Challenging Sexist Conversion Practices

Still from “A Tale of a Woman and a Robe”

Even before Jews around the world began reeling from the scandalous case of Barry Freundel, an Orthodox rabbi in Washington D.C. who frequently and secretly videotaped women immersing naked in the mikvah, the ritual bath next to his synagogue, a bold Orthodox independent filmmaker, Nurit Jacobs-Yinon, was trumpeting exposing in Israel another case of abuse of rabbinic power and the mikvah.  Five years ago, she was stunned to see an ad seeking religious men to serve as a Beit Din, the court of three required to certify conversions at the mikvah.  An Israeli feminist, Jacobs-Yinon knew little about what women faced as they went through conversion’s final step of ritual immersion.  But with Israeli law making it impossible for immigrants, like those from the former Soviet Union, to marry unless they could prove Jewish descent on their mother’s side or undergo conversion, she realized the significance of this issue even for secular Israelis.  An estimated 75 percent of converts are female, and typically those certifying their mikvah immersion are male.

What Jacobs-Yinon discovered about the violation of female converts’ dignity and modesty as the women, covered only by a robe, immersed before the men shocked and angered her. It led her to make “A Tale of a Woman and a Robe: Ritual Immersion of Female Converts” and to invitations to testify in the Knesset.