Two-thirds of mikvaot don’t have operating license

Absence of operating license raises concerns over proper management of standards at mikvaot.

Mikvah (photo credit: CHABAD.ORG)
(photo credit: CHABAD.ORG)
As much as 67% of public mikvaot, or ritual baths, for women in Israel do not have an operating license from the local municipal authority, a situation that has caused concern for the maintenance of hygiene and management standards.
According to information from the Religious Services Ministry passed to the ITIM religious services advisory NGO, 439 out of the country’s 776 public mikvaot, some 57%, do not currently have an operating license as required by law.
Of those 29, or 6%, are in the process of obtaining licenses.
But the ministry was unable to obtain an answer from another 78 mikvaot as to whether they have a license, and concluded that they likely did not have a license.
In some regions, the percentage of mikvaot without licenses was incredibly high, including the Judea and Samaria jurisdiction, where just 16% of mikvaot have licenses.
The ministry was unable to obtain an answer from 87% of all mikvaot in the Jerusalem district as to whether they have a license.
Those with licenses were all outside of the Jerusalem Municipality, meaning that the ministry does not know of any mikveh within the city of Jerusalem with an operating license.
The ministry said that it assumed the failure to answer meant that those mikvaot did not have an operating license.
Only 34% of mikvaot in the northern district, 36% of mikvaot in the southern district, 41% in the central district and 45% in the Haifa district had licenses.
Tel Aviv had the best score, with 72% of mikvaot there holding such licenses.
ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber said that the large number of mikvaot without a license is concerning and means that the ministry could not enforce its regulations on them should it need to do so, including regarding health and hygiene standards.
“The ministry does have good health protocols, but mikvaot without operating licenses are not beholden to them,” said Farber. “In the absence of a license, the directives of the ministry are merely recommendations, without any power of enforcement or any legal status. They have no teeth.”
Although there have been very few known incidents of COVID-19 transmission through mikvaot, concerns have been raised by authorities in Jewish law about mikveh safety standards and the advisability of immersing during the pandemic.
One ruling in March even said that women should refrain from immersing in mikvaot if they cannot be certain that the requisite hygiene standards are adhered to.
The ruling specifically cited data from 2015 that 75% of public mikvaot at the time did not have operating licenses, meaning that enforcement of hygiene standards could not be guaranteed.
According to the ministry, the water in mikvaot is changed every day by mikveh attendants, who also add chlorine and other disinfectants every time this is done.
The ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment as to why so many mikvaot still do not have an operating license.
The ministry told ITIM that it is local religious councils, which are in charge of municipal religious services, that are responsible for obtaining operating licenses for mikvaot in their jurisdiction.
Head of the Jerusalem Religious Council Yehoshua Yishai did not respond to a request for comment as to why not one mikveh under his authority has an operating license.
The Health Ministry has previously declined to respond to questions from The Jerusalem Post regarding the frequency of inspections conducted by the ministry to examine hygiene standards in mikvaot.
“While Israel’s religious establishment has dealt responsibly with some of the issues related to corona, the systemic problem with the bureaucracy needs to be addressed,” said Farber. “Without proper oversight of the mikvaot and recognition that other areas of Jewish life need fundamental reform, Jews around Israel will continue to be suspicious of the rabbinate. ITIM will continue to encourage Israel’s government to engage in sincere reflection and reform of the way Jewish life is administered by government offices.”