A large number of mikvehs (Jewish ritual baths) have secretly opened in recent months, providing services to confirmed coronavirus patients and those in isolation, in clear violation of the pandemic regulations and with the full knowledge of the authorities who choose to ignore the phenomenon.
Additionally, public mikvehs operated by the state through the religious councils that offer religious service to the general public are also in use, mainly in the ultra-Orthodox sector and with the aid of ultra-Orthodox organizations.
According to one mikveh attendant, the regulations issued by the government are seen as secondary to directives from religious leaders.
"The instructions we received [from the Health Ministry] forbade the immersion of anyone who was not allowed to leave the house," she said.
"But in practice, every ultra-Orthodox mikveh attendant is subject first and foremost to her rabbi, and while mine forbade it, the rabbis of some of my friends in the Lithuanian Orthodox community ruled that mikvehs can operate if a number of rules are adhered to."
The attendant said that the arrival of a confirmed virus patient was organized by phone and took place just before the site closed.
"The women would then arrive after the mikveh was empty, and take part in the ritual immersion. After the ritual, the water was emptied out, the bath disinfected and refilled."
A volunteer in one of the ultra-Orthodox organizations that helped in the illegal operation defended the practice.
"Family purity is a sacred subject to which Jews have given their souls throughout the generations," he said.
"No one could imagine that here, in the Jewish state, it would be banned - even in a pandemic. Highly responsible people have signed off on this outline, after seeing that it does not pose a danger to those who immerse themselves - neither to the other women nor the public."
A senior ultra-Orthodox source involved in the matter told Ynet that the illegal mikvehs have been operating with the knowledge of the local authorities and with the silent consent of the government, despite the government's own decision to allow mikvehs to only operate under certain conditions that are supposed to prevent infection.
The government's outline did not, however, include confirmed patients or those in isolation who were not allowed to leave their homes.
"Immersion in the mikvehs is forbidden for women who are required to remain in isolation at home or women who have been diagnosed with the pathogen,” the Health Ministry said on April 2.
"In the event that a woman who is required to isolate or a woman who has been diagnosed with the pathogen has been immersed in a mikveh, that mikveh must be closed and the Religious Services Ministry must be contacted for updates and instructions for its reopening,” the ministry said.
The country's Magen Israel national program to fight the coronavirus, which is led by coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu, is now seeking to allow confirmed virus patients and women in isolation to attend the mikveh under supervision.
And while Magen Israel is seeking to draft guidance on the matter, it has also issued a statement on the issue of illicit mikveh use.
"Mikvehs have no permit for coronavirus patients. However, at the request of community representatives, Maj. Gen. (res.) Roni Numa appealed to the Health Ministry to create an outline that would address the issue," the task force said.
Magen Israel added: “It is a violation of the law for a coronavirus patient or someone in isolation to leave her home."
The Health Ministry declined to comment.