Bill restricting non-Orthodox mikvah use in Israel advances


TEL AVIV (JTA) — A bill that would bar Conservative and Reform conversions from taking place at public ritual baths in Israel passed an initial Cabinet committee vote, but only three of the committee’s 12 members were on hand for the vote.

The members of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation who did vote Sunday unanimously passed the measure. The remaining nine members chose to be absent, according to reports.

Israel’s governing coalition is now obligated to support the bill when it reaches the Knesset floor, though subsequent votes will be delayed until the coalition agrees on its wording.

The bill was proposed by the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism faction and supported by the haredi Shas party, as well as by some members of the Religious Zionist Jewish Home party.

Those who voted reportedly were Yariv Levin of Likud, David Azoulay of Shas and Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism.

The bill aims to override a Supreme Court decision in February mandating that the ritual baths, or mikvahs, be open to Conservative and Reform conversions. Along with prohibiting that practice, the measure also may require that women immerse under the supervision of a mikvah attendant to ensure it is conducted according to Orthodox Jewish law.

Members of Jewish Home, along with the center-right Kulanu party, objected to the wording of the mikvah attendant provision, according to Israeli reports. The bill will not be passed until the factions reach a consensus wording.

Religious pluralism activists and non-Orthodox leaders objected to the Cabinet vote. The head of Israel’s Conservative movement, Yizhar Hess, said the bill was “a law opposing the Jewish people,” and the leader of Israel’s Reform movement, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, wrote on Facebook Sunday that the bill hurts modern Orthodox Jews as well as the Conservative and Reform movements.

“Integrity, fairness and pleasantness are apparently not part of their 613 commandments,” Kariv wrote, referring to the haredi parties. “Gradually, there’s an ever-sharper recognition that the divide is not between Orthodox and Reform, but between those who believe in a Jewish and democratic state and those who want a theocracy and halachic state according to Shas and United Torah Judaism.”

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