Question: Must elderly people (who do not regularly use a mikvah) donate to the building of a community mikvah?
Short Answer: Yes, all members, old and young, are obligated to donate to the building of a community mikvah.
Everyone is encouraged to support this amazing mitzvah to reconstruct the KGH Mikveh by donating online: www.rayze.it/renovate-the-kgh-mikveh.
I. Community Pressure
The Tosefta (Bava M’tzia 11:12) states that “b’nei ha’ir” (people of a city) may force (i.e., through non-physical pressure) other members of the city to contribute to a community campaign to build a shul or purchase a sefer Torah. This rule is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 163:1). Indeed, the Rama (ibid) sets forth the procedure by which community leaders are appointed to levy these taxes on the community. The community leaders have the ability to bring a lawsuit against any member who refuses to pay the community tax. [Notably, while our community may not have an analogous system nowadays, the lesson of the Shulchan Aruch and the Rama still applies: that all members of the community must donate to the community campaigns].
But what about donating to build a community mikvah? Does this have the same importance as donating to build a shul? Must elderly people, who have no consistent use of the mikvah, also donate to such a campaign?
II. The Mahari Mintz
In the late 1400s, the Mahari Mintz was asked this very question by a community that was raising funds to build a mikvah in a tz’nius place where women would not be afraid to go to the mikvah. Some members of the community refused to donate, as they claimed that they had no need for a mikvah due to their advanced age and the age of their wives.
Citing the Maharam (who cites the above-mentioned Tosefta), the Mahari Mintz noted that a majority of a community may “force” a minority to donate to the building of a shul or purchase of a sefer Torah. Even more, a majority of a community may force the minority to donate to less “necessary” expenditures such as the building of a community eruv. The Mahari Mintz thus ruled that a majority (or community leaders appointed by a majority) may force a minority to donate to a mikvah-building campaign, as a mikvah is certainly more important than other community expenditures listed in the Maharam, such as a wedding hall.
The Mahari Mintz also addressed the elderly dissenters who claimed that they no longer use a mikvah. Even these individuals use the mikvah on Erev Rosh HaShanah and Erev Yom Kippur. Moreover, they have no right to impugn the integrity and rules of those community leaders appointed by the community.
The Rama (Choshen Mishpat 163:3) codifies this Mahari Mintz, ruling that everyone in the community must donate to “tzarchei ha’ir,” including the building of a mikvah, even if they do not use it.
As an aside, the Chasam Sofer (Orach Chayim 193) explains the reasoning of such a ruling: The members of a community are considered “shutfin” – partners – for all communal needs, and thus must contribute accordingly.
III. Majority or Minority?
Based on the Rama, Rabbi Akiva Eiger (siman 39) rules that it is incumbent upon every community to build a mikvah, and that even a minority can force a majority to donate to the mikvah campaign.
The Minchas Yitzchak (3:88) questions the ruling of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, as it appears to contradict the ruling of the Pischei T’shuvah. Commenting on the words of the Rama that the majority may force the minority to donate to the mikvah, the Pischei T’shuvah clarifies that the minority may not force a majority to donate to a community project started by the minority. The Minchas Yitzchak reconciles these two rulings (i.e., whether a minority may force a majority to build a mikvah) by explaining that the Pischei T’shuvah was only discussing a campaign for something that is not “needed” by the community; even the Pischei T’shuvah would agree that a minority may force the majority to donate funds to build a mikvah, a huge mitzvah and requirement for every city.
Indeed, the Minchas Yitzchak adds that this ruling, that a community can force everyone to donate to the mikvah, applies even if there is another option, such as a river, available for t’vilah. He proves this, based on the language of the questioner to the Mahari Mintz who noted that there were other options (albeit, not as private or safe) available.
IV. Practically Speaking
The Chofetz Chaim (Beis Yisrael 3:8) rules that even elderly people who do not frequent the mikvah must donate to a mikvah campaign. See Avnei Derech (15:163).
Vayearech Dovid (2:139) queries whether this obligation applies only for the initial building of the mikvah or even for subsequent upkeep of the mikvah. He suggests that perhaps it only applies to the initial building of the mikvah because that is a necessity that cannot be undertaken by only those who use the mikvah.
Tz’dakah U’Mishpat (3:28:93) cites the sefer Naharei Afars’min who discusses the status of community members who pledge money to build a mikvah but then move out of the community before the mikvah building begins. The Naharei Afars’min rules that unless the member stipulated that his pledge is only if he continues to reside in town, he is obligated to donate the funds that he pledged to the mikvah.
Next Week’s Topic: When remodeling an old mikvah, may a community destroy the old mikvah before building a new mikvah?