Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett at his party's Central Committee meeting in Moshav Nahalim outside of Petah Tikvah, May 10, 2015.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Four MKs from Bayit Yehudi have signed on to a bill proposed by United Torah Judaism MKs Moshe Gafni and Uri Maklev to circumvent a recent ruling by the Supreme Court allowing the Reform and Conservative movements to use public mikvaot for their conversion ceremonies.
The director of the Reform Movement in Israel, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, called the legislation “absurd,” and expressed disappointment that MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and Nissan Slomiansky had decided to support it, joined by two other Bayit Yehudi lawmakers, Bezalel Smotrich and Moti Yogev The issue stems from a 2007 ruling by the Beersheba Religious Council which refused a request by the Reform movement to use a mikve in the city for the immersion of a convert, following which the Reform movement filed a law suit against the religious council for discrimination.
Although a district court rejected the suit, ruling that the non-Orthodox conversions were private processes and not entitled to use state facilities, the Supreme Court found last week that preventing the Reform and Conservative movements from using the mikvaot was discriminatory and illegal.
Immediately following the ruling, Gafni said he would introduce legislation to prevent the non-Orthodox movements from using public mikvaot for their conversion ceremonies.
The legislation proposed by Gafni and Maklev states that mikvaot can only be used in accordance with Jewish law and in accordance with the instructions of the Chief Rabbinate.
It stipulates explicitly that preventing someone from using the mikve in accordance with the proposed legislation “will not be considered a crime or a civil injustice” as determined by the Law against Discrimination in Products, Services, Entrance to Recreational Facilities or Public Places (2000).
The national-religious lobbying group Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah said that the legislation would harm the rights of women to use the ritual baths, adding that religious services in general should be democratized and not subject to further centralized restrictions. Conservative movements strongly criticized the party and the MKs for failing to support their rights.
Until now, local religious councils which operate public mikvaot, which are funded jointly by the Religious Services Ministry and the local municipality, would not allow non-Orthodox converts to use these facilities.
After completing a conversion course and being accepted by a rabbinical court, converts must immerse in a mikve in front of a panel of three rabbinical judges to complete their conversion.
Kariv said the Reform Movement was “deeply disappointed to see the names of MKs Slomiansky and Moalem on this bill. MK Slomiansky is the chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, but this bill goes against the most basic values of Israel’s laws and values. MK Moalem has carried with her the message of building bridges within Israeli society but this law does the opposite.”
Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah said that the bill, if passed, would further strengthen the control of the haredi parties over religious services.
“In signing Gafni’s bill the members of the [Bayit Yehudi] faction are doing injury to their own voters, half of whom are women, and they will be partners in a deterioration of the religion and state status quo.
“Mikvaot are an excellent example of a religious service that needs to undergo a process of democratization and the creation of less centralization which looks out for only one group.”
The Masorati (Conservative) Movement in Israel, said it was astonished that the Bayit Yehudi MKs would sign up to Gafni’s bill who only recently strongly denounced the settler movement as extremists.
“It appears that fear of the Conservative and Reform [movements] unites the great haters,” said the movement in a statement to the press.
MK Aliza Lavie of Yesh Atid called on coalition MKs not to support the bill, saying that the recent Supreme Court ruling was a breakthrough in “restoring religious services to Israelis,” and overturning a “political injustice.”