jewish ritual bath (mikve).
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Dov Lipman called on the Religious Services Ministry on Tuesday to offer women converting to Judaism the option of not having rabbinical judges in the room when they immerse in the mikve, or ritual bath.
Lipman said he was submitting the request to Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan after speaking with a convert who had three rabbis accidentally see her completely unclothed when they walked into the room before she could cover herself.
In Jewish law, a woman must immerse in a mikve to complete her conversion, and rabbinical judges, who in Orthodox Judaism are men, are supposed to be present to confirm that she did indeed immerse.
The MK said he had looked into the issue of how female converts felt about the presence of men during this ritual, as well as the sources in Jewish law dealing with the requirements for women’s immersion when converting. He said he had discovered rabbinic opinions that the presence of men in the actual room was not an absolute requirement, and on the basis of this research, he had issued his request to Ben-Dahan.
“The idea is to continue with the standard procedure in which the rabbis are in the room, while maintaining the woman’s modesty,” said Lipman. “However, we must give women the option of not having men in the room, since there is a significant percentage of women who, on the heels of being taught the rigid laws of modesty and accepting those rules upon themselves as part of their conversion, feel very uncomfortable immersing in the presence of men.”
He added that “the conversion process, especially immersion in the mikve, should be a spiritual high and not one filled with anxieties and discomfort.”
Lipman cited the opinions of rabbis Shmuel Salant, Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel and Moshe Feinstein – three highly respected Orthodox rabbis from the 19th and 20th centuries – that it is possible to “relax” the requirement for rabbinic judges to be present when a woman immerses.
The Yesh Atid MK’s proposal comes in the wake of prominent modern Orthodox leader Rabbi Barry Freundel being charged with several counts of misdemeanor voyeurism. The rabbi allegedly hid a camera in the changing room of the mikve belonging to Washington’s Kesher Israel synagogue to record female converts as they undressed, although he has pleaded not-guilty to the charges.