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One hears a lot of legends about women who went to extraordinary lengths to go to mikvah in difficult times. One popular story is about a woman who would make a hole in a frozen river and tovel in the water. This story is told--usually by women to women--with great respect for, and endorsement of, the woman's deed. It is often told that she was blessed with numerous children as a result.

It would seem, though, that jumping into a frozen river through a hole in the ice is a huge danger to life and would ordinarily be forbidden as a sakone.

Is there any halachic justification to do such a thing? If not, why are this woman's actions celebrated even now?

BONUS: What would be the halachically correct thing to do in a situation where the only women's mikvah option is a hole in the ice?

  • Re: the bonus question--If she goes to mikvah in the ice, she is doing a sakone. If she doesn't, she becomes either a moredet (if she doesn't sleep with her husband) or one guilty of lifnei iver (if she does). What is the solution? – SAH Jul 19 '15 at 10:51
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    She's not a moredet if she can't become Tehorah – Double AA Jul 19 '15 at 21:50
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    Also it's not just lifnei iver; shed be doing an issur kareit! – Double AA Jul 20 '15 at 0:11
  • @DoubleAA Wait seriously? What issur? – SAH Jul 22 '15 at 0:16
  • sex with a niddah... – Double AA Jul 22 '15 at 2:53
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It seems that if danger is involved, then one may not dip in frozen water, as you can see in the answer here:

בארץ קרה מאוד בטרק נידח, לבד, טבילה בקרח היא לא על גבול סכנת הנפשות?!‏

אם זה כך, אין לטבול ואין לחיות חיי אישות עד שמגיעים למקום שניתן לטבול בבטחה. אך אמותנו הקדושות נהגו לטבול במים קרים מאד בגלות, ולא כל כך בטוח שזו סכנה כמו אי נעימות‏

He does not provide a source, but the Mitzva of preserving one's life takes precedence over all other Mitzvoth, as is well known. (With the exception of Immorality, Idolatry and Murder.)

Though the Winter Swimming article on Wikipedia claims that short dips in icy water is not life threatening for healthy individuals, and may even have health benefits.

Then again, there's a Hebrew thread here that claims a book have been published that claims that during the winter months the European wives didn't go to Mikveh, and waited patiently for warmer weather.

So it seems that there may have been brave ladies who cut holes in the ice to go to Mikveh, and since they survived there is no [medical] reason not to treat them as heroines whose actions should be emulated.

  • Nice answer. Re: your last paragraph-- isn't the very act of risking your life a sin, whether you get hurt or not? The point is that any one of them might have been hurt, and it may be that some were. – SAH Jul 19 '15 at 23:16
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    It's obvious that one may not endanger one's life, but perhaps there is an additional factor that the dipping is not valid if done in a precarious environment since the woman may be too preoccupied with her safety to ensure that she immerses fully. – Fred Jul 19 '15 at 23:26
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    @Fred - since they did this for about half the year, it's fair to assume they were somewhat used to it. It's fair to assume they worked out a system that prevented them from unnecessary dangers. they knew Halacha as well as we do, if not better. – Danny Schoemann Jul 20 '15 at 6:34
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    @SAH, I actually did a few minutes research on this. I would tell you to do same, but the thousands of pix of people dipping in a hole in the ice or NSFW - nor for your Neshomo. IOW, people dip naked into holes in the ice as a sport, and nary a report of anybody getting hurt. (This is counterintuitive; I did the research expecting to discover how fatal this was.) I also can't find a single respectable source for this being a method used for suicide. – Danny Schoemann Jul 22 '15 at 7:24
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    @SAH - Before she goes to Mikvah you're talking about a sin punishable by Karet - one of the most severest forms of punishment; hence one of the most severe sins; relations with a Niddah. And you're trying to compare that to "wasting seed" - almost "trivial" in comparison. See here judaism.stackexchange.com/q/18398/501 for why/how do we know it's even forbidden. – Danny Schoemann Aug 2 '15 at 7:56
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Who says it's all that life-threatening in most cases? See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_swimming#Health_risks:

Winter swimming isn't dangerous for healthy persons, but should be avoided by individuals with heart or respiratory diseases, obesity, high blood pressure and arrhythmia, as well as children and the elderly.

Before modern medicine, anyone with any of the listed medical conditions was probably dead anyway. So the women (and men too - see all the stories of the Baal Shem Tov and other Chassidic Rebbes who also immersed in icy waters) who did so weren't necessarily at any great risk, especially once they got used to doing it regularly.

  • Thanks for this answer. But as I said to Danny in the comments above, it's not just "winter swimming." It's dipping in freezing water in a small hole in the ice, presumably with few others around, and no ladder. – SAH Jul 22 '15 at 0:19
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    @SAH, "presumably with few others around"? Halachically she needs a competent Mikva-attendant (or her husband in emergency cases) in attendance to ensure she is fully emerged- and it needs to be in a location where she is not worried about being spied upon. And why no ladder? (She can't stand on a ladder while dipping, but why not use it to get into the hole?) – Danny Schoemann Jul 30 '15 at 11:02

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