Corridors of power: Ritual disturbances

The decision not to build a mikve in Givat Masua is sending ripples of discontent through the city council.

Mikve attendant 390 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mikve attendant 390
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The war between the religious and the secular added a new chapter last week, this time over a mikve in the Givat Masua neighborhood. For now, the winner is on the religious side, but the secular community hasn’t yet had its final say, and a retaliation assault is expected soon – though it is still too early to predict its nature.
As we all know, Jerusalem is divided not among two political entities, but into 28 community councils – 13 of which recently held elections. Although there is an ongoing debate over the actual degree of autonomy and power they have to implement their boards’ decisions, these councils do have power in some cases. One of those cases emerged recently when the Ganim council, which covers the Kiryat Menahem, Ir Ganim and Givat Masua neighborhoods, rejected a project to build a mikve (ritual bath) in a more recently built part of Givat Masua that is inhabited mostly by young national-religious families.
Officially the reason was that there is already a ritual bath for this large neighborhood. Once decoded, though, this means the council fears the mikve will attract haredi (ultra-Orthodox) residents to what is considered a secular-traditional neighborhood.
Deputy Mayor David Hadari, who is also chairman of the Finance Committee, was seriously upset by the council’s decision and was looking for a way to change it. As head of the city council’s national-religious Habayit Hayehudi list, building a mikve is one of his duties to his constituency, aside from his personal interest in adding ritual baths in the Holy City.
Until last week, he was rather frustrated, since he couldn’t find a way to persuade the board of the Ganim council to change its position – nor, to put it politically correctly, to encourage them to do so in a way they couldn’t refuse. Hadari, who had personally worked on finding the budget to build the Givat Masua mikve, could thus do nothing with that money.
Last week, however, he found out that on the agenda of the Finance Committee meeting, there was a proposal to grant a prize to three community councils for “outstanding services given to the residents.” He couldn’t believe his eyes: One of the three councils was none other than Ganim.
“I was amazed!” Hadari told this reporter. “So now a war against a religious community wins a prize? How can preventing [the availability of] a mikve to hundreds of families be considered a service to the citizen?” Being a man of action, he promptly found the solution to his anger and frustration: He passed a resolution in his committee to cancel the award and accompanying financial support for the council that had fought against constructing the ritual bath.
At the last city council meeting, which took place last week, he managed to pass his decision despite the fierce opposition of another deputy mayor – Pepe Allalu from Meretz, who supported the Ganim council’s refusal to build another mikve in the neighborhood.
Politics aside, the facts show a slightly different situation on the ground. First of all, Givat Masua is the only neighborhood in the city with no mikve and no plan to build one soon, even though a quarter of the neighborhood’s residents – hundreds of families – are interested in having one and have even signed a petition on this issue. Four years ago, more than 400 women in the neighborhood asked to build a mikve, arguing that the ritual bath for the neighborhood was located a long walking distance away, in Kiryat Menahem, and it already serves a large population.
As for the fear that a new mikve would – or might – attract haredi families to settle there, perhaps this is the time to remind the members of the Ganim council that, for modesty reasons, haredi women rarely go to a mikve that is in their own neighborhood. We could call that “cultural knowledge,” something people who wish to live together despite their differences should acquire.