Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Av 5763 - August 20, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Fifth Anniversary of the Mikveh of East Denver
by Rabbi Hillel Goldberg and Yated Ne'eman Staff

Most people do not think of a mikveh as a kiruv tool, but the Mikveh of East Denver (MOED) has proven to be just that in its five years of existence. It is to its credit also that no michsholim have come out of its operation.

The Mikveh of East Denver was opened on erev Rosh Hashanah, 1998. The mikveh won an award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for its beautiful design. The tevilah pools are oval. The total construction budget was about $350,000.

The mikveh is designed to be an "outreach mikveh," that is, to attract people who previously did not use a mikveh. To this end, special emphasis was placed on the beauty of the design of the mikveh pool and a configuration to ensure maximum privacy. The reason why some non-frum Jews choose mikveh as their first mitzvah is due to its private nature: no one need know they are observing it. No public identification with Orthodox Judaism need be made. Therefore, it was very important to design the mikveh with maximum privacy assured.

Also, MOED was built on a prominent street in a Jewish neighborhood -- so that it would be seen and inquired about. MOED's construction and opening were widely publicized, and it is consistently advertised.

Another important achievement is the elimination of all chlorine and chlorine smell. This was achieved through an ultraviolet disinfectant device through which the water passes as part of its filtering process. In conjunction with this, it is necessary to add a very small -- but accurately calibrated -- quantity of hydrogen peroxide. This requires measurements to be taken in the mikveh three to four times weekly -- i.e., the mikveh is "high maintenance." But the final result of all this is that the mikveh water is not only clean, but it looks and smells very clean.

The final aspect of MOED's outreach is its no-conversion policy. There are no conversions in MOED, no matter who the sponsoring rabbi is.

Conversions in Denver

In Denver in 1983, it was revealed that a so-called "joint conversion" program, consisting of non-Orthodox rabbis and of rabbis with Orthodox semichoh (but serving in shuls without mechitzos) had been operating in secret for some six years. Hundreds of conversion candidates passed through the program -- the exact number was never established. The program did not insist on a genuine kabolas mitzvos. The Denver program broke up in controversy and, within the Orthodox Jewish community, in scandal.

An internal document written by Rabbi Stanley Wagner, the coordinator of the Denver Conversion program, was obtained by the Vaad Horabbonim Haolami Leinyonei Giyur founded by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth. This document admits that it is virtually certain that a significant number of the converts did not begin to observe all the mitzvos. It is well known that the opinion of the gedolei haposkim is that a genuine and complete kabolas mitzvos is a requirement for conversion, even bedi'eved. It should be noted that the Denver Joint Conversion Program was a model for subsequent joint conversion programs, including the proposal of the Ne'eman Commission in Israel that was approved by the Israeli Knesset. Even though this program was strongly condemned by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, the Jewish Agency sponsored conversion Ulpanim that are operating in Israel, and the Special Conversion Courts cooperate and convert graduates of these courses in defiance of the ruling of Chief Rabbinate.

It was felt strongly that Denver needed a tikkun and that therefore the new mikveh in East Denver should allow no conversions whatsoever. This would ensure that no non-halachic conversion was performed in the mikveh -- and that many new people would come to use the mikveh (see below). Another reason not to allow any conversions was that it was felt that proper conversions require a beis din kovu'a vechoshuv and no such beis din exists in Denver.

Before embarking on the MOED project, Rabbi Hillel Goldberg consulted with many rabbonim on the no-conversion policy. They all told him that if the no-conversion policy were a public, open policy, and that if it were made perfectly clear up front before taking a contribution from any non-Orthodox Jew, everyone agreed that there was no need to allow such use of the mikveh.

This policy was not adopted without sacrifice. A promised $75,000 contribution was withheld -- and made conditional upon a change of the no-conversion policy. A major Jewish foundation turned down MOED's application for a grant due to its no-conversion policy. Many thought the mikveh would never be finished due to the policy, and they pressured to change the policy. However the mikveh was completed five years ago, and there has never been a single conversion done in MOED.

Another reason for the no-conversion policy: Most non-frum Jews have heard of mikveh only in conjunction with conversion. They have little or no knowledge of taharas mishpochoh.

One idea behind the mikveh was that if a no-conversion policy were in place, many non-frum Jews would begin to ask why this mikveh was needed at all. That question would generate much potentially positive discussion about the primary purpose of mikveh. And out of that discussion, some otherwise non-frum people would begin to use the mikveh. This indeed has happened.

As recently as this year, various communal bodies and rabbis try to pressure MOED to change its conversion policy. With MOED nicely accepted by a number of otherwise non-frum practitioners of taharas hamishpochoh, with the mikveh having no deficit and no debt, with the rabbinic committee of the mikveh firmly against any such change -- these pressures go nowhere.

Using Orthodox Mikvehs for Non-Halachic Conversions

In 5747 (1987) Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv shlita issued guidelines about the non-Orthodox use of mikvehs in general. It should be noted that the vast majority of the mikvo'os are built and maintained by the Orthodox since only they use them on a year-round basis, which is enough to support their existence.

HaRav Eliashiv said then (Yated Neeman 7 Shvat, 5747): The Conservatives should not be allowed to use mikvo'os under Orthodox control to perform conversion ceremonies.

For its own reasons, as explained above, the Mikveh of East Denver did not allow any conversions whatsoever.

The Vaad HaRabbonim LeGiyur commends the directors of the Mikveh of East Denver for their mesiras nefesh in building a mikveh and maintaining the highest standards and ensuring that no michsholim come out of it.

It should be noted that many of those who perform non- halachic conversions cite the fact that the ceremony was performed in an Orthodox mikveh as a specious proof of the validity of the ritual. For example, the internal document of the Denver Joint Conversion program prominently cites the kashrus of the mikveh in which the conversions were performed. Another example was in 1993 when the Israeli Conservative movement sought the use of the mikveh in Kibbutz Chanaton for conversions, they wrote, "The very fact of the demand by the Conservative kibbutz for a mikveh is proof of the movement's serious relationship to halachah."


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