Sisterhood Blog

Satmar Rebbe Blames Cancer on Makeup

By Frimet Goldberger

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Ladies, there is a cure for breast cancer! No more pink Octobers, Angelina Jolie op-eds on mastectomies and suffering the world over.

Last Tuesday evening, February 4, in a roomful of learned men, the Satmar Rov of Williamsburg, Mendele Teitelbaum, announced that Sephora eye shadow in all colors and MAC lipsticks, the regular and long-lasting kinds, cause cells to become cancerous. His father, Aron Teitelbaum, was the one who discovered the cure, yet he humbly sat to his son’s right, relinquishing the podium for this breakthrough announcement. “We are not in heaven, and we can’t necessarily point fingers at what precisely is the cause [of breast cancer], but when we see things by women [who apply makeup], and then we see them suffer [of cancer], they must do tshuva — repent. And this is makeup on women and young girls.”

I listened to the recorded speech on a hotline called “Kol Satmar,” after reading this article about the event. Breast cancer was one of three issues on the agenda for the meeting and the subsequent fast day on Thursday. The first was a device called “Sansa,” an innocent mp3 player which has been deemed “Kosher” for listening to Torah lectures. The second was breast cancer. The third item was a sefer torah that had toppled in the Satmar shul in Williamsburg.

As a woman, a mother of a girl, and a diligent breast self-examiner, I was eager to hear the Satmar findings for the root cause of breast cancer, discovered by Aron Teitelbaum. After all, he is a recipient of a doctorate in Causative Holistic Medicine from the Institute of Blame Women.

“This is a pirtzeh [religious breach] which causes others [men] to sin,” his son, Reb Mendele said. He recounted a series of phone calls, presumably for his wife, by a woman from a Williamsburg clinic who urged them [the Teitelbaum rabbis] to do something about the recent uptick in breast cancer diagnoses within the Hasidic community. It is unclear of the position of this woman in the clinic, but we know that “she does not even speak a good Yiddish.” In other words, she is not Hasidic, but very familiar with the Hasidic community. She called back a week later, he said, to say that physical awareness will not suffice, because she is “seeing things she has never seen before.” We need a spiritual intervention.

The Rebbe, Aron Teitelbaum, was consulted, and he traced the source of this terrible tragedy to all sorts of facial beautification beyond “bringing back the natural color of the skin.”

Actually, the “spiritual” theory that all ills — from hurricanes to cancer — arise from women’s untznius (immodest) dress is not novel; it has been around for as long as I can remember — intensifying any time there is a tragedy. One personal incident that comes to mind: Six years ago, I discovered irregular lumps in my left breast. This was about a half year after I weaned my daughter from breastfeeding. After scheduling an appointment with my physician, I called my mother. Her reaction, which did not come as a surprise at the time, was that perhaps if I extended the length of the scarf-like headband covering my short wig, it would help ward off the what I imagined was cancer metastasizing in my breast. It did not seem irrational at the time, and I don’t hold it against her today. We were conditioned to believe that mascara, uncovered wigs and other breaches of extreme modesty are to blame for everything. And I mean everything! Hashem keeps close tabs of all his Hasidic ladies, wields a powerful stick, and brings swift punishment onto his people. For eyeliner, cancer; for a skirt that’s above four inches below the knee, a hurricane; for stockings that are not bulletproof, a car accident; and so on and so forth.

Most of us, whether we believe in a higher power or not, have respect for science and its evidence-based power to diagnose illness and discover cures. But where science is not appreciated or understood, one grapples in the dark for answers, and someone needs to shoulder the blame. Women are an easy target.

“Next week, we are going to call a meeting of all mothers to announce the new tekunes (rules),” Mendele said. “They may seem a little extreme, but we HAVE to do it. The father [the Satmar Rebbe] says that if we don’t do something, this [the tragedies] will not end.”

Amen. I look forward to hearing what they come up with. In the meantime, I may have to discontinue those pesky self-checks and begin the purging process of my pink cosmetic box.

Photo credit Thinkstock


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