A mikva, the Jewish ritual bath [Illustrative].
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The controversial United Torah Judaism bill designed to prevent the Reform and Masorti (Conservative) Movements from using public mikvaot for conversion ceremonies is scheduled for a final vote in the Knesset on Tuesday night.
Efforts by Diaspora leaders are afoot however to have a vote on the bill blocked.
The legislation has generated fury among leaders of the progressive movements in Israel and the US, and other Diaspora leaders as well, who have labeled the bill as discriminatory and an insult to Diaspora Jewry.
Alongside the bill, the government has proposed that the Jewish Agency build up to four mikvaot for the use of the progressive movements in Israel.
The Reform and Masorti movements have said however that they would only accept the proposal if the funds for the mikvaot come from the government and not the core Jewish Agency budget, which is funded exclusively by Diaspora Jewry, in particular the Jewish Federations of North America and United Israel Appeal.
The progressive movements have argued that it would be unacceptable for Diaspora Jewry to be forced to pay for the new mikvaot through the Jewish Agency, given that they are a solution to UTJ’s bill which deliberately seeks to ban the progressive Jewish movements from using public, state funded mikvaot.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that it is likely the Jewish Agency will be asked to fund the mikvaot itself, although this could still change.
The progressive movements have also demanded that the government fund the maintenance of the mikvaot and the salaries of any staff required to operate them.
The government has not however contacted the Reform and Masorti movements directly on the issue to discuss the proposal at all, and as of Monday have not made any proposals on maintenance and running costs.
The bill, introduced by UTJ MK Moshe Gafni, was a response to a High Court of Justice ruling outlawing the policy of local religious councils, which operate public mikvaot, to ban the Reform and Masorti movements from using such mikvaot for conversion ceremonies.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Reform Movement in North America said that the mikve bill was yet another example of the Orthodox religious establishment using state power “to delegitimize” progressive Jews.
“All who believe in Jewish unity must oppose such measures,” said Jacobs. “We are deeply distressed by the Knesset mikvaot bill which would undermine the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing all Jews access to the state funded mikvaot. Further, this bill legislates directly against the Reform and Conservative Movements.”
Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform Movement in Israel, denounced the legislation on Sunday, and said that the progressive movements would oppose efforts to fund the new mikvaot through the Jewish Agency budget.
“The government is spitting in the face of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel and the Diaspora with the mikve bill” he said.
Kariv said that, should it pass, the bill would empty of all meaning recent comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November at the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America that all Jews should feel at home in Israel.