In response to a petition filed before Israel’s Supreme Court by Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ) and Kolech, the Ministry of Religion has instructed mikvah (ritual bath) attendants that they must adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding women who wish to use the mikvah, and not ask questions about their purpose. This will enable the use of Israel’s state-funded mikvahs by single women and others who were previously prevented from doing so according to the policy of the Chief Rabbinate.
The petition was filed two years ago, on behalf of two single women who had been barred by mikvah attendants from mikvah use, which the rabbinate limits to married women following the Jewish laws of ritual purity. In May 2013, following a Supreme Court hearing on the case and at the Court’s urging, the Ministry of Religion agreed to instruct attendants to refrain from asking personal status questions of women who wished to use the ritual baths.
The Ministry of Religion acted on this decision last week. It circulated an official directive stating unequivocally that “The attendant may not ask women any questions relating to their personal status (whether they are married, single, etc.), and the right to use the mikvah may not depend on the answers to these questions.”
The directive added that each mikvah should display a sign stating that use by single women is forbidden; however, no questions may be asked and “each woman bears responsibility for her own actions.”
“CWJ welcomes the State of Israel’s recognition of the right of mikvah users to privacy and autonomy,” said CWJ director, attorney Susan Weiss. “This is an important step forward toward freedom of religion and conscience for all citizens of the State. Mikvahs exist to serve the public, and a government body should not have authority over a woman’s personal religious observance.”