"…Every month for four years, between two births and getting to know my husband, whom I’d met only once before agreeing to the match…I sat in the bathtub and lifted my legs so that the mikveh lady could inspect my toenails.… I winced as she put a needle through my earring hole to remove chatzitzaot there… I seethed inside when, on one of my last visits, after I covertly let my hair grow out to a stubble, the mikveh lady demanded to know if I had shaved on the day before. If I didn’t, she said, she’d bring a shaver to do it right away.…"
Frimet Goldberger, an ex-Satmar from Kiryas Joel who in now Modern Orthodox, writes in the Forward about what women experience when using the Kiryas Joel mikvah. She talks about having to use baking soda and clorine to scrub her body, and about the mikvah lady who looked closely at that naked body each month, inspecting in fine detail its ever so naked creases and folds, and even used a needle to make sure her ear piercing was perfectly clean:
…Every month for four years…I sat in the bathtub and lifted my legs so that the mikveh lady could inspect my toenails, file the rough edges and nip the outgrown cuticles — all of which may be considered a chatzitzah, a “barrier” between the body and the ritual waters, if not properly removed. I winced as she put a needle through my earring hole to remove chatzitzaot there (something I later learned is superfluous according to Halacha, Jewish law). I seethed inside when, on one of my last visits, after I covertly let my hair grow out to a stubble, the mikveh lady demanded to know if I had shaved on the day before. If I didn’t, she said, she’d bring a shaver to do it right away.
Growing my own hair — a violation of Satmar modesty codes — forced me to use an out-of-town mikveh. There I discovered that the invasive and uncomfortable checking was not halachically required. In no other mikveh, Orthodox or liberal, are women expected to sit in the bathtub, exposing themselves completely to the attendant. Women don a robe after they get out of the tub and then call for the attendant to inspect their nails. (In more liberal mikvehs, she doesn’t even do this.) Then women are escorted to the waters, where the attendant holds up the robe to shield the view until they are fully immersed.
Years later, while exchanging mikveh stories on Facebook with fellow Satmar ladies, I learned that some Kiryas Joel women insist on getting out of the bathtub, covering up with a robe (in my days, there were only thin, white bedsheets), and having their nails inspected outside the bathtub. Doing this never occurred to me.
For four years, I did not ask why; this was the only way I knew for women to experience the mikveh. I didn’t question my obligations to adhere to this invasive checking, which is certainly less intrusive and abhorrent than the abuse of power by a male rabbi who was charged with installing hidden cameras in the mikveh. After a while, it ceased to faze me to have a middle-aged woman scrub and inspect me — for habituality has the power to extinguish reasoning.
[Hat Tip: Tania GLOWINSKI GONZALEZ.]