Published On: Wed, Feb 21st, 2018

Court Demands That Jerusalem Council Cease From Depriving Women of Their Rights in Mikvehs

After the High Court of Justice ruled that women are allowed to immerse in the mikvehs without the rabbinate's attendant in the room.

The Jerusalem Municipal Court ruled on Tuesday that, the Jerusalem Religious Council, Israel’s largest religious council, was acting in violation of a court order enabling women to use mikvehs (ritual baths) without an attendant. The Council was forcing women to sign “waivers” which included intimate personal information after the High Court of Justice ruled that women are allowed to immerse in the mikvehs without the rabbinate’s attendant in the room. The court rejected the claim presented by the religious council, that the harm to the women was “negligible” accepting the claim by the ITIM Jewish Advocacy organization that the waiver was intended to intimidate women from exercising their rights.

According to Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM, “This is a great example of how Israel’s democratic institutions can help regulate the radicalization that is taking place in the religious establishment. Farber continued by saying that “left unchecked, the religious council would continue disrespecting the Supreme Court decision.”

During the discussion, held yesterday at the Jerusalem District Court, Judge Oded Shaham clarified to the representatives of the religious council that the rationale behind the new procedure was “far from being convincing” and legally “creates many difficulties,” and therefore suggested to the representatives that the religious council cease the procedure immediately – and they agreed to do so.

The form asked women to waive any legal claims on the mikveh and accept legal responsibility for damages that might ensue from immersion. Women were also asked to sign the form with their full name, their identification card number and the date on which they entered the mikvah.

As part of the appeal filed by the ITIM organization, which has also been the leading voice on the original petition to the High Court of Justice on the women’s right to immerse, the Ministry of Religious Affairs filed a brief in which they agreed that the Jerusalem Religious Council was using intimidating tactics.

Earlier, in July last year, in a letter sent by the Religious Affairs Ministry to the religious council, officials from the ministry strongly criticized the new procedure. “We think that the intention of this document is to deter women from immersing without the presence of a Balanit, and in this manner to overcome and foil our ministry’s instruction to enable immersing without the presence of a Balanit to any woman who wishes to do so (…) beyond the above (…) this harms the women’s right to personal privacy (…) we further wish to clarify that from an examination conducted in the Justice Ministry, it arises that the document and the demand to sign it are illegal.”

The women in whose name the appeal by ITIM was submitted commended the announcement by the religious council. Efrat Gerber-Aran, one of the women, said that “it is regrettable that the rabbinate is wasting public money on encumbering the women who wish to immerse and on redundant court hearings. Yesterday was a joyful day for us, the women who immerse, and I hope more and more women will hear about this and know that they have a right to use the mikveh and no one can deny this from them.” Another woman, Yotvat Pierson-Weil, noted that “it is hard to overestimate the feeling of happiness and joy that I feel since the court ruling this morning. This is another step in our long and arduous journey on our path to freedom to immerse and to preserve our privacy also in the ritual baths.”

Farber summarized the victory by saying: “We are happy that the values of Judaism here overcame radicalized trends within the rabbinical institutions of Israel. This is first and foremost a victory for Judaism. Also, this is another testament to the fact that the struggle on religion in Israel is not lost”.

 

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