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The Best Wedding Gift: Justice for Non-Orthodox Jews in Israel

The Best Wedding Gift: Justice for Non-Orthodox Jews in Israel

Dinah always knew that she wanted to immerse in a mikveh (ritual bath) before marrying Roi. It was a traditional rite of passage that many of her friends had gone through, one that would give her time for self-reflection and spiritual preparation for her wedding day.

She chose to immerse in a mikveh called Sh’vilei Or (“Paths of Light”), not only because it was located close to her home in Haifa, but also because it had a reputation for being welcoming to non-Orthodox Jews. Dinah soon discovered, though, that the reputation was not so well deserved. 

When she called to schedule an appointment, the balanit (attendant) told her to bring a form showing that she had attended the Rabbinate’s class on the Orthodox laws of “family purity” relating to menstruation. Dinah told the balanit that she was being married by a Reform rabbi and would not be attending the Orthodox Rabbinate’s class. 

There was silence on the other line. Then the balanit’s taunts began:

“What?  Are you marrying a goy [someone who is not Jewish]? If you are having a Reform marriage, why are you coming to the mikveh in the first place?”

After overcoming her initial shock and disbelief, Dinah answered the balanit’s questions with as much composure as she could muster, but it wasn’t good enough. Dinah was told that she was not welcome at Sh’vilei Or.

The balanit’s behavior was humiliating - and it was also illegal. In 2007 and again in 2014, the Ministry of Religious Services issued written directives prohibiting ritual baths from discriminating against customers because of Jewish affiliation, and even more specifically because a bride-to-be has not sat through an Orthodox “family purity” class.   

Dinah took her business elsewhere, and immersed in a mikveh in Nesher. She and Roi were married two weeks ago by Rabbi Gabby Dagan of Ohel Avraham Synagogue. Dinah’s emotions relating to her pre-wedding encounter with the balanit, though, are still raw. As she explained during a recent radio interview, “A Jewish woman in Israel should have the right to decide for herself how she is going to practice her Judaism and get married.”

As our wedding present to Dinah and Roi, the Israel Religious Action Center will be filing a lawsuit on their behalf against the Sh’vilei Or mikveh for unlawful discrimination in public accommodations. We will demand 50,000 shekel in statutory damages and an injunction prohibiting Sh’vilei Or or any other mikveh from closing its doors to non-Orthodox Jews.  

Sh’vilei Or’s 50,000 shekel fine will be the largest gift Dinah and Roi receive from someone who did not even attend their wedding. As for the injunction? It will be Dinah’s and Roi’s own gift to future Reform brides and grooms, a reminder that there is more than one way to be Jewish.

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel. She is also the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women and men from around the world who strive to achieve the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Anat Hoffman
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