Female mikvah facilitators (Hebrew: balaniot) have expressed outrage over a new law that would impose a 50,000 shekel fine for unwanted questions.
The balaniot are responsible for supervising Jewish women’s immersion in the mikvah (ritual bath). Some women who use the mikvah have complained that female staff asked them unwanted or what they termed prying questions.
Among other things, some mikvah staffers have allegedly attempted to ascertain that the women using the mikvah are married Jewish women, apparently due to concern that unmarried women may be using the mikvah in an attempt to make forbidden relations "kosher." Facilitators are expected to ask questions to ascertain that women are halakhically permitted to immerse themselves in accordance with the Torah laws of family purity.
The mikvah workers wrote to Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, the Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs, seeking his help. The attempt to legislate non-nosiness unfairly targets some of Israel’s worst-paid workers, they argued.
“We work as balaniot because of the importance of the mitzvah [commandment – ed.] of ritual purity,” they wrote. “In most cases, this is not our only job – and the pay reflects that.
“The Yesh Atid party has decided to attack the weakest workers, with the lowest salaries in the market,” they accused. “The party should withdraw this law… It would be better to deal with individual balaniot about whom there have been complaints, not to threaten us with financial punishment.”
Ben-Dahan (Jewish Home) pledged to stand up for the rights of both the mikvah facilitators and the women who use the mikvah.
He noted that the Chief Rabbinate has instructed mikvah supervisors not to ask personal questions of those coming to use the mikvah. In addition, he said, “in the upcoming days new protocols will be issued… that were put together in cooperation with women who use the mikvah, which will improve privacy at the mikvah.”
“I won’t be part of causing harm to those [balaniot] who earn a low salary for their holy work,” he declared. “The overwhelming majority of balaniot do good work, and the few complaints that reach the ministry are dealt with.”
The law proposed by Yesh Atid is particularly problematic because it does not require accusers to provide proof that they suffered damages, he warned. The law “could easily become a tool for personal revenge against balaniot who are just doing their job,” he argued.