Balaniyot, Baths and Beyond

Israel’s State-Run Ritual Baths and the Rights of Women

In: Journal of Law, Religion and State

Ritual immersion in Israel has become a major point of contention between Israeli-Jewish women and the state-funded Chief Rabbinate of Israel. In order to conduct a religious household, Orthodox Jewish women are required to immerse in a ritual bath (mikveh) approximately once a month. However, in Israel, these are strictly regulated and managed by the Chief Rabbinate, which habitually interferes with women’s autonomy when immersing. The article presents the case, then moves to discuss two models of religion-state relations: privatization and evenhandedness (roughly the modern version of nonpreferentialism), as two democratic models that can be adopted by the state in order to properly manage religious services, ritual baths included. The discussion also delineates the general lessons that can be learned from this contextual exploration, pointing to the advantages of the privatization model, and to the complexities involved in any evenhanded approach beyond the specific case at hand.