Following a lengthy debate and numerous objections, the Knesset plenum approved Monday night the Jewish Religious Services Bill (amendment no. 21) in its second and third (final) readings.
The bill, proposed by MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) and a group of Knesset members, passed by a vote of 41 to 35. The legislation will require that mikvehs be run only in accordance with the directives of the Chief Rabbinate.
In addition, the bill states that the law will take effect within nine months of its publication in order to allow preparation for the new amendment.
The explanation of the bill reads, ”Since the inception of the State of Israel, the mikvaot have been used for halachic traditions and customs and for this purpose they were allotted public funding for construction and upkeep. In the wake of petitions by bodies wishing to destroy the accepted foundations of Judaism that have been in existence for thousands of years, the High Court has ruled that various cults should be permitted to use the mikvaot for their various purposes.”
(MK Moshe Gafni)
MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) said, ”This is the first time that a mikveh, which is a place of purity, has become a place of exclusion. We view this as discrimination under primary legislation.”
”Others who are hurt by this are, of course, our Jewish brothers and sisters in the Diaspora. Once again they are receiving the `heartwarming` message that `the State of Israel State of Israel doesn’t count you in. Not at the Western Wall, or in marriage, or in conversions, at the mikvehs too — you have no place in the State of Israel.”
”This law is not Jewish, not legal, not democratic,” she added.
Meretz leader MK Zehava Galon said the law is part of a ”battle over the face and character of Israeli society. You feel threatened? Why? Because someone is trying to undermine your monopoly over the Rabbinate, over orthodoxy, over a pluralistic and equal life here.”
During the debate, MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Camp) said, ”Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated so many times that every Jew, wherever he may be, should consider Israel his national home. So what do they do so that a Jew will feel at home in Israel? They do not allow him to wed in a civil marriage; they do allow him to be buried next to his loved ones if he is defined as someone who is not worthy of burial in a Jewish cemetery; they do not allow him to convert in an appropriate and respectful manner; and then they pass the Mikveh Law which deals a devastating blow to all those who underwent a Reform or Conservative conversion, which is about 20 percent of all converts.”
MK Yehuda Glick (Likud) of the coalition also expressed his objection to the legislation. ”MK Gafni, why does it bother you that a Reform woman immerses in a mikveh? She does not stop you from immersing. Why do we need this divisiveness? You said the Jewish Agency will build mikvehs, but a representative of the Agency told me they do not plan to build any,” he said. Glick held a 30-second moment of silence in the plenum over the legislation.
MK Gafni argued that the law is not discriminatory. ”All the claims made here that this is `selection` are futile. There was a violation of the status quo by the High Court of Justice; we asked that the status quo not be violated. Reform Jews in the US don’t have a single mikveh. All of a sudden they need a mikveh here? This law aims to prevent the Reforms from getting this legitimization through the back door.”