before a dish or utensil can be used in a kosher kitchen, it must be immersed in a pool of naturally gathered water, or mikvah.

Only dishes and utensils that were manufactured or ever owned by a non-Jew are required to be ritually immersed in a mikvah. Dishes and utensils previously used should be koshered before they are dipped. Items needing to be dipped must have all foreign substances – such as price tags, labels, rust and sticker residue – removed prior to immersion.

When dipping dishes and utensils made of metal or glass that one uses to eat, drink, cook, roast, fry or boil water, the following blessing is recited: “Baruch atah Ad-noi el-hainu Melech haolam A’sher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al tevilat keli (kailim). Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us concerning the immersion of a vessel (vessels).”

For items made of multiple materials, only one of which requires immersion – such as wooden-handle metal utensils and glazed earthenwares – immersion usually is required.

Items that do not require immersion include those made exclusively of wood, bone and unglazed earthenware, and disposable items intended for single use, such as paper plates and plastic utensils and cups.

The JH-V advises readers to consult with their rabbis regarding the guidelines of toveling and the laws of kashrut. Readers also can visit www.chabadtexas.org/kosher for information about vessel immersion and kashrut with wizards, insights and multimedia.

For information about the new kailim mikvah, building campaign, photo gallery and video, visit www.chabadtexas.org/building.

Comments on: Keilim Mikvah on Jewish Herald Voice front page

Grinshteins wrote...

Mazel Tov,

Eli and Leah we are very happy for Yosef, and we are looking forward to the main simha.
Debi and Victor Grinshtein