A mikve, the Jewish ritual bath [Illustrative].
(photo credit: CHABAD.ORG)
The Jerusalem Municipal Court has demanded that the Jerusalem Religious Council stop intimidating women from immersing in the mikve (ritual bath) when they do so without an attendant.
On Tuesday, the court said that the council, the country’s largest religious council, was acting in violation of a court order enabling women to use mikvaot without an attendant.
The council was forcing women to sign “waivers” that included intimate personal information after the High Court of Justice ruled that women are allowed to immerse in a mikve without the rabbinate’s attendant in the room.
Women immersing without an attendant were asked to sign the form with their full name, their ID number and the date on which they entered the mikve, while the form itself asked women to waive any legal claims against the mikve and accept legal responsibility for damages that might ensue from immersion.
According to Jewish law, during a woman’s immersion in the mikve another Jewish woman, aged 12 or above, must be present to make sure that the immerser fulfills all requirements including that her entire body is completely under the water.
Although there are loopholes within Jewish law for women to immerse without anyone in the room, such leniencies are viewed as questionable.
The court rejected the religious council’s claim that the harm to the women was “negligible,” and accepted the ITIM Jewish advocacy organization’s assertion that the waiver was intended to intimidate women from exercising their rights.
According to Rabbi Seth Farber, ITIM director, “This is a great example of how Israel’s democratic institutions can help regulate the radicalization that is taking place in the religious establishment... Left unchecked, the religious council would continue disrespecting the Supreme Court decision.”
During Tuesday’s discussion, which was held at the Jerusalem District Court, Judge Oded Shaham clarified to the representatives of the religious council that the rationale behind the procedure was “far from being convincing” and “creates many [legal] difficulties.”
Shaham suggested to the representatives that the council cease the procedure immediately – and they agreed to do so.
As part of the appeal filed by ITIM, which has also been the leading voice on the original petition to the High Court on the women’s right to immerse, the Religious Services Ministry filed a brief in which it agreed that the Jerusalem Religious Council was using intimidating tactics.
LAST JULY, the Religious Services Ministry told the religious council in a letter that ministry officials strongly criticized the “waiver” procedure: “We think that the intention of this document is to deter women from immersing without the presence of a balanit [mikve attendant], and in this manner to overcome and foil our ministry’s instruction to enable immersing without the presence of a balanit to any woman who wishes to do so... Beyond the above..., this harms the women’s right to personal privacy... We further wish to clarify that from an examination conducted in the Justice Ministry, it arises that the document and the demand to sign it are illegal.”
The women in whose name the appeal by ITIM was submitted commended the announcement by the religious council.
Efrat Gerber-Aran, who was one of the women, said on Wednesday that “it is regrettable that the rabbinate is wasting public money on encumbering the women who wish to immerse and on redundant court hearings.
“Yesterday [Tuesday] was a joyful day for us, the women who immerse, and I hope more and more women will hear about this and know that they have a right to use the mikve and no one can deny this from them,” she said.
Another woman, Yotvat Pierson- Weil, said that “it is hard to overestimate the feeling of happiness and joy that I feel since the court ruling this morning. This is another step in our long and arduous journey on our path to freedom to immerse and to preserve our privacy also in the ritual baths.”
The appeal was led by attorneys Ella Ska’at, Sara Weinberg and Elad Caplan from the ITIM organization.
Farber said: “We are happy that the values of Judaism here overcame radicalized trends within the rabbinical institutions of Israel. This is first and foremost a victory for Judaism. Also, this is another testament to the fact that the struggle for religion in Israel is not lost.”
In 2016, the Religious Services Ministry adopted a regulation that makes it optional for women to have an attendant present during mikve immersion. It was done after women complained of mistreatment by mikve attendants or too rigorous screening.
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