The last few weeks have been chaotic; our most holy of spaces, the mikvah, has come under scrutiny like no other. A place that transforms, restarts and transitions our lives, has been soiled, and must rise up like the phoenix from her ashes, to regain its place of sanctity and prominence.
There has been a lot of talk about how one ensures that this process happens; the transference of the keys to women scholars and lay leaders of our community, the placing of ombudswomen to provide an place for complaints and confidences, and the overall change of the conversion system which is dominated by the final goal of entering the mikvah.
Today, Tzedek, an Australian organisation that aims to tackle sexual abuse, published a list of protocols that will enhance the sacred space of the mikvah, ensuring that minors who use its facilities within communities of our people, will be safe from abuse. While this is extremely commendable, and is a much needed document, it does not fully answer the overarching goal of creating a Safe Mikvah.
Mikva’ot are simultaneously local and global; they are used by women and men in communities, but are also frequented by travellers and visitors from around the world. There are websites and apps that show people where a mikvah is located, providing all the details in order that they can be used. Many people, women especially, end up entering a foreign place, with no idea of oversight, protocols and protections, and expose themselves completely; physically and spiritually.
I would like to know that when my wife heads to a mikvah in the future, that the mikvah is held at the highest level of quality possible. I would like to know that in the future when my daughters visit the mikvah they can feel completely safe. I would like to know that conversion candidates who I send to a Beit Din, are fully protected. I would like to know that future brides who visit the mikvah before their weddings are protected so that their honeymoon glow is not diminished by some later scandal.
In order to do this, national rabbinical organisations, like the Rabbinical Council of America, the Israeli Rabbinate, the Organisations of Rabbis of Australia and others need to come together to endorse an international certificate that ensures the safety of mikva’ot around the world.
While I do not assume to have the knowledge of how the final document will look, I propose here a framework.
- All Mikva’ot should have a governance structure (with female dominance) that oversees the following;
- That mikvah attendants are given the correct training to identify suspicious objects and possible abuse
- That regular independent inspections occur to ensure that the safety and security of the mikvah has not been compromised
- That ensures independent governance of the mikvah from any single Rabbi – of course Rabbis should be involved, but should not be the overarching policy providers
- All male visitors should comply with the following rules;
- They are accompanied by an attendant or a member of the governance structure at all times – no matter the status of the person; from Rabbi to maintenance personnel
- That all entries by a male visitor are recorded in a log book signed by an attendant or member of the governance structure
- All male visitors must be accredited or back ground checked
- All mikva’ot should comply with national guidelines designed to reduce the chance of abuse occurring
If each website and app that advertised a mikvah also promoted the fact that a mikvah complied with a Safe Mikvah Certificate, women and their husbands would be able to rest easy, knowing that at they were being kept as safe as possible.
Our wives deserve this, our daughters deserve this, and our congregants deserve this.