Mikveh (Jewish ritual bath)
Mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) Flash 90

On Sunday Minister of Religious Affairs MK Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan (Jewish Home) held a meeting with the Chief Rabbis of Israel, in which it was agreed that women coming to immerse at mikvaot (Jewish ritual baths) would not undergo inspections by attendants unless they so requested.

Following the meeting Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau and Chief Sepharadi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef sent separate letters announcing their commitment to changing the current situation whereby women are inspected to ensure they immerse in accordance with Halakha (Jewish law).

Both Chief Rabbis clarified in their letters that women will be asked by attendants if they want Halakhic aid. If they don't, attendants are to respect their privacy and not inspect them. In addition, the Rabbis wrote that the essential Jewish laws of ritual immersion will be posted in mikvaot.

Ben-Dahan called the meeting after receiving numerous petitions documenting the invasion of privacy suffered by women at many mikvaot.

One petition from the city of Lod noted that the mikveh there has a sign on the wall saying that immersion is accompanied by a "check by sight and feel of those immersing conducted by the bathers and by the attendants."

In the talks on Sunday it was agreed that the intrusive management of mikvaot disturbs women who come to immerse, and might cause some women to cease observing the Jewish practice.

Ben-Dahan welcomed the cooperation of the chief rabbinate, saying "we cannot allow the continued emotional suffering of women immersing in mikvaot around the country."

The Minister of Religious Affairs further anticipated that women in Israel will be able "to come to the mikveh and experience a pleasant immersion," adding "we took on ourselves to bring the public closer to the Jewish tradition and this is an additional step towards that goal."

In late October a Knesset Committee decided that an ancient mikveh near the Temple Mount would be restored for women to use to ascend to the holy site in ritual purity.

The ancient mikveh is one of many recently found. A 2,000 year old mikveh from the Second Temple period was found in 2009 right by the Temple Mount, showing the ancient nature of the Jewish practice.