(JTA) — The Knesset passed a controversial bill that allows local Orthodox rabbinates to bar non-Orthodox Jewish conversion ceremonies in publicly funded mikvahs.
The bill, which was introduced by the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism party and opposed by many North American Jewish leaders, was passed Monday night in a 41-35 vote, The Jerusalem Post reported. The new law will be implemented in nine months.
Under the law, the municipal rabbinates can determine who may use the mikvahs, or Jewish ritual baths, in their purview. Immersion in the mikvah is part of most conversion ceremonies.
The measure aims to override an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in February that paved the way for non-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel to use public mikvahs for conversions.
The government has said it will establish four mikvahs expressly for use in non-Orthodox conversions. However, it is not clear whether the funding will come from the government or the Jewish Agency for Israel, which is funded largely by donations from Diaspora Jews.
Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, condemned the new law in a statement issued after its passage.
“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,” Sharansky said.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement in Israel, said the law “breaches the clear promise of the prime minister not to legislate against the progressive denominations” and was damaging to Israel’s relationship with Diaspora Jewry, The Jerusalem Post reported.
“This legislation jeopardizes the ability to have fruitful dialogue with the Israeli government, and we see it as a direct move by the government against millions of Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel and around the world,” Kariv said.
Yizhar Hess, director of the Conservative, or Masorti, movement in Israel, condemned the new law as “un-Jewish and undemocratic.”