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Jewesses with Attitude

Mikveh and workers' rights

Reading last Friday’s Forward, I was struck by the juxtaposition of two articles about the Conservative movement Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Law and Standards.

One article described the Committee’s vote to approve three opinions on the laws of “family purity,” which require women to immerse in a mikveh (ritual bath) each month after menstruation and before resuming sexual relations. This is the first time the Conservative movement has stated an official position on this traditional practice, and it is likely in response to the rising interest in non-traditional uses of the mikveh to mark moments of transition and healing.

What this response seems to overlook, however, is that mikveh has become popular among women as a way of reclaiming a traditional practice for new, contemporary uses. But “reclaiming” is a very different phenomenon from accepting a movement’s mandate – one is individual and grassroots (springing from Jewish feminist innovations) and one is top-down and decidedly not about individual choice and meaning-making.

The other article detailed the Committee’s failure to pass an opinion, authored by Rabbi Jill Jacobs, requiring that Jewish business owners pay their workers a living wage and hire union employees.

Huh? Shouldn’t this one be a moral and halakhic (given the detailed biblical and rabbinic laws about workers’ rights) no-brainer? And shouldn’t the rulings about laws that involve intimate practices be the more difficult ones to pass? What does this juxtaposition of issues say about the direction the Conservative movement is heading in?

How to cite this page

Rosenbaum, Judith. "Mikveh and workers' rights." 29 September 2006. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/mikveh>.

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