The benefits of a good soak: Science and religion agree on this one

    As midwinter looms and the nights draw in, is there anything more tempting than a good soak in the tub? Lowering yourself into a delicious hot bath is such an obvious no-brainer that I can’t believe anyone felt the need to go out and prove it; nevertheless, research has been conducted and it turns out that bathing is actually good for you.

    NewScientist recently reported that a hot bath two afternoons a week could help with depression. And if you’re looking for some cardiovascular benefits,  a Japanese study found that a hot bath five times a week could help reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks.

    The Jewish Approach to Bathing

    Of course, bathing rituals have long been a part of Jewish life. According to the Talmud, scholars were not even allowed to live in a city where there was no bathhouse. In the Middle Ages, when the Christians of Europe decided that bathing was an unnecessary luxury, the Jews continued their regular visits to the bathhouse — something that may have helped them escape the worst of the bubonic plague.

    And whatever your thoughts on the monthly mikveh (Is the whole thing too un-feminist for words? Can the tradition be reshaped for modern women?), the appeal of a ritual dip endures. My temple in San Francisco cheerfully invited congregants to jump into the ocean before Rosh Hashanah; later in the year, the women’s group paid a visit to a Japanese onsen in the city. Orthodox or not, immersing yourself in water just feels like a spiritual thing to do.

    Now trending: the communal soak

    Schvitz in Detroit

    Communal bathing is back, thanks in part to the Instagram appeal of Japanese bathhouses and Icelandic thermal pools. Traditional Jewish-Russian bathhouses are having something of a revival too. The Schvitz in Detroit — a Jewish mobster hangout in the 1930s — was reborn last year as a thoroughly modern spa. Unrelated but just as much of a Jewish institution is the Schvitz in Cleveland, a men-only bathhouse where you can enjoy a hot steam followed by (what else?) a steak.

    DIY an at-home indulgence

    Rituals and trends are great, but enjoying a tub all to yourself is always a treat — and there really is no easier way to completely unwind in 30 minutes flat. You can even take a virtual trip to Israel with some Dead Sea bath salts, which are packed with minerals that promise all sorts of benefits. Tip in a handful of Amour New York’s Dead Sea Mineral Bath Salt ($20 for 500g), or Laline’s Bath Salt Bag ($34.95), close the door, and soak your troubles away.

    Susannah Cohen
    Susannah Cohen is a fashion journalist, e-commerce editor (specialist subjects: lingerie and diamonds) and Jewish mom. Recently relocated from London to the West Coast, she’s feeling a lot more spiritual these days.