Organizations / Mikvah
The Mikvah (also known as the Buffalo Ritualarium) in Amherst, NY opened in 2000. Fundraising and its construction began in 1998. It suceeded the Kenmore Mikvah, located at 1248 Kenmore Avenue, Buffalo, NY.
A mikvah (מִקְוֶה Hebrew for “gathering” [of water]), is a ritual pool of clear water, that is used in order to follow practices related to the states of taharah (ritual purity) and tumah (ritual impurity). After immersion in a mikvah following specific rules of observances, a person becomes ritually clean. There are a number of ways a person may be considered “ritually unclean” including by contact with the dead, certain illnesses, and by childbirth or menstruation. Separate from ritual status, uses of the mikvah include the marking of lifecycle or religious calendar and festivals events.
For women, immersion in the mikveh occurs prior to marriage, after menstruation and following the birth of a child. Some men practice immersion in a mikvah on the eve of the Sabbath and festivals, especially on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). There are separate mikveh for men and women. Immersion in a mikveh is also obligatory for converts to Judaism. With a separate design, another use of a mikvah is for the immersion of new kelim, “vessels” (utensils, pots and pans and dishes).
Towards the end of the twentieth century, mikveh immersion practices revived in more liberal streams of Judaism. Mikvaot were used in traditional ways and in newly reimagined forms through rituals to mark a new beginning or to mark a change in life for both women and men. Ceremonies marking miscarriage, infertility, and illness, or healing from divorce have been some of the examples of the new ways in which mikvaot ( מקווה pl. mikvah) are used.
A mikvah is generally the first Jewish institution to be constructed in a traditional Jewish community, however, historically in many new communities it was the cemetery that was first established out of necessity, so that Jews could be buried according to Jewish practices. According to Jewish law, before a Jewish community erects a synagogue or school, a mikvah should be constructed. This is a considerable undertaking, because both a school or a synagogue have much greater latitude of design with only a few essential elements for a synagogue (and no regulations for a school). In both cases, neither a synagogue in the form of a congregation, nor a school, need a specific building, as both can meet in homes of rented facilities. A mikvah, can only serve as a mikvah, and is built to very stringent specifications relating to biblical and Talmudic precepts. It must be composed of stationary, not flowing, waters and must contain a certain percentage of water derived from natural sources. Mikvaot often use rain water as their source of natural water. Size and design also have exacting specifications that must be followed for the mikvah to be acceptable under halacha (Jewish law).
Mikvaot in Greater Buffalo
The Mikvah (also known as the Buffalo Ritualarium) at 1019 Maple Road in Amherst, NY, uses rain water. As the Klein-Deutch Mikvah, it opened in 2000. Fundraising and its construction began in 1998. Prior to the new mikvah, another the “Kenmore Mikvah” (also called the Buffalo Ritualarium), located at 1248 Kenmore Avenue, between Kenmore and Tacoma, opened on August 4, 1957. Rabbi Justin Hofmann, Director of the B’nai B’rith, Hillel of Buffalo for 29 years was part of an organizing group that helped build and sustain the Kenmore Mikvah, while Rabbi Samuel Stern provided Rabbinic supervision for over twenty years. Miriam Stern served as the custodian, carrying out the day to day activities needed to maintain the mikvah between uses. Both the efforts of Miriam Stern (z”l) and Rabbi Dr. Hofmann (z”l) were remembered at the tenth anniversary of the construction of the new mikvah on Maple Road in 2010. Other mikvaot existed in Buffalo before 1957, but no records of these ritualariums have been located.
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Collection at the University Archives, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
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Our thanks to the Mikvah of Buffalo for their participation in the Jewish Buffalo Archives Project and to the Foundation of Jewish Philanthropies for their permission to use an image created as part of a built-environment community survey conducted from 2013-2018.