Following a lengthy debate and numerous objections, on Monday night the Knesset plenum passed the amended Jewish Religious Services Bill by a 41 to 35 majority. The amended law, proposed by MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) and endorsed by several MKs, will require that state-run mikvahs-ritual baths be subject solely to the directives of the Chief Rabbinate. The law will take effect within nine months of its passage in order to allow preparation for the new amendment.
The explanation attached to the bill reads, “Since the inception of the State of Israel, the mikvahs have been used for halakhic traditions and customs, and for this purpose they were allotted public funding for construction and maintenance. In the wake of petitions by entities wishing to destroy the accepted foundations of Judaism that have been in existence for thousands of years, the High Court has ruled that various sects should be permitted to use the mikvahs to their various ends.”
MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) said that “this is the first time that a mikvah, which is a place of purity, has become a place of exclusion. We view this as discrimination under primary legislation.”
“Others who are hurt by this are, of course, our Jewish brothers and sisters in the Diaspora,” Lavie continued. “Once again they receive the ‘heartwarming’ message that the State of Israel doesn’t count them in. Not at the Western Wall, or in marriages, or in conversions, and now at the mikvahs, too — you have no place in the State of Israel.”
“This law is neither Jewish, nor legal, nor democratic,” Lavie added.
Meretz Chair MK Zehava Galon said the law is part of a “battle over the face and character of Israeli society.” Turning to the ultra-Orthodox MKs, Galon said, “You feel threatened? Why? Because someone is trying to undermine your monopoly over the Rabbinate, over Orthodoxy, over a pluralistic and equal life here?”
MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Camp) said, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated so many times that every Jew, wherever he may be, should consider Israel his national home. So what do they do in order that a Jew feel at home in Israel? They do not allow him to wed in a civil marriage; they do not allow him to be buried next to his loved ones if he is defined as someone who is not worthy of burial in a Jewish cemetery; they do not allow him to convert in an appropriate and respectful manner; and then they pass the Mikvah Law which deals a devastating blow to all those who underwent a Reform or Conservative conversion, which is about 20 percent of all converts.”
MK Yehuda Glick (Likud), who is an Orthodox rabbi, also expressed his objection to the legislation. “MK Gafni, why does it bother you that a Reform woman immerses in a mikvah?” Glick asked the bill’s author. “She does not stop you from immersing. Why do we need this divisiveness? You said the Jewish Agency will build mikvahs (for the non-Orthodox), but a representative of the Agency told me they do not plan to build any,” he said. Glick held a 30-second moment of silence in the plenum in protest of the legislation.
MK Gafni argued back, saying his law is not discriminatory. “All the claims made here that this constitutes a ‘selection’ are baseless,” he said, adding, “There was a violation of the status quo by the High Court of Justice; we asked that the status quo not be violated. Reform Jews in the US don’t have a single mikvah. All of a sudden they need a mikvah over here? This law aims to prevent the Reform from getting this legitimization through the back door.”
Jewish Agency of Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky has released a statement in response to the passage of the bill, saying, “This bill, which offers no solution to the non-Orthodox denominations, circumvents the rulings of the High Court of Justice. It is unfortunate that the bill passed before such a solution was ensured.”