Liberal Mikva’ot in Israel: Good for the Jews?

By Carrie Bornstein, Executive Director

DSC_0046tsPeople often ask us, “Is there anything like Mayyim Hayyim in Israel?” We certainly let them know about Mikveh Sh’maya, run by Rabbi Haviva Ner-David at Kibbutz Hannaton, and the innovative work happening at the Eden Center in Jerusalem, led by Naomi Marmon-Grumet. Outside of that, however, the mikveh scene is somewhat of a moving target for those who are not Orthodox – whether for conversion, weddings, or any other reason. Are they allowed in… are they not allowed in… must they use a witness… whose rabbi is valid, or not… it seems like every few weeks another bill is in the works either permitting or excluding use of the mikveh that we take for granted here at Mayyim Hayyim.

The latest round in these back-and-forth developments is a controversial funding plan by the Knesset Finance Committee to build four mikva’ot in Israel specifically for non-Orthodox use.

Some say, “What a win!” Now the liberal community can use the space on their own terms without being subject to someone else’s definition of the “right” way to use it.

Others say that this plan is a step backwards. It’s not helpful to further divide Jews in Israel and since mikva’ot are built and run with public funding from everyone’s tax dollars, they should be open to everyone.

So I want to know: what do you think?

A number of people have written articulately on this topic, and I encourage you to take a look. Here are a few posts I recommend:

“Separate but Equal: The Best Mikveh Option for Non-Orthodox Israelis?” by Leah Bieler

“Why Israel Funding Non-Orthodox Mikvehs is a Step Forward – and Backward” by Elana Sztokman

And what do I think? Honestly, I see both sides, though I lean more towards the positive on this one. What I do know for sure, is that MK Gafni who laughs at the idea of liberal Jews wanting to use the mikveh in Israel, saying it’s not a true desire on their part, simply doesn’t see what we see. He doesn’t see the 928 people who immersed at Mayyim Hayyim in the past year, 90 percent of them who are not Orthodox. And he certainly does not see all the liberal Israelis coming through our door each year, either. They come to learn, and are blown away. They come to immerse – some of them specifically traveling here to convert their child because they know they’ll be turned away from the existing mikva’ot in Israel, and they leave with tears in their eyes because of the potential they see here that is so foreign to them at home.

Whichever way we lean in our belief about separate Reform and Conservative mikva’ot in Israel, we can feel confident knowing that the need is real, the need is growing, and it’s not going away.


Carrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director.

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