MIKVEH

Kazinczy Street 16.
BUILT BETWEEN: 1928-1930 


STORY

The Autonomous Orthodox Israelite Community of Budapest purchased the plot of land at Kazinczy Street 16 in 1923 with the intention of using it for the construction of a modern ritual bathhouse. Several designs were drawn up for the mikveh. In 1928, the community chose an Art Deco style, which harmonized well with the façade of the nearby Orthodox synagogue at Kazinczy Street 29-31.

In 1930, the most elegant ritual bathhouse in Budapest opened its doors in the building on Kazinczy Street 16. It became even more popular than the mikvehs in the Orczy House, the one on Paulay Ede Street, and even the other one on Kazinczy Street. The new mikveh had different sections for members of different social classes. There was a large pool in the underground area for people from the lower classes, while on the upper floor there were basins for members of the middle and upper classes (some of which bore the name of the specific family or individual who used them), which had their own baths and dressing rooms.

There are very few cities in the world today where one finds a mikveh, although according to Jewish law, a community can sell its Torah and even its synagogue if necessary in order to build a mikveh. This statement, which may seem shocking at first glance, is actually not that surprising if one takes into consideration the three pillars of Jewish religious life: Shomer Shabbath (literally, a man who keeps the laws of the Shabbath day), shomer Kashrut (a man who adheres to Jewish dietary laws), and Taharat Hamishpacha (or 'family purity', which involves many things, including immersion in a mikveh by a woman following the end of a menstrual cycle and preceding the resumption of sexual relations with her husband). This clearly indicates the importance of the mikveh, which ensures the ritual maintenance of a woman’s purity, but also plays a role in dietary customs, since new kitchen implements must also be immersed in natural water before being used for the first time.

The term natural water demands a bit of explanation and indeed helps one understand one of the important features of a mikveh. According to the Midrash, God linked all rivers to the Garden of Eden. After having been driven from Paradise with Eve, Adam returned to God by immersing himself in a river. When he rose from its waters, he was metaphorically reborn and purified of his sin. Thus, rivers constitute natural water, as do the seas and the oceans. Since the mikveh on Kazinczy Street is a bit far from the Danube River, when it was built another source of natural water had to be found. The water for the mikveh comes from a well that was dug in the courtyard of the building and cisterns on the roof that catch rainwater (this water is properly cleaned, of course, before it is used). Thus a mikveh is kosher if its waters are of natural origin (i.e. not from a faucet) and, of course, not stagnant. The basin must be big enough to hold at least 750 liters.

In the course of the Second World War, most of the ritual baths were damaged and many of them were rendered unusable. At the beginning of the new millennium, the women’s section was completely restored. Thanks to an international cooperative effort, a Hasidic plumber from New York traveled to Budapest regularly to oversee the work (he flew back to New York every week to be with his family for the Shabbath). He was joined in this work by Rav Mose Weiszberger and Rav Baruch Oberlander, Orthodox rabbis from Budapest. The luxury mikveh, which has several bathing rooms and even a Jacuzzi, was completed in 2004. In order to ensure that the waters were clean and kosher, 1,000 liters of red wine were pumped through the filters. Once the water was crystal clear, the mikveh was pronounced ready for use.

Today, the pools on the first floor are open to men in the morning and, with the exception of Friday, to women in the evening, though one must register first. A facility where vessels can be immerse (Tevilat Keilim) is also open during the day by the entrance on the left side, which leads to apartments for the religious community. Every spring, just before Passover, the courtyard, which is tended to by the shammes (sexton in synagogue), is full of religious Jews, who attend the ritual burning of chametz (agents that leaven through fermentation).

See the artist: Zsuzsi Flohr

By Viktor Cseh