Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow?

Orthodox day school kids are currently undergoing a back-to-school ritual common across across all hashkafot – lice check. Nothing freaks us out more than the thought of our kids being exposed to nits and lice – and nothing helps nits and lice spread like wildfire than having a bunch of infested kids in close quarters bumping heads in crowded classrooms. Hence the regulatory hair check before being admitted to school in the fall.

Apparently, there is at least one girls’ school in Lakewood that is killing two birds with one stone when it comes to lice check. As long as they are checking hair anyway, lice check is also the perfect opportunity to enforce a mandatory hair length requirement. 

In a letter to the parent body, this school stated that in order to be admitted to this school, hair length may not exceed four inches past the collarbone, irrespective of how it is worn (loose or in a pony). One has to wonder what would happen if a girl came with hair that was too long? Would she and her mother be publicly called out and sent away, chastised and ashamed, for a haircut? 

First they went for the moms’ wigs, now they’ve gone after the daughters’ hair. That’s right, yet another new and arbitrary tznius rule is being imposed, this time directed at young girls.

Every new rule regarding tznius always has wider implications – simply because it’s an area where every school has to keep up with the Joneses. If a competing school doesn’t have this hair rule, now it will be seen as the “less frum” option. You can bet that next year a letter stating a similar requirement about hair length will go out to its own parent body. This standard will then slowly trickle down until it reaches schools that aren’t bais yaakov institutions and aren’t even made up of yeshivish families. Is this new rule merely yet another means of exclusion and exclusivity disguised as frumkeit?

Some people are saying that this is an example of the community’s enforced lack of autonomy and over- sexualization of minor girls that is causing young women to go off the derech. When girls have no means of creative expression over their appearance (nail polish, jewelry, hair styles, hair length, clothing), sometimes it causes them to act out in more serious ways. Don’t sweat the small stuff and give them some wiggle room to rebel over the insignificant things. There may come a time when hair length is the least of the worries.

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The Jewish Observer – Ahead of Its Time

I recently reread a 2015 Haaretz article by Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt entitled, Inside the World of ultra-Orthodox Media: Haredi Journalists Tell It Like It Is that had an interesting interview with Mishpacha magazine’s news editor Binyamin Rose. In the article, Rose justified the exclusion of women’s images in his magazine by saying – 

“This is how we avoid the objectification of women,” Rose answers to me in an earlier meeting. “Our policy is that we do not alter pictures as they are. If there is a woman in a photograph, we’ll simply use another picture.”

“I can only put it like this,” he says. “Based on community standards, there are constraints for our work.”

“Mishpacha isn’t going to be the first to introduce women into the magazine. If the standards were to change, it’s a subject that can be reconsidered. But I don’t like to make predictions. Today, a significant readership would object to images of women – we won’t break ranks with them.”

The good news is that Mishpacha doesn’t have to be the first to introduce women into Orthodox magazines – there has already been a trailblazer in this arena – The Jewish Observer, an Orthodox magazine published by Agudath Israel of America from 1963-2009. Since The Jewish Observer already set this precedent, maybe it will be easier for magazines such as Mishpacha to reverse their policy about including women’s photos in their publications.  

Below are examples of photos from The Jewish Observer (keep in mind that the early years of the magazine had mostly text content and very few images in general, and due to the photo quality you have to squint to see some images).  

I love seeing these photos; even the advertisement drawings.  They bring to life what women and girls of these previous generations were like and what sorts of things they did, what they thought, what they bought, and what styles they wore. I only wish there were more images to look through. 

Just think of the vital history that’s already been lost and that continues to be lost every day since ultra Orthodox media has eliminated female images! It’s not only the images, but once you cut out the image, the magazines tend to cut out the women themselves.  

For example, in 1985 The Jewish Observer did a cover story on Selma Mayer, known as Schwester Selma.  She was the head nurse at the original Shaare Zedek Hospital on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem for nearly 50 years. For many years she was the right-hand assistant of the hospital’s founding director, Dr. Moshe Wallach. It’s hard to imagine how an ultra Orthodox paper would profile such a woman today, without using any photos.  Most current magazines probably wouldn’t run large stories on modern day heroines – precisely because of the picture problem. Hence, women are being left out of Jewish history in a major way.

Along those same lines, based on The Jewish Observer’s trend in photos, because women are left out of the general narrative, these female-free publications morph into “men’s magazines,” written from a man’s lens, even though they are marketed as family publications.  This means that women aren’t portrayed as autonomous individuals, but solely as daughters, brides, wives, and mothers.  The lack of complete coverage paints a false picture that the only roles for females in Orthodox society are as children or as whatever relationship they are to a boy/man – because women are only discussed and visually represented (in drawings or blurred photos) in these capacities. 

The evolution of these photos from 1964-2009 is quite remarkable.  The heyday decades for women’s photos seem to be from the mid 70s to the mid 90s.  The turn of the century marked the gradual erasure of women from The Jewish Observer.  If anyone knows of a major public prohibition against women’s photos from a prominent rabbi or organization from the turn of the century, please enlighten me.  Perhaps competing publications started that banned female images and The Jewish Observer felt they had to follow suit or lose revenue?  I hope you find these images as interesting as I did.

Edited to add – here is an anonymous letter to the editor from 1992 criticizing The Jewish Observer for publishing photos of females in its pages.  The anonymity speaks volumes, as this female-free policy seems to have no direct attribution to any Torah authority (if there is a direct attribution to be made, he/they don’t make it easy to find their names or quotes).


-letter hat tip Fred MacDowell on Facebook

Photo Essay of Female Images Published in The Jewish Observer 1964-2009

-compiled by Sharon Shapiro, 2017






















The Downside of Hatzalah in Smaller Communities

911*Identifying details have been changed in the examples to protect the privacy of those involved.

Growing up in America, from the time we are young children we are taught to dial 911 in an emergency.  This number is so ingrained in our psyche that even elderly people suffering from early dementia sometimes remember to call 911, even when they can no longer remember their own telephone number (and even when a 911 call isn’t warranted).

In an emergency, how quickly help is asked for and received can make the difference between life and death.  How then is the situation improved or diminished based upon a change of protocol, such as having to make a quick choice between dialing 911, a lifelong standby, or dialing a 10 digit number for Hatzalah?  What are the factors that go into the decision between calling one number over the other?  What are the factors that delay the decision over who to call?

When Hatzalah opened a branch in Chicago a few years back, it was to better serve the community’s needs when it came to medical emergencies.  Some people complained that 911 ambulance calls took too long to arrive at the scene, the city being underserved with emergency vehicles and EMT staff.  Another large complaint was that the ambulances took patients to hospitals closest to the community, which are generally smaller and not as reputable, instead of the major hospitals slightly farther away that give more extensive care and have their personal physicians on staff.  With Hatzalah, if the medical situation permits, they will take patients to the hospital of their choice.  Additionally, there was the added benefit of having care with a personal touch, by volunteers who likely know their patients and therefore, will give them the best care possible.  Aye, there’s the rub!

I happen to know a few Hatzalah volunteers, and have seen firsthand how dedicated they are to their cause.  Aside from the training and hours of experience needed for EMT certification, they must sacrifice time away from their families, their tranquility and peace on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and much needed sleep for nighttime emergency calls.  Their families also sacrifice their time with their husbands and fathers in order to allow them to perform this mitzvah.

However, the personal touch is not what everyone wants from an EMT.  There is a certain comfort in being anonymous in a patient/caregiver situation – particularly in emergency situations where we are at our most vulnerable and exposed.  Confiding intimate healthcare problems, or undergoing examinations that could be experienced as embarrassing is often made more bearable for many by knowing that the caregiver is not someone you are ever likely to meet at a birthday party, or synagogue, or at parent teacher conferences.  Not true with Hatzalah in a smaller town.

It doesn’t matter how discreet and professional the men of Hatzalah are, the fact is that they are neighbors, friends, and relatives who don’t normally see their patients in a state of undress or in a mess of bodily fluids.

For example, two local elderly brothers waited to call Hatzalah until the younger brother, who had suffered a fall and couldn’t get up, could clean himself up to greet the emergency workers.  The older brother recounted that his younger brother was weak and disoriented after falling.  He also suffered from occasional incontinence, and in the shock of the fall had soiled himself.  They had thought about calling 911, but knew they wouldn’t be taken to the hospital where his doctors were on staff, so they attempted to get him up to go to the bathroom, clean off, and change clothes. In the attempt to lift him up, his brother fell again and hit his head on a dresser, which later required stiches.  They finally managed to get him to crawl to the bathroom, where he readied himself for the volunteers who were sure to recognize him, and only afterwards did they dial Hatzalah for assistance.

Added to the mix of lack of anonymity is the overarching international policy of the Hatzalah organization that only men are allowed to be volunteers.  I have written about this topic before, and also about how men and women are very different when it comes to modesty in medical care.  While certainly there are women who prefer male doctors and medical workers over female, many women specifically choose female health care workers, especially for any care requiring intimate examinations or exposure.  While some national Hatzalah volunteers have been quoted in the press as saying that as long as there is a positive outcome, their patients are happy and satisfied, many women will tell you that an embarrassing health care experience is something that stays with you, regardless if the health outcome was good.  This is especially true in segments of the frum community, where women place a high emphasis on tznius.

For example, one son told of how his elderly mother called him in the middle of the night in a panic.  She was suffering from chest pains, and she couldn’t decide whether to call 911 or Hatzalah.  She had been lying in bed about to go to sleep when the pains hit her.  She had her phone by her bedside, but she was simply in too much agony to get out of bed, much less put on clothing and a sheitel.  She couldn’t stand the thought of frum Jewish men coming into her home and seeing her without her hair covered.  At the same time, she felt Hatzalah would give her better care than calling 911, so she also hesitated to dial 911.  She simply didn’t know what to do.  Finally, she called her son to ask his advice, and he promptly called 911 and headed to her house.  By the time he arrived, the ambulance had arrived, but his mother’s heart had already stopped.  The medics had to resuscitate her on site and put her on a portable ventilator.  She never regained consciousness.

Of course, not every incident is as dramatic as those described above.  One woman who had used Hatzalah’s services for herself in a non-life-threatening emergency situation, said that while the care was excellent and she was appreciative, she felt extremely uncomfortable to be examined by men she knew.  She had also hesitated at first about which emergency service to call.  She was worried that she would be required to partially disrobe in order for Hatzalah’s EMTs to examine her, but ultimately, the desire to be transported to her hospital of choice overrode her fear of potential embarrassment. After finally choosing Hatzalah, she was relieved that her back pain didn’t require her to remove her shirt or lift it too high.  The EMT’s were very conscious of her desire for modesty and took pains to keep her covered as much as possible.  Nevertheless, reliving the embarrassment of two of her husband’s friends coming into her home and putting hands on her is something that has stayed with her, despite their professionalism and discretion.

The last thing an injured or ill person should have to worry about is embarrassment, but when the caregiver is a personal acquaintance and/or a member of the opposite sex that you know out of context from the health care angle, it is an issue.  How many people waffle between whether to call 911 or Hatzalah because of the lack of anonymity?  How many lives are put at risk because people have one too many options regarding who to call in an emergency?  How many times do social or religious reasons override health reasons in reaching out quickly for medical care?

My goal in writing this post is not to disparage Hatzalah, whose volunteers save lives on a daily basis and deserve our gratitude and admiration.  Rather, I wanted to discuss an unintended impediment to achieving Hatzalah’s mission of rapid response.  There is already a general hesitation in medical emergencies over whether or not a trip to the hospital is warranted.  Once the decision is made to go to the hospital, precious lifesaving minutes could be further wasted in the possible hesitation over which emergency service to call.  Hatzalah needs to find a way to ameliorate the hesitation and embarrassment inherent in calling upon friends and neighbors for assistance in private and potentially humiliating situations.  In a small community like Chicago, where everybody knows everybody, the anonymity larger communities can expect when calling Hatzalah is difficult to achieve.

Hillary Clinton has gone where no woman has gone before – the cover of Yated!

hillary yatedYes, that’s really her arm – and her sleeve is threatening to slide above her elbow!

Things are getting more complicated by the minute for the Haredi press.  It was bad enough that the Treasury Department announced new designs earlier this year for several bills that will incorporate women, including Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony and Eleanor Roosevelt.  Ultra-orthodox men will now be forced to carry around pictures of women in their wallets, and even fondle their faces as they attempt to find the proper currency to purchase a Shmiras Einayim sefer from their local Jewish book store – exchanging the forbidden photos with all the shame and excitement of young adolescents swapping issues of old girlie magazines stolen from the corners of their father’s closets.

However, with the looming prospect of the first female American President being elected this November, some of the papers that have historically shunned showing images of women will now have to rethink their policies.

Right now most of those papers have written stories about Hillary Clinton either eschewing a photo all together, or showing loosely related images of her surroundings.

An example is this recent photo of her supporters that appeared in Mishpacha magazine accompanying a story about her strategic DNC acceptance speech:

hillary1(note the signs don’t even have her name on them)

Or another photo from the same publication of her husband Bill Clinton when Hillary finally clinched the nomination as the Democratic Presidential candidate:

hillary2Indeed, if Hillary wins, it will most likely appear as if Bill Clinton has won a 3rd Presidential term in the Haredi press, as his face will likely be switched out for hers wherever possible.

Ari L. Goldman of the Columbia Journalism Review writes that:

In interviews, the editors of four major English-language ultra-Orthodox publications, three of them published in New York and one in Jerusalem, said that they are reevaluating their no-women policy in light of the Clinton candidacy, but would not make any final decisions alone. As with all important decisions, they will take the question to the boards of rabbinical advisors with whom final authority over the publications’ content rests. One of the editors, a rabbi himself, said that a Clinton victory could spell a change in the longstanding no-women policy in his paper and the others. “I think we’re going to have to rethink it,” Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter, the executive editor of Ami Magazine, told me. Not to do so, he said, “would be disrespectful.””

This is a big statement coming from a publication that has a well-known policy not to use any photos of women, and has been accused of cropping women out of photos for its publication.

Goldman goes on to say:

All of the editors said that the practice of not using women’s photographs started with the Israeli papers, which set the standard. Most of them said that the vast majority of their subscribers read other publications with pictures of women, but that they declined to use women’s pictures out of fear of alienating the more observant segment of their readership.

The adoption of this standard has led to some foibles that garnered worldwide media attention.  For example, in an excerpt of Goldman’s CJR piece, OnlySimchas reprints a photo from 2011 when Di Tzeitung, published in Brooklyn, digitally removed then Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, from a picture of the White House situation room on the night of the military operation that assassinated Osama bin Laden:

hillary3Goldman says, “While the editor of Di Tzeitung apologized for manipulating a White House photo, which is a violation of the licensing agreements, Rabbi Frankfurter of Ami defended his stance, saying that cropping is “done routinely by most papers and magazines.

Also shown in the OnlySimchas excerpt is a photo that circulated among Haredi publications that cropped out Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, from a long line of world leaders at the huge rally in Paris after the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists:

hillary4Goldman writes, “But continually cropping out President Hillary Clinton might prove too much even for Rabbi Frankfurter. “We would be locking ourselves out of a lot of opportunities,” he said. “We couldn’t even run photos of the White House Hanukkah party.”

Interestingly, the publishers and editors of two prominent Haredi newspapers with a no-women photo policy are women themselves, Ruth Lichtenstein is the publisher of Hamodia and Shoshana Friedman is the editor of Mishpacha.

Goldman concludes:

Friedman, who at 36 is the youngest of the editors I interviewed, said that being a woman editor who doesn’t run photos of women sometimes puts her in an uncomfortable position. “Every now and then, I get a letter from a reader who asks, ‘Why don’t you run pictures of women? I want my daughter to have role models in life. I want her to see that women can achieve great things.’ ”

Friedman added sadly: “For these women I don’t have a good answer.”

If Clinton is elected President, and the Haredi press does relax its no-women photo policies, It remains to be seen if only she, as Commander in Chief, will be given a special dispensation to be shown in photographs, or if a more liberal policy will be given to all women.  For example, if there is a photo of “President Hillary Clinton” beside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, will Merkel still be cropped out?  Or maybe the Haredi newspapers will alter their policies based on the woman’s religion – choosing not to publish photos of Jewish women, but conceding to publish photos (or partial photos) of non-Jewish women?  For example, if Hillary Clinton is standing beside Ayelet Shaked, Tzipi Livni, or Miri Regev the Jewish politicians would be cut out, but Clinton would remain in some form?  Would a policy like this continue to preserve the modesty and sanctity of the bas Yisroel?

It will be interesting to see what creative solutions they come up with – or which publications might abandon their no-female policies all together, following the lead of the historical Yiddish newspaper, Der Tog, which was published between 1914-1971, and became the first Yiddish newspaper to include female journalists on the editorial staff.

Wikipedia says:

Adella Kean-Sametkin wrote about women’s issues, and Dr. Ida Badanes, about health matters; the popular fiction writer Sarah B. Smith was also a regular contributor over many years.[15] Before making her mark as a poet, Anna Margolin (pseudonym of Rosa Lebensboym) distinguished herself as a reporter and editor for Der Tog, contributing a column, “In der froyen velt” (In the women’s world), under her actual name, and articles about women’s issues under various pseudonyms, including Clara Levin.

Often accompanying stories written by women were photographs of women.  The blog, From the Vault, said,

One page from a May 1952 edition of Der tog that has been cut out in its entirety—“In der velt fun froyen” (“In the World of Women”), a section for female readers, formerly edited by the well-known Yiddish poet Anna Margolin—is studded with photographs of international beauties in the latest bathing costumes and eveningwear. At the bottom is a society snapshot: “a khasene in holivud” (“a wedding in Hollywood”), with the actors Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis “vinshen zikh mazl-tov” (wishing each other mazl-tov) following their wedding ceremony. (Note that the editors misidentify the couple: it is the Reagans in the center and William Holden with wife Brenda Marshall on the outside, not the other way around.)

hillary5From the Vault also shares another photo of the newly elected “Mame fun der velt” (Mother of the World), Chilean First Lady Rosa Markmann (right), on a visit to the just-completed headquarters of the United Nations from that same 1952 issue:

hillary6As a humorous aside, the headline near the photo is “an article by one Sarah Koenig (a past incarnation of today’s NPR broadcaster, alike in name and journalistic rigor?) headlined “Fete froyen zaynen oft gliklekher in leben” (“Fat Women Are Often Happier in Life”). The piece contains such surprising evidence as “Fete froyen zaynen oykh mer religyez geshtimt un hoben lib tsu geyn in shul davnen” (“Fat women are also more religiously inclined and enjoy going to shul to daven”) and “Di statistik hot bavizn, az tsvishen fete menshen bikhlal zenen faran mer gut hartsige, vi tsvishn dine menshen” (“Statistics have shown that among fat people generally, there are more goodhearted people than among those who are thin”), a claim that the writer juxtaposes to the assertion that overweight people’s higher blood pressure necessitates their having a calmer disposition. The piece ends by comforting the reader with the assertion that though the number of plump women is great among Jews, the proportion of overweight Italian women is greater, and anyway, “Iz do zehr fil froyen vos di diklikhkayt past zey, un fete froyen kenen zayn sheyn un reytsnd” (“There are many women whose stoutness suits them, and fat women can be beautiful and alluring”).

My understanding is that Der Tog is the great-grandfather publication of the modern day Alegemeiner Journal.  Though it was founded by businessmen and intellectuals, and not a religious publication, the fact that it was in Yiddish and intended for Jewish audiences means that in the early 20th century, a time when there wasn’t a dearth of American Haredi newspapers being published, odds are the religious community made up a nice portion of its readership.  That probably came to an end in 1953 when laid off Der Tog editor, Dr. Aaron Rosmarin founded Der Yid, and hired a Satmar editor named Uriel Zimmer, which then established Der Yid as the religious and anti-Zionist alternative to Der Tog.

Will Hillary Clinton be the revolutionary figure to finally break past the no-women photograph barrier in Haredi publications?  Will she be a one-time anomaly, an exception to the rule, if her image does get published?  It remains to be seen, both literally and figuratively.

Friday Night Mannequin

mannequinDress me up, dress me down

It’s all the same to me.

The rules will change, I can’t keep up;

There’s no more me to be.

One year the fashion is elegant robes,

The next they lack modesty.

So dress me up, clamp me down,

Wheel me out and turn me around.

But first check me over, look a little closer

Are my nails too long, can you see?

Did I clean my navel, am I sure I’m able

To toivel the night my dunk should be?

I’ve been scooped out, brushed out, flushed out, and then rushed out,

Vacated of all uterine matter.

Fourteen little cloths all in a row,

With neither stain, smudge, nor splatter.

Spotless from stem to stern,

As every pure woman should be.

Now dress me up or dress me down

It’s all the same to me.

I think I’m ready to greet the guests,

The soup will soon be burned.

I know they’ll be wondering where I went,

My husband will think he’s been spurned.

It’s not easy navigating city streets

With arms and legs that don’t bend,

Stiffly dodging men in hats,

Wondering if they know where I’ve been.

She walks, she walks, and soon she will talk,

An emergency compelled her to take a quick walk.

An elderly neighbor, a friend who’s in labor, a meal for the needy,

Think fast, girl, be speedy!

Why were you gone, why were you late, why has a damp curl escaped in your plate?

Prop me up, pin me back, back to my chair with a small smack.

Wake up, wake up, take a drink from my cup,

It’s time for benching, I must not give up!

My eyes must stay open, my banter stay witty,

Are my shoes still squishy and my stockings still gritty?

No, I haven’t been swimming, you ask me this, why?

I was caught in a downpour, but I’m perfectly dry.

Perfectly perfect, no tears left to cry.

I can touch any Torah or kiss my own man

Strictly glatt kosher, that’s what I am.

Some wish they could be me, some wish they could free me,

But there are more where I come from coming out of the factory.

It won’t stop, it won’t end;

Be my enemy or be my friend.

Dress me up, dress me down

It’s all the same to me;

I cannot hear your counsel, I am made of clay and putty.

The guests have gone, the stairs are steep,

One step, two step – shush the baby is asleep!

Make no noise, breathe real soft, hope that He has drifted off,

Lay like a thief in a stolen bed, spine like a board, spikes in my head.

Pillow, blanket, lying still as a sack,

Doesn’t fool the hand on my hip, turning me onto my back.

So dress me up, dress me down

It’s all the same to me.

Dolls, they don’t feel lonely;

There’s no more me to be.