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Women’s ritual baths closed by Jerusalem chief rabbi due to ‘promiscuity’

CM 15/09/2021

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A ruling issued by Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar halted a long-standing custom of women, married and single, to immerse in a mikveh ritual bath the day before Yom Kippur to heighten their sense of spiritual purity. 
Earlier this week, Amar sent a letter to Rabbi David Banino, the head of the Jerusalem religious council’s mikveh department telling him that mikveh directors and attendants should not allow women to immerse in the mikvaot they operate unless it is the correct night for them to immerse, according to Jewish family purity laws. 
This would exclude married women, singles, divorcees and widows who wish to immerse in a mikveh for spiritual purposes ahead of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, from doing so. 

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

The motivation behind Amar’s ruling was what he described as “awful promiscuity.” He explained that in current times “we have arrived at a situation so awful that things which we were embarrassed to think about in private and in inner sanctums have become a symbol of freedom and progress.”
Today, he explained, “People who are modest are considered to be mentally ill and oppressed, and people glorify in abomination,” he added. 
Amar’s concern regarding promiscuity appears to be a concern that unmarried women who immerse in the mikveh will then justify having sex outside of marriage. 
Under Jewish law, married women must immerse themselves in a mikveh following the completion of their menstrual cycle, before they are permitted to have sexual relations with their husbands again.
In recent years, some religiously observant, unmarried women who wish to have sexual relations with their partners have also sought to immerse in a mikveh first, a practice the Chief Rabbinate and some local rabbinates have sought to ban. 
Amar’s directive to stop women from immersing for spiritual reasons on Yom Kippur was however strongly criticized from several quarters, including the Itim religious services advisory organization. 
In a letter to the director of the Religious Services Ministry Shimon Ma’atok, Itim attorney Meira Friedman said Amar’s decision was illegal and harmful to the religious traditions of women in Jerusalem who are accustomed to immersing in a mikva on Erev Yom Kippur, noting that the custom has been in practice for generations. 
Friedman argued that closing women’s mikvas due to promiscuity and not men’s was a form of illegal gender-based discrimination and violated laws regarding freedom of religion. 
The Religious Services Ministry and a spokesman 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 Jews unite in reflection and humility, the Jerusalem religious council is choosing to divide Jews,” said Itim director Rabbi Seth Farber.  
“The custom to immerse in the mikveh in anticipation of Yom Kippur is well documented in religious sources and the women who wish to practice this custom should not be prevented from doing so because of unfounded fears of ‘licentiousness.’ 
“Though this decision was taken at the last minute, Itim will consider legal action to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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