Land Grab at the Mikvah
(Women's Mikvah - Illustrative Photo)
There are numerous subcultures in Ramat Bet Shemesh – including Yemenites, Sephardim, Anglos, Chareidim/Ultra Orthodox, National Religious, “Israelis/Sabras”, French, etc..etc..
There are rarely clear-cut lines between the groups, as one person or family can belong to several subcultures; and there can be murky areas between these groupings.
Perhaps the most prominent divide is between the National Religious and the Chareidim. Particularly at this time of year, which is the period of Israel's Memorial Day and Independence Day.
The National Religious, usually wearing crocheted kippot/skullcaps, are flag wavers, with Israeli flags fluttering from their cars, balconies and other prominent locations. In National Religious synagogues, special services and events are held for Memorial Day and Independence Day.
The Chareidim, usually wearing black (suits) and white (shirts) and black yarmulkes/skullcaps or hats, will avoid the flag-waving, and do not have formal recognition of Independence Day and nor do they formally honour or acknowledge those who have fallen in defense of the country (Memorial Day) in their synagogues, schools or neighborhoods.
Chareidim and National Religious tend to live in specific neighborhoods of Ramat Bet Shemesh, although the boundaries are indistinct.
Since the establishment of the Ramat Beit Shemesh (Aleph) neighborhood some ten years ago, these groupings have tended to get along reasonably peaceably, with flare-ups of tensions perhaps once or twice a year – and to the best of my knowledge, these have not gotten beyond modes of behaviour tolerated in every democratic society.
In this context, I introduce you to the mikvah (ritual bath for women) on Nahal Dolev Street, in Ramat Bet Shemesh.
The mikvah/bath house was built (and paid for) by the Moetza Hadati (Religious Council) of the Bet Shemesh Municipality.
Due to claims by some Chareidi leaders that the Moetza should hand over control of the mikvah to the Chareidim, a King Solomon compromise was reached, whereby half of the building and mikvah was handed over to the control of Rabbi Tzvi Davidovitz (a Chareidi rabbi), and his colleagues, and the other half was retained under the control of the Moetza to Rabbi Spektor (a National Religious rabbi). The building opened its (two, separate) doors about a year ago.
This past week, the control of the mikvah has entered the public arena again, with articles about this in all the local weekend newspapers.
Apparently, some Chareidi rabbis have now changed their minds about the building split, and are demanding the whole building for themselves on Nahal Dolev – and control of another Moetza mikva on Nahal Lachish.
Beyond the politics, there are also some halachik (ritualistic) differences between management of the Chareidi mikvah and that of the Moetza mikvah – I understand these pertain to the use of the mikvah on Friday nights and the level of inspection the women undergo (by female employees) prior to bathing. (Many women, including some I have spoken with, find the intense inspections & invasive treatment required at the Chareidi side of the mikvah, to be humiliating and distressing).
However, such arguments are mainly technical, and are designed to give each political side some halachik credibility/basis – but are secondary to the core issues of power and control. (ie the solution does not lie, in either side’s point of view, in halachik modifications or wiggle-room technical compromises).
So, it has all the makings of a simple land-grab by the Chareidim from the National Religious/Non-Charedim; it is chiefly due to the current strength of the Chareidi (Sephardi, from the Shas Party) mayor, Rav Moshe Abutbul who was elected in November 2008.
Various changes in his ruling coalition have recently resulted in a majority chareidi vote on the Municipality.
I understand that, regardless of the perception of broken promises, and perhaps illegal use of Government funded property, the power to decide lies in the Mayor’s hands.
If Rav Abutbul decides to hand over the remaining Moetza half of the mikvah building on Nahal Dolev to the chareidi control, then the National Religious will consider this a major blow to the ten-year status-quo between the populations.
At the City level, the National Religious have tended to be gentlemanly in their politics, and so riots and aggressive public demonstrations are unlikely. (Some chareidim, particularly in Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet – a five minute drive away from the mikva – have regularly taken to burning garbage, stoning buses and cars, and even resorted to physical violence against bystanders).
So the this latest Chareidi land-grab at the Dolev Mikva stands a high chance of succeeding.