Toronto needs a mik­vah for all Jews

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - Comment - Rabbi Howard Mor­ri­son

Dur­ing my first con­gre­ga­tional rab­binate, in Union, N.J., from 1987-1991, I was per­mit­ted to over­see a con­ver­sion to Ju­daism at a nearby mik­vah, which was housed in an Ortho­dox girls’ yeshiva. The rabbi of the yeshiva eas­ily al­lowed me to over­see a con­ver­sion there as long as I did not ref­er­ence his name on the con­ver­sion doc­u­ments. Later on, from 1991-2000, I served a con­gre­ga­tion in Wan­tagh, N.Y., where the near­est com­mu­nity mik­vahs from where I lived were a 45-minute drive away. Rab­bis from all the ma­jor streams of Ju­daism were al­lowed to over­see con­ver­sions there.

Around that time, an Ortho­dox rabbi from the next town over came to me with a vi­sion. He wanted to es­tab­lish a lo­cal com­mu­nity mik­vah. I asked him how he felt about Con­ser­va­tive and Re­form rab­bis be­ing per­mit­ted to over­see con­ver­sions in the same place as the Ortho­dox com­mu­nity. He was more than fine with the idea – his only con­cern was with the tan­gi­ble kashrut of the rit­ual bath it­self – and agreed that a mik­vah should be for the en­tire com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing the di­ver­sity of the rab­binate.

Mik­vahs are used by women on a monthly ba­sis, pi­ous men be­fore Sab­baths and holy days, and men and women – as well as boys and girls – when they con­vert to Ju­daism. More re­cently, the mik­vah has also evolved to be­come a spir­i­tual place of heal­ing for those who have suf­fered var­i­ous forms of per­sonal abuse. In Jewish law, the mik­vah is the very first in­sti­tu­tion any Jewish com­mu­nity is tasked to es­tab­lish.

When I came to the Greater Toronto Area in 2000 to serve at Beth Emeth, a tra­di­tional Con­ser­va­tive syn­a­gogue, I mar­veled at the num­ber of mik­vahs lo­cated in such a small prox­im­ity. But at the same time, I also lament the fact that, when it comes to mik­vahs, the com­mu­nity spirit I wit­nessed in the Wan­tagh area that al­lowed var­i­ous de­nom­i­na­tions to share the use of one

A mik­vah should be for the en­tire com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing the di­ver­sity of the rab­binate.

mik­vah with each other, ap­pears to be lack­ing in Toronto.

A few years ago, I was dis­ap­pointed when the Jewish com­mu­nity cen­tre in Rich­mond Hill, just north of Toronto and home to a size­able num­ber of Jewish fam­i­lies, did not con­sider build­ing a mik­vah for the com­mu­nity on its premises. Now, with the re­cent an­nounce­ment that the Leo Baeck Day School will be mov­ing from its cur­rent home – in a build­ing that houses a com­mu­nity mik­vah used by lo­cal Re­form and Con­ser­va­tive rab­bis to over­see con­ver­sions to Ju­daism – my con­cern for our com­mu­nity has reached a new level. Where will we over­see con­ver­sions if the mik­vah is forced to va­cate the premises? Will com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ers plan­ning the new mid­town Toronto com­mu­nity cen­tre on Bathurst Street near Shep­pard Av­enue con­sider adding a mik­vah for all Jews to use?

As a child, I watched as my fa­ther, an ar­chi­tect and con­struc­tion en­gi­neer, de­signed and over­saw the build­ing of a mik­vah used to this very day by the Jewish com­mu­nity in Bos­ton, Mass., and the nearby Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in Brook­line and Brighton. Later on, as a rabbi, I had the oc­ca­sion to over­see a Jewish con­ver­sion cer­e­mony at the very same mik­vah. I am proud to say that the rab­binate of each ma­jor stream of Ju­daism has al­ways been al­lowed to over­see its con­ver­sions at the mik­vah my fa­ther helped to es­tab­lish.

So I chal­lenge and im­plore Toronto’s es­tab­lished mik­vahs to ex­pand their hori­zons to the di­ver­sity of rab­binates here. It’s time for us to have a true com­mu­nity mik­vah. Let’s make it hap­pen.

Rabbi Howard Mor­ri­son is the se­nior rabbi at Beth Emeth Bais Ye­huda Syn­a­gogue in Toronto.

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