Question: Should observant Jews strive to build mikvaos in non-observant communities? Should a mikvah (run by observant Jews) allow non-observant Jews to use the mikvah for conversions?
Short Answer: Observant Jews should strive to build mikvaos (that are halachically administered) in non-observant communities that will properly use the mikvah. However, a mikvah run by observant Jews should not allow non-observant conversions in the mikvah, unless the non-observant community helped fund the mikvah.
I. The Satmar Rav’s Opinion
Building a mikvah is a costly endeavor. If a non-observant community reaches out to observant Jews to fundraise for a mikvah in the non-observant community, must (or may) the observant Jews give money to this project?
The Satmar Rav addressed this very issue in a t’shuvah to the Helmetzer Rebbe. The Helmetzer Rebbe was concerned that by building a kosher mikvah in such a community, you are encouraging observant Jews to move there and will thereby cause these observant Jews to forsake their observance (by mixing with a non-observant population). The Satmar Rav, however, strongly disagreed. “Kol Yisrael areivim zeh la’zeh” – All Jews are responsible for each other – and thus, there is an obligation to help the non-observant Jews avoid the punishment of kareis (by building them a mikvah).
The Satmar Rav then discusses the topic of “lifnei iveir” – causing another to sin. The Shach (Yoreh Dei’ah 151:6) famously rules that even where there is no lifnei iveir on a d’Oraisa level (i.e., the sinner could otherwise sin without the assister’s help), there still is a d’Rabbanan prohibition (called “m’sa’yei’a”) to assist an observant sinner sin. The Shach rules though that there is no prohibition to assist a “mumar” (heretic) to sin. The Dagul MeiR’vavah explains that this leniency extends even to observant Jews (non-heretics) who sin willingly; there is no prohibition to assist them.
The Satmar Rav, however, writes that “g’dolei Acharonim” disagree with the Dagul MeiR’vavah and thus there is a prohibition to “assist” an observant Jew from sinning willingly (and thus, one must not “look away” when the sinner sins and instead must rebuke him). The only time that one need not “rebuke” a sinner is where the sinner certainly will not listen to the rebuker. The Satmar Rav suggests that the key distinction is whether the sinner is a “mumar l’chol haTorah” (or a “mumar l’hach’is”) who will certainly not listen to the rebuker (and thus, no obligation to rebuke him) or whether the sinner is just lax on this law (and thus, he must be rebuked). Accordingly, the Satmar Rav rules that the observant Jews certainly must help the non-observant Jews observe the laws of mikvah, especially where the non-observant Jews are reaching out to them to assist (and by helping, “kareis” will be prevented). However, the mikvah (i) must be built according to halachah; and (ii) there must be a competent mashgiach/overseer ensuring that the users are observing the halachos of the mikvah.
The Satmar Rav concludes by addressing the argument that building a mikvah for non-observant Jews will cause observant Jews to move to that community and become laxer in observance. The Satmar Rav writes that such an argument is ridiculous in light of the rampart flattery, honor, and respect that is bestowed on sinners by members of the observant community. To now claim that building a mikvah for them increases attachment to them is hypocritical and just will cause kareis to these non-observant Jews.
II. The Minchas Yitzchak’s Concurrence
The Minchas Yitzchak (4:79) likewise addressed this issue in a t’shuvah to the Helmetzer Rebbe. Like the Satmar Rav, the Minchas Yitzchak proves that the observant community is obligated to help build the mikvah pursuant to the laws of lifnei iveir. See also Mikvei Mayim (Vol. 3, p. 11) and Shaarei Mikva’os (p. 268).
However, the Minchas Yitzchak (6:108) in a different t’shuvah to the Helmetzer Rebbe, notes a key exception to this lenient and inclusive ruling. A non-observant community in Detroit sought to use the observant community’s mikvaos for conversions. The Minchas Yitzchak ruled that it is forbidden for the observant community to allow the non-observant community to perform these non-kosher conversions in the community mikvaos.
III. Non-Observant Conversions
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l likewise forbade a mikvah run by the observant community from allowing non-observant conversions. In the Igros Moshe (Yoreh Dei’ah 2:125), Rav Moshe rules that the observant community can refuse the non-observant “rabbi” from performing the conversions in the mikvah as long as the non-observant community did not help pay for the mikvah. Rav Moshe also suggests that to avoid machlokes, the mikvah should demand that a “rav mumcheh” (“expert” rabbi) perform the conversion, thereby ensuring that the conversion candidate is truly willing to convert according to halachah.
In a later t’shuvah (Igros Moshe Choshen Mishpat 2:24), Rav Moshe elaborates that if the non-observant community helps fund the mikvah, there is no need to prevent them from using the mikvah. On the contrary, preventing them will cause the non-observant to build their own, non-kosher mikvah and will cause the non-observant Jewish women who are currently using the kosher mikvah (for nidah) to now use the non-kosher mikvah.
A similar ruling is found in B’eir Moshe (5:24) and Sheivet HaLevi (6:137), both cited in Mikvei Mayim (ibid).
Next Week’s Topic: May a mikvah contain warm water?