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Israel’s Supreme Court: Public Ritual Baths Must Be Open to Converts From All Jewish Denominations

TEL AVIV — Israel’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled that public ritual baths must accept converts from all Jewish denominations, including the Reform and Conservative movements, the Washington Post reported.

Jewish tradition dictates that converts to Judaism must immerse in a ritual bath – or “mikveh” – once they have finished the conversion process. Until now, the Orthodox Rabbinate of Israel has barred non-Orthodox converts from using state-funded mikvehs with the claim that the conversion is not accepted by Jewish law and therefore they are not Jews.

Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein said on Thursday that banning people from streams outside of Orthodoxy amounts to discrimination.

“Once it established public mikvehs and put them at the service of the public — including for the process of conversion — the state cannot but be even-handed in allowing their use,” Rubinstein said. “The State of Israel is free to supervise the use of its mikvehs, so long as it does so in an egalitarian manner.”

Israel’s Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef called the ruling “outrageous.”

“Reform Jews are making use of Jewish law for their needs when it is convenient and are undermining the Jewish identity of the State of Israel,” he said. “The court cannot on the one hand satisfy a small minority, and on the other gravely harm thousands of Jews interested in Jewish life according to halakhah (Jewish law) and in keeping the true Jewish identity of the state.”

The Washington Post noted that the case, including appeals, took 10 years to wend its way through the courts.

“We view this as another step toward equal treatment of the non-Orthodox movements in Israel and specifically a step toward full recognition of non-Orthodox conversions in Israel,” said Orly Erez-Likhovski, director of the legal department at the Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, which sued the state on behalf of the Reform and Conservative/Masorti movements.

Yizhar Hess, CEO Of Israel’s Conservative/Masorti Movement, said the court decision “emanates from Jerusalem but will be heard in every corner of the Jewish world. This shall put an end to the humiliating situation today where Conservative and Reform Jews have had to quietly sneak into the mikvehs. This is another important step by the State of Israel in recognizing that there is more than one way to be Jewish.”

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