The problem here is not the attendants but the rather the attendants’ bosses who make the rules that the attendants enforce. Attendants who go rogue and allow immersions that the rabbinate consider wrong – such as single women immersing or non-Orthodox conversions – are at threat of losing their jobs. Attendants are instructed to call the rabbi with any doubt. And so, earlier this year, when a woman came to a mikveh asking to be allowed to immerse alone without being checked by an attendant, the attendant called the police on her. I am pretty sure that this is the first time in history that a Jewish woman was threatened with arrest for using the mikveh. And it happened in Israel, of all places. […]
Mikveh attendants should not be scapegoated for what goes on in the mikveh. The obsessive need to control women’s bodies comes down through the men in authority who watch us without even being present. Mikveh attendents – like female “halakhic advisers” and “kallah teachers” and other religious women whose job it is to get women to obey religious laws about our bodies that have been created entirely by men – are just pawns in a bad system. They are vehicles of the rabbinate.
This entire story of legislating mikveh highlights the deeply disturbing culture of Orthodox Judaism in which men discuss women’s bodies ad nauseam, and women’s jobs are to obey. That women may immerse alone is good news, as is the fact that attendants may get slightly better pay now. But the patriarchal culture of state-backed Orthodoxy and the obsessive rabbinical need for control remain unchecked.