Con­tentious hear­ing on mikve bill ex­plodes

New MK Ye­huda Glick blasts ‘ar­ro­gance’ of haredi MKs

The Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By JEREMY SHARON

A Knes­set com­mit­tee hear­ing on Wed­nes­day de­scended into scenes more akin to a soap opera than a par­lia­men­tary de­bate, with MKs trad­ing barbs over a con­tro­ver­sial bill which would pre­vent the pro­gres­sive Jewish move­ments from us­ing pub­lic mik­vaot for con­ver­sion cer­e­monies.

Ku­lanu MK Rachel Azaria was re­moved from the hear­ing for her fierce re­mon­stra­tions against parts of the bill she says will dam­age women’s rights, while United To­rah Ju­daism MK Moshe Gafni later stormed out when a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the jus­tice min­is­ter ques­tioned the le­gal­ity of the leg­is­la­tion. Gafni in­tro­duced the bill ear­lier this year and it was passed in March in a pre­lim­i­nary read­ing.

Since some mem­bers of the coali­tion, in­clud­ing Azaria, op­posed the bill, it was agreed that the leg­is­la­tion would not be ad­vanced to its first read­ing un­til changes were made to pre­serve the au­ton­omy of women when us­ing mik­vaot.

At the urg­ing of Gafni, Knes­set In­te­rior Com­mit­tee chair­man David Am­salem (Likud) nev­er­the­less held a hear­ing on Mon­day on the bill, de­spite the fact that it does not have full coali­tion back­ing.

Azaria strongly protested against the hear­ing, es­pe­cially since Gafni has in­tro­duced a new ver­sion of the leg­is­la­tion which had not been sent to other coali­tion MKs.

The Ku­lanu MK shouted vo­cif­er­ously at Gafni for fail­ing to send out the new ver­sion of the bill and ar­gued that his bill would im­pair the in­de­pen­dence of women wish­ing to im­merse in a pub­lic mikve.

Am­salem had Azaria ejected from the hear­ing, and then promptly called for a five-minute break for de­lib­er­a­tions with the var­i­ous MKs as to how to pro­ceed.

Gafni’s orig­i­nal bill stated that im­mer­sion in a pub­lic mikve could be con­ducted only in ac­cor­dance with the in­struc­tions of the Chief Rab­binate and that pre­vent­ing some­one from do­ing so would not be a crim­i­nal act.

His leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced shortly af­ter a High Court de­ci­sion in Fe­bru­ary which ruled ex­plic­itly that pre­vent­ing the Re­form and Ma­sorti (Con­ser­va­tive) move­ments from us­ing pub­lic mik­vaot is dis­crim­i­na­tory and il­le­gal.

The Re­form and Ma­sorti move­ments were out­raged by the bill, but it also faced op­po­nents from el­e­ments within the re­li­gious-Zion­ist com­mu­nity who were con­cerned that the bill would harm re­cently won rights for women not to be ex­am­ined or ques­tioned by mikva at­ten­dants when us­ing such fa­cil­i­ties for their monthly im­mer­sion.

Dur­ing Mon­day’s hear­ing, Gafni said that the new ver­sion of his bill dealt only with the is­sue of Re­form and Ma­sorti use of mik­vaot for conversions and would not change the cur­rent pro­ce­dures in prac­tice for women per­form­ing their monthly im­mer­sion.

This step seems de­signed to head off op­po­si­tion to the bill from within the coali­tion, since none of the bill’s op­po­nents, in­clud­ing Azaria, has ob­jected to it on the ba­sis of its dis­crim­i­na­tory stip­u­la­tions against the pro­gres­sive Jewish move­ments, but rather due to the po­ten­tial im­pact on women’s rights when us­ing mik­vaot.

Gafni said ex­plic­itly that he ex­pects coali­tion MKs to back the bill, since the High Court de­ci­sion con­sti­tuted a change in the sta­tus quo on mat­ters of religion and state.

The UTJ-Likud coali­tion agree­ment says that this sta­tus quo must be pre­served, which Gafni and UTJ now in­ter­pret as mean­ing that should the High Court of Jus­tice change the sta­tus quo the coali­tion par­ties are ob­li­gated to support leg­is­la­tion re­vers­ing the court’s de­ci­sion.

How­ever, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the jus­tice min­is­ter said dur­ing the hear­ing that the law would be ef­fec­tively un­con­sti­tu­tional if steps were not taken to pro­vide al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments for pro­gres­sive con­ver­sion cer­e­monies.

Brand new MK Ye­huda Glick spoke up in de­fense of the Re­form and Ma­sorti move­ments dur­ing the hear­ing, and de­cried what he called the “ar­ro­gance” of the haredi MKs for seek­ing to bar the con­ver­sion cer­e­monies of the pro­gres­sive Jewish move­ments in pub­lic mik­vaot.

“It sad­dens me, as some­one who ob­serves the To­rah and mitzvot, that one group de­cides ‘we are the guardians of Ju­daism’ and oth­ers are de­stroy­ing it,” said Glick in ref­er­ence to the at­ti­tude of the haredi MKs to the pro­gres­sive move­ments.

“Where does this ar­ro­gance come from? Why do you not draw them closer [in­stead]” he asked.

Rabbi Gi­lad Kariv, di­rec­tor of the Re­form Move­ment in Is­rael, said that he ex­pects the prime min­is­ter and “all Zion­ist par­ties in the coali­tion” to un­am­bigu­ously op­pose the bill.

“Mil­lions of Jews in Is­rael and the Di­as­pora are sick of dis­crim­i­na­tion, ex­clu­sion, and in­cite­ment, and the State of Is­rael must very quickly re­com­pose it­self on this is­sue,” said Kariv.

(Marc Is­rael Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

USHERS RE­MOVE Ku­lanu MK Rachel Azaria from yes­ter­day’s hear­ing of the Knes­set In­te­rior Com­mit­tee due to her fierce op­po­si­tion to parts of the gov­ern­ment mikve bill she says will dam­age women’s rights.

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