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An Update on Israel's Ritual Baths

An Update on Israel's Ritual Baths

This post originally appeared on the Israel Religious Action Center's newsletter, The Pluralist.

The fourth book of the Torah has different names in English (“Numbers”) and Hebrew (“Bamidbar” - “In the Desert”). There’s a difference between focusing on the journey and focusing on the number of people who made the journey.  Numbers can be misleading.  Take the issue of Israel’s mikvahs (ritual baths).  

Four months ago, we reported to you that Israel’s Supreme Court handed IRAC a victory in a case we first filed ten years ago, ruling that the Rabbinate could no longer exclude Conservative and Reform converts (about three hundred annually) from using the six ritual baths in Israel that are available to Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox converts.  

Since then members of the Knesset have been scheming up ways to gut the court’s decision.  The Interior Committee met yesterday to discuss a bill that would do just that.  Four members of the committee stood up and left the room in protest when Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the head of Israel’s Movement for Progressive and Reform Judaism (IMPJ), started to speak.  By the end of the session, over our objections, the committee voted seven to four to send a bill to the full Knesset that would reinstate discrimination against Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel.  

Government coalition leader MK David Bitan assured us that if the bill passes, it will be automatically suspended for nine months so that the Jewish Agency can build two to four separate but equal ritual baths for Conservative and Reform converts. Given the Supreme Court’s unambiguous ruling, Bitan’s statement is hardly a consolation prize.  The Israeli taxpayer will continue to pay for Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox ritual baths, but the Jewish Agency would have to use the money of Diaspora Jews to pay for Reform and Conservative ritual baths.  

If you look at the numbers and at how much time and energy has been spent on creating equal access Israel’s ritual baths, you can get discouraged.  But if you focus instead on the desert, on the wilderness, you know that this is just part of a journey.  It is part of a larger test being faced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ensure that every Jew can feel at home in the Jewish State of Israel - at its ritual baths, at the Kotel, and everywhere else.

It is also part of a larger test for IRAC, the Reform Movement, and Jews around the world who believe in equality.  We aren’t going to give up until the checks balance and the scales of justice stop vacillating.  Like the Israelites, we are going to keep on walking.  We might lose ground from time to time, but in the end, we will make it to the promised land.   

It ain’t over till the Reform lady immerses.




Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel. She is also the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women and men from around the world who strive to achieve the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Anat Hoffman

Published: 6/15/2016