Yidsville had a small but dedicated Jewish community. There was one Orthodox synagogue, led by Rabbi Well, a day school, women’s mikveh, kosher butcher shop, pizza store and restaurants.
The mikveh in the community was old and in desperate need of renovation. A committee was set up to raise the necessary funds. A number of donors provided significant funding for the cause, but not enough to embark on the project.
The committee met with Rabbi Well, and decided to levy a building fee of $2,000 on each member family of the community.
A letter was sent out to the community explaining the need to renovate the mikveh and the decision of the Rabbi and the mikveh committee to levy a building fee.
A few days later, Rabbi Well received a letter from Mr. Elman:
Dear Rabbi Well,
I applaud your efforts in renovating the mikveh; it is truly in need of repair. I contributed generously to the maintenance of the mikvah throughout the years. Two years ago, though, my beloved wife passed away, so that I no longer have any use for the mikveh. As such, I don’t feel that I should have to pay the building fee for the renovations. I am happy to enclose a $250 donation towards the cause, as I often did, but feel that the $2,000 fee is excessive for me.
Rabbi Well invited Mr. Elman to discuss the issue with him. “I understand your tender feelings, but the $2,000 fee is being levied on all members of the shul,” explained Rabbi Well. “We did not differentiate between those who use the mikveh on a monthly basis and those who barely use it, or those who no longer have a need.”
“Why should that be?” asked Mr. Elman. “I’m proud to be a member of the shul and support all its activities, but this is not a shul project. Unfortunately, it has no relevance for me any longer.”
“It may not be a shul project, but it is a community project,” replied Rabbi Well. “You are part of the Jewish community in Yidsville, and, as such, we expect you to participate fully in the mikveh renovations.”
“But it doesn’t seem fair to me!” exclaimed Mr. Elman. “I am willing to discuss the issue with Rabbi Dayan, though.”
“Certainly,” said Rabbi Well.
Rabbi Well and Mr. Elman met with Rabbi Dayan and asked: “Does Mr. Elman have to participate with the community in the mikveh renovation fund?”
“This question was addressed 700 years ago by Mahari Mintz [Responsa #7], as to whether elderly couples have to participate in building a mikveh,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “He ruled that since the mikveh is a communal need, every community member can be required to participate, even if he does not have a direct need.” (Rama 163:3)
“What is the basis for this?” asked Mr. Elman.
“The Mishnah [B.B. 7b] teaches that all members of a joint courtyard have to participate in expenditures needed for the proper functioning of the courtyard,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Similarly, all townspeople have to participate in expenditures needed for the proper functioning of the city. This is because the townspeople are considered partners in the town’s endeavors.”
“But since I no longer have a wife,” argued Mr. Elman, “I’m not a partner at all in this endeavor!”
“Maahari Mintz gives two reasons for his ruling,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “First, the mikveh is an essential part of any Jewish community. Thus, by definition, it is incumbent upon anyone who is a part of the Jewish community. Second, there certain times that even older people might need to use the mikveh.”
“It seems, though, that whether I have to pay might depend on the two reasons of the Mahari Mintz,” Mr. Elman pointed out. “According to the first reason I understand that I have to pay, but it would seem that according to the second reason I shouldn’t have to, since I have no need at all.”
“The SM”A (163:32) accepts the first rationale as the primary reason,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “Thus, even someone who has absolutely no need at all must participate in the mikveh fund. The Chasam Sofer [O.C. #193] seems to require also some need, as Mahari Mintz‘s second reason, but, you also have an occasional need for visiting family, daughters and granddaughters.”
“Would anything that affects many people be considered a communal endeavor?” asked Mr. Elman.
“Not always,” added Rabbi Dayan. “For example, if homeowners needed to hire an advocate to lobby against real estate taxes, those who are not homeowners would not need to share in this expense, since this in not per se a communal issue.” (See Rosh, Responsa 6:9, cited in Rama 163:6; Emek Hamishpat, Hilchos Shecheinim, #44).
About the Author: Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail email@example.com.
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