Petition: Access to J'lem mikvaot is unequal

Reformists say non-Orthodox rabbis who try to use a mikve are rebuffed by J'lem Religious Council.

mikve 298 (photo credit: )
mikve 298
(photo credit: )
The Jerusalem Religious Council's policy of depriving Reform and Conservative converts access to mikvaot (ritual baths) is discriminatory and undemocratic, according to the Reform Movement. Without access to mikvaot, dozens of converts are forced to perform the immersion in the Mediterranean Sea, which is cold and dangerous in winter months, the Reform Movement in Israel's legal arm, the Israel Religious Action Committee (IRAC), said in a court petition. Reform and Conservative rabbis must accompany a prospective convert and witness his or her immersion in a mikve as part of the last stage of the conversion process. However, non-Orthodox rabbis who attempt to coordinate a date to use a mikve for conversion are rebuffed by the Jerusalem Religious Council as soon as they identify themselves, the IRAC said in a press release. Rabbi Menachem Blumenthal, a Jerusalem Religious Council employee who is responsible for public mikvaot, verified that Reform and Conservative converts and rabbis are denied access to mikvaot. "We allow entrance only to converts with authorization from the Chief Rabbinate," he said. "That's just the way we do things." No ID check is performed at the entrance to mikvaot, but if a convert identifies himself as such, he is prevented from entering, Blumenthal said. In May 2006, the IRAC petitioned the High Court of Justice against the National Religious Affairs Authority, claiming discrimination against non-Orthodox converts. The High Court ordered the IRAC to sue individual religious councils that prevent access to mikvaot. The petition against Jerusalem is the first in a series against various religious councils across the nation that have the same discriminatory policy, according to attorney Orly Erez-Likhovski, the IRAC's legal adviser who presented the petition. She said she was working on similar petitions against the religious councils of Haifa, Tel Aviv and Beersheba, which have expressed unwillingness to allow non-Orthodox converts to use mikvaot. "The mikvaot are operated with tax-payers' money," Erez-Likhovski said. "They are public places that must be open to all without discrimination. The fact that non-Orthodox rabbis are prevented from accompanying the converts… is a blatant blow to freedom of religion."