Readers Respond to article about Tzur Hadassah mikve

Last week's In Jerusalem cover story on the mikve in Tzur Hadassah evoked strong reactions from a broad spectrum. Here are just a few.

I greatly thank Gail Lichtman for the article on Tzur Hadassah and the building of the mikve which has been denied to its residents since 1969. Since being elected to the Tzur Hadassah local committee in November 2002, I have made great efforts to ensure religious freedom and pluralism, as well as prevent haredization of Tzur Hadassah. I would like to clarify a few issues in the article. Far too much weight was given in the article to the Reform movement on the mikve issue. In this instance the main conflict is between the anti-religious secular and the growing religious and traditional or "masorti" population, who outnumber the Reform five to one in Tzur Hadassah. The Reform movement finally has legitimacy after ten years of anti-religious activities by the previous local committee. I have fought and ensured they could move their synagogue structure, create a nursery school, and afternoon program; as well as have the local committee allot a permanent piece of land to them for a permanent synagogue. Most significant is the fact that for the third year running, the Tzur Hadassah local committee is the only government body in Israel that helps fund the local Reform movement, pays part of its rabbi's salary, and gives an allocation equal to all other Orthodox synagogues. The mikve in Tzur Hadassah is not comparable to haredization in Ramot. Ninety-nine percent of Tzur Hadassah adult residents signed a past petition against the building of a Haredi neighborhood to be annexed to the settlement. Any Reform woman wanting to use the mikve will be welcome, as will any Reform person wanting to use the utensil mikve to kosher dishes. Yitzchak Kerem, Acting Chairman of the Tzur Hadassah Local Committee, Tzur Hadassah The "Pandora's box" referred to in last week's cover story "Still waters run deep" (6 January) has been open for 15 years. The issue today is the mikve. The issue then was a synagogue. At that time, the community's local committee and many of its residents were adamantly against any overt practice of religion. When I opened the first minyan in the community in 1992, I had to overcome many obstacles, including threats of burning siddurim (prayer books). In subsequent years, we witnessed a demonstration on Friday night in front of a rabbi's house against the opening of a religious kindergarten, and editorials in the local newspaper against the placing of a hanukkia on the roof of the shelter which houses the synagogue in the older section. Even certain contractors in Har Kitron were advertising covertly that the neighborhoods that they were building were "religious-free." Early on, the local committee was able to delay the building of the mikve which had been approved in the late '80s, and, mysteriously, was even able to change the Building Plan - which had been approved by the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council - so that an area which was set aside for the building of a synagogue in the old section was earmarked for other purposes. Every segment of our society has a right to have its needs met, whether it is in the form of schools or health clinics or synagogues (regardless of affiliation) and ritual pools. The religious issue in Tzur Hadassah is not unique and certainly not localized. We are witnessing polarities which appear in many societies and communities and in many forms: schisms between the more tolerant, the pluralistic, the religious, the secular, the anti-religious. In many communities, "middle-of-the-road" compromises have sometimes been opted for successfully. In Tzur Hadassah, however, the issues cannot be resolved by dialogue or compromise. That is for the weak and uninitiated. The strong are those that persevere. We have witnessed that. The mikve has been approved and the monies have been allocated. It's time to build. Haim Woldenberg Tzur Hadassah Why are Reform/Progressive Jews and the "secular" so threatened by a mikve? And are they so ignorant that they do not know that Torah-observant Jews are a far broader core of Klal Israel than those among them who follow a haredi lifestyle? I suspect that the mikve isn't the real issue. The real issue is probably that those who have already chosen where to live, invested in a home and developed ties to a community fear that the haredim will impose strict Torah laws on the community (no driving, closed roads, etc.). Perhaps each community ought to have the right to establish its "minhag" (custom) so that a community could declare itself open to all lifestyles. That could discourage those who wish to impose a particular standard of observance on all. Alan Oslick USA If a small Arab minority wanted to build a mosque with a tower that "calls the faithful to Allah" at 5 a.m. anyone opposed to such a project would be smeared as racist. A mikve does not disturb the peace or harm anyone in any way. That said, it should not cost NIS 1 million ... at that price, they can make a luxury spa that even the most secular ladies would eagerly visit. Yocheved Israel