Israeli Women to Be Allowed to Bathe in Mikvehs Without an Attendant

The Rabbinate is dropping its demand that an attendant be present to ensure that bathers are fully immersed.

Limor Edrey

Women will now be able to bathe in ritual baths, mikvehs, without an attendant, the Chief Rabbinate said Wednesday, responding to a petition submitted by a women’s group to the High Court of Justice.

The Rabbinate retracted its original stance against the move to let women do their monthly ritual bathing without an attendant. This represented a victory for the women after a three-year battle.

The petition was submitted by the group Itim in the name of 13 women and the movement Let Us Bathe in Peace, formed by two other groups: Advot and Yerushalmim.

A few years ago, following the women’s demands, the Religious Services Ministry issued regulations to protect women’s privacy in ritual baths. The regulations forbade the attendants to ask bathers intrusive questions.

But the petitioners said the regulations weren’t being implemented and demanded that the court order the religious councils to enforce them. They also reiterated their demand to bathe without attendants present.

The Religious Services Ministry and Chief Rabbinate refused. Three months ago the rabbinate ruled that a woman visiting a public mikveh “seeks to bathe according to halakha” – Jewish law. The rabbinate said this meant bathing must be done in the presence of an attendant, who ensures that the bather is totally immersed.

On Wednesday, the state told the court that, according to the Rabbinate, religious councils would no longer condition the bathing ritual on an attendant’s presence. Each woman will be able to decide for herself whether to bathe in the presence of an attendant, alone, or in the presence of a friend.

“In this case everybody wins,” said Itim’s director, Rabbi Shaul Farber. He commended the Rabbinate for its flexibility, which he said would bring many women closer to Jewish tradition.

MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), head of Knesset’s Israeli Judaism caucus, praised the ruling. “The decision whether or not to bathe with an attendant is a personal one and not a halakhic requirement,” she said.

MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) also praised the court’s ruling and said “going to the mikveh is a personal issue for women and any outside involvement offends the bathers and infringes on their desire to keep the commandment and to bathe in the tradition of their mothers.”