‘Holland’s oldest mikvah’ may have been mislabeled, museum says

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) – A structure thought to be Holland’s oldest mikvah may have had nothing to do with Judaism, according to a Dutch museum.

Management of the Limburgs Museum in the South of the Netherlands wrote this month on its Dutch-language website that its exhibition of a 13th century rectangular basin may be a ritual bath, or mikvah, as previously advertised, but “theoretically could also not be a mikvah at all, but the cellar of a 13th century government building.”

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The change came following an article published by the Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad, Holland’s largest Jewish weekly also known as NIW, which revealed that researchers were never certain that the structure was really used as a mikvah for ritual immersions by Jews.

The city of Venlo, where the museum is located, has spent approximately $2 million on excavating and preparing the structure for exhibition since its discovery in excavations nine years ago, according to Dutch media.

NIW also revealed that Venlo’s municipal archaeologist, Jacob Schotten, was instructed by his superiors at the municipality not to publish alternative theories as to the original function of the structure. Sef Derkx, a spokesperson for the museum, told NIW his institution would hold a scientific symposium later this year to look into the issue, which is now described as “the Mikvah Mystery” on the museum’s Dutch website.

But the museum’s English-language website still states that the exhibition is “the Mikvah of Venlo” and “is the oldest monument in the Netherlands with a solid connection to the Jewish community.”

At the museum, management last week removed a sign calling the exhibit a mikvah and replaced it with a sign that points out several possible historical uses of the building. A video about Jewish bathing rituals also has been removed.

The historical remnants were found in 2004 and reassembled at the museum in 2011. A spokesperson for the museum said the structure was “an important archeological find” regardless of whether it was used as a mikvah.

Before doubts emerged, the structure was regarded as rare proof that the Netherlands had a robust Jewish presence even before the 16th century arrival of refugees from the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions.