A tour of the mikva currently under construction as part of the expansion of the Israel Henry Beren Campus provides rabbis-to-be with an opportunity to see their learning come to life in their own backyard
One of the hallmarks of OTS’s Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary is the fact that rabbinical students not only study all the traditional Jewish literature, sources and responsa that an Orthodox rabbi traditionally masters for semicha, but that they are also taken on practical learning tours outside the four walls of the beit midrash.
In early January, when they completed their study of the laws pertaining to ritual baths, they didn’t have to go far to see their current subject of study come to life; a mikva is being built right over their heads as part of the renovation and expansion of the Israel Henry Beren Campus. Joined by students from the Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva – with whom they share the campus and the beit midrash – the rabbis-in-training received their final shiur at the building site from OTS President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Kenneth Brander.
“Being on site enabled us to discuss the practical applications of what had been studied,” reports Rabbi Brander, whose lessons throughout the various OTS institutions usually take place in the classroom. “Subjects that they had covered on paper – like how to avoid seepage, for example – were clearly discernable through the construction. We were able to discuss broader topics, such as how to build a modern mikva which adheres to our thousand-year-old tradition in an aesthetic and ergonomic manner, as well as to address contemporary questions, like whether or not we should build a mikva which adheres to the ritual stringencies necessary for men to ascend the Temple Mount in today’s current political climate.”
“A ritual bath is a place of rebirth; it begins with one’s desire to sanctify and purify himself. Immersion grants one with an inner light, that he in turn shines upon others,” remarks Machanaim administrative director Rabbi Nadav Nizri. “The women’s mikva will obviate the security concerns inherent in the need to walk to nearby Migdal Oz or Efrat on Friday nights or Festivals. We will now have a mikva of our own, which will greatly enhance community life on campus,” he says.
A healthy soul in a healthy body
The mikva is just a small part of a new complex which will also include a full-sized workout center, Nizri relates.
“Practically, the purpose of the gym is to enable our first- and second-year students to get ready for their induction into the physically grueling combat units of the IDF. But taking care of our body is also a supremely Jewish value, and the workout center will be open to everyone on campus,” he says.
“The Rambam famously wrote about having a healthy body as part and parcel of serving Hashem” Nizri points out. “Centuries later, Rav Kook referred to getting into shape as the first step on the way to teshuva. We can’t forget that we have to take care of ourselves on every level: physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. We want our students to strive toward a healthy soul in a healthy body.”