The Knesset Assembly has approved the initial reading of MK Moshe Gafni's (UTJ) bill on mikvehs, which would establish that the use of a public mikveh is conditional on abiding by halacha and the Chief Rabbinate's instructions.
Speaking at the plenum, MK Gafni claimed that the bill is not intended to prevent Reform and Conservative Jews from using mikvehs. "On the contrary, we invite everyone. There is a Supreme Court decision — I don't understand why the justices made this decision — and we want to fix what we see as a mistaken ruling.
"This country has other private mikvehs where no one interferes, but the State's public mikvehs are for halachic immersions. Nothing will change this law. Whatever happens happens. I say and pledge now at the Assembly that we will work it in out a committee so it's clear there will be no changes for those who use the mikvehs.
"We want to leave the situation as it is and don't want to cause any unnecessary tension. The issue here is that they want to have conversions in a mikveh, when that's not the purpose of a mikveh. Mikvehs are a halachic issue – it's not a bathing house and not a Turkish bath," he added.
Minister for Religious Services David Azoulai (Shas) said, "Whoever does not accept the Torah's authority and tramples its commands under a heavy foot cannot claim that he represents religion in Israel. These movements are retreating and offer inflated numbers. They can have ceremonies and any folklore they wish but Judaism is not a theater where everyone comes in a car in order to enjoy themselves.
"These group that ask to change the Torah and halacha are not Israeli religious movements. Just as we don't let a doctor use magic in a hospital and and call himself a doctor, we don't let these groups approach the Torah of Israel. Since the establishment of the State, everyone has ensured the maintenance of the status quo on religion and State. With all due respect to their Zionism and their support for the State of Israel, we won't let them run us by remote control and hurt the country's Jewish character."
Azoulai clarified, "There won't be any attempt to interfere and change the halachic rules."
Meretz head Zehava Galon shot back at Gafni and Azoulai: "What is this garbage? You're bringing a law to circumvent the Supreme Court. You don't care about mikvehs, what matters to you is getting a foothold. You're afraid of them finding an opening here. You're conducting a thuggish and extortionary fight against 'these people,' who have a name – Reform and Conservative. Who put you here to have a monopoly on Judaism?"
MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) added, "The issue is literally in our blood. The mikvehs belong to the public, they are not a site for conducting an inappropriate war. In all of Jewish history, no one interfered in the custom of women and of the Jewish People to immerse themselves in a mikveh. The law is going to hurt women in the State of Israel."
MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union) said, "I am a member of the Conservative Movement and I was offended here by the Religious Services Minister's claim that we aren't considered Jewish. Who appointed you to determine who is Jewish? Twenty percent of the state conversions since 2002 were Conservative or Reform. Most Jews in the diaspora are Reform or Conservative. You want to tell them that they aren't Jewish and can't convert here in Israel?"