Plans to build a mikveh (ritual bath ) in the heart of a secular neighborhood in Rehovot were quashed last week when the Petah Tikva court for administrative affairs prohibited the city from allocating land for its construction.
Residents of the area around Rehovot's Chen Boulevard have been fighting the construction of the mikveh for the past two years.
According to the 2003 municipal development plan, the property on 31 Chen Boulevard was slated for a kindergarten or other public building. However, the local planning and building committee determined that the lot could be used for another public purpose - a mikveh, for example.
In April 2010, the city approved a request from the Rehovot Religious Council to build the structure on that lot, which is next to a synagogue.
In her ruling, Judge Noga Ohad criticized the city and its religious council for the way that decision was made, and stated: "It is inconceivable that, with a wave of the hand and a word, and without any real consideration reflecting the needs of the public in real time, such as demographic data ... a request is approved to build a public building that does not conform to a binding program."
Ohad said the Rehovot Religious Council had acted as the "long arm of the Ateret Shlomo association," referring to the group that runs the adjacent synagogue.
The chairman of the local activists committee in the Chen Boulevard area, Uri Ben-Zvi, said: "All we're asking is that the city conduct a real survey of the needs of the public, and use the lot to meet those needs."
The city told the court the neighborhood residents were suffering from a "phobia" of religion and would do anything to prevent the construction of mikveh in their neighborhood.
According to Ben-Zvi: "There is quite rare testimony here to the fact that the secular public can organize, go out into the street and fight a hostile city authority and organized religious powers."
Ben-Zvi confirmed that in recent months, secular people from various communities, among them Ramot Hashavim, Kfar Yona, the Arnona neighborhood in Jerusalem and Ramat Aviv, have held joint meetings to learn from each others' experience in such cases. He said he would be presenting the Chen Boulevard story at next month's meeting.
The Rehovot Municipality said: "The city is studying the verdict and will act in accordance with the court's decision."
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