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Israeli Law Bars Using Mikvehs for Non-Orthodox Conversions

A controversial bill that would enable local Orthodox rabbinates to bar non-Orthodox Jewish conversion ceremonies in publicly funded mikvehs was passed in the Knesset.

The bill — introduced by the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party and opposed by many North American Jewish leaders — passed into law on Monday night, the Jerusalem Post .

The law enables local rabbinates to determine who is allowed to use the mikvehs, or Jewish ritual baths, under their control. Immersion in the mikveh is part of most conversion to Judaism ceremonies.

The bill aims to override an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in February that paved the way for non-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel to use public mikvehs for conversions.

The government has said it will establish four mikvehs 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.

The new law will be implemented in nine months.

Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky condemned the new law in a statement issued after it was passed by the Knesset. “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 following the passage of the law that the legislation “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,” said Kariv.

Yizhar Hess, director of the Masorti Movement in Israel, condemned the new law as “un-Jewish and undemocratic.”

 

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