A mikva, the Jewish ritual bath [Illustrative]. (photo credit:CHABAD.ORG)

Leaders of the progressive Jewish denominations in Israel have reacted furiously after the Knesset approved a law in its first reading which will essentially ban the Reform and Masorti movements from using public mikvas for conversion ceremonies.

Director of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel Yizhar Hess said the law would undermine Israel’s claim to be the nation state of the Jewish people, while Director of the Reform Movement in Israel Rabbi Gilad Kariv said the country was spitting in the face of Diaspora Jewry.

The legislation was introduced by United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni following a decision by the Supreme Court in February which ruled that it was discriminatory and illegal for local religious councils to ban the progressive Jewish movements from using public mikvas for their conversion ceremonies.

A representative of the attorney general’s office said in Knesset committee earlier this month however that the attorney general would only support the bill if a solution was found for the progressive denominations.

The government has proposed a solution whereby the Jewish Agency would provide funds to build up to four mikvas for the use of the Reform and Masorti movements for conversion ceremonies.

The progressive movements would also be responsible for maintenance and operating costs.

Implementation of the legislation is supposed to be delayed by nine months in order to provide time to build the new mikvas, although the progressive movements have said that this timeline is unrealistic.

Gafni himself said he was opposed even to this proposal, but it is possible he and his party would not fight it if his bill is approved.

The Reform and Masorti movements were not consulted regarding this proposal however and said they opposed it if the money used would come from the Jewish Agency’s budget itself and not from the government.

They argue that if the government does not specifically transfer money to the Jewish Agency for building the mikvas then the money used will come from the funding provided by the Diaspora to the Jewish Agency, which they say would be unacceptable.

Kariv said that the Reform movement would also oppose the proposal if the government does not pay for maintenance and operating costs.

On Sunday, the Reform and Masorti movements wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that they were in principle open to the idea of building mikvas for their use separate from public mikvas run by local religious councils, but insisted that Gafni’s legislation nevertheless be halted.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post