Shalom Guy, allow me to introduce myself. I am a qualified Rabbanit/Rebbetzin who has been teaching Hilchot Niddah, the laws of Taharat HaMishpacha/Family Purity, for the past three decades. I have taught countless brides before their weddings and accompanied them to the Mikveh. I have taken hundreds of women and teenage girls on tours of the Mikveh, and I have taught many courses and seminars on the Jewish perspective on love, dating, marriage and intimacy.
By contrast, I don’t think you have studied this topic in-depth, if at all, nor have you seen or analyzed any of the actual sources inside, and there are thousands of them. As any good TV show host knows, one should always do their homework and come prepared to address an issue. Based on your exposé and Tweets, you were clearly not prepared nor qualified to address the issue of Family Purity. I’d like to discuss some of the points you made, but first, let me give an introduction to the latest war of words.
For the convenience and enlightenment of my readers outside of Israel, I shall explain the background of this “scandal”, as well as quote Guy Pines’s Tweets, first in the original Hebrew which I will then translate into English. There has been a fair amount of brouhaha in Israel this past week regarding a new initiative to reach out to the greater female Jewish population in Israel; to educate and involve them in the laws of Family Purity, and regarding Judaism’s take on marriage and sexuality. The new organization is called She’asani Isha and it is the brainchild of Ruthie Leviev Yelizarov and Bracha Shilat. They brought on board a panel of experts and several high-profile celebs in order to spread the word. These celebrities are by and large nonreligious, and they are being paid for the hours that they sit and give interviews discussing how this Mitzvah has changed their lives and marriages.
Soon after his exposé, he also posted several highly volatile tweets. On the other hand, the Orthodox community is angry that such a holy, private and intimate area of Jewish life is being sold as a common commodity. And sold by immodestly clad, secular celebs on Instagram to boot! The one thing that both the Secular and the Orthodox have in common, is their dislike of the use of social media and socialites to spread and publicize the message. Both sides were also reviled by the idea that people are actually getting paid to talk about their personal beliefs and intimate lives on the big (actually little) screen. But more about that later…
Now that I’ve summarized the “scandal”, let’s get back to your Tweets, Guy. I will try to unpack them bit by bit:
עכשיו שהם לא פה, כי שבת, אגיד שמעבר לכל הדיונים בעקבות החשיפה שלנו על הקמפיין המיסיונרי המוסתר לטבילה במקווה, אני חושב שכל מי שמאמין בדת החילונית הישראלית ובערכיה הטובים, ולא סובל מרגשות אשם בנוגע ליהדותו, אמור לצאת גם נגד המהות. כי אין טומאה באנשים. ולכן אין צורך להיטהר. זה שקר
“Now that they (all the religious people) are not here (on Twitter), because it’s Shabbat, I’ll say that this issue goes above and beyond all the debates regarding our exposé of this hidden missionary campaign – to missionarize all women to immerse in the Mikveh. I think that anyone who believes in the secular Israeli religion and its good values, and who doesn’t suffer from guilt pangs regarding their Judaism, should come out against the very essence of this idea. There is no such thing as ‘impurity’ with regard to people. Therefore, there is no need to purify oneself. That is just a lie.”
Firstly, picking a fight when the other side cannot respond is both cowardly and tyrannical. Are you interested in having a conversation or are you only interested in spouting your own views in a bullyish way, when the other side cannot respond or fight back?
Secondly, seeing that you are clearly uneducated regarding the Torah’s verses and laws, it was not wise of you to emphatically state that the whole idea of Niddah is a lie and that there is no such thing as purity/impurity in the world. You are free to believe what you want, after all, the freedom to choose your lifestyle and beliefs is a basic tenet in Judaism and the foundation of the Jewish faith (see Maimonides, Hilchot Teshuva – chapters 5 and 6). But before you can definitively call something a lie, you need to study, analyze and disprove it first. Otherwise, it is your statement that is a lie.
Whether or not you believe in the Torah, the concept of Tum’ah and Tahara – ritual purity and impurity – is clearly written multiple times – for both men and women – in the world’s number one bestselling book. You even quote one of them in your exposé, Vayikra/Leviticus 15:19:
וְאִשָּׁה֙ כִּֽי־תִהְיֶ֣ה זָבָ֔ה דָּ֛ם יִהְיֶ֥ה זֹבָ֖הּ בִּבְשָׂרָ֑הּ שִׁבְעַ֤ת יָמִים֙ תִּהְיֶ֣ה בְנִדָּתָ֔הּ וְכל־הַנֹּגֵ֥עַ בָּ֖הּ יִטְמָ֥א עַד־הָעָֽרֶב׃
When a woman has a discharge, her discharge being blood from her body (i.e. uterus), she shall remain in her menstrual/Niddah separation for seven days; whoever touches her shall be impure until evening.
Two more famous verses regarding Niddah are found in Vayikra 18:19:
וְאֶל־אִשָּׁ֖ה בְּנִדַּ֣ת טֻמְאָתָ֑הּ לֹ֣א תִקְרַ֔ב לְגַלּ֖וֹת עֶרְוָתָֽהּ׃
Do not come close to a woman during her Niddah period of impurity to uncover her nakedness.
And in Vayikra 20:18:
וְ֠אִ֠ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־יִשְׁכַּ֨ב אֶת־אִשָּׁ֜ה דָּוָ֗ה וְגִלָּ֤ה אֶת־עֶרְוָתָהּ֙ אֶת־מְקֹרָ֣הּ הֶֽעֱרָ֔ה וְהִ֕וא גִּלְּתָ֖ה אֶת־מְק֣וֹר דָּמֶ֑יהָ וְנִכְרְת֥וּ שְׁנֵיהֶ֖ם מִקֶּ֥רֶב עַמָּֽם׃
If a man lies with a woman during her uterine flow and he uncovers her nakedness, he has laid bare her flow and she has exposed her blood flow; both of them shall be spiritually cut off from among their people.
You may not believe in these verses and laws, nor have any wish to observe them, but to say that they don’t exist or that they are a lie is simply outrageous! Can you prove with absolute certainty that these concepts don’t exist? And if you have already decided that the Torah is a lie, why is your Twitter slogan “Love your fellow as yourself” – which is itself a verse from the Torah (Vayikra 19:18): ‘לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י ה’ – “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against members of your people. Love your fellow as yourself: I am God.” It seems that your “secular Israeli religion and its good values” actually come from the Torah after all! And by the way, that verse comes from Parshat Kedoshim, the very Parsha that includes the above verse on Niddah.
Which brings me to my next point. Your next tweet stated:
.להיות יהודי וחילוני זו הדת הישראלית מבחינתי. על בסיסה הוקמה מדינת ישראל
“To be Jewish and Secular is the Israeli religion in my opinion, and the State of Israel was founded upon it.”
I cannot stress enough how much of an oxymoron that statement is. The very terms Yehudi (Jew) and Chiloni (Secular) contradict one another and certainly do not form the basis of any religion. To be secular is to be without religion as National Geographic put it: ” The World’s Newest Major Religion: No Religion.” The term Yehudi, on the other hand, is derived from Yehuda/Judah in the Torah and is synonymous with Yahadut – Judaism. The term Yehudim is mentioned several times in the Bible, and it first appears in Sefer Melachim II. If one does not believe in the verses of the Torah, one cannot use the term Yehudi which is derived from them. As a side point, this is what I was referring to in my blog Jew”ish”, and it is interesting to note that even Wikipedia states unequivocally that: “Jewish ethnicity, nationhood, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the ethnic religion of the Jewish people, although its observance varies from strict to none.”
Furthermore, the State of Israel was founded upon the premise that it is a “Medina Yehudit”- “The Jewish State.” The term “Israeli” means that one comes from, and lives in, the Land of Israel – which derives from and is mentioned umpteen times in the Bible. Being Israeli is not a religion, it is a geographic identity. Being a Yehudi/Jew, on the other hand, is to be part of a religion – Yahadut/Judaism.
And as to your other point about “anyone who believes in the secular Israeli religion and its good values”, these values are all clearly based on the Torah, the Bible, the Ten Commandments and Monotheism, as mentioned above. Try as you might to separate Israeli values and Judaism, you will fall short every time. Just look at your Twitter slogan.
Furthermore, you can hardly accuse Jews who wish to teach Judaism to other Jews of “missionarizing” their fellow Jews. The definition of the word Missionary in the Oxford dictionary is: “a person sent on a religious mission, especially one sent to promote Christianity in a foreign country.” By definition, a missionary is one who converts foreigners to a religion that is not their own. Judaism belongs to and is an inseparable part of every Jew’s heritage. Wikipedia understands this, why don’t you? Again, you have free choice of whether you will accept, practice, and believe in Judaism, but you are still a full-fledged member of the clan, not a foreigner. At the end of your exposé, you mention that this Taharat HaMishpacha campaign is the equivalent of a Secular organization running a campaign to try to get Chareidi women to eat cheeseburgers, or go to the movies on Friday night. Guy, based on everything I just said, trying to get Jews to be Jewish is not the same thing as trying to get Jews to be un-Jewish. The latter would probably qualify as a missionary campaign not the former!
As for these “guilt pangs” that you mention some secular Jews suffer from with regards to their Judaism (or lack thereof), all I can say is that feeling guilty can be a good thing if it sets you on the right track. The feeling of guilt is a sign that you have done something wrong and you feel bad about it. To quote Brene Brown: “Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.” Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake… Guilt is just as powerful, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive.”
As for your call to come out against the very essence of this idea of Family Purity – which you describe as a lie – you’d have to know and experience its essence before you can rebel against it. The essence of Family Purity, the laws and concepts behind it, are very beautiful and the Secular/Western world would do well to pay attention to many of the ideas behind it. Torah wants to enhance, improve and uplift our daily lives in every area, including sexuality. The point of Judaism is not to suffocate, obliterate and do away with pleasures and desires, but rather to harness, channel and control them, so that they are productive and promote our growth as human beings. Like anything worthwhile in life, it requires hard work and discipline. The laws are complicated and intricate and require study, diligence and instruction. The system of Family Purity is not the fun, carefree, no-rules and no-discipline lifestyle that Western culture so often promotes, but it is a supremely meaningful, inspiring, worthwhile and character-building way of life.
Having just mentioned rules and laws, your second tweet – where you mention that we should be modern and create our own rules; such as taking a shower instead of immersing in a Mikveh – just goes to prove that you know nothing about the concept of Family Purity or the laws behind it. Your comment is one of the most common misconceptions regarding the concepts of Tum’ah and Tahara – ritual purity and impurity. It has absolutely nothing to do with physical cleanliness – that is merely a prerequisite for immersing in the Mikveh. Ritual Purity is a completely spiritual concept. Additionally, it is not negative or degrading, as your outcry would have us believe, it is a spiritual way of life.
Here are some sources for your perusal.
Regarding physical cleanliness, Maimonides states (Mikvaot – Chapters 1-2):
“If there is an intervening substance between them and the water – for example, there was dough or mud clinging to the flesh of a person … the immersion is invalid… A woman’s hidden area is considered to have intervening substances present unless she washes before her immersion because that portion of the body is always sweaty and dust collects there and intervenes.”
Regarding the use of a shower or bath in place of a Mikveh, Maimonides deliberately states (Issurei Biah – 11:16):
“A woman does not ascend from her state of ritual impurity and cease being forbidden until she immerses herself in a Mikveh that is halachically acceptable while there are no substances intervening between her flesh and the water… If, by contrast, she washes in a bath – even if all the water in the world passes over her – her state is the same after washing as before washing and a man who engages in relations with her is liable for kareit. For there is no way of ascending from a state of ritual impurity to one of purity except through immersing in the waters of a Mikveh, a spring, or a sea which is like a spring, as will be explained in Hilchot Mikvaot.
Your spreading this disinformation is precisely the reason why Ruthie Leviev Yelizarov and Bracha Shilat created She’asani Isha in the first place! Ruthie even explained this as her motivation in your exposé. They understood that there is so much misinformation and disinformation out there, regarding Taharat HaMishpacha and sexuality in Judaism. Unlike the Secular world, Judaism believes in privacy and modesty, as well as in clean and helpful speech. We don’t flash our bodies and our sex life all over the screens and social media – but that’s a whole blog in and of itself for another time. It is precisely for this reason, because Judaism believes in modesty, that Taharat HaMishpacha is not flaunted and discussed openly. That is why there is such a backlash from the Orthodox community regarding this new and public initiative. But it is also why there is such confusion, misinformation and lack of public discourse and education regarding this topic. The truth is that the Secular viewpoint on sexuality is everywhere, but the Jewish one is not. Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power and I prefer the educated and enlightened path.
And by the way, Guy, no one ever complains about these women getting paid $150,000 an hour to flash their bodies in the name of lust, and to portray themselves as sex objects, it only bothers them when these same women use their faces and names to promote Judaism. As Ruthie stated in the interview, we live in a commercial and technological society, where everything is sold and disseminated via the screen. That would include your show, Guy. While she clearly denounces the idea of commercializing and “selling” Taharat HaMishpacha as one would sell yogurt or chewing gum, it is a fact that our society likes glitz, glamour and stardom. I personally am not entirely comfortable with this type of product, but it certainly fits with the times. Guy, you yourself think that religious people need to “get with the times,” so here they are!
At the end of the day, you and all your fellow “secular Israeli coreligionists” are my family, and I will always welcome you home.