The Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel and the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism petitioned the High Court of Justice against the National Authority of Religious Affairs, affiliated with the Prime Minister's Office, citing discrimination against their members seeking to use mikevhs.
Using a mikveh is part of every process of conversion to Judaism in order to reach purity (Tahara), according to Jewish law. According to their claims, when conservative and reform rabbis arrived at public mikvehs of local religious councils—which are financed by a public budget—they were repeatedly denied entry by mikveh employees.
The petition was filed on behalf of the organizations by the Israel Religious Action Center demanding to put an end to discrimination against reform and conservative converts. The petition demands the Authority instruct the local religious councils to allow rabbis, males and females, to enter mikvehs.
"This situation is a callous discrimination against the progressive, conservative Jewish public who seeks services of immersion while the Jewish Orthodox movement's actions are clearly invalid and unlawful. Preventing conversion candidates from using mikvehs for immersion for the purpose of converting is against the freedom of religion and conscience that are guaranteed to the Israeli citizens," the petition reads.
Back in 2005 the chairman of the Israel Religious Action Center turned to the Authority of Religious Affairs director, Meir Spiegler, but nothing has changed since.
The Masorti Movement in Israel even tried to use private mikvehs but was also denied entry. The Reform Movement, for lack of a better solution, now sends its converts to the beach to immerse in sea water.
The petition cites many examples of discrimination. On one occasion the Masorti Movement almost managed to reach a solution in a mikveh in the town of Modi'in but the person in charge from the Shas party summoned his party officials. Commotion ensued in the mikveh and even the police were called. "The commotion required us to leave the place," it said in the petition.
Other incidents also took place in a spring well in Jerusalem, where they were told the Jerusalem municipality cannot guarantee the safety of the water in the spring, and another incident in a Jerusalem hotel where the kashrut supervisor burst into the mikveh and told the Masorti Movement members to leave.
The only choice left, according to the petition, is use the sea for ritual immersions, but that presents a problem, especially during the winter because of the risk of drowning. Three years ago during an immersion ceremony in Netanya, one convert almost drowned and rescue services had to be called in.
The minister in charge of the Religious Affairs, MK Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) said in response to the petition: "Conversions of reform and conservative organizations are virtual conversions, and they deserve to immerse in a virtual immersion. This is a vexing petition. The only immersion the reform are aware of is Baptism. So they can continue to walk on water and leave the people of Israel alone."
The reform rabbi Yehoram Mazor from the Movement for Progressive Judaism responded saying that: "Cohen's response is contemptuous. The mikvehs don’t belong to his ancestors, they were built by the state of Israel for the people of Israel. A person who wants to use a mikveh does not have to present a party membership or a proof for belonging to any specific religious movement."