Simchat Torah Dance Party

It’s that time of year again for orthodox women to become spectators at one of the liveliest holidays of the Jewish year – Simchat Torah.

Yes, it’s time to break out those Torah scrolls and watch the men get their groove on,

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while we cheer them on during the Hakafot.

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To be fair, this is prime male bonding time for the guys, plus a chance for them to show off their moves.

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It’s a great opportunity for the ladies to fan girl out over the men, as they willingly put themselves on display for our entertainment.

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Of course, it would be nice to allow the women to strut their stuff too.

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However, letting the women dance with Torah scrolls would be a perversion of all that is holy, and could lead to the worst of all biblical abominations – mixed dancing.

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Of course, some of us ladies are lucky enough to have a special designated area to play Ring Around the Rosie while Hakafot are going on at the other side of the mechitza.

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The not so lucky among us are relegated to watching from the sidelines and nothing more.

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Even further, some women can only listen to the action going on over at the men’s side from behind a barrier –

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However you will be enjoying Simchat Torah festivities this year, I hope you will find it both fun and meaningful.  It shouldn’t just be a holiday for men and children to enjoy, while the women’s main level of participation is setting up the seuda (holiday meal).  Regardless of how our current orthodox culture has evolved to interpret appropriate female involvement in the festivities,

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and Hashem gave us the Torah too.  As recipients, we are entitled to rejoice in that gift with the dignity and respect we deserve.

Not Before Rosh Hashanah

It’s a phrase heard this time of year in every orthodox community throughout America – “Not before Rosh Hashanah.”

Did you hear that so and so is getting a divorce? I heard it’s because his wife….

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Wait! Not before Rosh Hashanah.

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Can you believe what the rabbi said in his drasha this week? I’m going to give him a piece of my mind! This isn’t the first time he’s said something offensive. Don’t you remember when….

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Not now! Not right before Rosh Hashanah.

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Isn’t it a shame about your neighbor? They say he’s in an in-patient facility now. Apparently it runs in the family and his sister also….

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Stop! Not before Rosh Hashanah.

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Cut to the end of October.

Now, what was that about his wife again?

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What were you saying about the rabbi?

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You were starting to tell me about my neighbor?

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Anyway, I’m just popping in to wish everyone a K’siva V’chasima Tova.  I have a bunch of things to write about educational systems that promote exclusivity and use their admission practices to keep community members in line, driving some parents to suicide.  Also, I have a few thoughts on discrediting a rabbinic court that is trying to resolve the agunah crisis, instead of working with it to come up with halachically sound solutions.  I also thought about mentioning a local ORA rally that was planned for this weekend to protest a get refuser, however, I was just informed that the aguna in question just received her get, and so the rally is cancelled.  Hooray!

I would elaborate upon all these issues and more, but not before Rosh Hashanah.

Boudoir Photography Becoming Popular Among Orthodox Married Women

Considering that most media coverage regarding orthodox Jewish women tends to focus on restrictive modesty guidelines, it was refreshing to read about a surprising new trend among younger married orthodox women – boudoir glamour photos.

Apparently, in certain orthodox communities in Israel and the US, Jewish women are catching onto a trend that has grown popular among secular brides and wives – taking lingerie photos for their spouses to celebrate marriage, anniversaries, or birthdays.

An article in The Guardian reports that boudoir photography is making inroads among orthodox women because “there is room within the sphere of religious Jewish life for a personal connection to the erotic, as long as it is handled with care.

The article goes on to say that boudoir photography speaks to religious women, because unlike the stark and often crass nature of pornography, boudoir photography is all about softness and suggestion. While Jewish women adopt strict dress codes for public consumption, no such restrictions apply between a woman and her husband. As long as the photos are taken by a female photographer and are only for the viewing pleasure of her spouse, there is technically nothing objectionable in taking such photos.

Interestingly, the article interviews and mentions several female photographers, as well as female stylists, hair, and makeup artists who all work to make sure the model ends up with pictures that make her feel beautiful and sexy.

A has purchased today’s boudoir session as an eighth anniversary gift for her husband. The photos will be presented to him in an album and remain private between the two of them. The shoot, which begins with hair and makeup by Cassy Avraham, a fellow religious woman in Jerusalem, lasts three hours. A poses in six-inch black stilettos, a number of lacy nightdresses, and even one of her husband’s unbuttoned dress shirts. But while she thinks he will be delighted by the photos, she says she wouldn’t want anyone in her community to know about the experience. It’s simply too private.

Boudoir photography has opened up a new avenue for creative women to explore their interests in ways that have never before been available within the frum community. Apparently, it’s a lucrative field as well.

Chaya Eckstein, a religious boudoir photographer based in Flatbush, Brooklyn, charges $650 for a photo shoot. The price includes a lingerie consultation beforehand and a 10×10 album of images. Most of Chaya’s clients wouldn’t want their friends and neighbors to know that they have booked boudoir photo sessions with her. She told The Guardian that she understands her clients’ concerns about keeping their sessions with her private.

Religious communities are small, tight-knit, and fertile grounds for gossip. Many Orthodox women view boudoir photography as a form of gross sexualization. She [Chaya] knows that when her four young children get older and enter religious schools, there is a good chance they will be teased over her profession.

But Eckstein loves her work, and she shrugs off the backlash. “I like to be different,” she says. “I am trying to raise my kids to have a mind of their own, as well. I want them to choose a path in life that is between them and Hashem [God], and when it comes to my photography it’s the same.”

The end of the article quotes both Chaya Eckstein and another boudoir photographer from Israel, Rebecca Sigala. Both women shared their observation that a religious woman’s experience taking photos that celebrate her sexuality can be liberating. Eckstein said,

“For frum women, it can be extremely difficult to perceive themselves as beautiful. They’re always having babies, or their friends are having babies and they can’t, and they feel their bodies are somehow damaged,” she says. “But everyone is beautiful in their own way, and by the end of the shoot, they can see themselves differently.”

Sigala, who also reported being criticized for her work, said that the more religious her clients are, the more freeing the sessions can be:

“There are a lot of misconceptions within the religious community, and there are women who feel trapped by those misconceptions,” she says. “This can open their eyes to realizing that can be a religious, modest, beautiful daughter of Hashem and still do something like this.”

I wonder how religious husbands feel about their wives taking boudoir photos? Are the women booking sessions on their own initiative, or at the request of their husbands? Have any of the husbands been angry or expressed discomfort upon receiving the photos? Are there women who go back for multiple photo shoots? How do the women find out about the boudoir photography services (especially if they don’t have internet)? Have they asked their rabbis for permission to take these photos, or are they going rogue and taking the pictures without asking a shaila?

Questions abound, but one thing is certain – every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Just like bootlegging and underground speakeasy joints abounded during the prohibition era, so too underground methods of expressing beauty, sexuality, and physicality are going to bubble up for women during the hyper-tznius era.

A woman’s body can’t be contained – our sexuality and sensuality are intrinsic parts of who we are. Living in a larger secular world where the feminine form is on constant display – sometimes as an art form to worship and other times as an object to degrade – one thing is clear – telling Jewish women to cover up in a society where women are celebrated for exposing themselves is futile. Where there is a will, there is a way – and some religious women seem to have found their way.