Women’s ritual baths closed by Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem due to “promiscuity”

A ruling by Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar ended a long-standing custom of women, both married and single, to immerse themselves in a ritual mikvah bath on the eve of Yom Kippur to heighten their sense of spiritual purity.

Earlier this week, Amar sent a letter to Rabbi David Banino, the head of the mikvah department of the Jerusalem religious council, telling him that mikvah directors and attendants should not allow women to immerse themselves in the mikvah. let them operate unless it is the right night for them. , according to Jewish family purity laws.

This would exclude married, single, divorced and widowed women who wish to immerse themselves in a mikvah for spiritual purposes before Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, from doing so.

SEPHARIC CHIEF Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar: Time to go? (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The motivation behind Amar’s decision was what he described as “appalling promiscuity”. He explained that by now “we have come to such a horrible situation that things that we were embarrassed to think about in private and in inner sanctuaries have become a symbol of freedom and progress.”

Today, he explained, “People who are modest are considered mentally ill and oppressed, and people boast in abomination,” he added.

Amar’s concern about promiscuity appears to be a concern that unmarried women who dive into the mikvah will then justify having sex outside of marriage.

Under Jewish law, married women must immerse themselves in a mikvah after the end of their menstrual cycle, before being allowed to have sex with their husbands again.

In recent years, some practicing unmarried women who wish to have sex with their partners have also sought to immerse themselves in a mikvah first, a practice that the Chief Rabbinate and some local rabbinates have sought to ban.

Amar’s directive to prevent women from immersing themselves for spiritual reasons on Yom Kippur, however, has come under heavy criticism from several quarters, including the religious services advisory organization Itim.

In a letter to director of the Ministry of Religious Services Shimon Ma’atok, Itim’s lawyer Meira Friedman said Amar’s decision was illegal and detrimental to the religious traditions of the women in Jerusalem who are used to it. to immerse themselves in a mikvah on Erev Yom Kippur, noting that the custom has been in effect for generations.

Friedman argued that closing women’s mikvahs for promiscuity and not for men was a form of illegal discrimination based on sex and violated laws regarding freedom of religion.

The Religious Services Department and a spokesperson for Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“It is unfortunate that on the eve of Yom Kippur, a time when the Jews unite in reflection and humility, the religious council of Jerusalem chooses to divide the Jews,” said the director of Itim, Rabbi Seth Farber.

“The custom of immersing oneself in the mikvah in anticipation of Yom Kippur is well documented in religious sources and women who wish to practice this custom should not be prevented from doing so due to unfounded fears of ‘freedom’.

“Although this decision was made at the last minute, Itim will consider legal action to ensure this does not happen again in the future.”

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