Israel’s Mikveh for Everyone

This month, our blog’s theme is mikva’ot from around the world. Mikveh is a ritual that spans centuries and continents; earlier this month we shared about a mikveh in Cuba, Uganda, and today we learn about the latest in mikveh news in Israel from Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David. If you have a mikveh story from another corner of the world, we’d love for you to send it to be considered for our blog. 

by Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David

An Israeli Knesset bill, sponsored by MK havivaMoshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), that would officially bar all non-Orthodox conversions from taking place at state-run mikvaot, passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset last month. It was drafted in response to a High Court of Justice ruling which stated that all conversion immersion ceremonies must be allowed to take place in state-run mikvehs, even if these conversions were not under the auspices of the Orthodox Rabbinate’s conversion system. Though there are also Orthodox conversion courts that don’t belong to the state system, the High Court case was filed by the Reform and Conservative movements.

As the Israeli Knesset debates this discriminatory bill that would officially re-affirm the Chief Rabbinate’s right to control and monopolize all state-run mikvaot, we at Shmaya: A Mikveh for Mind, Body and Spirit at Kibbutz Hannaton, are continuing with business as usual. In the last two weeks alone, we have hosted:

Avi and Daniel*, a gay couple with their two young daughters born through surrogacy in the U.S. who are converting the girls through the Reform movement in Israel and came to do their mikveh immersion ceremony at Shmaya; Rusiana and her 10-year-old daughter Sophia, Russian immigrants, who were also converting through the Reform movement; Irena, who is nine months pregnant, about to get married, and converting to Judaism, who came to immerse to mark all of these major life transitions; and several Conservative Movement conversions as well, including one of a woman who is slated to begin rabbinical school in the fall.

Natali, Karina, Ina, Anna, Sheila and Nirit–all brides getting married through the Conservative Movement in Israel; Yoni and Irit, who came together to immerse before their wedding through the Reform movement in Israel; Tom and Erez, a gay couple who came to immerse before their wedding, also through the Reform movement; Donna, Alexandra, Rena, and Avital—all women who could immerse where they live but prefer to come to Shmaya, where they can dictate the conditions of their their monthly immersions; Or and Shira, Shachar and Einat, two couples who each came together to immerse; Liat, a single woman who lives in Jerusalem with her boyfriend and comes monthly to immerse at Shmaya.

Eliana, who came to do a transition ritual marking her decision to put a hold on her career and be a stay at home mother with her three kids under five years old; Reva and Dara, who came to do a friendship renewal ceremony together after some years of strife between them; Yosef, who decided to quit his job and wanted to mark that with an immersion ritual to help him transition into his new life and find direction; Susan, a new immigrant who came to mark her transition; and Judith and her 17-year-old daughter who were on a healing trip to Israel together after a period of challenging transition in their lives.

And then there are the groups who came to learn about and/or experience mikveh: six bar/bar mitzvah groups; a group of Methodist priests; a women’s Rosh Hodesh group from a neighboring yishuv (settlement); a group of mothers and daughters from a Reform congregation; a group of Israeli Arabs and Jews on a tour around the area of different sites related to Israeli civil rights, and more.

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A Rosh Hodesh group meeting at Shmaya

And this is just a sampling. Plus, of course, we have the regular monthly immersions.

So you tell me: Is there a need for a mikveh like Shmaya in Israel? Our hope is that one day all of the mikvaot in Israel will be run on the Shmaya model. Until then, we are happy to stand firm in our conviction that this is the way every mikveh should be run. If that means being the only mikveh offering this kind of experience in the State of Israel, so be it. The first mikveh ever (“And God called the gathering of water—mikveh hamayim—the seas”—Genesis 1:10) and our model for the ideal mikveh, the ocean, is open to all 24 hours a day. Who is the Knesset, or the Rabbinate, or anyone else for that matter, to argue with that?

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our clients.

Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David is a Mikveh Consultant, Immersion Guide and Chairperson at Shmaya: A Ritual and Educational Mikveh. She is also the author of Chanah’s Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women’s Rituals of Baking, Bathing, and Brightening


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