A mikve, the Jewish ritual bath [Illustrative].
(photo credit: CHABAD.ORG)
A government proposal to build up to four mikvaot for use by the Reform and Masorti (Conservative) movements appears now to be under way, after the Knesset Finance Committee approved funds for this purpose on Monday.
The committee, headed by senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, approved a request by the Prime Minister’s Office for NIS 10 million for the construction of the mikvaot, to be used by the Reform and Masorti movements for conversion ceremonies.
The allocation of funds is part of a compromise solution proposed by the government in the face of legislation passed at the behest of UTJ to ban the progressive Jewish denominations from using public mikvaot for this purpose.
The funds were approved in an obliquely worded request by the Prime Minister’s Office to the Finance Committee which said that the money was needed for projects “to strengthen ties with Diaspora Jewry.”
Jewish leaders in North America have been extremely critical of the recently approved law regarding non-Orthodox use of public mikvaot, which has further strained relations between Israel and the Diaspora that were already highly fraught due to the failure to implement the agreement to create a government recognized pluralist prayer space at the Western Wall.
In order to allow UTJ’s law to pass, the attorney general’s office said that the government must put in place a solution for the Reform and Masorti Movements conversions so that the legislation not be deemed discriminatory by the High Court of Justice.
The legislation was originally introduced by Gafni in order to circumvent a decision of the Supreme Court which ruled in February that the ban on non-Orthodox converts using public mikvaot was discriminatory and illegal.
Gafni initially stated publicly that he was even opposed to this proposal and any public funding towards mikvaot for the Reform and Masorti movements, but in allowing the funding request on Monday to be passed it appears he decided not to fight the deal.
The opaque wording of the funding request and the total 40 seconds it took to explain the request in committee and vote on it indicates that the fiery UTJ MK was reluctant to be associated with the funding allocation.
The request added that “the connection with Diaspora Jewry and their feeling of partnership with the Zionist project is a strategic asset of the first order for the State of Israel,” and said that this issue had become “sensitive and complex” in recent years.
“This issue needs to be dealt with efficiently and sensitivity for the task before us, deepening and demonstrating the principles perspective that the State of Israel is the home of all Jews around the world,” the request added. According to the terms of UTJ’s legislation, the new law preventing the Reform and Masorti movements using public mikvaot will only go into effect nine months after the law is passed, in order to allow time for the new mikvaot to be built.
Anat Hoffman, director of the Israel Reform Action Center which brought the original appeal to the Supreme Court, said on Tuesday that she did not believe the mikvaot would be built in nine months time or that four mikvaot would cost only NIS 10 million.
If the mikvaot will not be built by the time the law comes into effect, she said IRAC would file a petition to the High Court against the legislation on the grounds that it is discriminatory.
The Masorti Movement declined to comment on the approval of the money by the Finance Committee.
Director of the Masorti Movement Yizhar Hess said however that he did not believe it would be possible to build four mikvaot in nine months, given the regulations and bureaucracy surrounding construction in Israel.
He added that the Masorti Movement would support a petition to the High Court against the recently approved law if the mikvaot are not completed in such time.
Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie reiterated her opposition to the legislation, which she described as unnecessary and offensive, but said that the approval of the funds for the new mikvaot was welcome.
“If not for this undemocratic process that sought to circumvent the Supreme Court and discriminate against groups using public mikvaot, Gafni would not have been required, through various improvisations, to transfer this money for the [progressive] Jewish denominations,” said Lavie.
“However, it is welcome news that the state has not allowed this stain to remain without a solution, and this is a reasonable alternative.”
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