Not so long ago, we breathlessly reported that supermodel Bar Refaeli—the greatest sex symbol to come out of Israel since, um, the Judith (of the Bible)—is expecting a daughter with her businessman husband, Adi Ezra, this summer, thus following through on her promise to “raise a big Jewish family” of genetically superior superhumans who will populate the Holy Land for years to come. And she hasn’t let impending motherhood tone down her sexy image, or condemn her to, like, a career of making Hebrew-language commercials for, say, the onion powder your grandma used to put in her brisket.
No, even though great with child, Bar continues to raise eyebrows, appearing in a swimwear ad deemed too risqué to be shown on Israeli television before 10 p.m., due to the fact that she appears to be wearing very little clothing in it, i.e. a swimsuit.
It’s not Refaeli’s first such ad to be censored. In 2014, an ad for the same company (Hoodies) was pulled from prime time due to overwhelming hotness (“too many sexual insinuations”) as it showed the supermodel lying in bed with a purple Muppet. A human in bed with a Muppet?! Egad! Think of the children! (How these same censors interpret the relationship between Bert and Ernie is anyone’s guess, I guess. I don’t remember it being a problem on Rechov SumSum but look, the last time I watched that show I was in second grade and Bonnie Franklin was still alive.)
Israel is far from the only country with a inconsistent attitude towards women’s bodies: Be sexy, but not too sexy, etc, etc. Rinse and repeat. But given that the country must take into account religious tradition (it is, in fact, the Jewish state)—a tradition with with I nominally adhere to—I feel more qualified than usual to comment on the ad’s banning.
Basically, it seems like the controversy over Bar Refaeli in a swimsuit embodies the essential question about Jewish identity: Is it a religion? Is it an ethnicity? If it’s primarily a religion, then sure, questions of modesty and the general gynophobia of much of the ultra-Orthodox community (many of whom, I’ve been led to believe, do not actually watch TV) make a kind of sense. If it’s an ethnicity, then shouldn’t there be a generalized sense of pride that one of our number is so hot that even a Muppet wants to sleep with her?
I don’t know the answer, except to say that Judaism, like sexuality, adheres to its own kind of peculiar Kinsey scale; most people veer one way or the other, towards religiosity or ethnocentric secularism, but there’s plenty of room in between. For her part, Bar Refaeli seems to have found the perfect balance for her as a bikini model, and a Jewish mother, tweeting a recent photo of her scantily clad pregnant belly as she watches Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix, musing that maybe this way her unborn daughter “will grow up to be a doctor.” And if that’s not meeting in the middle, I don’t know what is.