A mikve, the Jewish ritual bath [Illustrative].
(photo credit: CHABAD.ORG)
The ITIM religious services organization filed a law suit on behalf of several women against the Jerusalem Rabbinate on Wednesday for requiring women who wish to immerse in its mikvaot unaccompanied to sign a disclaimer form.
Religious Jewish women immerse in a mikve once a month after their menstrual cycle, and 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, despite the objections of the Chief Rabbinate and the religious establishment, and it appears that those orders have been flouted in several cities.
ITIM has since received complaints from women seeking to immerse alone that they have faced harassment, demands to sign accident-waiver forms and have even been sent to facilities that have not been cleaned by mikve officials.
The disclaimer forms are framed as accident waiver documents and are later filed by the rabbinate, purportedly for the purpose of being used to defend potential future lawsuits.
But the lawsuit filed on Wednesday to the Jerusalem Administrative Court by Attorneys Elad Caplan and Ella Sakat of ITIM’s legal department argues that the demand for a women seeking to immerse alone to sign a disclaimer form violates her privacy and dignity.
“The time has come that the Jerusalem Municipal Religious Council, which is also the largest of its kind in Israel, will stop putting obstacles and flexing its muscles in front of women whose only wish is to fulfill the mitzva of dipping according to Jewish law, when the High Court has already ruled that they are allowed to so if this is their wish,” ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber said.
“The argument raised by the council, that the form constitutes consent for forgoing the council’s responsibility for physical harm that may be caused women in mikvaot, is lacking any legal basis and if it would be put to the test of legal responsibility, it would anyway fail, since such a disclaimer has no legal bearing,” he said. “Therefore, one may suspect and be concerned that the whole purpose of the form is to create a false appearance and bully women who wish to dip without a balanit [mikve attendant] and bring them to a position where they are concerned that their name will be filed in all sorts of lists compiled by the council.”