Subsequent to betrothal, the Jewish bride-to-be was not idle as she awaited the return of her beloved bridegroom. Instead, she used the interval between the betrothal and marriage to prepare her wedding garments and trousseau. At her mother’s side, she learned the necessary skills to become a good homemaker and a loving wife and mother. Her focus was always on pleasing her bridegroom. During the lonely separation, she encouraged herself daily with his many solemn promises. It was also a time for the young maiden to mend broken relationships to enable her to have a fresh start in her future life.
The betrothal period, which traditionally lasted a year or more, provided a lengthy testing period to determine the bride’s purity. She must be without spot or wrinkle at the bridegroom’s sudden return. Proof of virginity was an essential part of the nuptials. If the bride defiled herself prior to her wedding day, the breach of fidelity would result in divorce proceedings, even death by stoning, which was the harsh penalty for adultery according to the Law of Moses:
“If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.” Deut. 22:20-21 (NIV)
The most essential task a Jewish bride must perform prior to her wedding day is to make 'tviloh'. The term is derived from the verb 'taval', meaning “to dip into, immerse.” 'Tviloh' is a ritualistic cleansing bath that prepares the bride physically and spiritually for intimacy with her husband. The ancient ceremony, still practiced among Jews today, is an act of purification by immersion in a pool of water known as a 'mikvah' (alt. sp. mikveh). The ritual cleansing symbolizes spiritual rebirth, the concept of becoming clean through a divine act of God. 'Tviloh' is the same word used for “baptism.”
The mikvah represents the womb in Judaism, a place of ritual purity. When the tviloh candidate returns to the symbolic womb, she becomes ritually pure. The mikvah also represents the grave. The Hebrew term 'kever' means “grave, burial ground, underworld, womb.” Both the womb and the tomb are dark places of non-breathing, and both are stepping stones to new life. Some scholars suggest Nicodemus referred to the mikvah (spiritual womb) in his discourse with Jesus in the gospel of John:
“Jesus answered and said to him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.' Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can a man be born when he is old. He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?'” John 3:3-4
The Nidah Laws are sacred to those who follow them. Practitioners claim that the monthly sexual prohibition increases spirituality, passion, and fertility, and decreases a woman’s vulnerability to vaginal infections and cervical cancer. Medical professionals today recommend similar periods of abstinence to increase sperm count in cases of infertility. Barrenness was considered a curse in Bible times, and fruitfulness was regarded as a blessing. We now realize that God brought the abstaining couple together at the precise time of ovulation. This practice has been described as “Jewish birth control in reverse.”
There are also spiritual reasons for the sexual prohibition. The separation of the couple provides time for them to be alone with God and to make themselves worthy of the high calling of marriage. The season of deprivation is believed to bring the couple closer to each other.
According to the Nidah Laws, the act of making tviloh does not pertain exclusively to menstruation and pre-nuptial cleansing. There were many additional customs associated with the ritual bath, some of which pertained to the 'Kohanim', the priesthood of Israel. For example, the priests were immersed in a consecration ceremony to attain a higher degree of purity and to indicate a change of status:
"Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the doorway of the tent of meeting and wash them with water.” Ex 29:4
There is much more to be learned about the ancient practice of mikvah purification that presents a New Testament challenge for the Bride of Christ. For additional information on this fascinating subject, including the actual ritual that takes place, see my book: Grooming the Bride – Preparation for Eternity, available from noreenjacks.com. ($20.00 including tax, S/H; 222 pages of commentary and Bible study exercises suitable for personal or group study.