Excluded From Ritual Baths by Law, non-Orthodox Jews Will Get Own State-funded Mikvehs

Jewish Agency confirms three or four mikvehs for Reform, Conservative Jews to be built. A key ultra-Orthodox lawmaker pledges to wage a 'world war' against the move.

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Religious Affairs Minister Azoulay visiting a mikveh in Gush Etzion.
Religious Affairs Minister Azoulay visiting a mikveh in Gush Etzion. Credit: Gush Etzion Spokespersons' Office
Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

A 10-million-shekel ($2.6 million) allotment for “contact with the Diaspora” will go toward building ritual baths for Reform and Conservative Jews, the Jewish Agency confirmed to Haaretz on Wednesday, a government move that would circumvent a new law and Orthodox Jews’ position on the matter.

The mikvehs would be built to serve people who have undergone non-Orthodox conversions and who are barred from using existing state-run mikvehs, a Jewish Agency spokesman said.

Three or four mikvehs would be built by Amigur, a company owned by the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency; the decision would be made after the two movements detailed their needs, the spokesman said.

In late July, despite strong objections from the Reform and Conservative movements, the Knesset passed a bill that bars non-Orthodox converts from using state-run mikvehs.

The bill was initiated by Moshe Gafni, a member of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party and head of the Knesset Finance Committee. Gafni told Haaretz that the 10 million shekels “is categorically not for mikvehs.”

MK Moshe Gafni at a meeting of the Knesset's Finance Committee, August 12, 2014. Credit: Michal Fattal

“If it turns out that the Finance Committee was lied to, I am here and will handle it . They asked a representative of the Prime Minister’s Office, and she said it was for joint projects with Jews overseas, that there will be tenders,” Gafni said.

“If it’s true, there will be a world war because I won’t allow it . I will wage war both as Gafni and as the chairman of the Finance Committee.”

On Sunday, the Finance Committee approved the 10-million-shekel allocation, but it makes no mention of ritual baths.

The July 19 explanation page that the Prime Minister’s Office sent to the Finance Committee – before Gafni’s bill was passed – states that the new spending is to “promote designated infrastructure and joint ventures to strengthen the ties between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jews.”

The letter says the funding is necessary to “deepen and illustrate the value that the State of Israel is the home of all the world’s Jews” – similar to Netanyahu’s comments over the past year on the Reform and Conservative movements.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the executive director of the Reform movement in Israel said: "Knesset member Gafni apparently believes the private supervision of the Master of the Universe does not prevail in the Knesset Finance Committee hearing room. Otherwise it's hard to understand how a believing Jew, believing as he does, can spout half-truths, give a wink and a nod and speak out of both sides of his mouth. Knesset member Gafni is well aware what these funds are earmarked for and knows that without the establishment of mikvehs for Reform converts funded by the state, his discriminatory law would not stand up to the scrutiny of the High Court of Justice."