A mikve, the Jewish ritual bath [Illustrative].
(photo credit: CHABAD.ORG)
A bill to bar the Reform and Conservative movements from using public mikvaot for conversion ceremonies was approved in its first reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday by a vote of 42-38.
Following an argument within the coalition about the proposed law on Sunday, it was agreed that the bill would not be advanced to its first reading until changes were made to it to preserve the autonomy of women when using mikvaot.
However, none of the coalition parties or MKs have promised to block the law entirely.
The law was drafted by United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni following a Supreme Court decision last month that stated that local religious councils that operate public mikvaot cannot ban Reform and Conservative rabbis from entering and conducting an immersion ceremony for a convert through the non-Orthodox denominations.
Religious Services Minister David Azoulay spoke out fiercely against the non-Orthodox Jewish denominations when explaining the reasoning for the bill.
“Those who do not accept the authority of the Torah and brazenly trample its commandments cannot claim to represent a stream of the Jewish religion,” said Azoulay.
The minister also alleged that the numbers of people belonging to the non-Orthodox denominations in North America is exaggerated, and that their numbers “are in retreat.”
“They have the right to organize communally, to conduct their ceremonies and all the folklore they want, but Judaism is not theater which you come to in a car or on foot to enjoy,” he continued, adding that all attempts to change religious services guidelines which will not be in accordance with Jewish law will be opposed.
Executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism Rabbi Gilad Kariv denounced the approval of the bill, saying it put the religious establishment and the Israeli public on opposing sides of the battle over religion and state issues.
“Despite the political extortion of the haredi political parties, the majority of the Zionist camp and their pluralistic worldview will be victorious at the end of the day,” said Kariv.
He also decried the haredi parties’ rejection of a compromise solution proposed by the court before its ruling to have the state fund and build mikvaot for the non-Orthodox denominations instead of having them use the existing, publicly funded mikvaot.
On Sunday, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan of Bayit Yehudi as well as Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria led the effort to prevent a reversal of regulations approved by Ben-Dahan two years ago that relaxed the way in which women are able to use mikvaot, and said they would not allow the law to progress without a guarantee that those measures would be preserved.
Following the vote on Wednesday, Azaria repeated her party’s commitment.
“The bill in its current format would harm women who immerse in mikvaot in accordance with their customs and beliefs as has been the case until now,” said Azaria.
“We have stated that we oppose it and insisted that it will not be advanced as long as it harms women.”