Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Obstructing Mitzvah Observance

Typical look of a Mikvah (TOI)
I get it. But I don’t agree with it. At least the way the new law regarding Mikvah use in Israel is concerned. According to the Times ofIsrael
The Knesset on Monday passed into law a bill that permits regional religious authorities to turn away individuals from using the state-run ritual baths (Mikvahs). 
The reason for the law is to prevent conversions that are deemed invalid by Orthodox standards. Something that the Reform and Conservative Movements have been trying to get a right to perform in Israel.

(My how the Reform Movement has changed. They now want to be allowed to perform a ritual that would have been seen as archaic, backward and primitive to their principles back when they were founded. And frankly even now, they do not require a Mikvah as part of their conversion procedure. So why the need for them to insist on the right to use it? But I digress.)

The Chief Rabbinate doesn’t even want to allow conversions by some Orthodox rabbis… let alone Conservative and Reform rabbis. They have tightened the rules about what is and isn’t considered a legitimate conversion and have limited conversions to an approved list of Orthodox rabbis and conversion courts. 

Conversions done by those not on the list are not considered valid. This came to a head recently when in the city of Petach Tikva - one of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein’s converts was rejected by a satellite court of the Chief Rabbinate. That issue was resolved in Rabbi Lookstein’s favor. I mention it only to show how stringent conversions standards have become. And why the new Mikvah law was passed. 

Like I said, I understand it but I don’t agree with it. Yes, conversions do need to be standardized in order to stop the abuse of that law which was so common even among some Orthodox rabbis in the past and seemed to be increasing. How far to go with that – is a legitimate question, but beyond the scope of this post. What concerns me here is the following.

Hilchos Niddah (commonly referred to as Family Purity Laws or Taharas HaMishpacha) are some of the most important Halachos in Judaism. A Jewish man may not intentionally have sexual relations with a menstruant Jewish woman (a Niddah) - even long after her period has subsided if she has not immersed in a Mikvah. The Torah tells us that a man and woman that intentionally have sexual relations while she is a Niddah will both be subject to penalty of Kares. Which is death by heavenly means. And their souls will also cut off from the world to come. The only permissible way for Jewish man to have sexual relations with a Jewish woman after her period is if she has immersed in a Mikvah. (Details of this are also beyond the scope of this post.) 

This is why Hilchos Niddah is considered so vital in Judaism. Right up there with Shabbos and Kashrus (which has a far less severe penalty in Halacha than violating Hilchos Niddah). The problem is that in most of the non Orthodox Jewish world Hilchos Niddah is not observed. Which makes sexual relations between a Jewish man and woman sinful albeit unintentionally so in most cases.

This brings me to the problem I have with this new law. If women that identify as Reform or Conservative want to use a Mikvah, there should be no law to stop them. Even if they are not generally observant at all by Orthodox standards. Because if they use it properly they will no longer be Niddos when having sexual reations. Which makes this law an obstacle to following Halacha.

It’s one thing to want to prevent illegitimate conversions. It’s another to take this law so far that it ends up causing Jewish men and women to sin.  If - as the statement implies - this is a law forbidding any Conservative or Reform woman for using a Mikvah, the Keneset is complicit in sinful acts it could have prevented in those women that might have otherwise used it.

There is also this. Back in the 70s no less a Posek than Rav Moshe Feinstein actually permitted the Chicago Mikvah Association (CMA) to allow Conservative conversions to take place in their Mikvahs. What about the problem of aiding an illegitimate conversion? R’ Moshe said that looking the other way when they used the Mikvah to convert someone, was not considered aiding them.

The reason that was an issue back then is because the Chicago Jewish Federation was asked to help finance the construction of a New Mikvah. The primary old one had become irreparable.  Their condition was that the CMA had to allow Conservative conversions. Since without federation help the new Mikvah would never have been built, R’ Moshe gave his Heter (Halachic permit).

Now it’s true that this Psak was unique to the circumstances at the time. R’Moshe surely would not have permitted it otherwise. But it shows that allowing Conservative and Reform Rabbis to use a Mikvah even for their conversions has no inherent Issur involved. At least according to R’ Moshe.

(I should add that Rav Ahron Soloveichik had already Paskined that they could not allow Conservative Conversions in the new Mikvah under any circumstances. He was the senior CMA Posek. So that if the condition for contributing Jewish Federation funds was to allow those conversions, they should not take federation money. Desperate for those funds, the CMA then went to R' Moshe and without telling him that they had already gotten a Psak from Rav Ahron, asked him the Shaila for which he gave the above answer. Had he known that they went to Rav Ahron first he wouldn't have Paskined for them.)

In the case at hand, I nevertheless understand why the Charedi parties in the Kenesset want to prevent Reform and Conservative rabbis from using their Mikvahs to perform illegitimate conversions – even if it might be technically permitted. They believe it to be an existential issue.

I agree with Yesh Atid Kenesset member Aliza Lavie who said: 
“This law is not Jewish, not legal, not democratic...”  
To issue a blanket prohibition from using a Mikvah against any women identifying as Reform or Conservative is in my mind a violation of another Torah prohibition: Lifnei Iver Lo Sitain Michshol – Do not put obstacles in front of the blind.

Updated for clarity