As millions of Jews around the world dip their vegetables into saltwater during the Passover seder Friday night, the Conservative movement wants them to remember those who cannot dip – into the mikveh, that is.
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An Israeli-based rabbi affiliated with the movement has written a special passage, to be read before the traditional saltwater dipping, that addresses the plight of all those non-Orthodox converts in Israel prohibited from using state-run mikvehs, or ritual baths.
Following a 10-year battle, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in February that Reform and Conservative converts can no longer be denied entry to state-run mikvehs as part of their conversion process. But in response, Orthodox Knesset members are trying to pass a law that would overrule the Supreme Court.
Mikvehs in Israel operate under the auspices of the Orthodox-run religious councils, and Reform and Conservative converts are often prevented from using them when questions about their affiliation arise. The Supreme Court ruled that this practice was discriminatory and, therefore, unlawful. All the Jewish movements require immersion in a mikveh as a final step in the conversion process.
The new passage, written by Rabbi Moriah Simone Hazani of the Conservative movement in Israel, and available in five languages, explains the significance of the ritual dipping in the mikveh and urges Jews around the world to remind themselves during the seder that “religious pluralism and religious expression are basic rights for every person.”
It continues: “We urge you to be part of the conversion process, to welcome those who wish to join us and to accompany them to the mikveh with joy and celebration.”
The third activity of the seder, known as karpas, involves dipping a vegetable into saltwater and reciting a blessing. The saltwater is meant to remind Jews of the tears the ancient Israelites shed while they were slaves in Egypt.
The new passage that accompanies this activity is an initiative of Masorti Olami, also known as the World Council of Conservative Synagogues. The Conservative movement represents 1.7 million Jews around the world, among them 1.2 million in the United States.
“Every year, we suggest a special supplemental passage, to be read during the Passover seder, that can help connect our congregants around the world to Israel, one way or another,” said Zvi Graetz, the executive director of Masorti Olami.
“We have always stressed the importance of making converts feel welcome in our community, but unfortunately, not all Jews feel this way. That’s why we decided to devote the supplemental passage this year to the topic of mikvehs.”