A number of mikva’os face the threat of closure because they lack money to pay for heating fuel, and remain in operation only through the efforts of the National Center for Family Purity, a private charity, which delivers fuel to them.
The plight of the mikva’os was raised in the Knesset plenum session by MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, who claimed that mikvo’os should be funded by the government, not a non- government organization.
“I have been contacted from several locations through the Center for Family Purity regarding paying for diesel fuel,” said Rabbi Litzman. “Doesn’t the government realize that maintaining mikvehs is of utmost importance? Aren’t renovations of mikvehs in peripheral areas an important matter?”
Rabbi Litzman went on to say that he knows there was funding for mikveh upkeep and it was transferred to the Finance Ministry as part of regulation changes by the minister holding the religious services portfolio, Yitzchak Cohen. He noted that he would not go into the matter of the changes in regulations, but clearly the current situation cannot continue. “The Center for Family Purity — and I saw this with my own eyes — pays for diesel fuel for various types of places, and it shouldn’t be like that. All of the diesel costs for mikvehs must be paid by the government.”
He also complained about the dismal situation at the religious councils, where salaries are not getting paid, citing the religious council of Jerusalem as an example. There salaries are not being paid because there is no money available. “How long will this go on? When will the government come to understand that religious council workers are like all other employees and deserve to receive a salary at the end of the month?”
Minister Yitzchak Cohen said in reply that his ministry recently completed renovations at almost 350 mikvo’os, after years of neglect. “We budgeted NIS 41 million [$10.5 million] to refurbish these mikvehs, which were in catastrophic condition.”
Regarding the matter of diesel fuel, Cohen claimed there is no fuel problem at any mikveh in the country. “Furthermore, we set up a 24-hour-a-day hotline to prevent a situation in which a mikveh is closed, chas vecholiloh, regardless of its location. If there’s a problem at a mikveh, on the door is [the phone number of] a 24-hour hotline and an immediate response is provided.”
Minister Cohen reported that in addition to the NIS 41 million earmarked for renovations, “we also budgeted almost NIS 100 million [$25.7 million] for the construction of new mikvaot and botei knesset.”
Regarding unpaid salaries at the religious councils, he claimed that as long as the budgeting method is such that the local authority provides 60 percent of religious council funding and the government provides only 40 percent, the problems will persist. He said the government pays all the funding it is obligated to pay, while the local authorities do not. Of the 133 religious councils there are acute problems at 20, he said.
“Jerusalem has gone through a very difficult period,” said Minister Cohen. “Boruch Hashem there’s a new religious council head there. He took up the post recently and is preparing a recovery plan. There’s an agreement with the Finance Ministry that as soon as he finishes preparing the recovery plan [interim funding] will be funneled into the account immediately. For now the employees are doing a work slowdown, but have not shut down the council. Jerusalem is a city where the mayor, Rabbi Uri Lupoliansky, is commendable. He transfers his funds on time.”
(Eliezer Rauchberger for Dei’ah veDibur)