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The House of Secrets: The Hidden World of the Mikveh Kindle Edition

3.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Length: 272 pages

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Polak-Sahm mesmerizes the reader with her encounters at the mikveh...brilliantly illuminates these tensions and their religious and cultural meanings, not just intellectually but, like all good anthropologists, in a way that produces a rich understanding of people’s lives.”
Christian Century

“A fascinating book . . . [Polak-Sahm] views the mikveh as a house full of secrets—the secrets of women, the secrets of life, the secrets of love and purity.”
—Peggy Cidor, Jerusalem Post
 
“Informative and fascinating . . . [Polak-Sahm] detail[s] a world many of us have no clue exists.”
—Olupero R. Aiyenimelo, Feminist Review
 
“A compelling examination of the nature and meaning of this ritual which has remained clouded with mystery and secrecy for centuries.”
—Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, SpiritualityandPractice.com
 
“[The House of Secrets] truly lifts the curtain on this world, often unknown to all but its participants. . . . [A] captivating book.”
—Carol Poll, Jewish Book World

“Unique amongst works about mikveh in that [Polak-Sahm] draws on the deeply personal and revealing narratives of religious and secular women who come regularly to immerse. The stories of these women come alive here.”
—Marion Lev-Cohen, Lilith
 
“Totally honest and full of surprises . . . Refreshingly, this writing is neither a Pollyanna version of the laws of family purity nor a cheap shot at them.”
—Blu Greenberg, author of How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household

About the Author

Varda Polak-Sahm is a seventh-generation Jerusalemite, the author of three books, and an internationally known photographer and researcher of folklore.


Product Details

  • File Size: 1797 KB
  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (August 1, 2009)
  • Publication Date: August 1, 2009
  • Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002UUTYIW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,920,227 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Varda Polak-Sahm is a seventh-generation Jerusalemite, the author of three books, and an internationally known photographer and researcher of folklore.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a convert to Judaism, I am in search of good reading about the mikveh. Because most of the available material is written from a very Orthodox perspective, I was excited to find this book, which appeared at first glance to be a collection of personal experiences and stories about the mikveh. After having finished the book however, I am completely confused as to what the author's intentions in writing it were. In the first chapter, the author presents her personal experiences of immersing in a mikveh (all two of them). On her second immersion, she claims to have had some sort of extra-normal experience, which, she claims, drew her back to the mikveh to study it and try to understand why it made her feel the way it did. The rest of the book is spent alternatively describing conversations with mikveh personnel at the ONE mikveh she studied for this work (which, incidentally is the mikveh at which she had her two immersion experiences), and in diatribes about how de-humanizing the concepts of mikveh and family purity are. She claims to have developed personal relationships with the mikveh personnel, but consistently portrays them in a bad light to the readers. She never gets back to answering her question of why her mikveh experience was important to her, and, what's more, refuses to every immerse again! Her work is unenlightening and gave me no great insight into mikveh. The book was very disjointed and completely without scholarly merit. In addition, she appears to have failed to do any research into the topics she discusses, relying upon the words of the mikveh personnel as her primary sources. The one upside of the book was in the afterword, where the author describes two modern mikvaot (one in Boston and one in Israel) that are certified kosher and cater to non-traditional crowds (eg. single women, the non-Orthodox, and homosexuals).

Overall, this book was a disappointment.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very intimate look into a world completely forbidden to non-Jews, it was something about which I always wondered. I'm grateful to Ms. Sahm for allowing me to go where no Christian has gone before, and I certainly don't mean for this to be disrespectful. Judaism is filled with wonderful rites and rituals, something I feel is missing somewhat in the Roman Catholic Church. Maybe not so much missing, as not followed, sadly. The Catholic Church has given up so many rituals, where the Jewish religion clings to theirs and pushes its followers to continue with the old ways, in the home and the synagogue. I'm glad I bought this book.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For a non-Jew interested in Orthodox Judaism, this is a good book to read. I once worked in a location where many of my customers were Orthodox Jews, and ever since then, I have been interested in their way of life. For a non-Jew not well-versed in the Old Testament, some of the information might be a little hard to understand, but anyone acquainted enough to know their way around the first five books should not have trouble. I found it quite interesting and thought-provoking, though I don't think I am part of the audience the author had in mind.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are looking or just searching for that just right Jewish book to fill a void this is it.I would buy this book for others and it is a nice work in my Jewish collection.
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Format: Hardcover
When I first received this book to read and review I was paradoxically honored and concerned. I was being asked to read and review a topic that is undoubtedly quite sensitive to approximately half the world's population, women, and hopefully some of the other half.

I see, as Ms. Polak-Sahm illustrates, that some in the (Orthodox) Jewish world are questioning and challenging tradition and law. However, most of those attending the mikveh were raised to do so and to follow the customs of the Orthodox rabbinates interpretation of Biblical Law. Many also come for special occasions, especially prior to their wedding. There are also various superstitions associated with going to the mikveh. Some women feel that the mikveh water can heal them; others believe it can open the womb for women without children.

As is often the case in Judaism, there is scriptural/Biblical relevance associated with the action. As is also often the case, a relatively minor law/commandment is blown out of proportion. Leviticus 18:19 basically states that there is to be no intercourse during a woman's monthly period. This concludes each month with the women's visit to the mikveh. The 5-6 day period ends up being a 12-14 day period, thanks to the rabbis adding an additional 7 days following the actual ceasing of blood flow. On top of this, other ridiculous interpretations are added, such as masturbation being outlawed, and oral sex is not even mentioned. Men, according to Orthodox Judaism are never to "spill their seed," and the male sperm is exclusively for the purpose of procreation. Thanks to this all male rabbinate, women in Orthodox Judaism basically have men by the testicles. Yet on Pg. 94, Ms.
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