Jewish Women File Petition To Israeli Court Over Interrupted Religious Practices

| by Nathaly Pesantez

The ITIM, an Israeli non-profit that helps citizens deal with religious authorities, has filed a petition to the High Court of Justice calling for the Ministry of Religious Services to organize less intrusive experiences for women taking part in ritual baths.

In its petition, the ITIM says attendants at the ritual bath create an uncomfortable experience for observing women who feel their privacy, religious freedom, and human autonomy are at stake, according to The Jerusalem Post.

A mikva, the name for the Jewish ritual bath, is central for observant women--once a month, after their menstrual period, women immerse themselves in the bath to fulfill a critical component of the Jewish faith.

Women have increasingly run into problems at mikvas, specifically with female attendants there (employed by the Ministry of Religious Services)--in one instance, an attendant did not allow a woman to use the mikva because of her hairstyle, even after the woman invited her to speak with her rabbi, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA).

Another account says attendants have barred women from performing personal preparations for their immersions, while others say attendants ask prying questions to the women and administer unnecessary physical checks before entering the mikva, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The mikva is an incredibly vulnerable place," Rabbi Seth Farber, ITIM director, said to the JTA.

"There is no other public service that demands that individuals--women or men--submit themselves to this kind of inspection. Mikvas around the world--in most cases--respect the privacy and rights of women. Ironically, only in Israel are individuals subject to violations of basic rights."

Sara Weinberg, an attorney working with the ITIM on the petition, says interference from the attendants goes beyond seeking bodily autonomy.

"This external interference expropriates from women who wish to immerse not only autonomy other their bodies but also their control and responsibility over their own religious world," Weinberg said to The Jerusalem Post.

The complaint was filed by the ITIM on Sunday on behalf of 13 married Orthodox women, the JTA reported.

Sources: Jewish Telegraphic AgencyThe Jerusalem Post

Photo Credit: Valley2city/Wikimedia Commons