Women may immerse in mikvah without attendant under new Israeli regulation

Marcy Oster

Israeli Minister of Religious Services David Azulay visits a luxury mikvah in the Israeli settlement of Alon Shvut, as he tours the Gush Etzion bloc on August 25, 2015. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Israeli Minister of Religious Services David Azoulay visiting a luxury mikvah in the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut, Aug. 25, 2015. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Religious Services Ministry in Israel has officially adopted a regulation that makes it optional for women to have an attendant present during mikvah immersion.

The ministry and Israel’s Chief Rabbinate agreed to the change in June in a filing with the country’s Supreme Court in response to a suit filed last year by Itim, a group that supports Israelis in encounters with the country’s religious bureaucracy.

Some women have complained of mistreatment by mikvah attendants or a screening that is too rigorous. Victims of sexual abuse also have asked not to be observed during immersion.

According to the new regulation, the Chief Rabbinate’s position is that “the immersion of a woman requires the presence of a mikvah attendant,” but also says that “the privacy of women immersing must be respected [and] responsibility for a valid immersion lies with those immersing themselves,” The Jerusalem Post reported.

Under the new regulation, if a woman asks to immerse without the presence of an attendant, she should be allowed to do so “while being warned, with appropriate sensitivity, that responsibility for the validity of the immersion lies with the woman immersing.”

Religious authorities believe the supervision of an attendant at a mikvah, or ritual bath, is necessary to ensure that the woman’s immersion is done according to halachah, or Orthodox Jewish law, including ensuring that every part of the woman, including all her hair, is under the water at the same time.

In July 2015, Itim filed the petition on behalf of 13 women calling on the Supreme Court to instruct the Ministry of Religious Affairs to require all religious councils to maintain “a procedure aimed to protect the personal privacy of all mikvah bathers,” as well as to instruct all religious councils to enable bathing without the presence of the female mikvah attendant in cases where the women demand it.

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