The Jerusalem municipality recently approved a budget of 11.2 million shekels ($2.94 million) to build a mikveh, a Jewish ritual bath, in the Ma’aleh Zeitim enclave, where some 100 Jewish families live in the heart of the Ras al-Amud neighborhood of East Jerusalem.
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The municipality claims the sum is not excessive, noting that a mikveh recently built in the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood cost 10.3 million shekels. Pisgat Ze’ev, however, has over 40,000 residents, a significant percentage of whom are religious or traditional. The final sum for the Ma’aleh Zeitim mikveh was arrived at when 1.15 million additional shekels were approved for it at a council meeting six weeks ago.
The mikveh planned for Ma’aleh Zeitim will be especially large, covering 401 square meters. Even so, its cost is exceptional. For example, four years ago the Construction and Housing Ministry announced the construction of an especially luxurious mikveh in Bat Yam, with 450 sqare meters of space, special provisions to make it accessible to the disabled and state-of the-art water treatment technologies. Yet all this cost 5.6 million shekels – half the cost of the planned mikveh in Ma’aleh Zeitim.
Jerusalem City Councilor Laura Wharton (Meretz) decried the expenditure, saying building ritual baths in Jerusalem costs only a few million shekels.
“At a time when educational institutions are underfunded, there are potholes in the roads and city services are being reduced, such a project cannot be justified,” she said. “The mikveh in Ma’aleh Zeitim will serve a total of 117 families in a settlement at a sum equal to the net municipal budget for welfare services for all 800,000 Jerusalem residents. No ritual immersion will purify those involved in the corruption and injustice of spending public funds on this project.”
Jerusalem City Councilor Arieh King (United Jerusalem), a resident of Ma’aleh Zeitim, rejected Wharton’s arguments. He said the large mikveh would not just serve Ma’aleh Zeitim residents but residents of all the other Jewish enclaves in East Jerusalem, including Ir David and Kidmat Zion. The mikveh would also serve those visiting the Mount of Olives cemetery, and would have separate ritual baths for women, men, and for immersing tableware and other kitchen items requiring ritual immersion.
While King attended the meetings at which the mikveh’s budget was approved, he was not present during the debates on the budget, nor did he vote on it.
The Jerusalem municipality said, “The claims are not correct; the cost of every mikveh is determined by its size and by the result of a proper tender. The cost of the mikveh in Ma’aleh Zeitim is a standard cost for a mikveh and does not substantially differ from that of other mikvehs, other than additional, insignificant outlays required to deal with security issues due to its location.
“In addition, it should be noted that the project was initially estimated at around 10 million shekels, but its budget was passed in stages, based on a multiyear budget as often happens with building projects.”