(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Center for Women’s Justice has welcomed a decision by the High Court of
Justice demanding that Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi, Chief Rabbi
Yona Metzger and the Council of the Chief Rabbinate explain within 45 days why
they have barred single women from public ritual baths.
Under Jewish law,
married women must immerse themselves in a mikve following the completion of
their menstrual cycle, before they are permitted to have sexual relations with
their husbands again.
But the Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ) says that
many unmarried women also seek to use a mikve for different purposes, including
immersion before Yom Kippur or going up to the Temple Mount, for which Jewish
law requires immersion, as well as religiously observant, unmarried women who
have sexual relations with their partner.
However, the Chief Rabbinate
argues that single women, whether they are unmarried, divorced or widowed, are
forbidden by Jewish law from immersing in a mikve and that public mikvaot are
for the exclusive use of married women.
Metzger reiterated this stance in
a 2008 letter to rabbinate-employed rabbis asking them to instruct mikve
attendants to refuse entry to the mikvaot to unmarried women “under any
CWJ says that mikve attendants, employed by the rabbinate
at all public mikvaot, routinely question women wishing to use the facilities
about their marital status and refuse entry to those who are
In addition, CWJ claims that many women who wish to marry in a
non- Orthodox ceremony and immerse in the ritual bath before the wedding, as
required by Jewish law, are also refused entry to mikvaot.
that these practices contravene Israeli law pertaining to freedom of religion
and protection against religious coercion, constitutes an invasion of privacy,
and is also discriminatory, since men of any marital status, as well as married
women, may use mikvaot without hindrance.
The High Court issued an order
last Tuesday demanding that the state explain why it does not permit women who
want to immerse in a mikve to do so without being questioned as to their
“The state has no right to impose its values on these women,”
said Susan Weiss, the founding director of CWJ, speaking to The Jerusalem Post
“This issue is also a microcosm for the many human rights
problems women face in this country and highlights the egregious power the
rabbinate has over women. It is right that they should have to account and
justify their power over us proves how egregious,” Weiss asserted.
also pointed out that mikvaot are publicly funded.
“The bottom line is
that we are asking state-funded authorities to refrain from becoming involved in
women’s personal reasons for wanting to immerse themselves in a mikve, and to
recognize that each woman has the right to choose for herself,” she
In general, Orthodox rabbis are extremely reluctant to permit
unmarried women to use mikvaot due to concern that it could be seen as giving
rabbinic sanction to extra-marital sex, forbidden by Jewish law.
prohibition is of a rabbinic, and so slightly less severe, nature, whereas
having sexual relations without having immersed in a mikve is prohibited by the
Torah and incurs the punishment of “spiritual excommunication.”
observant women, who despite the prohibition on sex out of wedlock nevertheless
have sexual relations with their partners, therefore wish to mitigate their
infraction of Jewish law by immersing.
During the times of the First and
Second Temples, women were accustomed to use mikvaot in order to pray at the
Temple and to engage in other rituals.
However, the rabbis of the 10th
century CE forbade unmarried women from immersing.
This prohibition was
enacted so that men would not be encouraged to think that it would be
permissible to have sex with a woman who had immersed.
Rabbis have also
refused to permit unmarried women to immerse for the purposes of visiting the
Temple Mount, which according to Jewish law can only be done after visiting a
mikve, out of concern that it could act as a gateway for permission to immerse
for the purposes of having extra-marital sex.
CWJ argues that regardless
of the issues with Jewish law, state bodies have no legal right to prevent
someone from using public facilities. Weiss also argued that the increase in
incidents of discrimination against women in the public domain on religious
grounds is in part caused by a failure to protect women’s legal rights, and that
the rabbinate’s refusal to allow unmarried women to use mikvaot is yet another
example of the state sanctioning the violation of these rights.
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