Saturday, July 20, 2013

How Algiers got its mikveh

Was there or wasn't there a mikveh (ritual bath)  in Algiers? Apparently one was built in the late 1950s at the behest of chief rabbi Fingerhut, who came from Strasbourg to run the La Bouzareah Yeshiva between 1955 - 60.

The Jewish women of Algiers evidently took coexistence with their Muslim neighbours seriously: they had a bath set aside for them in the Moorish Baths near the Bab el Oued market. But according to a little snippet from Infojuive (May/June 2013), the Consistoire (the French-based authority which ran the Algerian Jewish community) determined that the Jews of Algiers should have their own mikveh.

Infojuive says that the new mikveh was built by an Italian builder friend of Joseph Dahan, who had once asked him for a jerrycan of petrol for his van when he was going through tough financial times. The Italian builder was himself indebted to Dahan and began constructing the mikveh in a small courtyard adjoining the synagogue on the rue de Dijon.

The mikveh was finished in 1958 when it was officially opened. It was little used, however. Who could blame the good Jewish women of Algiers - they probably much preferred the steamy atmosphere of the Moorish baths.

In any case, within three years, the Jews of Algeria had begun their mass exodus.   


Sylvia said...

I doubt this story. There were consistoires in Algeria since the 19th century they waited until 1958 to build a mikveh? besides, very few Jews associated wityh Consistoire. Those "indigenous Jews" as the French Jews called them had their own set up and private synagogues and never associated with the consistoires (hint: Ashkenazi rabbis). Perhaps in a particular neighborhood they didn't have a mikveh but the notion that they didn't have one in all of Algiers sounds strange.

bataween said...

There is no doubt that the Jews had mikvehs - but this article is saying they were located in the Moorish Baths and not at the synagogues.

Sylvia said...

The mikve doesn't have to be at the synagogue. It could be in a private house. I know people who have a mikve in their basement.
Men also use a mikve, and there is also a need of a mikve for ustensils. And there were different communities that didn't mingle among themselves in Algeria - such as the Livornese, the juifs indigenes, the French French, etc. They couldn't all be going to the same place.

I was responding to your question "was there or wasn't there"? I thought you were saying there wasn't.

The most assimilated woman had to go to the mikve at least once in her lifetime for her wedding. Mikve and Hammam were part of the mandatory ritual that preceded the wedding ceremony. While she dipped, her female family members and close friends enjoyed a good scrubbing at the hammam as part of the grooming for the festivities, not to mention the fun.

Given a choice - and an opportunity - I know where I would go:)