The clean body as an index and exponent of a clean soul, and thus of an approximation to holiness, is so natural a conception in the human mind that the records of early Jewish legislation accept the theory without any very definite exposition asked or given. Thus, when Jacob prepared his household to visit the shrine of God in Beth-el, he bade them "purify" themselves (Gen. xxxv. 2). When the people were bidden to prepare themselves for the reception of the revelation on Sinai, they were commanded to "sanctify" themselves; that is, wash themselves and wash their garments (Ex. xix. 10). David, anxious to be pardoned for his transgression (Ps. li., superscription), prays: "Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin" (verses 4 [A. V. 2], 9 [A. V. 7]); and the harlot nation, as Jeremiah designates Judah, is so deeply stained with sinfulness that though it wash with niter "and take much soap," its iniquity is still marked before God (Jer. ii. 22). In all these periods, then, patriarchal, Davidic, prophetic, the symbolical and spiritually purificative side of Bathing was already recognized, so that Bathing was ordained in preparation for holy rites, upon recovery from sickness, etc. When it is considered how valuable water is in the Orient, and how the average Bedouin of to-day looks upon the use of water for cleansing purposes as an extravagant waste of a valuable necessary of life (see Benzinger, "Hebräische Archäologie," p. 108, note), the free prescription of water for ritual purposes in this fashion becomes remarkable.In the Torah.
Turning to enactments of a general character, the Law ordained that various states and degrees of corporeal defilement (see Ablution) were to be remedied by the purification of the bath. So, too, he who ate of that which was found dead, whether torn of beasts or from other causes (Lev. xvii. 15, 16), and he who had come into contact with a corpse, a bone, or a grave (Num. xix. 19), were alike required to bathe themselves in water and become clean. The priests, who, as it were, approached closer to the Deity, would naturally be required to exhibit in eminent degree the virtue of cleanliness as a means to godliness; there was, therefore, a laver of brass set in the Tabernacle between the court of the congregation and the altar, and the priests wererequired to wash hands and feet therein upon entrance (Ex. xxx. 18-21). The high priest on the solemn Day of Atonement was required to bathe himself repeatedly in token of spiritual purification (Lev. xvi. 24); while the messenger who took away the sin-laden scapegoat (ib. verse 26), as well as other attendants at the rite (verse 28), was required to bathe and be clean after contact with the sin-offerings of the day. For various other cases requiring Bathing as a purificative rite, see Ablution.
Cognate with the idea of purification prior to appearing before God is naturally that of cleansing oneself before visiting a king or person of prominence (Ruth iii. 3; Judith x. 3). Possibly something of the religious aspect of the practise obtained, in addition to the material one of bodily refreshment, when washing the hands and feet was performed before meals (Gen. xviii. 4, xix. 2; Luke vii. 44). The dusty soil of Palestine and the customary open footgear (sandals) necessitated the frequent Bathing or washing of the feet (Gen. xxiv. 32, xliii. 24; Judges xix. 21; I Sam. xxv. 41; II Sam. xi. 8; Song of Solomon v. 3).Public Bath-Houses.
For all purposes of Bathing, the streams and ponds constituted the usual resort (II Kings v. 10); possibly the rain-water supply held by the cisterns in large cities may have been utilized to some extent for Bathing purposes, as in II Kings xi. 2, although, as Benzinger (l.c.) observes, no traces of bath-rooms have been found in the houses of the people or even in royal palaces. In Babylon there were possibly bathing-pools in the gardens (Susanna 15), though this passage may refer to simple washing in the open air. It was only when later intercourse brought the Jews into contact with Greek civilization that public Baths were instituted; the Hellenic origin of such is clearly discernible in such Talmudical words as , (denoting "bathing-master," "bathing-attendant," "bathing-towel," etc., derived from the Greek balaneion; see Jastrow, "Dictionary," for citations). Some reminiscence of the older custom of utilizing rivers and streams for Bathing purposes is preserved, at least for the religious or ritual bath, in the ruling regulation that all such Baths must be taken in water that is continually running and of the minimum capacity of 40 seahs, about 120 gallons (according to Num. R. xviii., the seah [= 3 gallons = 700 cubic inches] was the cubic measure of 144 eggs; according to Yoma 31a, the cubic contents of a space one cubit wide, three cubits long, and one cubit deep, the bulk of the average human body). Some bath-houses were artificially heated (Yer. Ber. ix. 14b). Some idea of the value set upon Bathing in Talmudical times may be gained from the remarkable comment on Lam. iii. 17, "I forgat that which is good" (A. V. "prosperity"), according to which the especial "good" neglected and referred to by the prophet was the use of the bath-house (Shab. 25b). The benefits of the warm Baths of Emmaus ("Ḥammath"), near Tiberias (Josephus, "Ant." xviii. 2, § 3); at Callirrhoe, near the Dead Sea (ib. xvii. 6, § 5); and at Gadara, in Peræa, were known and appreciated.The Miḳweh.
In medieval times, Bathing naturally concerned the Jews, as Jews, from the ritual standpoint only; and one of the first cares of every community was to maintain the "miḳweh," as it was called. The purificative bath ordained in Lev. xv. 19-33 was always held to be one of the most essential of observances; and great stress was laid upon its punctual observance by the women, the above-named requisites of running water and sufficient volume being carefully provided. Indeed, the repeated prohibitions against Jews or Jewesses Bathing in the rivers (see Abrahams, "Jewish Life in the Middle Ages," p. 73, note) necessitated the provision of a special bath-house. The oldest miḳweh now existing seems to be that of Andernach, near Coblenz, Germany (see Andernach, where a good typical description of the miḳweh is given). For diagrams (section and plan) of the similar institution at Speyer, see Meyer's "Konversations-Lexikon," 5th ed., ii. 311, plate ii.
- Benzinger, Hebräische Archäologie, pp. 108, 168, Freiburg in Baden, 1894;
- Spitzer, Baden und Bader bei den Alten Hebräern, 1884.