Who's the best person to judge what makes a "pleasant and inviting experience" for a woman at the ritual bath? Naturally, a man – or so seems to be the view of Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben Dahan.
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Ben Dahan announced on Monday a contest to choose "the most beautiful mikveh of 2013." Its goal, he said, is "to endear the commandment of ritual immersion to the women of Israel and create an inviting and pleasant immersion experience for everyone, everywhere." But the person he tapped to head the panel that will decide which mikveh is the most appealing for women was Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, rabbi of the Western Wall.
Queried about this by Haaretz, a spokeswoman for Ben Dahan said that most members of the panel would be female, and that one of these women would be Rabinovitch's co-chair.
Since taking office, Ben Dahan has repeatedly declared his desire to make religious services more accessible and user-friendly. On Monday, he wrote on his Facebook page that "The special moment of a woman's immersion in the mikveh, which the women of Israel have strictly and devotedly observed for many generations, has been a cornerstone of the existence of the people of Israel throughout the generations. I believe that making sure the mikveh is operated with love for all Jews, an awareness of service to the citizenry and protection of the environment will help return many women to this long-standing tradition of the women of Israel, who were once strict about immersion in the mikveh."
The Facebook post was released alongside Ben Dahan's announcement of the ministry's first contest for Israel's best mikveh. The competition is organized in cooperation with the Council for a Beautiful Israel.
According to a statement issued by the Religious Services Ministry, the mikvehs will be judged on the following criteria: cleanliness, safety, convenience, quality of service, climate control and energy consumption. The mikvehs will be examined by volunteers from the Council for a Beautiful Israel, and their reports will then be submitted to a panel of judges headed by Rabinovitch.
Ben Dahan's spokeswoman, Idit Druyan, said the panel is to consist of five members: a female representative of the Religious Services Ministry; two representatives, one of each gender, from the Council for a Beautiful Israel; Rabinovitch; and another female member who has yet to be chosen.
Druyan said the ministry is looking for a woman of similar public stature to Rabinovitch, and had already approached several possible candidates, but so far, none has agreed to participate either because they didn't want to, or, as in the case of several well-known religious female journalists, due to legal obstacles.
"Obviously, the woman in question must be religious, someone who is deeply familiar with the sensations, who knows what it means to go to the mikveh," Druyan said. "Perhaps your article will be a platform via which we can urge well-known religious women to volunteer themselves?"
Asked why Rabinovitchhad been tapped as co-chair, she responded, "They wanted a rabbi who knows what a mikveh is, and also a state figure, so they asked Rabbi Rabinovitch."