The Ministry of Religious Services and the local authorities in Israel operate 757 mikves (ritual baths) for women through the religious councils and religious departments in the various authorities. This study discusses various administrative and economic aspects of the mikve setup in Israel and points out several main findings:
According to the regulations of the Minister for Religious Services of November 2013, the cost of a standard immersion in a mikve is NIS 15. The CEO memorandum of the Ministry of Religious Services determines that “it is compulsory to ensure that the abovementioned fees are charged,” but, in fact, each religious council, and occasionally each mikve attendant, does as they see fit and the Ministry’s regulations are not enforced.
During October-November 2014 we contacted all mikves in Israel by telephone and asked their price for a standard dipping; 482 of the 757 mikves responded to our question. Of those 482 mikves, in 231 (48%) a different amount was charged, in most cases this amount was higher than the required NIS 15. In fact, 35% of the tested mikves (168 out of 462) charged more than NIS 15 and 31% of the mikves charged more than NIS 20, with some charging even NIS 30 and NIS 35.
Findings show that in regard to certain authorities there is no uniform price even within the religious council, and each mikve charges a different price. In addition, findings show that in some absurd manner, it is actually the authorities in lower socioeconomic areas where residents are required to pay much higher prices that those set by the Ministry of Religious Services.
An additional survey was held on mikve services for brides. According to the regulations of the Minister of Religious Services, which became valid in November 2013, “brides in their first year of marriage are exempt from paying for immersing in a mikve.” A follow up held with the spokesperson of the Ministry we found that the Minister’s exemption refers to mikves throughout Israel, without limitations, but we found that 57% of the mikves do not uphold this regulations: some do not give brides a discount at all, while others give them a discount with limitations that contradict regulations: a discount only to brides who registered within the specific religious authority, only to local residents, etc.
Efficiency and Economic Management:
Due to a significant lack of a standardized database it is extremely difficult to present organized findings in this regard. The lack of data derives from the fact that many religious authorities do not maintain an organized system of collecting information on the number of women using the mikve services and from the fact that the Ministry of Religious Services does not demand these details from the authorities. Despite this, the study presents several initial findings that are based on the religious authorities’ accounting reports.
According to these findings, the economic cost of running a mikve system in regional authorities with the lowest percentage of religious residents is understandably the highest per usage, because the requirement to open mivkes in a certain area is not conditioned on the number of religious residents in that area. This is probably also the reason that the cost of running a mikve in regional authorities – which are often required to operate mikves even in small communities, is higher than in the (larger) cities.
Based on a comparison between religious councils with similar characteristics, the study found probable inefficient management in the mikve departments or, alternatively, efficient religious councils with insufficient mikve services. Thus, for example, the percentage of income compared to overall cost from mikves reaches 6%-8%, while in other large cities, it reaches 20%-30%.
Several reports of the Haifa city auditor do, in fact, point to numerous problems in the management of the mikves in the city. In addition, there are seven mikves for women in Rehovot,
Safed and Ashkelon, and while the percentage of income from mikves in Ashkelon and Safed reaches 15%-20%, the percentage of income in Rehovot reaches 50%-55%. Thus, the findings show that many more women in Rehovot use the mikve services than in Ashkeon, even though expenses on maintenance and salaries for mikves in Rehovot are significantly lower. Similarly, the cost of maintenance and salaries for mikves in Be’er Yaakov and Ma’alot is several times higher than in religious councils with a similar number of women using mikve services, such as Bnei Ayish, Meitar and Mazkeret Batya.
The study also shows significant and unexplainable fluctuations in the income and expenses of the mikves in several religious councils – Ganei Tikva, Eilat and Kdumim – during 2010-2013. Such fluctuations generally show ineffective management of the mikve system.
The availability of data on mikves around the country is extremely important, due to the intimate and discreet nature of immersing in a mikve. One can assume that women know the mikves in their local area, but many times, when they are in other places in Israel they must find a mikve in an area unknown to them. As many women regard the mikve as a private event, they prefer not to share this information with others or ask for information on the closest mikve; making it even more important for the authorities to make known exact and clear details.
The study findings show that the information systems run by the Ministry of Religious Services and those on its website and the WAZE application lack much information. The Ministry’s website does not have information on many mikves run by the religious councils, and WAZE is missing 288 mikves (about 38%).
It was found that the information system on the Ministry’s website has almost no information on the mikve system, such as the prices for standard (and other) services provided at the mikve. Only in a few cases do opening hours appear on the site. Also, in many cases the telephone number of the mikve attendant, or the mikve itself, did not appear and, if it did, in 25% of the cases it was not updated or was of a former attendant who was no longer employed at the mikve. Similarly, in about 33% of mikves WAZE did not have a telephone number at all, or had a non-updated number.