In another victory for the non-Orthodox movements in Israel, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that converts through the Reform and Masorti (Conservative) movements should be allowed to use public mikvaot for their ritual immersion.
After completing the conversion course and being accepted by a rabbinical court, converts must immerse in a mikve, a ritual bath, in front of a panel of three rabbinical judges to complete their conversion.
Until now, the local religious councils, which operate the public mikvaot within their regional jurisdictions, would not allow non-Orthodox converts to use them. Public mikvaot are funded jointly by the Religious Services Ministry and the local municipalities.
The Reform and Conservative movements began legal work on this issue in 2007 and formally approached the Beersheba religious council requesting that a convert be allowed to immerse in one of the city’s mikvaot, with three members of the rabbinical panel to witness it.
The religious council refused and the Reform and Masorti moments filed a lawsuit with the Beersheba District Court claiming their converts were discriminated against based on their religious choice.
The district court rejected the suit, ruling that the non-Orthodox conversions were private processes and not entitled to use state facilities. The movements appealed to the Supreme Court in 2010 and the ruling was handed down on Thursday.
The justices wrote that the denial of access to public mikvaot for non-Orthodox conversions is discriminatory and illegal. They said although non-Orthodox conversions can be considered private processes, the discrimination against the Reform and Conservative movements “is inconsistent with the duty of the administrative authority to act with equality in all its actions.”
“This ruling is another significant step on the path to full recognition of Reform and Masorti Judaism in Israel and we will continue our efforts to complete the path in the coming years,” said Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Movement in Israel.
Kariv called on “moderate Orthodox” and national-religious figures and institutions to support the drive of the non-Orthodox denominations to greater equality.
Attorney Yizhar Hess of the Masorti Movement in Israel also welcomed the ruling, saying it was “another step in showing the basic fact that there is more than one way to be a Jew.”