MK Aliza Lavie, in conjunction with the ITIM religious services advocacy and advice group, has proposed a law to forbid mikve attendants from interrogating women seeking to immerse themselves about their level of personal religious practice.
“Over the years, a norm has developed in which at certain mikvaot women are forced to answer and undergo tests as a condition before immersing in a way that intrudes the private and personal life of women wishing to immerse,” says the introduction to the bill.
In Jewish law, women must immerse in a ritual bath, or mikve, every month after their period as well as on other occasions, and specific and detailed rules govern the ritual of immersion. According to ITIM director and Orthodox rabbi Seth Farber, attendants often question women about personal issues relating to their preparedness for the mikve.
ITIM receives a handful of complaints every month on the issue, and other organizations receive similar reports, he said.
On occasion, attendants refuse women permission to immerse.
Lavie said that in most situations, it was the municipal rabbi who had taken it upon himself to instruct the mikve attendants, who are always female, to question women wishing to immerse.
humiliate and disparage women and injure her rights to dignity and privacy,” the Yesh Atid MK said in explaining why she has proposed the bill. “There are many women who are offended by such personal questions and inspections which are carried out without their permission.”
Lavie noted that the “inspections” were carried out just as the women are about to go into the mikve and are wrapped only in a towel, and “intrude into the religious autonomy of the woman.”
The bill, if passed, would prohibit mikve attendants from questioning and checking women wishing to immerse, including forbidding them from asking about their menstruation dates, sex lives and contraceptive methods they may use, and from inspecting their bodies.
Under the terms of the legislation, any woman who is so questioned and then denied use of the mikve by an attendant will be able to sue the local religious council, which operates and maintains the mikvaot and employs the attendants.
“The time has come for Jewish laws pertaining to the dignity of one’s fellow human beings enter the consciousness of the religious establishment,” Farber said.
He noted that some women welcome the questions of the attendants in order to clarify any issues of Jewish law they may be unsure of, in order that the immersion will be considered valid.
Farber said the bill was not meant to prevent women being able to receive the advice and help of attendants but simply to prevent them from questioning and inspecting women who wish to immerse without being subject to this treatment.