Non-Orthodox Jews can use mikvaot for conversion

Deputy religious services minister says ritual baths can be used by Conservative, Reform groups for conversion process.

Mikve (R370) (photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
Mikve (R370)
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan said on Wednesday that ritual baths, or mikvaot, could be used by Conservative and Reform groups for their conversion process, even though the Chief Rabbinate does not recognize conversions conducted by non-Orthodox Jewish denominations.
Ben-Dahan was speaking during a hearing of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee, which was reviewing the operations of the Religious Services Ministry.
Non-Orthodox converts have until now been prevented by the Religious Services Ministry and the Chief Rabbinate from using state-run mikvaot.
In response to a question from attorney Yizhar Hess, the director of the Conservative movement in Israel, Ben- Dahan said that “any Jew from any denomination, including Conservative and Reform Jews, can use the mikvaot, even for the purposes of conversion.”
Although the state recognizes Conservative and Reform converts as Jewish, the rabbinate does not, thereby preventing them from marrying a Jewish partner in Israel.
“Religious services are for all Jews in the State of Israel and everyone can use these services,” said Ben-Dahan. “I emphasize that the religious services which are provided are within the framework of Jewish law,” he added, however.
Although a certain amount of confusion reigned after Ben-Dahan’s comments were made public, Hess cautiously welcomed the new position saying that he hoped the deputy-minister “would stand be his guarantee: to allow Reform and Conservative converts to immerse in mikvaot throughout the country as part of the completion of their conversion process.”
Addressing a separate topic, the deputy minister said that he and the ministry did not oppose lengthening the period of summer daylight-saving time, something which has been a source of controversy several times in the past.
Since 2005, DST has ended before Yom Kippur so that the fast finishes earlier in the day, but the restricted period of DST, significantly shorter than in Europe and the US, led to protests and political opposition.
“We are in favor [of extending DST], there is no reason to oppose it. Yom Kippur is 25 hours long, it doesn’t matter at which point in time [it is observed],” Ben-Dahan told the committee.
Committee chairwoman Miri Regev said she was happy he had answered in the affirmative.
“If you as a religious person say it doesn’t bother those who are praying, then we can connect [different] populations to work toward this,” she said.
Two years ago, more than 300,000 people signed an online petition calling on the government to extend DST.