Shabbat Sleepover House

About Shabbat and the Prohibition to Walk beyond a Certain Distance


The Sabbath (or Shabbat as it is called in Hebrew), is probably the best known of all the Jewish observances.  For those Jews that ‘keep’ (observe) the Shabbat, it is considered a precious gift from God. Shabbat is arguably the most important ritual observance in Judaism.   It is a day of spiritual enrichment and rejuvenation.  The word Shabbat itself means to end, or to cease (i.e. from work). Jews believe that God made heaven and earth, in six days and on the seventh day (Shabbat), He ceased from His creating work. When Jews rest on the seventh day after being active on six days of the week, they, in a way ‘imitate’ God in both His creative activity and in refraining from work periodically, thereby acknowledging that He is the Creator and Master of the universe. Shabbat-observant Jews remind themselves on a weekly basis, that our work, as important as it is, is not the ultimate end-in-all goal in life.  It is good to temporarily set it aside on behalf of higher values, spirituality, and a different experience of time. 

Resting on the seventh day is also about freedom. In ancient times, only the ‘upper class’ and the wealthy had time to rest. In Pharaoh times in Egypt, the slaves (Jews), never had a day of rest. So by resting on the seventh day, Jews remind themselves that they are liberated, and meant to strive spend quality time free not only of physical labor but also of mental anxiety. During the week we may be ‘slaves’ to our work and the need to succeed but on the seventh day we can experience a deeper freedom, as were our ancestors freed from slavery. 

ShabbatThe Jewish concept of resting on Shabbat may not be what we think it is.  It does not necessarily mean doing nothing or sleeping.  The Torah and the rabbinic tradition explain that Shabbat “resting” is merely desisting from a number of specified activities. Among these are activities like kindling fire, sewing, writing, cooking, baking, harvesting, sowing, building, trading, carrying objects outside a house or private area, traveling (let’s say in a car), or walking beyond a certain distance.


Getting technical:

The distance that one may travel (we are talking about traveling on foot here) on the Shabbat depends where one is at the start of Shabbat.  If you are in a house outside of a town, meaning in a remote cottage, a farm house, or a “little house on the prairie”, you can walk as far away from that house as 2,000 cubits in each direction (which is roughly about 1 kilometer or almost two-thirds of a mile).  In other words one can walk anywhere within an imaginary circle that has a diameter of 2 km, i.e. 1.25 mile, with the house exactly in the middle.
On the other hand, if you live within a village or a town, even a town as big as New York City or London, you can walk anywhere within that town until the edge of the town, plus another 2,000 cubits beyond the edge (also in each direction).

A Personal Experience   

(by Sjimon den Hollander):

   The following story happened to me about ten years ago.  It was on a Friday, and I was flying back to my home in New York City from a short vacation in Colorado. According to my travel schedule, I should have landed early enough to make it home before Shabbat and in time to prepare, but for some unforeseen reason there was a serious delay, and I landed right at the time when Shabbat was supposed to start.  I made it off the plane before the deadline but now I was in the airport and Shabbat had started.  What to do now?  The airline personnel were not willing to help at all, and there I was with my suitcase.  There were a number of problems that presented themselves to me as a Shabbat observer.  I am not supposed to use a vehicle (a cab), I am not supposed to carry objects on the street (my suitcase, my wallet, my keys), and I am supposed to honor the Shabbat with a festive meal, which was not possible at the airport; as a matter of fact I didn’t have any food or drinks with me and to make things worse, I was am not supposed to buy anything on Shabbat either.  And to make it even more complicated, we are not supposed to fast on Shabbat…!
I calculated all pros and cons.  Not having the Shabbat meal and saying blessings over wine in honor of Shabbat is less serious than breaking the laws of carrying and traveling, so all things considered, it would be better to stay in the airport until the next evening.  However I could not physically do that.  There was no place to lay down on a bench, and perhaps I could do without food or drinks, maybe I could drink water for a fountain, but I certainly couldn’t manage without sleep.
Then I came up with a plan.  I had traveled with a non-Jewish companion, and he was still at my side, seeing if I would be okay.  Shabbat is not incumbent on non-Jews.  According to Judaism, a non-Jew is not obligated to keep these laws as they are only part of the covenant that God made with the people of Israel.  Non-Jews can serve God in different ways (bit that’s a different topic).
Shabbat This kind companion agreed to take my suitcase, my wallet and my keys and deliver it to my apartment, and I gratefully accepted his offer.  Then I started walking from LaGuardia Airport to my home in downtown Manhattan.  I wasn’t really sure how to walk but I used my sense of direction and probably didn’t go as straight as I could have.
I walked through the night at a high pace and it took be somewhere between 3 to 4 hours.  All my muscles and bones hurt me when I came home.  I said the blessing over wine, had a tiny mini-meal and fell asleep. 
I do have to confess something though…  I didn’t make it to Shabbat service that next morning.

The Situation in the Jewish Village of Putti, Uganda:

ShabbatSome Putti Jews live too far away from the village itself, but still wish to pray at the synagogue located within the village. 

To enable them to observe Shabbat and to comply with Jewish Law, they need a place to rest and sleep during the Shabbat period without needing to use transport to get from place to place.

Putti Village Assistance Organization (PVAO) has therefore set up a fund in order to build a “Shabbat Sleepover House”… The building is currently underway.


We urgently need to buy more bricks in order to create more sleeping areas.   Can you help us achieve this goal?? Our aim is to raise $5,000 for this important project. By donating just $25, you will donate 100 bricks! PVAO thanks you for taking the time and trouble of contributing in any way you can.

You can make an earmarked donation by clicking on the donate button below:

We are grateful for any help you can give!

The Mikvéh In Putti (Uganda)

What is a Mikvèh?

A Mikvèh* is a collection or gathering of water, and fulfills an essential role in the religious life of the Jewish people.

The Background:

According to Torah law (also called the “Law of Moses”) a person can become ritually ‘impure’. This ‘impurity’ does not suggest sinfulness and is most often not perceived as negative in itself.  The most important consequence of such impurity was that being impure would (temporarily) disqualify someone from visiting the Temple in Jerusalem.  It is generally assumed that the one of the main functions of such a concept was to instill a higher level of awe and respect to the person while entering the Temple and participating in its service. 
There were several different levels of ritual impurity, depending on what had brought the impurity about, and related to these different levels, there were distinct rituals for removing the impurity.  In some cases, for minor levels, the impurity would cease automatically at the end of the day.  For others, only the washing of the person’s hands was required.  In the most severe case, after touching a corpse, a highly complicated ritual was involved that lasted a week, for the impurity to be removed.  In many cases however, the appropriate procedure was for a person to totally immerse him or herself in water.

Some Laws of Ritual Purity Perpetuated after the Destruction of the Temple:

After the destruction of the Temple, maintaining these practices had become less relevant.  Therefore, in most cases, the rabbis of the Talmud decided to temporarily abolish them, until the time when, one day in the future, the Temple would be rebuilt.  However a number of exceptions were made for cases in which the practice would continue.  The ritual washing of hands in certain occasions, such as before eating bread is such an example in which purity laws were perpetuated.  Other examples directly involve the topic of our article, the Mikvèh (which is a body of water that fulfills a number of prescribed conditions; more about that later). 
These examples are:  Firstly, the immersion of someone’s entire body at the occasion of his/her conversion to Judaism (which, as a side note, also explains the origin of Christian Baptism).  Secondly, the practice to dip newly acquired metal and glass food utensils in such a body of water.  And thirdly, the requirement for a menstruant woman to immerse herself after a period of separation from her husband, before she can resume intimate relations.  Similarly such an immersion is required at the end of a period following giving birth. 

Requirements for a Mikvèh:

Water, like people and many objects can become ritually impure. Under Torah law, however, there are two distinct conditions that can make a body of water immune from becoming impure 

In other words, under two possible circumstances will water always be pure.  According to rabbinic law, exactly such water is needed if one would immerses oneself for the purpose of purification.  Only water which is inherently pure can be used for this specific ritual.
The first scenario involves rain water that has naturally gathered into a basin.  However, the flow of the water into the basin must happen without any interruption, and there is a number of rather complicating additional conditions.  One of them is that the rain water cannot flow through any metal pipes or through certain vessels.  Also, once the rain water is gathered into the basin, it has to be still, i.e. it has to stop flowing.  This limits certain bodies of water to be used as a Mikvèh.  For instance, a river that is primarily fed by rain water is unfit for ritual immersion.
The second scenario involves water that flows uninterruptedly from an active spring.  This involves a different set of prerequisites, which are generally less complicated.  Most significantly, the water can be used even if it keeps flowing from the spring well.

The Mikvèh in Putti:

It is this second type of Mikvèh that is used by the community of Putti. The water flows from thespring into the Mikvèh basin and back out again (see below).

The Mikvèh in Putti:

The Mikvèh

(Photography: Menachem Kuchar)

In the second illustration, one can see the actual water spring and the channel leading to the Putti Mikvèh.

The actual Mikvèh is made slightly removed from the spring itself, to create safer conditions for immersion as well as an environment of privacy by means of walled enclosure (as the immersion is typically performed without clothing).

The Mikvèh2

(Photography: Menachem Kuchar)

The third illustration shows Putti’s actual Mikvèh:

Making use of a spring and flowing water offered the significant advantage that it doesn’t offer a breeding ground for mosquitoes.  The alternative option for building a Mikvèh, namely with collected still-standing rain water, would instead have created a dangerous source of malaria.
In addition, in the way the Mikvèh was built in Putti, the water flowing out is now used to irrigate the crops on the land that feed the people!

The Minimal Amount of Water in a Mikvèh:

One thing we know is that there should be enough water to cover the entire body of an average person.   According to some authorities, as long as a person’s whole body can be covered with water, then the Mikvèh is sufficient for him/her.  The majority of the rabbis of the Talmud however held that the quantity of water has to be at least 40 se’ah.  The question then immediately comes up: How much is a se’ah?  Typically for most things Jewish, that is a matter of debate.  It doesn’t really help to know that a se’ah is supposed to be the same size as 144 eggs…  How big the average eggs in the time of the Talmud were, is another point of discussion.  In short, the opinions on the minimal quantity of water in a “ritual bath” differ from 293.2 liter (77.5 gallons) to a much stricter opinion that quotes a minimal amount of 572 liter (151 gallons).  Nowadays, as there is no maximum quantity of water, all Mikva’ot, (including the Putti Mikvèh), are built larger than the biggest quoted minimum, to accommodate all opinions. 
The above mentioned immersion of new cooking utensils has a smaller minimum of water, but can be done in the same Mikvèh as well.

Other Types of Mikvèh:

Many of the world’s natural bodies of water, such as seas, oceans, spring-fed lakes, and spring-fed rivers  are Mikva’ot as well, and can be used for purification purposes.  Before the construction of the Putti Mikvèh, the members of the Putti community generally utilized a nearby river, which offered several hazards, such as the presence of parasites, water snakes and other creatures that live in the rivers.

When the Mikvèh is Used:

According to Jewish practice, immersing in a Mikvèh is required on a number of occasions.

1. Most importantly, a Jewish woman is required to immerse after a number of days following her menstruation.  During this period she and her husband are not allowed to be together in an intimate way, until she immerses in the Mikvèh or, as we saw before in another valid body of water.  Initially, according to Torah law and in most cases, this period of semi-separation lasted seven days in total, starting from the unset of her monthly period.  As a result of a development that started in Talmudic times in Babylonia, the custom evolved into a counting of seven days starting from the end of the woman’s menstruation (often resulting in a total of about 12 days on average).  This approach has become the general practice of virtually all observant Jewish communities.

2. As the practice of monthly immersion is only observed in the context of marital life, an unmarried woman does not visit the Mikvèh.  Therefore, her first visit to the Mikvèh is typically on the night before her wedding.

3. The above described practice is also observed after a woman gives birth. 

4. All Jewish converts, both men and women, immerse in a Mikvèh after they have been accepted by a Jewish court (a Beth Din).  This immersion constitutes their entering into the Jewish people.

5. In all these occasions, the ritual of immersing oneself in a Mikvèh, is more than just a ritualistic or legalistic practice.  Therefore, apart from the above described cases, there are other occasions for using a Mikvèh, which are voluntary and done for purely spiritual purposes. 
As an example, some grooms visit the Mikvèh on the day before their wedding. 
In addition, many Jewish men (and some women) visit a Mikvèh on the day before Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  Others practice this custom even before other Jewish holidays, some every week before the start of Shabbat and few individuals go early every day before morning prayers. 

As was alluded to before, there is a strong spiritual component to this practice.  For one thing, a Mikvèh can be seen as representing the waters of creation, or/and a mother’s womb, while immersing and coming out of a Mikvèh symbolizes rebirth and spiritual renewal, or even resurrection.
Therefore, it is not surprising to find that a rather new application of the Mikvèh has emerged in our days, namely as a tool within certain post-trauma therapies.


Jews have been building Mikva’ot for thousands of years.  In fact the Mikvèh is such an integral and essential part of Jewish practice that a Jewish community is required to make the building of a Mikvèh their highest priority.  A community is required to build a Mikvèh, even before investing in a synagogue!

Here are some pictures of Mikva’ot from (a) Antiquity, from (b) the Middle Ages and from (c) Modern Times.

The Final Stage:

The  building of the Mikvèh in Putti was made possible by generous contributions of donors like you and me. As a final stage we now need to plant trees around the Mikvèh, to provide shade and privacy for the people using it.  In addition the outgoing Mikvèh water can be used for fruit trees that provide nutrition and vitamins.  Efforts are made by the Putti Village Assistance Organization to raise money for this goal.

You can contribute to this lofty cause by donating $20 for a fruit tree, through the following link: (All donations are tax deductible)