A mikve, the Jewish ritual bath [Illustrative].
(photo credit: CHABAD.ORG)
Women who try to immerse in publicly funded mikvaot, or ritual baths, without the presence of an attendant sometimes face harassment, illegal demands to sign accident-waiver forms and even get sent to facilities that have not been cleaned.
According to the ITIM religious services organization, local rabbinates in Jerusalem and Ra’anana have systematically tried to thwart the right of women to immerse alone, while other rabbinates have adopted similar practices.
Religious Jewish women immerse in a mikve once a month after their menstrual cycle. Traditionally, an attendant is present to ensure the immersion is performed correctly.
In June of last year, the attorney-general ordered the Religious Services Ministry and local rabbinates to allow women to immerse alone should they wish to do so, but it appears that those orders have been flouted in several cities.
ITIM says it has received more than 50 complaints in the last six months from women who were denied the right to immerse alone.
During a hearing on the issue at the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women on Monday, Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria listed some of the complaints that had reached her office.
In one incident, mikve attendants argued with a woman who wanted to immerse alone. When the woman persisted, she was told that she could immerse only in one of the mikvaot in the building that had not been cleaned.
Azaria noted that other women seeking to immerse alone have complained that mikve attendants have shouted at them, been abusive and deliberately left the door to the mikve room open in order to embarrass them.
In Jerusalem, mikve attendants require that women seeking to immerse alone sign an accident-waiver form, which declares that if the woman slips and hurts herself in the mikve room, the Jerusalem Rabbinate is not responsible for any damages.
The form, women are told, needs to be dated and signed and will be kept by the mikve attendants. The woman in question is also asked to write down her personal state identification number.
Azaria – who initiated the committee hearing and argued that the requirement is being used as a form of deterrence against women asking to immerse alone – stated that these actions constitute a severe invasion of privacy by the local rabbinate and called on the Religious Services Ministry to ensure that the Jerusalem Rabbinate cease the practice.
The legal adviser to the ministry said that the document is unknown to them and that they would deal with the issue.
Chairman of the Jerusalem Rabbinate Yehoshua Yishai denied that the form is intended to deter women from asking to immerse alone, saying it is simply designed to protect the rabbinate from claims of damages by any woman who injures herself in the mikve room when an attendant is not present.
ITIM says that women in Ra’anana have also encountered problems when seeking to immerse alone and that the local rabbinate there has a firm policy to deny such requests, despite the attorney-general’s ruling and the regulations of the Religious Services Ministry.
According to ITIM, the Ra’anana Rabbinate official in charge of mikvaot stated that municipal Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Haim Peretz had ruled that women could not immerse alone and therefore mikve attendants refused to accede to such requests.
Chairman of the Ra’anana Rabbinate Aryeh Friedman denied that they had a policy of preventing women from immersing alone. He said its policy was to offer alternatives to women making such requests before allowing them to immerse alone, such as use of a cloak when immersing or calling the mikve attendant into the room only after the woman is already in the mikve waters.
Friedman said that if women reject such offers, they are allowed to use the mikvaot alone.
He also said that the rabbinate has to ensure that it is not exposed to legal liabilities if a woman injures herself while using the mikve facilities alone and that Health Ministry regulations require the presence of an attendant to ensure the hygiene of the mikve pools.
ITIM, however, insists that women should not be required to engage in negotiations as to how they would like to immerse.
The group also noted that regulations set down by the Religious Services Ministry state explicitly that while mikve attendants are allowed to sensitively tell women that if they immerse without a mikve attendant, they alone will be responsible for the validity of the immersion and they are not allowed to persistently plead or argue with women who seek to immerse alone.