Despite my earlier post, it now appears that Rabbi Yizhak Silberstein did support the idea that a girl whose mother refused to buy her “religious clothes” should cut her legs in order to force the mother’s hand. An apparent recording of the rabbi’s discussion of this topic surfaced on the Internet today, in which he says that girl deserves the “highest praise” for sanctifying God’s name with her absolute dedication to Torah.
Contrary to the original publication in Ynet, Rabbi Silberstein did not receive the question from the girl about cutting her legs, but merely offered his opinion on the case, which was originally brought to Rabbi Eliezer Sorodskin, the leader of an organization called Lev La’Ahim, whose stated mission is to help secular Israelis become religious. (The organization is most recently renowned for bloating registration at Haredi educational institutions, as reported in Haaretz ). The conversation took place at a conference of Lev La’Ahim held in May in Bnei Brak.
Sorodskin talked about the girl in positively ebullient terms. She apparently loves being religious but her secular mother refuses to buy her “religious clothes” — i.e., long skirts. The girl’s willingness to cut her legs in order to preserve the sanctity of her female body, according to both Sorodskin and Silberstein, is a model of self-sacrifice for the sake of Torah, an act worthy of emulation.
I don’t know if these rabbis even realize how un-Jewish this entire discussion is.
How does a mother-to-be choose a pediatrician for her baby-to-be?
My mother recently reminded me of her awful experience with my first pediatrician, when she became a first-time mother. Underslept and anxious, my mother had some difficulty with breastfeeding, as happens to so many new mothers. I gained no weight during that first month, which concerned my mother. The pediatrician’s helpful response was to tell my mother that she was causing me brain damage. Luckily, my mother replaced this doctor with Dr. Lazarus, another pediatrician who had both sterling medical credentials and human skills. Under the care of this second doctor, the breastfeeding began to work, and I became an increasing presence on the office scale.
Three decades later, as motherhood approached, I wanted to find my own Dr. Lazarus. Late in my pregnancy — I gave birth in May — I asked local parent-friends for referrals, ran doctors’ online profiles by my doctor-sister, and arranged to interview a handful of the finalists. Interviewing pediatricians is one of those rituals you don’t know exists until you’re pregnant.
The Sisterhood’s Suggested Summer Reads:
In “The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy,” Priscilla Gilman examines the process of parenting her son Benjamin, who at a young age was diagnosed as hyperlexic, a disorder marked by high intelligence but difficulty with social skills. Gilman, also a Wordsworth scholar, looks at the poet’s work as a way to understand her own feelings of innocence and loss as she figures out how to mother her unconventional child.
Anne Kreamer explores the “tissue ceiling” in “It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace.” Drawing on both neuroscience and personal interviews, Kreamer considers which emotions are considered most shameful at work and why. She also provides some tools for dealing with anger, sadness and rudeness at the office.
Sarah Sentilles was set to become an Episcopal priest when one day she woke up and realized that her feelings for God had changed. In her memoir “Breaking Up With God: A Love Story,” she writes about her complicated relationship with God, and what happened when she lost faith.
The City of Modi’in, Israel may yet see 50% female representation on its city council in the next election. Mayor Haim Bibas, speaking recently at an evening dedicated to women in leadership, said that he personally hopes to see women as fully equals in the local party lists in 2013.
“We need to hold Mayor Bibas to that promise,” the event organizer and panel moderator Yifat Zamir, Executive Director of the organization We Power, said.
But equal representation has thus far remained elusive in Israel. According to Zamir, there are only six women mayors in Israel, out of 154 cities and towns — that’s a paltry 3.8%. Out of some 3,000 members of municipal councils, only 300 are women. Modi’in has a 17-person city council with only three women on it.
Ynet has a troubling story about a high-profile rabbi in Israel who gave advice to a young woman to cut her own legs in order to stay religious. The story, if it’s true, conflates male religious authority, extreme body cover and self-mutilation, and brings the discussions of the female body in Judaism to a whole new low. The problem is that this story may not be true, in which case instead of highlighting sexism in Orthodox Judaism, the story becomes an example of journalists’ sometimes overzealousness in their desire to attack religion by pretending to care about women. Especially given the recent history of media attitudes towards France’s burqa ban, the actions of certain journalists are no less troubling than those of religious leaders controlling the female body.
According to the article, written by a young Jerusalem journalist, Ari Galahar, for Yediot Ahranot’s Hebrew news site, Rabbi Yizhak Silberstein was asked to respond to a strange query from a young woman who was accepted to a religious academy despite her family’s non-religiousness. The young woman, struggling with the academy’s strict dress code of long skirts, long sleeves, and covered collarbones because her secular parents were supposedly pressuring her to dress in a more revealing way, asked Silberstein whether she could cut her legs, so that her parents would agree that she must wear a long skirt in order to cover the bruises. The rabbi reportedly responded, “She is permitted to cut herself in order to dress modestly, and thus to escape all sin.” He reportedly added that “the blood from the bruise will redeem all of Israel like the blood of the ritual sacrifices.”
I am enjoying the ultimate luxury vacation. Am I in a villa on the mountainous shores of Lake Como? No. Wading into startlingly clear turquoise waters in the Caribbean? Nope. In a south Tel Aviv boutique hotel in newly hip Neve Tzedek? I wish.
I am simply… in my house… quiet and alone. My husband and Boychik are off camping, and Girlchik and Rockerchik are away at overnight camp for the month. The lead-up to their departures was frenetic weeks of shopping, packing, organizing, entertaining, cooking and baking, and then some more shopping and packing.
Not only did my children conclude what was, for each of them, a good school year, Boychik graduated from high school, with a graduation party a day earlier. Because a couple of friends couldn’t make it at the last minute and I am neurotic, I was convinced that no one would actually show up to the party. But dozens did come in the end, and it was wonderful. A few weeks earlier I accompanied Boychik to Los Angeles, where he participated in a national opera competition (in which he was a finalist). That came on the heels of sitting shiva for my father, which followed his funeral, death and the last months of his illness. It was an emotionally and physically draining few months.
Back in 1777, in Dover, Del., my ancestor John Wheeler Meredith enlisted as a private in the American Revolutionary Army. Because Meredith was an original American patriot, and because I can document the eight generations that lead from him to me, I was able to join the Daughters of the American Revolution a year and a half ago.
Not many Jews can trace their ancestry back 250 years in America and, in my case, I can only get away with it because my paternal grandmother converted to Judaism. Her branch of the family tree is endlessly interesting to me, precisely because it’s distinct from the standard Eastern-European Jewish roots that make up the rest of my family. And that was the appeal of joining the DAR, too. Wouldn’t it be hilarious, I thought, if I — a short, loud Jewish girl — joined the blue-blooded ladies who lunch? Hijinks would surely ensue.
But hijinks are nowhere to be found.
Four men accused of raping a young Jewish woman from Crown Heights over a period of eight years have been indicted according to news reports. The reports say that the Jewish woman was just 13 years old when the attacks began, and that the alleged perpetrators in the case had also sold her to other men for sex. Three of the four men have criminal records.
The New York Times story details how the teacher of a class the young woman was taking at John Jay College of Criminal Justice helped convince her to turn to the authorities and report her story.
The saga began when the girl was allegedly raped by two of the defendants in a public park. But what none of the stories I’ve read so far have addressed is how this could happen for eight years to a young girl who lived in the midst of the relatively tight-knit Lubavitch Jewish community of Crown Heights without anybody knowing. It’s difficult to understand how the girl’s mother, at least, could have not known that something was terribly, terribly wrong. I hope the case prompts the men and women of the Crown Heights Jewish community to ask themselves the same questions.
As we prepare to welcome this Fourth of July,
in case you are wondering if your hem is too high,
No need to fret, maidel,
no need to worry.
We have a helpful new tool
from Lakewood’s Jewiest Jews.
It’s a “Tznius Ruler,” with measuring markers,
designed just to help us modest girls be tznius-ier.
Because if our skirts don’t meet below-knee expectations,
outraged haredim may send expectorations.
Without this flowery ruler, isn’t it true,
I wouldn’t know where my knees are. Would you?
Tip of the tichel: Shmarya Rosenberg
The sexual lives of religious women will be a major topic of discussion at a panel at the upcoming conference organized by the religious women’s forum Kolech. Naomi Marmon Grumet, who has conducted research on the intimate lives of religious women, will be examining the differences between Orthodox men and Orthodox women in preparation for marriage.
This is just one of many juicy subjects that will be addressed at the upcoming Kolech gathering, scheduled for July 3–4 at the Keshet School in Jerusalem. (Kolech, which was founded in 1998 by Hana Kehat, works within a religious framework to promote gender equity in Israel.) Other conference topics include feminism in the Haredi community; Jewish and Arab women fighting for tradition; gender and Judaism on the Internet; single mothers by choice; gender segregation in public spaces, and sex-ed for religious boys.
The third season of MTV’s hit series “16 and Pregnant” wrapped up last week. The show and its spinoff, “Teen Mom” — the third season of which begins next week — have become cultural flashpoints, spurring national conversations about everything from sex education to body image. While “Teen Mom” participants — girls from previous “16 and Pregnant” episodes — are a fairly homogenous bunch of mostly Caucasian youth, “16 and Pregnant,” which features a different young woman in each week’s episode, has featured a much more diverse array of young women.
But in the show’s three seasons, to the best of my knowledge, a Jewish girl has never been shown. (I’ve watched all of the episodes, and none of the teenagers has identified as Jewish.) Why is that? One answer is that, simply, no Jewish parents have thus far given permission for their daughter and her story to be shared on camera. But an informal survey of Jewish girls and women presents some other theories.
In a recent column David Brooks tells “The Saga of Sister Kiki,” which, summarized from this Rolling Stone article, relays the tale of a wayward teen who got “mauled by the some of the worst forces of the information age,” just like Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie got “mauled by the crushing forces of industrial America.” Kiki Kannibal is a teen who posted sexually charged pictures of herself, got lots of attention, was raped, and then victimized by a teen-exploitation site.
“Kiki must have sensed the tremendous erotic capital that a pretty, vulnerable, barely pubescent girl possesses on the Internet — even if she didn’t understand the consequences of her appeal,” Brooks writes, positioning the dark cloud over what comes next.
What Brooks is missing in this column, and what is missing in a lot of the hysterical discussion about teenagers going wild, is actual proof that what happened to Kiki represents a real and growing problem. Earlier this year New York magazine wrote a similarly sensational and heavily anecdotal piece about how girls in junior high attempt to replicate for their crushes the pornographic images they see online.
When Helen Sieger died on the day before Passover this year, at just 57 years old, in a hospital used for inmates of Riker’s Island, it was a sad end to a life with many sad chapters.
Helen — or Chayie — Sieger’s story was well-known in Haredi circles in Brooklyn. But when her saga became the subject of a New York magazine feature story in 2003, she became a household name.
After nearly a quarter-century of being a dutiful wife to Chaim Sieger, mother to a son and a daughter, and part of Brooklyn’s Bobov Hasidic community, when her husband remarried without granting her a Jewish divorce, she sued him and the rabbis who, she alleged he bribed, in civil court. The rabbis had provided Chaim Sieger with a heter meah rabbonim, permission from 100 rabbis allowing her to re-marry without granting his wife a Jewish divorce, or get.
In 1995 Chayie Sieger did something Bobov women had almost never done: She left her husband, who according to the New York magazine story, was a serial philanderer and gambler, to move to her father’s home a few doors down.
The LGBT–oriented Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in Manhattan, led by openly gay Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum — a Sisterhood 50 selection — was front and center in the fight to get same-sex marriage legislation passed in New York state. (Kleinbaum also made headlines when she put her arm around an ultra-Orthodox man protesting the legislation, and was spat on repeatedly.) Two of CBST’s most active members, Rose Ann Herman and Jake Goodman, spoke with The Sisterhood about the implications of bill’s passage for the Jewish community and beyond, and what’s next for LGBT activists.
Elissa Strauss: First off, congratulations! How do you feel?
Jake Goodman: It’s an amazing feeling to know that, in terms of marriage, all New Yorkers are finally equal. It seems like such a simple, obvious thing, but clearly, it is not.
Rose Ann Herman: I am indescribably happy for all the young people out there whose lives have been validated by our state; I adore the Republican senators who showed real leadership and courage, and voted for what was right, and beautiful and good.
Can you speak a little about the efforts of the Jewish community in getting this law passed?
My daughter is graduating high school today. This is a huge moment in life — probably more for her than for me, although I’m not sure — and the mass of thoughts and emotions are a bit overwhelming.
The moment Avigayil was born, I was born as well. Her entry in the universe was transformative for me, as she turned me from person into parent — a permanent alteration, a complete reconfiguration of all one knows to be true in the world. This tiny, spectacular creature who has, at different times, kept me up at night (more recently than one might think), sent me running and chasing, challenged some of my most basic beliefs and completely unhinged me, has also taught me how to love unconditionally, how to stretch beyond the limitations of my experience and how to imagine a different world. Somehow, despite the fact that she came out of my body a mere 18 years ago, her vision of life is completely her own, her identity proudly independent and strong. I am in awe of her entire person, and her continued presence, the blessed intertwining of our journeys, has been nothing short of a divine gift.
There is something profoundly sad for me, too.
Adding to the various portrayals of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas that are part of San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum’s current “Seeing Gertrude Stein” exhibit, reviewed recently in the Forward, are a set of paper dolls of the two women.
The paper doll set was created by the museum in honor of the city’s Pride celebrations this past weekend. The CJM joined forces with SFMOMA and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, marching as “Museums for Pride!” in the Pride Parade. The museums urged the public to come see staff dressed as Stein, Toklas and others from the avant-garde set.
The CJM produced the special set of paper dolls to hand out during the event. As a teaser, the museum released five images on Facebook on Saturday, with the accompanying description: “Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas were a distinctive couple, and they developed a style of dressing all their own. Alice favored a more feminine look, and Gertrude embraced androgyny as she did in other aspects of her life. We created paper dolls celebrating the many outfits of Stein and Toklas for San Francisco’s Pride event, and these are a few of their looks.”
Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to read about violent acts of anger and vengeance by extremist Jewish settlers against Palestinians. Such attacks are part of what seems like an endless cycle of revenge in the territories where one side attempts to attack what they view as injustices. But what is unusual was the recent news that four young women were arrested for allegedly setting Palestinian cars on fire in Hebron.
This one gender barrier that women definitely shouldn’t applaud being crossed.
In fact, most of the suspects appear to be girls, not yet women. Only one Yaska Weiss, 20, of Kiryat Arba, was identified in the press as her co-conspirators were minors. Police theorize that the acts were part of what Jewish extremists call a “price tag” policy — presumably forcing Arabs to pay a price for attacks against Jews.
Until now, women have almost never participated in Jewish vigilante violence against Palestinians. In the very Orthodox social fabric of the territories, the women were busy keeping the house, raising the babies, and supporting the family, and holding the communities together. They have vocally and assertively defended such actions, but there has been little evidence of them having participated in it.
I met Esther Broner close to 20 years ago, when I was a newbie religion writer, and was awed by the power of the Jewish feminist rituals like the feminist Seder, which was then starting to become mainstream (though is most popular now in its neutered form as “women’s seders,” lest anyone be offended by the term “feminist”).
Esther, along with writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin, who remembers her dear friend in this Forward appreciation, was kind to me at a time when I was inexperienced and insecure. Often it’s the small kindnesses extended by the most accomplished people that are the most memorable.
Esther wrote 11 books, including “Bringing Home the Light: A Jewish Woman’s Handbook of Rituals,” (Council Oak Books, 1999) a distillation of her approach to new rituals.
“If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I would accept their loss,” wrote Izzeldin Abuelaish, the Gazan obstetrician-gynecologist specializing in infertility following the killing of three of his daughters and a niece by an IDF tank shell that hit his family’s home in the Jabalia refugee camp in the final days of Operation Cast Lead in 2009. The tragic incident took place while Abuelaish was reporting live from Gaza by telephone for an Israeli news broadcast.
Despite knowing that his daughters have not been and will not be the last sacrifice, Abuelaish has nonetheless been able to forge ahead on that road better than most. “Urged on by the spirits of those he lost, his belief in medicine and his deep faith in Islam, Abuelaish offers practical ways of bridging the gaps between two peoples he believes have more similarities than differences,” wrote Canadian author Jonathan Garfinkel in his review of the doctor’s book, “I Shall Not Hate,” in The Globe and Mail last year.
One major way in which Abuelaish, 57, is bridging the gaps and working toward a more peaceful Middle East is through his Daughters for Life Foundation, which he has established in memory of his late daughters. This year the foundation is distributing its inaugural set of awards, 35 of them at 10 universities in Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. In Israel, the awards will go to students at Haifa University and Ben-Gurion University, where the first three awards were presented earlier this month.
The head of Wimbledon, which began this week, is asking for less grunting from female tennis players during their matches. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Ian Ritchie, the chief executive of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, conveyed that tennis umpires were becoming more uncomfortable with the increasing length and volume of the sounds accompanying tennis serves, called grunts. He believes greener players have an “education problem” about the issue.
There are many international tennis tournaments each year, and a number of these are high profile, but it seems that women tennis players are publicly scolded for grunting only when Wimbledon rolls around; the Sisterhood first wrote about this phenomenon nearly two years ago. Then, it was Russia’s Maria Sharapova who was being criticized for the decibels her grunts reached (yes, officials measure). Now, it’s Victoria Azarenka of Belarus who is being reprimanded.
Azarenka says the grunts improve her game. Perhaps it is emblematic of the power of her serve; perhaps it works against her competitor’s concentration.
Whatever the reason, it seems that there is more heat focused on female players when it comes to these noises than their male counterparts. After all, there are men who grunt, too.