Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria and Bayit Yehudi MK Shuli Mualem brought a meeting of the Knesset's Internal Affairs and Environment Committee to a halt on Monday over United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni's request to bring the controversial “Mikveh Bill” to a vote in the Knesset.
If passed, the “Mikveh Bill” would bar those undergoing Reform or Conservative conversion to Judaism from dipping in public mikvehs (Jewish ritual baths), as well as prevent women from privately dipping in the mikvehs, without the presence of an attendant.
Ultra-Orthodox parties submitted the proposal to the Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs three months ago. But because of objections raised by MKs from Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu, it was agreed to only approve the bill as a preliminary, pre-vote move, passing it to the first round of voting only if all the parties could agree on its wording.
However, Gafni decided to ignore the agreement and submitted the bill with its original wording to the Interior Committee.
This raised the ire of Bayit Yehudi MK Mualem. “I demanded changes to be made to the bill and they were not incorporated,” she said. “I demanded that it would not hurt the rights of the women who wish to (go to the mikveh). None of this happened, nor was I presented with the version of the bill that’s being presented now. I therefore demand that the discussion be closed.”
The meeting was consequently dispersed and it was decided at present the bill would not be brought to a vote until there is further discussion about it at a later date.
In the original wording of the bill, dipping at public mikvehs would only adhere to the traditional Jewish law of Halacha as interpreted by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, which would mean having an attendant present at all times. In addition, the mikvehs would not have to follow existing anti-discrimination laws that apply to restrooms and other public places, which would essentially allow only those undergoing Orthodox conversion to Judaism to use the public mikvehs.
The Reformed Movement's director Rabbi Gilad Kariv rejected the new proposal and has called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene.
“The version of the ‘Mikveh Bill’ that has been presented by the Justice Ministry is an embarrassment to its writers and a constitutional disgrace.” He added that “The Justice Ministry is proposing a bill that would allow a public organization to out-and-out discriminate and act in violation of Israel's Basic Laws. Continuing to promote this bill jeopardizes the Israeli government’s dialogue with the Jews of the Diaspora, as well as with non-Orthodox Jews. I expect the prime minister’s swift intervention on the matter.”
The Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism's director Yizhar Hess also voiced strong criticism against the move.
“Has the coalition lost its mind? Has the Israeli government completely gone off the rails? This bill is not only unconstitutional and fundamentally humiliating to women seeking to go to the mikveh, it also circumvents a High Court’s decision in a way that would basically ‘divorce’ us from Diaspora Jews. Mikvehs are public facilities, and just as it is unthinkable to have a sign above the door of a public library that bans Ethiopians from entering, it is inconceivable that a democracy would vote into law a bill that excludes the Reform and Conservative Jews, not to mention women who wish to go to the mikveh in private,” he said.
MK Azaria, who also heads the Jewish Israel Lobby, said that “The bill’s original wording would hurt hundreds of thousands of Israeli women who go to the mikveh, and we just cannot let that pass. We all need to adhere to coalition agreements, and I’m glad that our partners have come to their senses and that we all managed to prevent hurting the dipping womens’ rights.”