Sisterhood Blog

Hope for Women Going to Mikvah

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

  • Print
  • Share Share
Wiki Commons

Going to mikvah, particularly if you’re not Orthodox, can be complicated. But nowhere is it more complicated than in Israel, where women are required to establish that they are married or will soon be, and have taken a rabbinically-sanctioned pre-marital education course. If you want to immerse in a mikvah for any reason other than in observance of “the laws of family purity” as a married woman? Forget about it.

Those who believe that women should have access to the private ritual of mikvah for any reason may be able to discern a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Israel’s Supreme Court has ordered the minister of religious services, Yakov Margi, and Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger to explain why women are questioned about their marital status when they go to one of the taxpayer-funded ritual baths.

The court’s order is in response to a petition filed last December by the Center for Women’s Justice and Kolech: Religious Women’s Forum, on behalf of two single women who were turned away from using a mikvah.

Single women are permitted to immerse for a host of reasons, according to the petition, and should be under no obligation to delineate or justify their beliefs to religious authorities.

According to the YNet News article, the petition:

was filed after a female soldier approached the Center for Women’s Justice in April 2010, following several failed attempts to immerse in her local mikveh because she was not married.

The petition noted that the soldier viewed the act of immersion as part of her religious faith and spiritual work, and that the bath attendants explained that they could not let her immerse due to orders issued by the religious council.

Due to the refusal, the petition stated, the soldier was forced to lie about her marital status or travel to the sea or springs in order to immerse.

Another case mentioned in the petition is of a new immigrant who approached the Center for Women’s Justice after seeking to escort her host to the mikveh on Yom Kippur Eve in September 2009.

Upon her arrival, the bath attendant refused to let her immerse in the ritual bath because she was single, describing such an act as blasphemy, heresy and hypocrisy.

Metzger wrote a letter, which was filed with the petition, in which he stresses that unmarried women — single, widowed or divorced — must not be allowed to immerse in the mikvah, lest they feel permitted to engage in a prohibited sexual relationship.

The problem, in this case as in so many others, is that the Orthodox rabbinate has the power to decree, even in publicly-funded spaces like mikvahs and at the kotel and on buses, that its standard alone has the rule of law.

That’s well and good for traditional Jewish women who want to observe mikvah immersion only when they are married and only to mark the conclusion of their menstrual cycle.

But it leaves a growing number of others barred from access to a ritual that has the power to mark important moments of transition, in personal relationships and in life, as at the conclusion of chemotherapy or at the end of a marriage or when an unmarried woman becomes a mother.

And it begs the question: Does the Jewish state see Judaism as belonging to all Jews? Or only to the traditionally Orthodox?


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: yona metzger, sisterhood, yakov margi, orthodox women, jewish women, mikvah

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.