What NOT to wear this Purim

herpesBeing a mohel with herpes for Purim this year might not be the best choice

This a list of Purim costumes that are ill advised in the current political climate

  1. A Jewish pedophile
  2. A mohel with herpes
  3. A tznius policeman
  4. A woman with a blurred out face mask
  5. Rabbi Freundel
  6. An overly strict mikva attendant
  7. A get refuser
  8. Rabbi Mendel Epstein (aka The Prodfather)
  9. A scissor happy sheitel macher offering to tzniufy wigs by chopping off 6 inches
  10. A rabbi who poskins on niddah shailahs – heretofore known as 50 Shades of Dam
  11. A frisky seminary head rabbi

Feel free to add your own in the comments…..

What costume do you wear when Purim is over?

Purim-Costumes

A 2012 photo from a flyer from the Beit Shemesh store, Red Pirate, advertising children’s Purim costumes

With Purim less than one week away, if your household is anything like mine, the mad scramble for costumes and related accessories has already begun.

“What should I be this year?” is the question of the season.

What should I be this year, indeed? The concept of costumes, “dress to impress,” and feeling fake in our everyday garments is an issue that’s been on my mind lately.

When I consider my own metamorphosis from secular Jew to religious Jew, the concept of “changing my costume” was one of the major challenges.

Upon becoming frum, many men and women have to slowly adapt to the required change in dress code, although some folks take the plunge and change everything at once.

In one major way, men have to make a more immediate and obvious addition to their wardrobes in the form of a kippah or hat. I’m sure the question of which type of head covering to wear isn’t always an easy decision. Additionally, as a man gains more exposure to the different paths of Orthodox Judaism, he might choose to change the type of head covering he wears.

The same can be said for women. The mentors who guided us on our path to religious dress at the start of our journeys, might not have as much influence over us after we embark into this new world. Women sometimes find that there are many variations of acceptable styles as we become acquainted with other leaders and peers. This journey can sometimes enable us to adopt modes of dress that adhere to halacha, but feel more natural to our own sense of style.

Finding a balance between dressing with creativity, flair, and individuality, while still fitting into community standards, can be a challenge among a population where at least 85% of us wear all black to any given simcha.

Most newly religious Jews are advised to dress the part on the outside without worrying if they internalized the part on the inside. Although at first, we might feel as if we are wearing a costume, after a time we will find the truth in the old adage, “You are what you wear.” Dress as a religious Jew, people will see you as a religious Jew, and subsequently you will also see yourself as a religious Jew. Your costume will become your reality.

Of course, this disconnect and forced reconciling of outside and inside can also apply to Jews born into their religious community. Some Jews born into a particular community feel a discrepancy between how they dress on the outside and how they feel on the inside. Such conflicted people have to make hard decisions about whether or not to break with the external norms of their families and communities in order to feel like their authentic selves.

Whether a person is a baal teshuvah slowly learning to adapt and navigate between various hashkafos, or a person who was born into frum society, both will have even more of an issue with their outer mode of dress if they disagree with the culture or philosophy of the community they are representing through their uniform.

If a person’s discomfort is merely one of style (not to dismiss the severity of, say, the trials of wearing thick stockings in middle of a Miami summer), their objections might seem more superficial. However, if a person has serious philosophical differences with the community they live in, to be a walking poster board for that community is particularly galling.

I once had a friend who came from a secular Israeli family. Interestingly, it was only after coming to America that she became religious. Back home in Israel, her family and community harbored such animosity toward religious Jews that becoming religious wasn’t something that would have taken root in for her back home. I always found that ironic.

In America, my friend had the opportunity to experiment with all different modes of religious dress, including a multitude of different hair covering options. She wore hats, scarves, snoods, and sheitels interchangeably. However, when she ultimately returned to Israel, she said that she wasn’t going to wear a wig anymore.

My friend informed me that in Israel, wigs are strongly identified with being haredi. Modern orthodox women and religious Zionist women mainly wore scarves or hats – wigs were for the yeshivish haredi crowd. Although she liked wearing wigs sometimes, she didn’t want to be identified as haredi. She also didn’t want to further anger her family, who were not thrilled with her new level of observance.

I think that one of the unintended consequences of the emphasis on how we dress – judging the Jew by his/her cover – is that it is turning people off of adherence to the halachos of how we dress. These new subjective standards, which have turned into halachic requirements, confuse the basic halachos with chumros or cultural norms.

Covering every inch of hair, wearing a skirt exactly 4 inches below the knee, sporting a long beard, or wearing a black hat, implies that you belong to a certain group. If you don’t agree with, feel part of, and do not want to represent that group, you end up feeling like a faker every time you wear that costume in public.

I think it’s time for education on halacha vs. chumra in terms of how we dress. People should know that there are varying opinions about the required external appearance of religious Jews. Right now, it’s getting to be a “my way or the highway” situation.

I believe that there are many of us trying to achieve a balance where our outside reflects the person we are on the inside. It’s sad that many would rather have some people walk around uncomfortable in their own skin in order to maintain a manufactured uniform look to religious society.

Is it possible to still be a God fearing Jew while celebrating diversity and  individuality in how we dress and think?  If not, there will be plenty of folks who will choose the “highway” over the “my way.”

Sex as a weapon

elsaI saw a recent Facebook post about a group of women in LA who all banded together and refused to go to the mikvah until a recalcitrant husband agreed to give his wife a get (Jewish divorce). Apparently, their strong-arming technique worked, as the men of the community pressured the stubborn husband to give the get in short order.

Stories such as the one above have become the stuff of myth and legend in the frum community. Although there are hushed whisperings of women banding together and refusing to sleep with their own husbands until their sister-from-another-mister is unchained, no one can give any specifics as to who, what, where, or when these private protests actually occur.

Predictably, when this sort of agunah solution is proposed, people cry that it’s assur to use sex as a weapon. Additionally, why should one couple’s shalom bayis problem become an entire community’s shalom bayis problem?

The question is, why isn’t it ok for women to use sex as a weapon, by withholding her favors until she receives a desired outcome, yet it’s fine and even halachically sanctioned for men to use sex as a weapon? That’s right, by withholding a get, the husband is ensuring that his wife will never be allowed to have sex again – unless of course, it’s with him. However, he can get his freak on with whomever strikes his fancy – even to the point of getting remarried under the release of a Heter Meah Rabbanim.

Withholding a get is the ultimate example of using sex as a weapon, so isn’t fighting fire with fire fair play? I have no further details about the LA story, but if it is true, I wonder if the successful protest has the men of Los Angeles rethinking their future divorce tactics?

Forced Reproduction

pregnantSomeone shared a website with me that included the above photo. There was no context given other than the caption. Some folks who commented on the image immediately drew the conclusion that it was making a statement about babies born of rape. Their assumption was that the photo is a condemnation of anti-abortionists who feel that women who become pregnant through rape are still required to carry their babies to full term.

However, the photo made me think of something different. It made me think about my own reproductive life and the message given to orthodox Jewish couples about the mitzvah of pru urvu (to be fruitful and multiply). Actually, it’s the man’s mitzvah, but man can’t fulfill it without a woman’s womb.

During the courtship process, most frum couples don’t have the question, “Do you want to have kids someday?” It’s a given that both want children. Babies are a blessing in the community, and most frum couples start their marriages anxiously anticipating their first bundle of joy. Most dating couples don’t even ask each other how many kids the other wants. It’s also a given that each wants as many kids as Hashem gives them – or at least as many as they can handle – according to their posek.

Most orthodox couples are prohibited from using birth control until they have at least one boy and one girl. In some extreme cases, a heter is given for the couple to wait, but that is usually for health reasons or other extenuating circumstances. Financial reasons or just wanting to take time during the first year or two of marriage to get to know each other is not a valid reason for using birth control, according to many poskim.

One boy and one girl is the minimum requirement for the number of children required to fulfill the mitzvah of pru urvu. However, most orthodox couples don’t stop with one mixed pair. Even so, after achieving the minimum amount of offspring, some will ask their rabbi for a break.

In my experience, the standard “time off” given is one year from when the psak was issued. After one year, if a couple still feels they are not ready for another baby, they can go back to their rav and make a case for why they need another year of birth control. Depending upon the rabbi, he can either grant permission or say no.

I had been mulling over the concept of Jewish women handing their reproductive lives over to rabbis. Even in a larger sense, handing our reproductive decisions over to the Torah. Certainly, there is the sense that children are supposed to be blessing and that infertility is some kind of curse. We are told countless stories about infertile foremothers who cried out to Hashem for relief – and how they were rewarded for their prayers, tears, and devotion with children.

We are told modern day stories about women who changed their behavior for the better and merited conceiving babies after long bouts of infertility. Perhaps these women weren’t diligent about the laws of taharat hamishpacha, or loshon horah, or tznius. Once they rectified their behavior, they were able to become pregnant. The same could be done on behalf of a friend – davening or taking upon stricter observance of a mitzvah in the merit of another woman having trouble conceiving.

To think that a Jewish woman wouldn’t want to have a large family, or G-d forbid, any children at all is (pardon the pun) inconceivable.

I won’t enumerate on the ways that multiple pregnancies woven close together affects a Jewish woman’s emotional and physical health. It also goes without saying that a working woman is adversely affected by even having one child, much less many children. It is well known that the new glass ceiling for women is during her childbearing years, where all upward progression often comes to a screeching halt, as she is no longer able to devote long hours to the office. Professions that provide the flexibility mothers need are often low paying.

The financial stress of a large family puts a strain on even the strongest of marriages. The work involved in the day to day care of young children leaves little time for the day to day care of the individual parent or spouse. While children can bind a marriage together, there is little discussion about the negative impact raising a large family can have on the shalom bayas of the parents.

With these important considerations in mind, how is it prudent to leave reproductive decisions in the hands of a third party? To ask a man outside the marriage permission to use birth control? To have another person who isn’t a doctor weigh in on essential family planning decisions? The old adage of keeping women barefoot and pregnant is alive and well in the orthodox community, and in my mind, that’s how this photo spoke to me.