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A halakhic drama reached its surprise happy ending Wednesday at the Israeli Supreme Court, when the role of ritual bath supervisor, a.k.a. “Mikvah lady,” has been changed from mandatory to optional.

Israel’s state prosecution on Wednesday submitted to the Supreme Court, in the name of the Chief Rabbinate and the Ministry of Religious services, an official response to a petition by the Itim organization, conceding that “the dipping woman will be allowed to decide for herself whether she wishes to follow this halakhic rule (dipping under the supervision of a Mikvah lady), including dipping alone or dipping in the company of a female friend, and neither the local religious council nor its employees are allowed to condition the dipping on the obligatory presence of the ritual bath supervisor.”

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The response represents a complete capitulation of the relevant state institutions, and the state prosecutor requested that the high court dismiss the original petition because it is no longer necessary.

At the same time, it cannot be said that the Chief Rabbinate Assembly has given up the fight altogether. They will continue to compel the local religious councils to hire Mikvah ladies, and post a sign in every mikvah explaining the halakhic obligation for supervision during a woman’s dipping. A woman wishing to dip on her own would be forced, every month, to go through the process of publicly showing that she ignores the rules that are posted on the sign for all to read.

The specific halakhic role of the Mikvah lady, as explained by Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, is to make sure that a woman’s entire head of hair has gone underwater, because if it didn’t there’s a problem in the dipping and the woman’s availability for intimacy with her husband is questioned. Rabbi Ariel proposes that the dipping woman call on the Mikvah lady once she has immersed in the water, and ask her to watch and see that her entire body of hair went underwater.

Incidentally, it should be possible for a friend to advise the dipping woman regarding the immersion of her hair.

As to the problem of “knots,” the woman should shampoo and comb her hair prior to dipping so that it isn’t entangled.

The initial petition was submitted to the court in July 2015, in the midst of what was then a year long, stormy debate within the Orthodox community, between young women who rebelled against the authority of the Mikvah lady and the established Orthodox institutions. The petition, submitted by Itim, represented 13 women who wanted to be left alone when they’re dipping.

Orthodox authorities are concerned not only about the proper execution of the halakhic dipping, but also about the push to permit unmarried women to dip, which the rabbis view as an invitation to lechery.

The case will be heard by the Supreme Court on Thursday despite the surrender of the Chief Rabbinate and the Religious Services Ministry, because one plaintiff, the Jerusalem Religious Council, is still a holdout, insisting that the Mikvah “is not a bathhouse, but an instrument whose sole purpose is to effect a kosher dipping, which must be determined by an authorized supervisor.”

Itim Chairman Rabbi Dr. Shaul Farber praised the Chief Rabbinate for following the Jewish tradition of preferring permission over prohibition. One of Itim’s arguments was the fact that the stern Mikvah ladies were pushing young women away from the mitzvah of dipping in the mikvah at the end of their cycle, thus actually diminishing family purity in the nation.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. It is my understanding that the primary reason for a 'mikvah lady' is a halachic obligation of water safety, not supervision. This can be done with a friend, if necessary. Obviously, if you are going to great lengths to observe mikvah, it would stand to reason that you would also want to ensure that you have fulfilled it properly. Most mikvah ladies are discreet and professional.
    Don't throw out the Mikvah lady with the bath water, please.

  2. Perhaps in the US, where mikvah ladies are often volunteers, our paid privately. Here, they are often similar to state paper pushers trying to justify their paycheck and the power wielded by their bosses (the rabbinate). And many women are not trying to go to great lengths to observe mikvah, they're trying to check off a item on a list to obtain a marriage license. The experience does not often make them want to come back.

  3. That is rather unfortunate to hear.

    I have never used a mikvah in Israel, but have used many in differentt cities in the US and Canada – and with rare exception, found the mikvah ladies to be classy, kind, gracious, discreet, unimposing and professional.

    If people are finding that the Mivkah ladies are obtrusive or rude, it is time for some serious sensitivity training and professional training, and perhaps with it, an anonymous rating and or reporting system, etc.

    Solutions are available if they are sought.

    A free for all sounds like chaos and does not seem to be good for the consumer i.e., the woman using the mikvah.

    But I guess any religiously related issue in Israel – , even a simple, consumer-based problem – seems to need to evolve into some big societal uproar. Sigh.

  4. with 28 years of marriage, i have always found the mikva attendants kind, sincere and discrete.

    My only problem was here in Israel, where at age 65 i went to the mikva in order to prepare to go up to Har HaBayit. the mikva women tried to stop me . they told me that it was against halacha to go up etc. i assured them that i did not need their approval or supervision, since no bracha is said and it is not halachically mandated. i also let them know that the Ramban ascended to Har HaBayit also so i am in good company and i am going with wa group led by a Rabbi who is expert in the parameters of Har HaBayit and knows what parts have kedusha that we may not walk on.

    please mikva ladies, stay out of Charedi politics, chumras and anti zionism, just love and continue to cherish our amazing Jewish wives and mothers.
    thank you
    tzilia sacharow

  5. There must be a mikvah attendant to check for loose hair and possible barriers such as scabs etc. Once checked carefully it is easy to walk down the steps wrapped in a towel until the last minute. A good Mikvah attendant holds up a sheet to block her view until we are imerged in the water. She then watches while we immerse to ensure our hair is under. She is also there for safety, should the steps be slippery. It can be done respectfully and discretely, and cannot be done away with!

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