The latest fight in Israel is not over where women sit on the bus or walk on the street, but about where they can immerse.
Some Israeli women are petitioning the country’s Supreme Court, asking it to reverse official directives that restrict ritual bath usage to married women, and bar women who are single, divorced or widowed.
Attorneys filed the legal papers on behalf of two separate parties, Plia Oryah and Amital Zaks, as well as The Center for Women’s Justice, and the Orthodox feminist group Kolech. The petition claims that prohibiting unmarried women from using a mikveh amounts to the violation of their religious freedom and their right to privacy.
Furious about this religious coercion, Oryah, the single, 19-year-old daughter of immigrants from New York, said “it makes my life miserable once a month.” In order to ritually bathe, she has either gone to the seashore after dark, or deceived “mikveh ladies” by disguising herself as a married woman.
“Without any regard to a relationship I would still go to the mikveh every month,” she told Haaretz. “I feel a sense of renewal. It is an amazing, wonderful experience.”
The state has been adhering to an interpretation of Jewish law that prohibits unmarried women from ritually immersing. Some fear that a more open mikveh policy would encourage premarital sexual relations.
The petitioners say that rabbis can try to dissuade single women from going to the mikveh, but that denying them access is a violation of their civil rights.