Israeli NGO asks Supreme Court to protect women’s rights at mikvah

ITIM files petition on behalf of 13 women calling on Chief Rabbinate to implement directives on ritual bath attendants

A mikvah. (Illustrative photo credit: CC-BY-SA Tamar Hayardeni/Wikimedia Commons)
A mikvah. (Illustrative photo credit: CC-BY-SA Tamar Hayardeni/Wikimedia Commons)

An Israeli advocacy NGO has asked Israel’s Supreme Court to protect women’s rights at the mikvah, or ritual bath.

The ITIM Advocacy Center filed a complaint with the court Sunday on behalf of 13 married Orthodox women against the Chief Rabbinate and the Jerusalem Religious Council, calling for women to be allowed to use the mikvah according to their personal customs and without supervision or with their own attendant if they wish.

The organization charges that the Chief Rabbinate is not implementing directives passed in late 2013 that enable women to use the mikvah facilities without being asked probing questions by attendants.

The plea says some customs are imposed on bathers, such as removing earrings, or covering their hair while making a blessing, which some Jewish law authorities or sources maintain is not required.

In one case, a woman was prevented from using the mikvah because of her hairstyle even though she had invited the mikvah attendant to consult with her own rabbi. In another, a woman was asked how many times she planned to immerse herself, and when the answer was unsatisfactory to the attendant, the woman was prevented from using the public facility.

“The mikvah is an incredibly vulnerable place,” Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM, said in a statement sent to JTA. “Women have rights there as well.

“There is no other public service that demands that individuals – women or men – submit themselves to this kind of inspection. Mikvahs around the world – in most cases – respect the privacy and rights of women. Ironically, only in Israel are individuals subject to violations of basic rights.”

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