For the first time in their adopted island’s history, Jewish residents and tourists in Koh Samui, Thailand, inaugurated a ritual bath to serve the many vacationers and honeymooners who annually flock to the Southeast Asian paradise.
According to Rabbi Yosef C. Kantor, the Bangkok-based director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Thailand, the new bath, known in Hebrew as a mikvah, will make it easier for people to keep Judaism’s laws of family purity. Previously, women who wanted to use a kosher mikvah had to fly an hour to Bangkok.
“Tourists will be encouraged to use it,” said Kantor. “This is a great opportunity to educate people about this special practice.”
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Essentially a pool of water connected to a reservoir of rainwater or snow melt, a mikvah is a figure of most established Jewish communities. A necessary component of the laws governing Jewish family life, the ritual bath is traditionally visited by married women on a monthly basis to acquire ritual purity. An increasing number of men have also taken up a custom, followed mainly by Chasidim, of immersing themselves in a mikvah prior to morning prayer services.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Sara Hinda Goldschmidt, the directors of Chabad of Koh Samui who arrived to the island in 2003, will maintain the Mei Menachem mikvah. Besides the Chabad House, they also operate a kosher restaurant for the Jewish travelers who make their way through the location.
Local architect Boaz Avni, an Israeli expatriate who designed the facility, presided over the bath’s Aug. 6 grand opening, but the day had a greater significance for the man, as it coincided with his marriage to Oryah Avni.
Community members joined guests from Israel and the United States for the dual celebration in the garden outside the ritual bath. The couple, who live on the island with their two children and had never before had a Jewish wedding, stood beneath a wedding canopy fashioned from the bride’s late father’s prayer shawl. Kantor officiated.
After the ceremony, the couple opened the mikvah by cutting the ribbon strewn across its front door.
Kantor related that the wedding itself came about because of the bath’s construction. As he was working on the project, Avni learned about the mikvah’s centrality to Jewish family life, and expressed his and his wife’s desire to get married according to Jewish law.
“[In this joint ceremony], the Talmudic concept that ‘one mitzvah pulls another mitzvah’ was played out,” explained the rabbi. “The mitzvah of helping in constructing the mikvah had brought with it the mitzvah of this wonderful couple having a proper Jewish wedding.”