The previous post about ritual immersion in Israel raises some interesting questions. It implies that Reform and Conservative Jews are systematically barred from using Mikvehs, or ritual baths, in Israel. This assertion is based on yet another stellar article from YNetNews. The article was vague on details and, as we have come to expect, poorly written. Neither the Jerusalem Post, nor Haaretz have seen fit to run this story.
What is clear is that the implication that Reform or Conservative Jews are barred from using Mikvehs in Israel, or anywhere else for that matter, is patently false. While admission to a mikveh is ordinarily restricted to Jews, there is no test applied – a simple assertion that one is Jewish is enough to gain entry.
Reform Judaism’s governing bodies renounced any requirement for ritual immersion more than a hundred years ago in the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 which stated: “We recognize in the Mosaic legislation a system of training the Jewish people for its mission during its [ancient] national life in Palestine, and today we accept as binding only the moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.” In 1977 Rabbi Walter Jacob commented that “the custom has fallen into disuse….Ritual immersion has completely ceased to be practiced for niddah and is followed only by a small percentage [of Jews] within the Orthodox community”
Along with circumcision and the acceptance of mitzvot, American Reform Judaism has dispensed with the requirement for immersion in the conversion process. There are some Reform Rabbis in Canada and Israel who do require some ritual and observance, but they are the minority and the situation is the same as it was at the inception of Reform Judaism – converts are accepted “without any initiatory rite, ceremony, or observance whatever.” Thus did Reform Judaism reject outright all the standards of halachic Judaism and compell halachically observant Jews into a state of rejectionism.
Conservative Judaism still officially requires immersion in a mikveh under similar circumstances as Orthodox Judaism. Issac Klein’s A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice contains chapters on the laws of women’s immersion following menstruation and childbirth. Any fair observer will note however that, except for conversions, the practice of ritual immersion is no longer practiced by the vast majority of Conservative Jews.
Both Reform and Conservative Judaism have, of late, seen increased interest in ritual immersion and there are at least 2 Reform built mikvehs – one at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, MI, and one at the Canadian Centre for Reform Judaism in Toronto. These are mostly used by converts and brides but they are also used (albeit rarely) by women after niddah. Niddah lasts as long as the menstrual flow, about 4-5 days. Orthodox Jews then count an additional 7 days before a woman can go to the Mikveh, whereas many contemporary Conservative and Reform scholars dispense with the 7 day period.
So. Back to the YNet article. The facts are that anyone claiming to be Jewish may use any Mikveh. In Israel, all public Mikvehs are run by Orthodox Jews. They are the ones that build, administer and use these institutions on a daily basis. The only time there is an issue is in the case of conversion. In most conversion rituals, the Rabbis granting the conversion are part of the immersion process. While they don’t directly observe the immersion out of modesty, they are around in order to confirm that the immersion took place.
Mikvehs run according to Orthodox standards take umbrage in allowing Conservative and Reform Rabbis, who do not respect Orthodox standards, to use their facilities. This is similar to not allowing someone who opposes and refuses to follow the rules of kashrut, the use of your kitchen. Nothing, of course prevents Reform and Conservative Jews from building their own Mikvehs. However given how little use such a mikveh would get, and how few Jews in Israel are affiliated with Reform and Conservative Judaism, it is no wonder that none have been built yet.
Also, despite what the YNet article claims, there are alternatives that do not require immersion in the sea. Any body of water will do and Israel is dotted with many little rivers, springs and lakes that are used for such purposes. One needn’t brave salt water in the winter. Granted it’s not as comfortable as a heated indoor mikveh, but if it was good enough for our ancestors… Also, Kibbutz Hanaton, a Conservative Kibbutz, has a mikveh that can be used for Conservative or Reform conversions in Israel. Again, anyone claiming to be Jewish can use any mikveh at any time for any purpose other than conversion.
The YNet article lacks any and all nuance and serves only to incite anti-Orthodox sentiment. As to the question of who dissed who, one group of rabbis formed movements whose raison d’etre is the complete rejection of another group of rabbis cherished standards. Why do they continue to whine and complain about the logical results of such rejectionism? No one is telling them not to practice however they see fit – but they should not expect Orthodox institutions to accomodate practices and values that expressly reject Orthodox standards.
That having been said, whille I fully believe that Ynets quote attributed to the minister in charge of the Religious Affairs, MK Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) was cherry picked and used to create as much offense as possible, Cohen ought to have been a bit less impolitic. His angry response only serves to give ammunition to those who seek to discredit halachic Judaism.
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