The Deborah Harris Agency
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The Deborah Harris Agency




Nonfiction, 2005

This is one of the first books ever written about the mikveh, the ritual bath in which married Jewish women traditionally immerse to purify themselves for their husbands. Based on ten years of research and interviews, THE HOUSE OF SECRETS gives voice to women who reveal the essence of this encounter – for some deeply spiritual and for others  a matter of rabbinic coercion.

Polak-Sahm explores a feminine, sensual, and even erotic place that no man is allowed to enter. This is a book that speaks to religious and secular readers alike about feminine strength, fear, compassion and joy. 

Rights Sold to:

Hungary, Nouvion Trade Sociedad Anonima; Israel, Modan Publishing House; USA (World English), Beacon Press 


"A fascinating book . . . [Polak-Sahm] views the mikveh as a house full of secrets - the secrets of women, the secrets of life, the secrets of love and purity." – Peggy Cidor, Jerusalem Post

"A compelling examination of the nature and meaning of this ritual which has remained clouded with mystery and secrecy for centuries." – Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat,

"The House of Secrets" truly lifts the curtain on this world, often unknown to all but its participants. . . . [A] captivating book." – Carol Poll, Jewish Book World

"Unique amongst works about mikveh in that [Polak-Sahm] draws on the deeply personal and revealing narratives of religious and secular women who come regularly to immerse. The stories of these women come alive here." – Marion Lev-Cohen, Lilith

"A rare glimpse into a mysterious world."Publishers Weekly

"In The House of Secrets, Varda Polak-Sahm describes the colossal dissonance between the negative emotions and prejudices she felt before entering the mikveh and her overwhelming experience at the actual immersion. Her narrative draws you into the emotions felt by 'secular' Jewish women at the very concept of mikveh and the intimate stories and sense of sisterhood she came to know in her time spent there. She brings up all the objections that have been raised to the status inherent in the laws of ritual impurity, but she retains a loving, sympathetic ear to the stories she heard from observant women. Her own curiosity and openness are fascinating to read and kept me reflecting on the book long after I closed it." – Carol Ochs, Hebrew Union College / Jewish Institute of Religion, author of Our Lives as Torah

"Totally honest and full of surprises . . . Refreshingly, this writing is neither a Pollyanna version of the laws of family purity nor a cheap shot at them." – Blu Greenberg, author of How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household

"An intimate, nuanced look at a deeply private world from a gifted interviewer and observer. Polak-Sahm shares the beliefs and feelings of a fascinating range of mikveh users. Many are Orthodox; a surprising number are secular; all have intriguing stories. This book combines thoughtful analysis with emotion and heart. A thoroughly enjoyable read."  – Stephanie Wellen Levine, author of Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey Among Hasidic Girls