In Victory for Citizens, Israel's Supreme Court Throws Water on Plans for Rehovot Mikveh

In final triumph over local religious council, citizens of Rehovot convince Supreme Court to ban construction of a Jewish ritual bath in the heart of secular neighborhood.

Rehovot residents have won their struggle against a planned ritual bath in the heart of one of its secular neighborhoods, with the Supreme Court quashing an appeal from the city's religious council and closing the matter for good.

Earlier this month, the Rehovot religious council appealed a decision by the Central District Court to cancel construction of the mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath, in an area of Rehovot's busy Chen Boulevard. The Supreme Court denied their appeal, with Judges Edna Arbel, Hanan Melcer and Uri Shoham criticizing the planning processes and announcing that the religious council must bear the court costs and legal fees of NIS 15,000.

The plot of land in question was zoned for construction of either a kindergarten or club in 2003. In 2010, however, the local committee approved it for construction of a mikveh despite opposition from residents, who took the matter to court, and won.

The religious council submitted a petition to the Supreme Court against the ruling. Council officials claimed that the land was an abandoned plot adjacent to a synagogue and that it was justifiable from a planning perspective. The chief rabbi of Rehovot, Simcha Hakohen Kook, told the judges the mikveh was crucial to the women who lived in the area, and described its construction as “a vital and urgent need.”

But area residents said the rabbi's comments did not reflect reality. The area, they insisted, is decidedly secular, with hardly any religious residents. They also pointed out that no survey had been presented to examine local desire for a mikveh, and without numbers to back up the religious council's claim, the original plans for the plot of land must remain intact.

The court sided with the residents. “It seems that there was no sufficiently in-depth demographic survey of the residents and their needs,” the ruling read.

One of the citizen leaders, Uri Ben Zvi, said afterward that the case proves the importance of community activism. “The authorities were very arrogant here and refused to listen to the residents’ real needs,” he said. “They accused us of being a tiny, worthless group motivated by politics. Mostly they accused us of hating Judaism and hating religion. When citizens think they’ve been treated unjustly and know how to organize, they can defeat even a powerful authority.”

Nir Keidar
Nir Kafri