Real or Hoax? Phony Outrages Hurt The Cause

So, this photo broke the frum internet yesterday – 

I blurred out the photos because some people were saying that the wig sellers whose Instagram images were used for this flyer might understandably not be happy to have their businesses represented in this manner.

Of course, everyone who saw it went berserk, which was also my initial reaction. Basically, we assumed that either a rabbi or a self-proclaimed male tznius policeman trolled Instagram for these photos and put the flyer together.  My friend (HT RW) put together a trail of subsequent flyers that came out in response to the original – 

After my initial assumption that the flyer’s author was male, I revised my opinion.  It had to be a woman.  Instagram is like Pinterest in the frum community.  We are kind of late to the party, but for the most part, it’s growing appeal is for women to share modest fashion ideas and wig styles.  

Fashion retailers hoping to appeal to those seeking tznius options showcase their wares on Instagram and are gaining many followers.  Fashionable frum women with a passion for modeling who wouldn’t be able to pursue those career goals by wearing the skin-baring runway options of top fashion designers, can create virtual runways for themselves on Instagram.

Only a woman would know where to troll to find sheitel sellers on Instagram – or even have the interest to pursue such an endeavor.  How sad that women can betray other women like this?

However, after folks began asking where the flyer originated – who posted it first, and was there a name associated with it – I’m thinking it is a hoax.  The first Facebook sighting seems to be on a page called Hasidic WTF that posts jokes and negative stories directed at the Hasidic community.  Perhaps they got it from WhatsApp or another social media platform, but certainly the flyer doesn’t seem to have been published in any Jewish newspaper or under any individual’s name.

The person who created it may have done so as a joke, or simply to spread negativity and cause people to rant against the frum world.  If so, it worked.  But if it is a hoax, it takes away from the real work of fighting for women’s rights and respect within Orthodoxy.  Every hoax chips away at the credibility of the very real issue of frum women being judged by their external appearances and fashion choices.

If anyone has any information about the authenticity of the original flyer and where it came from, please comment below.

ETA 11/3/17 10:11am – A friend (HT OF) just alerted me to a new flyer –

This is just getting more and more ridiculous – which makes me even more certain it’s one or more people/copycats getting in on the “joke.” If it is a joke, meant as an ironic statement against frum society, the joke itself is mysogynistic and can have a negative impact on women owned businesses.


Foregone Conclusions


Since Yom Kippur is coming up I suppose it’s only natural to become more introspective. One mitzvah that I’ve often struggled with is being dan l’chaf zechus (the obligation to judge someone favorably).  This is a mitzvah that seems obvious, but is a lot harder to keep in actual practice. It’s funny how we can clearly see injustice when we are the ones being judged unfavorably, but we can’t see the injustice when we are the condemning arbiter.

Thinking about this today, I came up with a useful analogy for myself.  I worked for many years as a researcher, helping to provide guidance and concrete examples for a group of writers who wrote reports on best business practices.  In my experience, there were two types of writers.

The first type of writer would come to me with a proposed hypothesis, and would ask me to do a search to see if the literature supported their conclusion.  Were there numerous articles in respected business publications touting the proposed best practice? Were there examples of companies who were engaged in the practice? Were there professional organizations devoted to the practice? Were there educational and/or certification opportunities to train people in the practice? Basically, was there any proof out there that this actually was a best business practice.  If the answer was yes, great! If the answer was no, than these types of writers were flexible about changing their hypothesis and going in a different direction. They weren’t afraid to be wrong.

The second type of writer would come to me, not so much with a proposed hypothesis, but with a foregone conclusion. They had most likely been in on a meeting with internal experts (consultants who acted as their advisors) and an innovative best practice had come up in conversation.  Perhaps it was a concept that currently had more buzz in theory than in actual practice, but the experts may have spoken about it with authority, and therefore, the writer was certain that there would be enough information about it to make it the focus of their report.  They had already plotted out the report in their mind and just needed me to fill in the blanks of their outline.  When I came up empty, they felt certain I hadn’t checked thoroughly enough, or that surely a wealth of information existed underneath some unturned magical rock. The reality was that consultants often engaged in “next practice” thinking, as they should.  They often predicted the next best thing, and sometimes they were right in the moment, sometimes they turned out to be right a year or so later, and other times they were wrong – but as executives tend to do – they always presented their theories as fact. It was up to me and the other fact finders to determine the truth.  However, even after many fruitless attempts, it was still hard for these writers to let go of their original hypothesis and accept that they needed to change their focus. Sometimes they never accepted it, taking the information they were given and twisting it into a poorly supported paper in defense of their original concept.

I have often been like that second group of writers when it comes to judging others favorably, ultimately to my own detriment, and I think there are others like me who struggle with the same thing.  Meaning, we often form theories about people and circumstances, and instead of being open to other interpretations of events, we form a (negative) hypothesis and run with it.  Even if the evidence before us can be taken more than one way, or doesn’t support our theory at all, we choose to twist our findings into whatever supports our foregone conclusion. Dan l’chaf zechus is even harder to achieve in our personal interactions, because there is a greater emotional component involved than in my work example.

I can think of a stupid situation where I got “in my feelings” (really I was the only stupid thing about the situation) and made a faulty judgement that snowballed into me judging someone unfavorably. Here were the stages of judgment –

The Snub

A family we had been privileged to share many Shabbos and Yom Tov meals with cancelled coming over to our house during Pesach because they remembered they don’t eat out over Pesach.

Did I –

Accept the cancellation graciously and take it at face value


Determine that there was an underlying reason for the cancellation such as – They Don’t Trust Our Kashrut Dammit!

The Evidence

With the kernel of kashrut rejection in the back of my mind, I was sensitive to any signs that my hypothesis was correct. It didn’t take very long to confirm my theory, as we invited the family to come for a Shabbos meal after Pesach and they accepted. HOWEVER – they insisted on bringing over extra food that would have “gone to waste otherwise,” and ended up bringing over almost an entire meal.

Did I –

Appreciate the generosity of our guests and laugh over the large quantity of food we now had between my efforts and theirs


Take their action as a further sign that they did not trust our kashrut and felt the need to bring their own food

Each step of the way I could have gone with either the first or second option, and I chose the second.  In fact, had I gone with the first option at the beginning, there would have been no need for a second step looking for confirming evidence against my friends.  I stubbornly stuck to my original hypothesis and saw future interactions through those lenses of judgement. Fortunately, I kept my suspicions to myself, and over a short amount of time (actually during the meal in question where all ate heartily from every dish regardless of origin) realized how foolish I had been. As I said earlier, this was a rather stupid (read small) situation, but faulty judgements about bigger and more important issues are made this way all the time.

During this time of judgement for the Jewish people, we shouldn’t be afraid to be wrong about our own conclusions against others. It’s ok to change our hypothesis after reexamining the facts, even if it means letting go of a long held theory. Just as we must strive to be flexible and favorable with our judgement towards others, may our Creator show us that same flexibility and mercy in return.

Facebook Pulled The Rug From Under The JBlogosphere

Remember when you gave up reading Failed Messiah for Aseret Yemei Teshuva? It’s author, Shmarya Rosenberg, was but one of many town criers exposing the underbelly of the orthodox Jewish world. Rosenberg and naysayers like him have largely gone silent.

Is this because many of the societal issues that took place during the JBlogging heyday of 2000-2010 have been resolved? Has day school tuition dramatically lowered? Has the stigma surrounding mental health gone away? Has sex abuse been eliminated? Have we discovered a compassionate approach towards LGBTQ Jews? Have people stopped committing fraud and other white collar crimes? Have things simply  gotten better over the past several years?

If not, maybe the jaded bloggers who attracted hundreds of followers have all become baalei teshuvas? Maybe they turned over a new leaf and either see things in a different way or now agree with sweeping things under the communal rug? 

Maybe many of them decided to leave the community and its angst behind, going frei, so to speak?

I would argue that the miles of comments containing passionate debates and discussions on the blogs of yore have been replaced by Facebook – but Facebook threads can never hope to replace the raw honesty that happened when people were able to comment anonymously on blog posts. This is because on Facebook you can’t hide.  

Sure, there are folks who try to get away with fake Facebook profiles.  While they might last for awhile, if they get too intense or insulting towards those Orthodox Jews who love debating with frum critics, their profile will get flagged and deleted.  Long term fake profiles only work if the person behind it lays low and mainly observes.

On Facebook, you have to stand behind what you say – with your own name, and with your own face. That can inhibit discussion and critique when you are part of a world with only two or three degrees of separation between you and everyone else. The only town criers left seem to be those who are no longer part of the community, on the edge of it and don’t care who knows it, or the truly courageous among us.

Facebook not only caused the downfall of the JBlogosphere network, but also took away the anonymous platform that critics within the community used to have. These pseudonymed critics often had the valuable vantage point of a current insider’s perspective, rather than the perspective of those outside of the system or those who made their exit many years before. Shmarya Rosenberg wasn’t anonymous, so people knew how to get to him. The buzz online was that he was paid to stop blogging about the ills of Orthodoxy.

Many would say that the abolishment of the “Failed Messiahs” is a good thing. What do you think?

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.

Another Rosa Parkenstein 

Video credit YWN 

I saw this video clip make the rounds a few weeks ago and it popped up into my Facebook feed again this morning.  The video shows a young woman being asked very brusquely to move to the back of the bus, her refusing to do so, and the bus employee/owner (?) threatening to call the police and even make a citizen’s arrest himself if she doesn’t move to the back!

The young woman’s male companion defended her position to remain up front, or if not, offered to sit in the back with her, which the bus representative also refused.  The bus employee indicated that this wasn’t the first time the young man had protested the bus’s seating arrangements and that he would (yikes!) call the man’s parents! Only on a heimishe bus service, eh?

My understanding is that this incident took place on the Heiman Bus Company at its NY to Montreal bus route.  Apparently this is a private orthodox bus service that enforces separate seating for men in the front and women in the back.  I don’t know the intracacies of the bus service’s operations, but if it really is a private bus service, they do have the right to require gender segregated seating, just as anyone who doesn’t like it has the right not to patronize their service.

An example of a bus company that got itself into similar hot water in 2011 is the B110 bus, which runs between Williamsburg and Borough Park, and has been run by Private Transportation Corporation since 1973, under a franchise with the city of New York. The New York Times reported:

….the bus’s practices gained widespread publicity after The New York World, a Columbia Journalism School publication, reported that a female rider was told by other riders that she had to leave the front. The story was quickly picked up by bloggers and even came to the attention of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, the mayor said that segregating men and women was “obviously not permitted” on public buses. “Private people: you can have a private bus,” he added. “Go rent a bus, and do what you want on it.”
Even though a private operator runs the bus, it was awarded the route through a public and competitive bidding process. Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, said the bus was supposed to be “available for public use” and could not discriminate.

Depending on whether or not the Heiman Bus service runs its routes through a public bidding process, it could face the same charge of discrimination as the B110 bus did and be forced to change its practices.  However, if it is run as a private rented bus as Mayor Bloomberg recommended, Heiman Bus does have the right to run in a segregated manner.

I have mixed feelings about what this young man and woman did, because while I admire their chutzpah in taking a stand against discrimination, my argument has always been that gender segregated seating has no place on public transportation. I believe that folks who want segregated seating should make their own private transportation arrangements that don’t infringe upon the rights of others.  If that is what the Heiman Bus service accomplishes, why protest? 

Again, there might be more to the story, as there often is, so feel free to enlighten me.