Two Victories in One Week for Women at the Mikvah

This week, Shatil, alongside partner Advot, are celebrating two victories involving Israeli mikvahs (ritual baths).

Following a Shatil/Advot campaign, the Histadrut national labour union and the municipal religious councils reached agreement on a 17.5% salary raise for female mikvah attendants. The two groups had urged the union to prioritise the struggle to improve conditions for female mikvah attendants, and to use its clout, network, and professional expertise to create systemic change in their working conditions.

The new collective wage agreement is an important milestone in the ongoing efforts to raise the status of female mikvah attendants, and to provide them with the training necessary to identify domestic violence and women’s health issues.

But it gets better yet: in a historic decision, the High Court of Justice approved Advot’s petition for a woman’s right to dip in the mikvah without the accompaniment of an attendant. Many rabbis within the religious establishment insist that Orthodox religious law requires the supervision of a mikvah attendant. Now, thanks to the ruling, women have the choice to immerse in private.

In addition to the issue of how the ritual baths are used, who may use them has also been a controversial topic, debated in many a Knesset session: May people converting to Judaism through the Reform and Conservative movements perform their conversion-ritual immersion in state-funded public mikvahs? And will the new law stipulating a woman’s right to private immersion create an opening for all women to use the same mikvahs? Advot believes that women should be making these kinds of decisions, which is why its participants are passionate about working to achieve greater representation of women on religious councils. Shatil’s commitment to provide training and support for these women plays an important role in this activism.

Keren Hadad Taub, director of Advot says, “We are thrilled with these path-breaking achievements, but our work is now to make sure the changes in policy are put into practice. Providing training and a sense of belonging for women on the religious councils is crucial to the success of this process. Female representatives will be our emissaries throughout the country, even though it’s not easy to break into the religious councils’ ‘men’s club.’ Shatil has been with us from the beginning and every step of the way, helping us make connections, showing us the ropes of the system, and training us to be activists, and we are going to take this next step together.”

Photo via Flickr
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July 2016