Israeli rabbinate cracks down on mikveh tyrants

By Nathan Jeffay, December 6, 2013
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The Israeli Chief Rabbinate is to rein in strict mikveh attendants who bar some women from immersing.

Observant Jewish women go to a ritual bath at the end of their monthly cycle before resuming sexual relations.

Religious law is exacting about precisely which day women must go to the mikveh and on the rules around washing and grooming before immersion.

These requirements have led some mikveh attendants to become self-appointed assessors of whether or not women are ready to immerse.

They ask questions about when the last period finished to check the timing of the visit, and about washing and grooming ahead of immersion.

Some attendants even conduct a physical examination.

Rabbi Shaul Farber, director of the Orthodox-run ITIM, a non-profit lobby group that works on behalf conversion applicants, said that he had received a “cluster of complaints” and took the view that attendants were imposing a “layer of vulnerability” on women during what should be a highly private experience.

Mr Farber made a formal complaint and drafted legislation to regulate the role of mikveh attendants, which was submitted to Knesset by the Yesh Atid party.

The Chief Rabbinate then agreed to limit attendants’ role by means of a directive instead.

Rabbi Farber said the directive would rectify an “absurd situation” in which women who are halachically ready for the mikveh are stopped from immersing by attendants.

“The mikveh attendants were contradicting halachic authorities based on their own knowledge,” said the rabbi.

Last updated: 6:45am, December 6 2013