The first in modern history to be constructed in a region comprising Montana, Idaho and North and South Dakota, a newly-built ritual bath is serving Jewish residents from across the American West and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

And for a Jewish community numbering 2,500 people and stretched across the fourth-largest U.S. state, the new Mei Menachem Mikvah – established by Chabad-Lubavitch of Montana co-directors Rabbi Chaim and Chavie Bruk – has transformed locals’ learning about the Torah’s laws of family purity from abstract exercise to practical application.

“Before the mikvah was built, it was almost impossible to educate anyone about the Jewish laws of family purity because the nearest ritual bath was a seven-hour drive away in Salt Lake City, Utah,” said Chavie Bruk, who holds regular classes for women on the subject. “This is a milestone to Jewish life in Montana and is totally beyond our expectations.”

Essentially a pool of water connected to a reservoir of rainwater or snow melt, a mikvah is a fixture of most established Jewish communities. A necessary component of the laws governing Jewish family life, the ritual baths are 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.

The one in Bozeman – which, like all mikvahs, conforms to dimensions laid out in the Code of Jewish Law – took two years to build. It is named after the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, who stressed the importance of studying and following Judaism’s family laws. Rabbi Gershon Grossbaum, a leading mikvah authority based in S. Paul, Minn., supervised the construction.

The new building is located in the backyard of the Chabad House, where the Bruks run Torah classes, a synagogue, Hebrew school, and provide Shabbat and holiday meals. Inside the mikvah facility is one ritual pool adjoining an elaborate bathroom, complete with a custom vanity, Jacuzzi bathtub, chandeliers and Venetian mosaic tiles, which Chavie Bruk designed with the help of the Montana Tile and Stone Company.

“It is stunningly beautiful,” said Holly Lifson, a 49-year-old financial professional. “It’s really an oasis. They did a fantastic job with the layout and the beauty of the mikvah. It’s really sparkling.”

Home to the state’s only Jewish ritual bath, Chabad-Lubavitch of Montana also offers Shabbat services, Torah classes and a Hebrew school.
Home to the state’s only Jewish ritual bath, Chabad-Lubavitch of Montana also offers Shabbat services, Torah classes and a Hebrew school.

The Bozeman resident added that the ritual bath will be sure to enhance Jewish life in the state, both for its 2,500-strong community and the many Jewish tourists who vacation in the area. Prior to the bath’s opening, visitors to nearby Glacier National Park had to drive or fly to Calgary, Canada.

“The mikvah has been welcomed with open arms,” said Bruk, who moved to Montana two years ago. “People are calling to learn about the mikvah and we’re showing them that they can have both a pleasurable and meaningful experience.”

Justine Phelps, a software engineer, agreed that the mikvah will “do wonders” for Jews in Montana. She also admired the facility’s attention to detail.

“It is one of the most beautiful mikvahs I’ve ever seen,” said Phelps, 38. “They’ve gone the extra mile to make it amazing.”

Open for three months, the ritual bath has brought an average of three women monthly to the Chabad House, and with the advent of the summer tourist season, is expected to be used regularly.

“Montana might be a ‘live and let live’ type of place, but for the Jewish residents here, traditions are important,” asserted Bruk. “The addition of a mikvah demonstrates that a traditional lifestyle can be maintained smack dab in the middle of the Wild West.”