A mikve, the Jewish ritual bath [Illustrative].
(photo credit: CHABAD.ORG)
Legislation to circumvent a recent Supreme Court ruling granting access to public mikvaot to the Reform and Conservative movements is set for a vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday for subsequent passage to the Knesset.
Sources in Bayit Yehudi said however that the party would not allow a vote on the bill until the law, which could impact the rights of all women using public ritual baths, is changed to protect previously won gains.
The haredi political parties United Torah Judaism and Shas are still smarting from the government agreement to create a non-Orthodox prayer space at the Western Wall, and have been stung by the unfavorable coverage the deal received in online haredi media.
Progress on legislation against the non-Orthodox movements regarding the mikvaot appears to be important to UTJ, especially so as to draw some of the criticism the haredi received over the unprecedented state recognition afforded the Reform and Conservative denominations though the Western Wall deal.
Senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni drafted the legislation immediately after the Supreme Court ruling last month which said that a ban by local religious councils on non-Orthodox movements using public mikvaot for the ritual immersion of converts was discriminatory and illegal.
Gafni received an exemption for his proposed legislation from the standard requirement of submitting a draft bill to relevant ministries 45 days ahead of a vote in the ministerial committee.
Along with haredi political support, the bill received the backing of Bayit Yehudi lawmakers MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, Nissan Slomiansky, Betzalel Smotrich and Moti Yogev.
The proposed legislation states that mikvaot may only be used in accordance with Jewish law as defined by the Shulchan Aruch, a 1563 codification of Jewish law by Rabbi Yosef Karo, and in accordance with the instructions of the Chief Rabbinate.
It stipulates that preventing someone from using a 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).
Concerns have also been raised that as well as reinstating the ban on non-Orthodox converts using public mikvaot, the proposed law would impose strict terms for women using mikvaot for their ritual monthly immersion.
Recently various groups have campaigned to grant women using mikvaot greater freedom in the way they perform their immersion.
Previously, mikve attendants insisted on questioning women on various requirements of Jewish law before they immersed, and sometimes even insisting on physical examinations.
The Religious Services Ministry two years ago prohibited such practices by mikve attendants if unwanted by the woman wishing to immerse.
The ministry has so far refused to allow women to immerse without the presence of a mikve attendant.
The national-religious lobbying group Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, which has strongly opposed the bill, criticized the Bayit Yehudi MKs for supporting the legislation and for failing to amend it before a vote in the ministerial committee.
“There is not one change in the bill which will guarantee that women, including Orthodox women, will not be negatively impacted by it,” the group said.
“By signing Gafni’s bill, members of Bayit Yehudi are harming their own electorate, half of which are women, and are making the status quo on religious issues even stricter.”
Roni Chazon-Weiss, the head of the Immersion in Quiet organization, also spoke out against the bill, saying that it would harm religious, traditional and nonreligious women who are required to use a mikve before getting married, and accused Bayit Yehudi of abandoning its voters on the issue.
Deputy Defense Minister and Bayit Yehudi MK Eli Ben-Dahan, who ran the Religious Services Ministry in the last government, said however that he would not allow the regulations passed in the last government to be made stricter.
“We will not allow the historic ministry regulations that I passed during the last government to be harmed,” said Ben Dahan. “Responsibility for immersion lies with the woman immersing. During the last Knesset we made great efforts on this an obtained the agreement of the chief rabbis. There is no reason to go backwards instead of forwards on this issue.”
Sources close to the deputy minister said that the party would demand protection for the current rules to be included in the bill or receive the explicit commitment from the chief rabbinate not to revoke them.