Tag Archives: sheitel

A spiritual activist takes on the tznius (modesty) police

10 Oct

Time to get back on my soap box and start blogging again (after a long summer spent relaxing back in the old country).

 
So in Monsey, about an hour north of New York City, a town with a large population of frum Jews (many of whom are Hasidic, or devoutly Orthodox), it is a fairly common occurrence to see posters adorning lampposts, notice boards, and random walls across town proclaiming that in order for G-d to be/remain in our midst, or to avoid divine retribution,  women have to, for example: –

– Wear looser clothing, so as not to attract the wrong kind of attention;

– Refrain from wearing beautiful, human-hair sheitels (wigs) that could send out the ‘wrong message’ (Orthodox Jewish women have to cover their hair, and many do so with wigs, but some branches of Hasidic Jews proscribe the use of wigs and authorise only cloth hair coverings, such as shpitzels, or snoods);

– Wear skirts of a certain length only (Orthodox Jewish women are prohibited from wearing trousers, and must wear skirts instead, which should extend below the knee).

This last item forms the topic of interest today. Recently, in Monsey, a new ruling was promulgated on posters across town stating that women must wear skirts “that extend exactly four inches below the knee“. Not three inches, not five inches, but four inches. Women who wear skirts either longer or shorter than this length, the proclamation went on to proclaim, are causing the shechinah (G-d’s divine presence) to depart from our midst.

(How the proclaimers know of this direct causal relationship between the length of local women’s skirts and the presence or absence of the shechinah therein remains a source of great mystery to those not in the know.)

In the event, a young, Orthodox Jewish spiritual activist who lives in Monsey – my niece by marriage, Rochel Kind – decided to take on the proclaimers at their own game. She went round town and everywhere she found a poster of said proclamation, stuck up next to it her own carefully formulated response, showing how the directive is quite out of line with the halachot (Jewish laws) governing modesty. Using the appropriate terminology and jargon as well as using reasoning based on the Jewish legal traditions, she responded in kind to the modesty police. Here is her inspired response (glossary of Hebrew terms below):

Related blog posts:

Honey, I’m just popping down to the garage to pick up some cholent

What, didn’t you know Jewish women aren’t allowed to drive?

Muslims and Jews united in…banning women from driving

Reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Nomad’

heads, shoulders, knees and toes

GLOSSARY:

hidur: extra ‘beautification’ of a Jewish law, but not a requirement

halacha / halachos: laws / religious instructions

makor: a textual source from the Talmud or other Jewish legal texts

Gemara: the Talmud

Beis Hamikdash: the Temple in Jerusalem

sinas chinam: baseless hatred / intolerance

ahavas chinam: baseless love / tolerance

Klal Yisroel: the Jewish people

ahavas yisroel: love of fellow Jews

b’kedusha: holy

Hashem: G-d

mechalel Shabbos v’yom tov: breaking the laws of Sabbath and holy festival days.

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Sheitel à la Sorole Palinsky

9 Aug

You can’t go anywhere these days without Sarah Palin rearing her ugly head. It seems her sphere of influence extends even into the sheitel*-wearing public of America, who have apparently enthusiastically adopted a wig model styled on her inimitable hockey-mom locks.

Here’s what the Daily Forward had to say on the matter:

America’s most controversial hockey mom has inspired a new item made for religious women that probably isn’t sold up there in Alaska, gosh darn it!

The “Sarah Palin Wig,” based on the hairstyle of the Last Frontier State governor and GOP vice presidential candidate, is the latest head covering to go on sale at Sheitel.com, a Brooklyn wig shop and Web site for Orthodox Jewish women who maintain modesty by concealing their natural hair.

“One of our stylists thought it would make a good style, so we produced it,” said Boruch Shlanger, one of Sheitel.com’s owners, in an e-mail to The Shmooze. “It is very easy to maintain, and is a very classic look, yet fashion forward!”

The article goes on to mention that Sheitel.com also has a Posh model available,  à la Victoria Beckham.

(NB As I trawled the web for ‘Sarah Palin Sheitel’, I realized that I’m actually two years late with this piece of ‘news’, but seeing as a) I’m a newcomer to America, b) I just heard about this and c) I write for those on both sides of the pond, I thought I could still get away with writing about this!)

On the subject of the moose-hunting Palinsky, I’m sure you heard how she recently inadvertently coined a new word: “refudiate”, a cross between ‘refute’ and ‘repudiate’. Articulate as ever.

* Sheitel – wig, worn by married Orthodox Jewish women

What, didn’t you know Jewish women aren’t allowed to drive?

31 May

Mitzva no. 614 of the Torah (negative commandment)

  1. It is forbidden for a Jewish woman to drive a car for behold, it is stated that it is immodest for a Jewish woman to show herself in public in the driving seat of a four-wheeled motorized vehicle.
  2. If she is married, she may travel as a passenger in her husband’s car. However, she may not sit next to him in the front for this is deemed immodest. Instead, she must travel in the back seat (whether or not there are any other passengers in the car).
  3. A woman may travel in her father’s car, but only in the back seat.
  4. If a woman needs to get from Point A to Point B, she may take a taxi, where she should sit in the back seat. However our sages do not deem it problematic if the taxi driver is a male, whether Jewish or not.

Puzzled? Yes, so was I when I first heard that women in two hasidic (ultra-orthodox) communities in upstate New York are forbidden from driving cars.

At first I thought I must have misheard. What, are you trying to tell me that there are women in 21st-Century, post-feminist American society who live in such closeted, fettered communities where their ‘modesty’ is called into question in such a dramatic way that they aren’t even allowed to drive a car, I asked in a state of near panic?

Yes indeed is the answer. In both Monroe, where a large Satmar community lives, and New Square, home to the Squarer hasidim (who famously have separate sides of the street for members of each sex to walk on), women are not permitted to drive.

I found this out through a frum relative of mine (let’s call her Tania) who is secretly teaching a wayward Satmar colleague of hers how to drive. She tells me that her colleague (let’s call her Suri) has slowly been coming to the mind-blowing realization that you can be a frum, halachic Jewish woman like Tania and also drive a car.

Let’s make things very clear: Suri still wants to lead an orthodox Jewish life. She covers her hair (but does not shave it) as halacha requires, she keeps Shabbat and kosher, she keeps all the laws of family purity, etc etc. Yet, as an apparently intelligent young woman, she’s realized that her community has extended Torah prohibition into the realm of pure societal customs and restrictions. And it is against these customs that she is now secretly waging her own personal war.

Indeed, it is the spurious conflation of these societal prohibitions or taboos – often involving dubious ways of repressing women in the name of modesty (women not driving, women having to shave their hair when they get married) – with real halachic prohibitions (such as not keeping Shabbat or kosher) that is the problem here. The women – and men – in these communities are not even taught the difference between real Torah prohibitions and community-specific interdictions. Thus, they grow into adulthood fully believing that if a woman learns to drive a car, she’s well-nigh breaking a Torah commandment.

So when you ask me what bothers me in this whole sorry story, it’s not just the feminist in me that protests (although believe you me, she’s raging mad), it’s also the Jew/person of religion in me that cries out against this insidious and entirely disingenuous slide within the orthodox Jewish world – and invariably in other faith communities too – that is allowing community leaders to create ever-more dazzling structures of power, control and prohibition under the guise of religious leadership.

Oh and a final word on Suri which really made me sink into despair. Apparently the hairband she’s been wearing on her sheitel (wig) which is two inches wide, as opposed to the standard community practice of four inches, is really rubbing people up the wrong way. Her mother reportedly called her up and asked her, in all seriousness: “Where have I gone wrong with you?”

Shpitzel-a cross between a sheitel and a shnitzel?

30 Dec

I should never have doubted the versatility of the Yiddish language. It has a name for everything! Here’s a recently acquired gem:

SHPITZEL: A partial wig consisting only of a front piece, typically covered by a small pillbox hat*

Who would ever have imagined that there existed an actual name for such a specific hair-covering style favoured by such a specific group of chareidi (ultra-Orthodox) women?

(*quoted from Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels by Hella Winston)

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