OXFORD, England [CHI] — A hundred and fifty people attended the grand opening ceremony of the Oxford Slager Family Mikvah, formally opened last week by the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yona Metzger. The state-of-the-art Mikvah was built by Chabad of Oxford on the site of the Oxford Chabad House, 75 Cowley Rd, and cost over £250,000.
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The event was chaired by Rabbi Eli and Freidy Brackman, directors of Chabad of Oxford, and attended by many dignitaries and leading rabbis, including Dayan Gelly, Head of the London Beth Din, Rabbi N. Sudak, Head of Lubavitch Foundation UK, Lord Mayor of Oxford, Cllr. Susannah Pressel, city councillors, members of the Jewish community and students. As the Mikvah serves also regional communities, there were also present representatives from the Reading Hebrew Congregation.
The Meyer and Shaindy Gutnick Family Mikvah Room
The Mikvah is called the “Slager Family Mikvah” after the name of its principle benefactor, Oxford alumnus David Slager, and the event was attended by his parents Mr. and Mrs. Robert Slager as guest of honours, representing the family.The Mikvah room was dedicated by Rabbi Meyer and Shaindy Gutnick.
The completion of the Oxford Mikvah fulfils a vision by the founders of the Oxford Jewish community in 1845, eleven years before Jews were allowed to study at Oxford. In a questionnaire from Chief Rabbi Nathan Adler there was an enquiry whether there was a Mikvah in Oxford, to which the community of 4 families, 20 individuals and one paid Shochet (ritual slaughterer) responded “not yet”.
A century and a half later with 350 Jewish families and 1,000 Jewish students at the university, Oxford can now proudly answer the Mikvah question positively.
The concern that a Mikvah be built in Oxford also came from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn, 20 years ago, in 1988. The opening of the Mikvah fulfils this request.
The building of the Mikvah is the first in over 700 years and reinstates an important aspect of the medieval Jewish community, which almost certainly had a Mikvah. According to historians, the Mikvah would have most likely been in one of the cellars of the houses on St. Aldate’s, formerly “Great Jewry St”, in Oxford city centre.
Mrs. Helena Harper, representative of the Board of Deputies for Oxford, said “the opening of a Mikvah here in Oxford has the utmost significance for the future of Anglo-Jewry outside the major centres.”
The guest speaker at the Mikvah opening was leading Hasidic feminist and speaker Rebbetzin Rivka Slonim, director of Binghamton Chabad. She captivated the crowd for over an hour explaining why the ritual of Mikvah has such a central place in Jewish communities and even takes precedence over a synagogue. It is the sacredness of sexual intimacy that is one of the reasons for the Mikvah immersion, in addition to enhancing ones relationship, she said.
However, she warned against conflating the feel-good spirituality of Mikvah with the Divine commandment one is fulfilling. Although many find spiritual rejuvenation in the Mikvah, which explains its recent resurgence and popularity, this should not be ones sole motivation, she said.
The Mikvah building was designed by Mr. Kevan Fehler of Stern Thom Fehler architects, the Mikvah bath was designed by Rabbi Gershon Grossbaum, and is under the supervision of the London Beth Din. A committee of women in the Oxford Jewish community, headed by Mrs. Freidy Brackman, supervised the building project and designed the interior of the building.