Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)


Religious Studies


Mary Fraser Kirsh

Committee Members

Annie Blazer

Randi Rashkover

Jay Watkins, III


A mikvah is a natural water bath used in traditional Judaism to ritually purify people or objects. It is a complex subject in modern Judaism, and there is some disagreement about how to approach it as a ritual in today’s world; American Jews encompass a wide array of stances on the topic, providing the basis for this research. This project operates on the assumption that the performance of rituals is affected by context such as time, location, and personal or cultural values, and within this framework examines mikvah culture within the American South, specifically Virginia. Southern Jewish culture manifests differently from its Northeastern counterpart which is often taken as the norm for American Judaism. This project includes original data in the form of interviews and survey responses collected to gather evidence for or against the existence of a distinct mikvah culture informed by the Southern context. Analysis shows that the data largely parallels the wider debate within American Jewish culture about mikvah, rather than showing the influence of regional distinctiveness. Studying this topic not only illuminates how context may affect the performance of rituals, but also raises questions about the strength of regional specificity and the changing nature of American Judaism, including how rituals like the mikvah fit into it.