Israel’s government advertising agency has begun producing an ad campaign for the Religious Affairs Ministry to encourage Israeli women to immerse in a ritual bath (mikveh) after menstruation. The ads are to be shown on television and digital platforms, at a cost 1 million shekels ($282,000).
The Jewish religious commandment for women to immerse in a ritual bath is based on the religious principle that women are unclean after menstruation until they do so. A couple is not allowed to have sex until the woman has immersed after her period.
The goal of the campaign, as defined by the government advertising agency, is a change in the perception of ritual baths to make the idea more attractive. The campaign is to present female celebrities who will tell about their personal experience of the ritual bath and recommend that female viewers immerse as well.
This is not the first time that the Religious Affairs Ministry has exceeded its authority – which is to provide religious services to those who seek them – and launched a campaign meant to encourage obedience to the laws of the Jewish religion.
In 2014, the ministry ran a campaign to encourage women whose status as Jews is in doubt to undergo conversion according to Orthodox Jewish law. The campaign was roundly criticized, including by the religious pluralism advocacy group Be Free Israel, as insulting to non-Jewish women.
But as opposed to the issue of a woman’s Jewish status, which can affect the Jewish status of her children, ritual immersion has no bearing on the children of a couple, according to Jewish religious law.
The campaign to encourage ritual immersion was to have been launched in 2016 as part of the coalition agreements which gave the Religious Affairs Ministry funding beyond its basic budget, some of which was to be spent on the campaign. The campaign is being led by the ministry’s Dafi Eiferman.
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However, the campaign was repeatedly postponed due to disagreements between the government advertising agency and the ministry. Recently, in light of budget cuts to government ministries, Religious Affairs Ministry director general Oded Plus has decided to divert funding to the campaign from the ministry’s ongoing and more urgent needs, for example, security guards at religious institutions.
But budget cuts mean that Plus has now had to backtrack, after the campaign had already been launched and the government ad agency hired. The agency, which produces all the ad campaigns for government ministries and corporations, already came up with the idea of using famous women to tell about their positive ritual immersion experiences. However, a production company to sign up the women, and an actual list of celebrities, has not yet been chosen.
In light of the delay in using the original 1 million shekels earmarked for the project, its funding might now be cut by 30 percent. The government ad agency is planning on using 300,000 shekels for TV ads and the rest for digital advertising and covering production costs.
The Religious Affairs Ministry said in response: “The ministry encourages initiatives in the realm of religious services, including the immersion of women. This specific campaign is being examined now through budgetary eyes as part of the ministry’s preparation to face the budgetary challenges at our doorstep.”
The Culture and Sports Ministry, under whose aegis the government ad agency falls, confirmed the details of this report.