The daughter of a Russian billionaire diamond merchant paid secular Israeli female social media stars tens of thousands of shekels each to promote Jewish ritual purity laws that relate to menstruation, veteran celebrity news journalist Guy Pines reported Tuesday.
The Channel 12 reporter said he began investigating the story after seeing a video clip on social media of a secular former reality television star, Shay Mika, telling celebrity interviewer Yael Bar-Zohar about her struggles to abide by the Jewish laws of nida, which determine when a woman is considered ritually impure due to her period and is therefore not meant to touch her husband, among other things.
“For the first time, this month I was nida. It was really hard for [my husband] Maor, so yesterday he told me on the couch, ‘This is the last time that you are keeping nida,'” Mika said in the video.
When Pines looked into this strangely personal video about Mika and her husband’s sex life, he found that it was part of a campaign sponsored by Ruthy Leviev, the daughter of diamond magnate and investor Lev Leviev. It is part of a wider effort by the younger Leviev known as “She’asani Isha,” meaning “that [God] made me a women,” a reference to a blessing in the Orthodox prayer book to be said by Jewish women each morning. Her campaign claims that adopting traditional Jewish values and practices strengthens romantic relationships. A number of studies, including some conducted by Orthodox Jewish institutions, have shown that these Orthodox methods do not necessarily result in better romantic lives. One such survey, that was published in the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, found that Orthodox women “reported significantly less physical and emotional satisfaction” than their secular counterparts.
According to Pines, Mika, who won the “Big Brother” reality show in 2015, was paid between NIS 15,000 ($4,350) and NIS 20,000 ($5,800) for appearing in the clip and for posting about it on her Instagram account. Bar-Zohar, who interviewed a number of women for the campaign, was paid between NIS 40,000 ($11,600) and NIS 50,000 ($14,500), as was another participant, television personality and food writer Michal Ansky, who also posted about it on Instagram.
In total, Channel 12 said Leviev spent roughly NIS 150,000 ($43,500) on the campaign.
Shay Mika, whose interview set off the Channel 12 report, defended her decision to promote Jewish ritual purity laws for money.
“They don’t script you. But if I believe in this and this is my path, so why not? We have to earn a living at the end of the day. Let’s just say that [making money] wasn’t my goal for doing this campaign,” Mika said, adding that she’d been considering following ritual purity laws before she was approached for the campaign.
The Channel 12 report sparked a flurry of responses on social media, with some criticizing the practice of nida as demeaning to women since it equates menstruation with impurity.
“A small reminder: We are not impure,” wrote Channel 13 reporter Neria Kraus in a tweet in response to the story.
Not all of the criticism was from secular Israelis, however, as many religious commentators pilloried Leviev for turning an issue of spirituality and intimacy into something commercial and superficial.
“What Ruthy Leviev did now was to turn preserving family purity into something stupid, ‘millennial’ and ‘capitalistic,'” wrote Nitzan Caspi Shilony, an attorney with the Center for Justice for Women rights group.
“Ruthy Leviev’s campaign about keeping nida drives me crazy. How easily we take something sublime, for which Jewish women have sacrificed themselves for generations, and turn it into Instagram stupidity and a way to make money,” said another reporter, Efrat Finkel.
More sarcastically, the popular theologian Tomer Persico paraphrased the prayer said by women before they enter a ritual bath in order to purify themselves a week after they stop menstruating. “Blessed art thou, Lev Leviev, who pays us for his commandments and commands us to immerse,” Persico wrote in a tweet.