Every settlement has its Religious Council to deal with the religious facilities. We were no exception, although, as we were a very small settlement it was officially called a Religious Committee and consisted of three people. I was its Chairman and the other two members were Amram Yifrach and Gershom Nativ. As soon as we were established we had our own note-paper printed and a rubber stamp which was housed in a tiny inked metal box.
Sadly, for many people the most essential building in a community is the sports’ stadium or the cinema; for us it is the Mikva. In fact the building of the Mikva takes preference even over the building of a Synagogue. When we moved to the Memshal there was of course no Mikva there. The British had seen no reason to incorporate a Mikva when they constructed the building. An added seriousness to the matter was that one could not travel at night-time and so on an evening when a woman had to do her ritual immersion, she had to travel with her husband to Jerusalem and this of course did not add to the discreetness.
As soon as the settlers moved into the Memshal, the Ministry of Defence prepared a plan for the building of a Mikva, but unfortunately for over a year, nothing moved. As soon as the Religious Committee was established, we made representations to the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Religious Affairs to expedite the matter. Within a few weeks we received the architects’ plans. When we saw them, we noticed the proximity of the Mikva to one of the dormitory blocks. We would therefore have liked to have moved the Mikva further away from this building but we realised that any change, however small, would cause a further delay. We thus went ahead with the plans we had received.
Some builders were found and they started work. Whilst the constuction was going on, I had meetings with the building contractor. I never realised it was possible to work so slowly and in addition, there were very few workers on the job. They began by excavating, laying the foundations and erecting a number of posts. Some other workers then came to build the walls. They worked much faster and I remember them saying to the first workers, “You spend months putting up a few posts, we build the walls in a few hours!” The roof was then put on and it was then time for the inside work. This was largely the flooring and tiling and there was just about one worker on the job and he went at a snail’s pace. I asked if additional workers could be added but nothing came of that.
The building consisted of one Mikva, two showers, two bathrooms, one toilet and a changing room. Between these various rooms were built internal walls which reached the ceiling, with the exception of the walls between the two bathrooms which stopped about half a meter from the ceiling. There was also an adjacent boiler room, in which a very large boiler was installed.
When all this work was completed, I went to Jerusalem to bring the various experts from the Jerusalem Religious Council to inspect the Mikva. They made their inspection including climbing on to the roof. We can thus see that to be a Mikva inspector, one must not have a fear of heights! They commented to me that the first building to have been constructed in Judea and Samaria was a Mikva at Kfar Etzion. For a Milva to be kasher for women, one has to fill the adjacent pits with rain water. But what happens if one completes a Mikva in the summer season, as it was in our case, when there is no rain? In such a case, there is another method, which admittedly is not quite so good. That is, the use of ice.
There was a factory in Jerusalem which produced big blocks of ice. We therefore ordered an Arab truck to go to Jerusalem and collect this ice. Together with the Arab driver was myself and one other member from our settlement. That very day, on the way to Jerusalem there was an army road block and I assumed they wanted to check the Arab’s identification papers. But for some reason which I don’t know, it was our papers that they wanted to check. Normally I would always carry my papers with me, but I did not have them with me that day. Fortunately, the other settlement member did have his papers and he said he knew me. They let me pass.
We arrived at the ice factory and loaded the blocks of ice onto the truck. We hurried back as quickly as possible - there would be no point if the ice would melt on the way back to Hebron. We immediately threw all the blocks of ice onto the roof of the Mikva. They soon melted and filled the pits, making it a kasher Mikva. One of the settlers commented that he wondered what the Arab thought. We go all the way to Jerusalem to buy ice and then throw it all on a roof to melt!
At a later date, when the rainy season started, one of the Rabbis in charge of Mikvaot in Jerusalem, suggested that we dry out the pits and let them fill with rain water, but we never did this. It was not practical for us. It was the only Mikva in the area and we could hardly close it till it refilled with rain. Supposing there had been a drought?
It is a basic condition that a Mikva must be absolutely leak-proof. One therefore cannot have a plug to empty it. Instead one has a pump. We had some sort of air pump which was complicated to use. As a consequence the women in charge of the Mikva would use some sort of “hit and miss” method until they succeeded each time in emptying the water.
There were often water stoppages in Hebron and this could be serious if one needed to fill the Mikva. On one occasion this occurred on the day before erev Yom Kippur. We knew that a lot of men would want to use the Mikva on erev Yom Kippur - and the Mikva was empty. I therefore went to one of the officials of the Military Government and informed him of the problem. He then called for Chai Sa’adia who worked there as the interpreter to Arabic, and the latter telephoned to the Arab Hebron Municipality and told them to give us water. Within a few minutes the water was restored and the Mikva duly filled.
One evening there was a water stoppage - and that night a woman needed to use the Mikva. I can’t remember whether at the time the Mikva was completely empty or partially filled. That night Meir and Shoshana Peretz spent hours upon hours filling a commercial size saucepan with water from the well situated in the Memshal and carting it over to the Mikva. I don’t know how many journeys that had to make but it was a very very large number indeed. In the middle of the night they woke me up to ask whether it was sufficient for the water level to be at the bottom of the hole joining the Mikva with the pit or if it had to cover the entire hole. I suggested that they telephone Rabbi Zacks who was far more competent to answer this question than I was.
One day we found that for some reason the water in the Mikva was black. I have no idea what happened. Rabbi Zacks was that day in Hebron and I asked him to rule on the Mikva. He said that it could not be used.
This Mikva served the settlers until they moved over to Kiryat Arba. I assume that afterwards, so long as the army was present in the Memshal building, they found some purpose for it - maybe a jacouzzi!.
Most inhabited areas in Israel have an Eruv around the entire city or moshav or settlement to enable the inhabitants to carry outside their house on Shabbat. Some cities have even more than one Eruv covering the same area, erected by “rival” Rabbinical authorities. Usually, the Eruv consists of a wire strung across the top of vertical poles. Some settlements have a fence around them and this is even a better form of Eruv. The Memshal fell into this latter category.
When I began to inspect this fence around the Memshal, I saw that there were places where, although from a security point of view the fence was adequate, it was lacking for an Eruv. I rectified this by inserting planks of wood between the wires in the fence. For some reason. sometimes these planks disappeared - maybe some people wanted them for a barbecue! - and I had to do the work again. I would inspect this fence every Friday. We also did Eruv Hatzerot using a box of Matzot.
We also had a plan to make an Eruv around the Cave of Machpelah including the Jewish shops in the area but sadly nothing came of this whilst we were in the Memshal.
At that period, outside the Memshal there was no Eruv and so when we went to the Cave of Machpelah on Shabbat, we were unable to carry anything. Some of the settlers preferred to walk around with weapons and the question was raised whether this was permitted on Shabbat. When you have a question - ask the Rabbi! We therefore submitted this question to Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who was then Chief Rabbi of the Army.
In his reply he wrote (to the best of my recollection) that although the Shulchan Aruch forbids an ordinary person to carry weapons outside on Shabbat, the Aruch Hashulchan permits it for a soldier, since for him it is an adornment. Rabbi Goren held that a person who throughout the week would walk around Hebron with a gun, could be regarded like a soldier in this respect. However he attached a number of conditions. It had to be carried over his shoulder, the bullet case had to be attached to the gun and we only use this ruling to go to the Cave of Machpelah.
Unfortunately rulings like these are often abused, and some of the settlers started carrying weapons not in accordance with these limitations. This caused Shlomo Aviner to bring out a page reiterating these limitations and, as could be expected, this caused an argument with another settler (who I intentionally won’t name).
The lack of an Eruv outside the Memshal led to some interesting situations. One Shabbat we were returning from the Cave of Machpelah when an Arab stopped us to give us a Mezuzah parchment which he had found. We were in a quandary. If we refused to accept it, he would almost certainly throw it away. On the other hand we could not carry it. The Shulchan Aruch deals with the situation of finding on Shabbat outside the Eruv, a Sefer Torah or Tephillin, but it does not bring down a Mezuzah. We solved the problem, by at first two people carrying it together, a method which reduces the prohibition, and afterward giving it to a young child to carry.
On another occasion a Cohen, obviously not realising that Cohanim did not enter the Cave of Machpelah, came with us one Shabbat morning. When we realised that he was a Cohen, we moved our service to just by the entrance door of the Cave of Machpelah so that he could stand just outside. He was also outside the Eruv and so we could not pass him a Siddur. Someone therefore stood just on the inside holding a Siddur for him to read from. We moved a table just inside the door for Reading the Torah and in this way the Cohen could also be called up.
When one is used to an Eruv, and suddenly one is in an area where there is no Eruv, one can easily carry outside by force of habit. This indeed happened with some of the settlers one Shabbat. We were returning from the Cave of Machpelah, and as we approached the gate of the Memshal, we saw that some women had come out of the gate to meet us wheeling a pram. Rabbi Levinger pointed out to them that they had left the Eruv and they would not be able to return the pram on Shabbat. The problem was solved by a small child wheeling the pram back in.
With the development of the area, there is now an Eruv encompassing all the areas of Kiryat Arba together with all the Jewish areas of Hebron.
As the saying goes, “A Jewish home is a Kosher home.” One of the functions of the Religious Committee was to ensure that all the products in the settlers’ grocery shop were under Rabbinical supervision. I accordingly went around the shop checking the items one by one and then publicising a list of things not under Rabbinical supervision. Amongst the items was honey made by one of the settlers, but it only had Rabbinical supervision for Pesach. As a person who is very “Yekki” in these matters, it accordingly appeared on my list. Needless to say, the settler who manufactured it did not like this!
One item that I found in this shop was some baking powder manufactured by some Arabs in Bethlehem. It had no Rabbinical supervision and I decided to try and investigate whether or not it was kasher. I took a taxi and went around Bethlehem trying to track down the manufacturer. I was directed from address to address but did not succeed in obtaining my objectives. At least I had a tour around the back streets of Bethlehem! I then inquired at Hechel Shlomo and they showed me a leaflet in German that baking powder could contain pig (“schwein”) products. To verify and clarify matters appertaining to kashrut, I had a number of meetings with Rabbi Efrati who was in charge of Kashrut for the Chief Rabbinate and whose office was in Hechel Shlomo.
When the settlers received the building next to the Cave of Machpelah and opened a restaurant, we “established” a “Hebron Rabbinate” and a Hechsher, signed by Rabbi Levinger was given to this restaurant. Before Pesach, it was kashered so that it could be open on Chol Hamoed Pesach for the numerous visitors who would come to Hebron on this days. On fast days the restaurant was closed and a notice was hung up that the restaurant was closed that day due to a fast.
The Jerusalem Talmud relates of a King who sent Rabbi Yehudah a valuable pearl with the request that he return him something equally valuable. He sent the king a Mezuzah. The king said that he sent something valuable but the Rabbi gave him something of no value. The Rabbi replied “You sent me something that I have to guard but I sent you something that will guard you.” On the outside of the Mezuzah are the letters shin, daled, yud - which also stand for “Shomer Daltot Yisrael” - guards the doors of the Jews.
When one entered the original Bet Hamedrash in the Memshal, one would notice that there were two Mezuzot in front the door! When I asked about this, I was told that since there were double doors, even though they were indeed very close to each other, each door required its own Mezuzah and hence the two Mezuzot.
After the Six Day War, Bank Leumi opened a branch in Hebron. On the door of this Branch the Religious Committee affixed a Mezuzah.
The day we received the building next the Cave of Machpelah, we went down to affix Mezuzot on all the doors. At the same time we wanted to replace the sign that the former Arab tenant had affixed at the entrance. No - it was not in Arabic. It was just in Hebrew - “Misada Hashalom....” (the Restaurant of Peace) and in English “Hebron Rest House.” This was obviously to attract Jewish tourists. It seems money came before politics! However Rabbi Levinger urged caution. The extreme leftists in the Government, might summon a meeting of the Government and try and cancel our lease on the building. At a later date the signs were changed. When we affixed the Mezuzot, we also made a tour of the building. There were two toilets there, one of them the conventional type, the other the Arab type - a hole in the ground. The fact that there was a conventional type, showed they realised what type of facilities tourists expected.
With the building of Kiryat Arba, the Religious Committee became the Religious Council and of course, its activities greatly expanded.