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.

What rabbinical yeshivas can learn from a Catholic seminary

Dr Dawn TwitterThe other week I read an article in The Chicago Tribune profiling Dawn Eden Goldstein. Dr. Goldstein is the first woman at the University of St. Mary of the Lake to earn a sacred theology doctorate, a pontifical degree issued under the authority of the Catholic Church.

In a class of 220 men studying to be priests, Goldstein is also the only woman who ever earned this degree at St. Mary since the school’s founding in 1844.  While she won’t be ordained as a priest along with her classmates, per the Catholic Church’s prohibition on women becoming priests, she is now qualified to train future priests.

St. Mary is a co-ed theological school where most students are men.  The Tribune article says, “She is earning the degree, issued by the authority of Pope Francis, at the same time Francis is pushing to raise the profile of women in the Catholic Church, most recently in his 260-page apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” in which he praised some aspects of women’s liberation, though he did not go so far as to say women should be priests.

The article peaked my interest because of Goldstein’s last name.  Of course, many non-Jewish people bear Jewish last names long after any actual Jews remain in their families. Still, here was a trail blazing woman, pulling off a feat in a parallel Catholic realm, that no Orthodox Jewish woman has been able to accomplish as of yet – graduate from a men’s rabbinical college.

As I read through the article, I learned that, indeed, Goldstein had started out in life as a Jew.  Growing up in New Jersey, her family was very active in the Reform movement.  The Tribune writes, “Goldstein became an agnostic in 1981 after a rabbi preparing her for her bat mitzvah told her questions about her Torah portion belonged to scholars, not 13-year-old girls.

However, here is where Goldstein’s story takes a sad turn.  The article goes on to explain that even before her bat mitzvah, her faith had already begun to fray, “At age 5, during her parents’ divorce, she accused a staff member at the synagogue of sexually abusing her — an allegation the rabbi did not believe at the time, and one Goldstein did not pursue. Goldstein said she was abused a second time years later by someone close to her mother, leaving emotional wounds that one day would direct her calling.

After pursuing other interests for many years, including earning a degree in communications, music journalism, blogging about pro-life issues, and being baptized at a Seventh-day Adventist church, Goldstein finally found her home with the Catholic faith in 2006.  She enrolled in a master’s theology program at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C..  However, a priest saw more potential in her and urged her to change her plans and enroll in the St. Mary’s doctorate program.

As Goldstein focused on her studies, she also began writing about societal issues within the Catholic faith.  The Tribune writes, “In 2012, she wrote “My Peace I Give You,” a book about how the lives of the saints could offer hope for abuse victims. As a Catholic, it disturbed her how defensive the church had become regarding the sexual abuse crisis…It’s not enough for the church to simply be in damage control mode,” she said. “We’re not serving our mission as a church if we’re not providing spiritual accompaniment to people who are hurting.

Goldstein is part of a new wave of female scholars helping to build the future of the Catholic Church.  Pope Francis is opening the doors for female theologians to take leadership roles that don’t violate church doctrine.  The Tribune states, “In his most recent papal document, he stated that women could and should help prepare men for the priesthood.

Goldstein says that Pope Francis’ position “…shows a respect for what women have to offer the church, without crossing the line into women’s ordination, which she thinks would be heresy. There have been a number of female theologians that have shown it is possible to be a woman in theology writing on topics of importance to women, yet to not to take this subversive kind of view.

Interestingly, Goldstein’s sister also chose a religious vocation, and is a Reform rabbi in Cincinnati.  “Goldstein’s sister, Jennifer Goldstein Lewis…thinks her sister will be a powerful force in the church and the formation of its clergy.  She is such a thinker,” Lewis said. “She’s going to be a unique voice as she teaches these new priests.

So, what can rabbinical yeshivas learn from this Catholic seminary?  Mainly, that keeping scholars and educators apart on the basis of their gender doesn’t make sense.  For example, I have often heard religiously educated men expounding on the fact that learned women have so much more in-depth knowledge of Navi.  Why not share some of that knowledge with aspiring rabbis?

Furthermore, there are other areas in which women can assist in teaching new rabbis that are even more important than learning religious texts.  Rabbis today aren’t only expected to be experts in gemara.  Yes, gemara might be the bread and butter, so to speak.  However, rabbis today are expected to be social workers, psychologists, fund raisers, mediators, communicators, orators, writers, and a host of other professions all rolled into one.

For example, IT workers today are in high demand for their “hard skills.”  Their programming knowledge is the first requirement to get them an interview.  However, just as important, if not more so, are their “soft skills.”  These kinds of skills can’t be quickly discerned nor quantified.  Do they work well with others?  Are they good problem solvers?  Are they patient and compassionate?  Are they adaptable to change?

In most cases, when a good rabbi gets bad press, it is not because of a deficiency in his gemara kup, but because he is lacking in one or more of those “soft skill” areas.

Of course, men can teach soft skills too. The obvious hole in many rabbinical curriculums these days is the total focus on gemara and lack of preparation to be immersed in the land of the laypeople – people of every gender and age who will seek a connection to their spiritual leader who, up until graduation, spent his days only among immediate family and fellow students and teachers in the beis medrash.

However, Orthodox Jewish women (having either a more advanced secular education, or at least an equal secular education to men depending on the community) have the skills and perspective necessary to educate future rabbinic leaders on a wide variety of subjects that will better prepare them to be 21st century Jewish leaders – not the least of which is to relate to women as teachers, experts, and authority figures (something that most Orthodox boys past elementary school and sometimes earlier don’t have experience with).

Additionally, women would have an opportunity to connect to future rabbinic leaders as advocates for women and children.  How would the rabbinic response to sexual abuse or domestic violence change for the better if women ran workshops that brought in abuse victims, representatives from women’s shelters, or therapists who specialize in treating rape survivors?  Sharing a female perspective directly, instead of indirectly, can have a deeper impact than hearing it second hand from another man.

Incorporating women into the smicha educational landscape, both as scholars and teachers, can go a long way in creating leadership that not only welcomes women’s input into how the future of Orthodox Judaism will develop, but also will create a leadership that considers women’s participation in rabbinic education essential to the process.  Once men realize how much women have to offer in helping to shape the educational curriculum of aspiring rabbis, as well as realizing that when educated women are shut out, they are at risk of seeking other alternatives (such as Goldstein did), they might realize that bringing women into the fold of rabbinic education has been the answer to Orthodox Jewish continuity all along.

Useful Passover Products

Those of you who haven’t smashed your smart phone for Pesach

phone smash 1

phone smash 2

will definitely need this chometz free cell phone cover (Hat Tip Mark Weiss)

passover phone case

For the many Orthodox Republican Donald Trump supporters among us at the seder, why not toast to your favorite presidential candidate with Trump’s very own private label Passover vodka?

trump vodka

Be sure to check the ingredients carefully though!  As a possible harbinger of things to come, not all of Trump’s vodka marked kosher for Passover is actually chometz free! Hillary’s not looking so bad now, is she?

Of course, no home is ready for Pesach until they have kosher for Passover water –

passover water

And what better place to make use of the water, but to use it along with your kosher l’Pesach toothbrush!

passover toothbrush

Nothing makes sure that day old chometz is whisked away without delay like kosher for Passover baby wipes..

passover baby wipes

People say that matza tastes like cardboard, so why not go with a softer wrap-like option with these kosher for Passover paper towels?  Tastes just like a burrito!

passover paper towels

Jewish women around the world will ask men to please not pass over this customized Passover toilet seat cover so that it stays pristine and chometz free throughout the chag

passover toilet cover

Everyone knows that those who are truly machmir about contact with chometz wear these Passover gloves for the entire holiday….

Passover gloves

What’s a little latex allergy when the alternative is violating an issur deoraisa?

Finally, as a reminder, those who wear dentures should remember to bring them to their community Hagalas Keilim to be kashered for Pesach.

Passover dentures

Chag Kasher V’Sameach!

Shidduchim for Dummies: Chapter 1 – Uncovering the Hidden Feminists

no feminists

[The post below was inspired by a conversation I had this Shabbos about how beis medrash rabbaim are warning young men to avoid dating and marrying women with feminist leanings, and that this issue is among the top areas of concern among young men in the more liberal yeshiva circles who want an educated, yet frum wife.  Anti-feminism and how to avoid marrying a feminist is a popular topic of conversation among Orthodox young men who are beginning to date, as many do not want wives who aim to bring feminist values into the home.

These conversations are happening particularly in Modern Orthodox yeshivot, where young men have a greater chance of being set up with women who identify as feminists.  This issue is widening the rift between Modern Orthodoxy and Open Orthodoxy further, as Open Orthodoxy is seen as a proponent of feminism.  Those who oppose Open Orthodoxy and want to firmly root themselves as part of the more “traditional” Modern Orthodox camp, are more vehemently opposing feminism than even before, aligning themselves more closely to the haredi position on women’s roles within the home and Judaism in order to differentiate themselves from Open Orthodoxy. 

This will put Modern Orthodox women in a difficult position, as the sign of allegiance is denouncing feminism if they want to marry and be a part of the Modern Orthodox community without suspicion.  This post is what I imagine a lecture on identifying and avoiding Orthodox feminist women might be like, based on the conversation.]

Dating in the 21st century has become a daunting prospect for Orthodox young men.  Men on the shidduch scene have to face a danger that their fathers and grandfathers didn’t when making the all-important decision of selecting a spouse.   Sure, there were those pesky female-voting flappers with their rouged knees and propensity for breaking out into the Charleston that our great zaydes had to contend with.  Yes, there were the hippie flower children who insisted on women’s rights, free love, birth control, abortion, and Woodstock that our grandfathers had to avoid.  True, our fathers’ generation saw unprecedented numbers of women getting higher educations and joining the workforce in greater numbers and in more positions of authority than ever before – and we can’t forget about Madonna.

However, all of these separate events in their time seemed to have left the Orthodox community unscathed.  Our women understood that the cultural feminist revolution sweeping up the non-Jewish world and changing the fabric of secular society had no place among the Jewish people.

Until now.

It seems that the various freedoms and hedonic pleasures women have been grabbing at for the past hundred years, selfishly placing the principle of egalitarianism in all things virtue or vice above their God given role as helpmate and mother, have finally accumulated to a point of normalcy and expectation even among our own pious bas yisroels.

Our mothers, growing up during a time when all avenues of secular education were open to them, and all careers were an option, culled a very useful psychology called cognitive dissonance.

Through cognitive dissonance, Orthodox women were/are able to live in a secular world where females can be doctors, lawyers, CEOs, mayors, governors, prime ministers, and presidents, while also living in a world where women are excluded from spiritual leadership positions that rule over men, are foridden (except by more liberal factions) to be educated in certain areas of Jewish law and biblical texts, and are discouraged from speaking, singing, performing, or appearing in public images where men might see them.  This cognitive dissonance is not only approved of, it is encouraged.

Men today realize that it’s an impossible task to keep women away from the temptations of a larger world that opens up endless opportunities regardless of gender.  Our community also realizes that if it wants to create a financially sustainable system for our Orthodox lifestyle, it benefits everyone for women to be given the opportunity to achieve higher paying jobs in order to support their families, and in some cases, allow men to learn full time.  Certainly, feminist gains have inadvertently had benefits for our community in terms of our wives’ abilities to become equal or even primary family breadwinners, but have the damages been worth it?

When husbands are no longer seen as the head of the family household, now vying for that position with their wives, the children become confused.  Shalom bayis all but disappears when the fight for egalitarianism is fought at home, and we see this break down in the form of the rising divorce rates in our communities.  It seems that some of our mothers have gotten the wrong idea that bringing in parnassah is more important than bringing in the spiritual wealth earned through compliance with halachah and mesorah.  The cognitive dissonance is dissolving.

How much worse is it today for our current generation of single men, who face a shidduch market filled with young women from such households where the mother is highly educated, has a respected career outside the home, and has made her father seem insignificant?  What are the lessons she has learned from watching her parent’s dynamic?

This next generation of Orthodox wives and mothers are going to take things even further than their mothers did.  There are some delicate questions that need to be added to the standard topics of conversation on dates.  It used to be enough to ask about where a girl went to school, camp, and at which shul her father davens.  Asking about where she hopes to live, what schools she intends to send her children to, and whether or not she intends to cover her hair used to be sufficient in determining compatible hashkafot.  Now there are other questions that must be asked, albeit, not necessarily on the first date.

You must tread carefully, because if everything seems otherwise bashert, her views on feminism might simply be a childish whim to go along with the trend of the moment, which she can be encouraged to abandon through logic and reason if she knows these sentiments will cost her the shidduch.  Twenty years of marriage and multiple children and grandchildren later, you might both have a good laugh remembering her initial perspectives!

Here are some sample questions that can be asked to discreetly determine if the woman sitting across the table from you at My Most Favorite Food is a feminist –

  1. What is your opinion about the group, Women of the Wall?
  2. What would you rather have as a wedding present, a pair of candlesticks or a pair of tefillin?
  3. Do you think that women should lead a mezumin if there are less than three men over bar mitzvah at a meal, but more than three women over bat mitzvah?
  4. Should a woman be allowed to make kiddush at the Shabbos table if her husband is present?
  5. What do you think about swapping brachot every now and then, where I bench licht and you make hamotzei (this can be a trick question if said with enthusiasm on your part as if you would enjoy such a scenario)?
  6. Do you believe that the most important mitzvah entrusted to women is tznius?
  7. In your opinion, does tznius elevate a woman’s status or degrade her (there IS a right and wrong answer to this question – if you are confused about this, please ask your Rosh Yeshiva)?
  8. What is your opinion on female rabbis?
  9. Should women be able to study Gemara?
  10. Would you want to dance with a Sefer Torah on Simchas Torah at shul?

These are some examples of questions that can form the basis of a vetting process to flush out hidden feminists that you might have the misfortune to encounter on the dating scene.  These are young women who are indiscernible from their non-feminist counterparts.  These young ladies dress the part of sincere Bas Torahs right down to the muted makeup, sensible flats, stockings, and skirts with no slits.  However, lurking beneath the demure surface lies a predator determined to ensnare her unwitting prey into a lifetime of struggle over Torah boundaries.  The only possible outcomes will be, God forbid, violating Hashem’s timeless commandments regarding His divine roles for each gender or divorce.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

I saw a Facebook post from a friend of mine who is appalled to find out that one of the main sources of business advertisement in Chicago, called Only Ads, has an official policy to only include photos of men.  I never realized that this was an official policy of the publication, but I do remember wondering why my husband’s relative decided to represent herself in her ads resembling a Minecraft avatar.  Now I know.

The reason why discovering this policy is unsettling is that many of the advertisers in this publication, and certainly, many of those on their mailing list, belong to communities where excluding images of women is frowned upon.  In fact, perhaps as a backlash against the growing trend of “female-free” public images in the more ultra-orthodox communities, some organizations and schools pointedly include positive images of women and girls engaging in communal activities or being honored at banquets.

Adults and children alike are bombarded with negative images of women in the general media.  Both women and young girls are visually sexualized in order to sell clothing, music, food, toys, beauty products, you name it.  The answer isn’t to go the polar opposite and hide half of the population away, the answer is to counter those images with positive role models and positive peer models both for the girls and women in the orthodox community, and also for the boys and men who can see their mothers, wives, sisters, teachers, and neighbors achieving success in business, torah learning, chesed, and any other number of positive activities that are part of the real fabric of daily orthodox life.

It goes without saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Whether you are looking for a lawyer, a realtor, a therapist, a dentist, a doctor, a wig stylist, a makeup artist, or any other type of service – seeing the face of the person you might be working with can have an impact on deciding to do business with them.  

A business relationship is similar to a shidduch.  If you are browsing a dating website, how likely would you be to skip over the profiles with no photo, as opposed to the profiles that do have a picture attached?  Likewise, it makes sense to feel that you have more information about the lawyer whose ad features a photo of his face, as opposed to the lawyer whose ad only features her firm’s logo.

This puts 50% of the Only Ads business advertisers at a competitive disadvantage when using the Only Ads platform to reach their desired market, yet I’m willing to bet that female advertisers pay the same rates as their male competitors and counterparts, who are allowed to share more visual information about themselves, thus better engaging the trust of the consumer.

The decision not to include female images for Only Ads is a financial one.  The publication determined that more of its readership doesn’t want images of women, than does want images of women.  I’m not sure how they came by their statistics, but often publications that decide to exclude photos of women from their pages do so for monetary reasons, and not necessarily because they personally hold the conviction that it’s forbidden.  I can’t say whether or not the publishers of Only Ads are personally offended by images of women; the only thing that is certain is that the publication feels it would lose too many eyeballs and advertising dollars if they included female images.

The nice thing about Chicago is that there are other options.  For example, The Chicago Jewish Advertiser (disclaimer – I have no relationship to the publication other than being on their mailing list) provides the same service as Only Ads, and they give fair photo representation to both males and females.

These are a few pages from the Chicago Jewish Advertiser April 2016 issue, as an example –

cja 1




cja 6


cja 8

One of the things that you will notice is that there are still advertisements in the Chicago Jewish Advertiser publicizing women owned businesses that don’t show photos of the business owner herself, nor female models who might logically be photographed showcasing jewelry, clothing, or makeup services.  Again, the decision to include photos or not, even for the advertiser, is a financial one.

On the one hand, a simple black and white, or two color text ad, is cheaper to create and run in print than a multicolored ad with photos.  This is true regardless of the publication you choose to advertise in.  Running an advertisement without a photo could simply be a cost effective way of publicizing your business.

On the other hand, if you are a small business, and you want to use the same ad in all of the local advertising venues, you most likely don’t have the budget to hire an artist to create different ad designs for the same campaign.  You will likely pay to create one advertising layout to run in each publication, and that means creating one ad that conforms to the Only Ads restriction of not showing female images, even if you would otherwise have included photos.  Thus, even in publications that don’t have such restrictions, Chicago area business women are still penalized and limited by the Only Ads “no female photo” requirement if they only have the budget to create one ad.

I think the sense of outrage that some folks expressed on Facebook is a reaction to the growing “scope creep” of ultra-orthodox standards being foisted upon the modern orthodox community.  The only answer for objectors is to patronize businesses and services that have more egalitarian policies, or create new venues where men and women alike can promote their services to the fullest extent.