Major cities in Israel, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, lack disabled access to mikvaot despite government regulations requiring such accessibility, causes great discomfort to disabled women wishing to use the mikve facilities.
Religious women immerse once a month in a mikve, or ritual bath, a week after their menstrual cycle ends, as part of the religious obligations of family purity, and the precept is a strict requirement within Jewish law.
In 2009, amendments to state building regulations stipulated that all new public buildings be built with access for the physically disabled, while regulations approved in 2012 required that existing public buildings be adapted to provide disabled access.
According to the Religious Services Ministry website, however, numerous large cities have either no accessible mikvaot or not enough for the city’s population size.
In Tel Aviv, home to 400,000 people, not one public mikve is accessible for physically disabled women when according to regulations there should be at least three such mikvaot.
In Jerusalem, with a population of over half a million Jews, there is just one accessible mikve, when it should have five.
In cities such as Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beersheba, Beit Shemesh, Bnei Brak, Holon and numerous others with large populations, there is not even one disabled accessible mikve.
In addition, some of the mikvaot which are supposed to be disabled accessible are only partially accessible, meaning they have accessible entrances, showers and toilets, but the mikve room itself has no mechanism for lowering disabled women into the mikve pool.
Rachel (not her real name) is a young woman who got married two years ago and lives with her husband in Eilat.
But over the last two years, Rachel, who is physically disabled and cannot get into the mikve by herself, found that the lack of a device to lower her into the water made the entire experience extremely uncomfortable and lacking in dignity.
To get into the mikve, Rachel has a special mikve attendant who every month together with Rachel’s carer would have to physically hold and carry her from her wheelchair into the water, and this process alone would take 20 minutes.
“Religious women do this mitzva with faith and for the sake of heaven, but although we’re not like everyone else physically, we deserve to be able to immerse with dignity, and for immersing to not be such a tough thing to do,” Rachel told The Jerusalem Post
“It’s a [religious] obligation for women to immerse, and so it should not feel like this massive burden, and we should be able to immerse independently, quickly and easily.”
Rachel says she knows other women with disabilities who have simply given up going to the mikve because of how uncomfortable the process is when it is not disabled accessible.
Another problem she mentioned is that when she has called the mikve administration before turning up, she has been told that the mikve is accessible, only to discover that the facilities are accessible but the mikve pool itself is not.
Rachel said that on some occasions she could hear other women outside the mikve room who were waiting to immerse but were unaware that a woman with disabilities was in the mikve complaining about the wait, causing her even greater discomfort.
Two months ago, after a battle that began before Rachel was married, an automatic chair was finally installed in the mikve room of the Eilat mikve she uses.
The ITIM religious services advisory organization has been working to advance the cause of mikve accessibility and ensure that the regulations set out in 2009 and 2012 are implemented.
“It is essential that each municipality provides its citizens and in this case the women of its city, with properly accessible mikvaot,” said Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM.
“In the State of Israel, where all Jews should have at least the minimal ability to practice their religion, it is upsetting to discover that women with special needs are requested to travel far and almost forced to give up what they believe is fundamental, as a result of poor management within the Religious Services Ministry.
“It is unconscionable that the Religious Services Ministry hasn’t taken care of this already.
ITIM plans to use all the tools at our disposal to insure that everyone has equal access to the mikvaot in Israel.”
The ministry did not respond by press time.