Israel’s putting out an unwelcome mat

The controversial mikvah bill that was proposed by United Torah Judaism – the Ashkenazi haredi party –passed its third reading on Tuesday and now it is the law of the land. This new law will allow the local rabbinates to decide who can use the state funded mikvot and effectively bans Reform and Masorti (Conservative) converts from immersing in them.

The law was proposed by UTJ as a reaction to the Supreme Court decision that opened the public mikvot up to the movements because the practice of banning the liberal movements from using them was discriminatory and illegal. But every step forward for religious pluralism means an immediate attack from the haredim who do not want to give up the strangle hold they have over religious life in Israel.

Because of the opposition to the mikvah bill, the government promised that four new mikvot situated around the country would be built. The catch is that they would be funded by the Jewish agency. The haredim oppose any state funding of anything for the non-Orthodox because that could be seen as official recognition by the government. This is the reason that they vehemently oppose the third section of the Kotel.

This commitment to build the four mikvot was not incorporated in the bill but the implementation has been postponed to allow for the mikvot to be built. Anyone who lives in Israel knows that this is a vastly unrealistic time frame. The liberal movements also strongly oppose the Jewish Agency funding the new mikvot. The Jewish Agency’s core budget is funded by the North American federations and that would make Diaspora Jews (a majority of whom are Reform and Conservative) self-funding the mikvot.

The Director of the Reform movement in Israel, Rabbi Gilad Kariv told The Jerusalem Post: “The law breaches the clear promise of the prime minister not to legislate against the progressive denominations.” The new law is effectively doing that.

“It would appear from the actions of this government, and from the prime minister in particular that despite the statements, there is a willingness to dismiss many of the Jewish people for political expediency,” said Rabbi Andy Sacks, the director of the Israeli Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.

How can we ask Diaspora Jews to support Israel, donate money, visit, and send us their children if we continue to put out the unwelcome mat? The answer may be that we can’t.

 “I am afraid we are approaching a point of no return. Will these young people who love Israel continue to give full support when each they do so, their own authenticity is questioned,” said Sacks

Diaspora leaders are expressing their disapproval but there is still time for the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to declare the law discriminatory and illegal and prevent its implementation. For the sake of Israel’s democracy and to prevent an unhealable breach in the relations with world Jewry, let’s pray that he does.