Monday, January 28, 2008

The Sheitel Display

Note: I know nothing. These are just my musings.

So demonstrating the power of the "Army of Davids," DovBear put out a request that someone take a photo of the offending store display, and then posted the picture up. (See DovBear's post here.) I said I would put the picture on the blog as a show of solidarity with those who think that at the very least one should know something about the contents of the picture before making pronouncements of condemnation of it. Having seen it, I do not believe that it is pritzus, but in consideration to any reader who is worried about seeing it, I placed it towards the end of this post, so you can stop reading here. (I would encourage seeing the pictures, nonetheless.)

Seeing the picture is useful, for it helps put into perspective the issue, and to perhaps understand the dynamic in play here. It also prevents misunderstanding of what is the metizius. Over Shabbos, some people I discussed it with were sure that the women were dressed in revealing clothing, based on the description of it as pritzus.

Firstly, see the actual letter, at YeshivaWorld. Here is a link to the image. This store owner had a display of wigs, both on Styrofoam heads and in a series of color photographs. These are common in certain parts. In fact, in Kew Gardens Hills we have a store that I would say has equivalent photographs. However, this store is opposite Chaim Berlin. Actually, one thing you can see in the picture below is the reflection of the business opposite it, which is a funeral home, which a source tells me is at the end of the block.

At any rate, some avreichim went to this store owner and requested that he remove this display, for they felt that it was pritzus, since it consists of pictures of attractive women and as an advertisement is designed to draw the eyes of those who see it towards it. I do not know the content of the conversation -- the letter does not make it clear -- but it is possible that they were polite and the store-owner's reaction was one of "rudeness," in responding with such responses as "this is not Bnai Brak," or it is equally possible that they were not so respectful in their request, with the end result of prompting this reaction from the store owner.

According to the letter, the owner of the store is an Israeli who made yerida -- and it continues to say, he is fittingly called this because "he wishes to take down the taste of Torah which is among us."

I believe that such strong terms are unwarranted. That he is an Israeli who made yerida gives a bit of insight into the situation, but instead of being able to step back and understand the other person's perspective and motivations, it becomes a basis of attack.

Frankly, in Israel it is often much worse than it gets here in America, in terms of the culture clash between the secular and the religious. The secular Israelis, with some good cause, see the religious as trying to stuff religion down their throats, and to impose their religious standards upon them. And this is true even with certain groups of chareidim when interacting with religious Jews who are non-Chareidi -- they also try to impose their standards of observance on others. Some prominent recent examples are the clashes on the segregated buses, and what is going on in Ramat Bet Shemesh.

An Israeli leaves Israel for whatever reason. {Update: As Bray of Fundie points out (see comments), the store owner is a chareidi from Bnei Brak. This might provide different insight for his reaction.} Perhaps he is entirely secular, perhaps he is religious but not chareidi. And then in America, where one is supposed to have religious freedoms, suddenly a group of obvious chareidim come and try to intimidate him to take down his advertisement, which he would not naturally view as pritzus, even by certain non-chareidi yet still religious standards. His reaction would be "this is not Bnei Brak"; don't impose Bnei Brak definitions of modesty upon me here and in this neighborhood; do not intimidate me and make me change my business practice because you have certain religious standards.

His being a yored is not a negative thing to call him, and should not be a pretext for saying that his goal is to reduce that taste of Torah amongst us. This was an opportunity to understand the motivations of someone you disagree with, and to either persuade or understand one another. (The issue of the pritzus aside.) Even if you do need to call for a boycott, this misses the point, misunderstands the person, misunderstands the culture clash, and serves to distance him and those in his community from Judaism, rather than draw them closer.

Of course I may be misunderstanding him as well, not knowing enough about the situation, but at least this is an attempt to understand the other side. And with more intimate knowledge of the situation, one can find get to the bottom of this. Condemnations, and casting the person as an evildoer just doing this to be an evildoer just increases the sinas chinam on both sides.

I don't know if the boycott will be effective. They have the right to boycott, and perhaps other people will sign on to the boycott, or perhaps not. If it impacts his business, he might well cave in. But what do you think the store-owner's attitude will be? And just as bad, this is reinforcement for attitudes on the chareidi side, so what do you think their attitude will be towards people who hold differently? The types of comments at YeshivaWorld betray exactly what kind of attitudes people are being trained in. And perhaps before claiming that "who knows, perhaps all these tzaros are being caused by pritzus," think firstly that "who knows" means that even the person proclaiming it does not know, and secondly, perhaps such pronouncements plus perhaps the closed-mindedness and condemnation of different approaches could be the cause of those tzaros (just as equally, though I do not profess to know why things happen).

This is one reason I am so thankful to live in Kew Gardens Hills. There are so many niches, so many shuls with different approaches, and so many communities living side by side, within the spectrum of Orthodox Judaism. It is not necessarily the same in many other communities, where there is a pressure to conform, in terms of dress, in terms of practice, and in terms of thought.

And that is why I think that even if indeed there are pritzus problems with the advertisements according to their opinion, it is less important to remove this advertisement -- have men avert their gaze, or avoid walking near there if it is a problem -- and it is more important to develop in specifically these individuals, in specifically these communities, the idea that other people can have other opinions, and we should not force them to conform to specifically our ideals. (Of course, on some level I am doing the same, asking that they accept my ideal of tolerance.)

Another problematic aspect is the decision to solve tnius problems by making someone else modify to accommodate you. In some cases, this is justified. But in other cases, it is not so. There is an idea that an adam chashuv does not look at the face of women. Iyyov, if I recall correctly, did not look at penuyot even, lest they marry his sons and they be arayot in the future to him. But firstly, this does not mean that this extreme middat chassidut should be imposed as the standard. And even if it is, the solution was not that the women cover up but rather that the men do not look at them.

I forget which gadol it was, but a gadol was known to usually use a lot of water for washing hands. But once he did not. His students asked him why, and he pointed out that the poor maidservant was the one who had to lug all the water, and he was not going to insist on his chumra at someone else's expense. Yet here, the solution is to make the other person conform. Just as it is to make the women ride in the back; or to make the person with the television get rid of his television so that people do not peer into his house and watch; and so on. Worse than a color picture display, we have 3-D displays of the same, with real flesh, and movement. Will we make them wear veils? Not at present, but the trend seems troubling.

The women are indeed inclining their necks. This is not for the sake of pritzus. I doubt that the women were thinking of enticing men when posing, and I doubt that the store owner thought to entice the men in the yeshiva with his ad. The intent was to make the women look glamorous and pretty, so that women would see them and think that they would also look glamorous and pretty when wearing these sheitels. And inclining the neck has the effect of making the neck look longer and more graceful.

We see in Shir haShirim a praise comparing a woman's neck to a tower:
ד כְּמִגְדַּל דָּוִיד צַוָּארֵךְ, בָּנוּי לְתַלְפִּיּוֹת; אֶלֶף הַמָּגֵן תָּלוּי עָלָיו, כֹּל שִׁלְטֵי הַגִּבֹּרִים. 4 Thy neck is like the tower of David builded with turrets, whereon there hang a thousand shields, all the armour of the mighty men.
I can understand how some people in some communities might have a problem with this inclined neck. (They might consider it a come-hither neck. Heh.) Personally I do not. The problem might simply be advertisements featuring women's faces. I know that in some communities, in some newspapers and magazines, they consider this pritzus. This is unfortunate, IMHO. Especially if they do not allow for the possibility that others might hold differently.

I also think that this incredible focus on tznius as the most important thing ever is counterproductive. It has the effect of sexualizing everything. I was astounded to see in a recent discussion about mixed seating weddings that chareidim's response is that they do not need to spend the wedding ogling the friends of their wives, or the assumption that this leads to wife swapping. This assumption is so far off base, for that is absolutely not what happens at mixed weddings. But to think that this would happen if they engaged in mixed weddings tells more about their own attitudes than those who they judge.

At any rate, I know nothing, and these are just my musings on the subject. If you want to see what the basis of all this controversy/boycott is, see DovBear's post, or see the picture below:




Yochanan said...

I just yelled out a sarcastic blood-curtling scream.

Lion of Zion said...

interesting point about the context of him being a yored

"This is one reason I am so thankful to live in Kew Gardens Hills . . ."

true that KGH is not flatbush, but KGH is not exactly what it used to be either.

yaak said...

From probably knowing less about the case than you do, it appears at first glance that both are at fault - the store-owner for not being more sensitive to the tastes of the community - and the Yeshiva for not being sensitive to the needs of the store-owner and causing unneeded Mahloket.

As far as the "incredible focus on tznius" that you claim is counterproductive, I think that it really depends on the community and the people involved and how it's done. Every community has its own red lines when it comes to Tzeni'ut (which is why a picture that you may not think as pritzus would be pritzus to some others - especially to a single Yeshiva Bachur who is learning all day long). To impose the same level of Tzeni'ut upon everyone would be counterproductive. But, for each commnunity to increase their level of Tzeni'ut by a certain degree is always a good idea. This type of general "Be more careful" approach has its downsides, but the hope is that everyone knows what they need to improve on, so they will act on it. If certain people need more specific guidelines tailored to them, they can talk to a rav or rabbanit.

MDJ said...

I beleive the gadol with teh water and the maidservant was the chofetz chaim, but I certainly cannot give you a source.

chaim said...

yaak, chaim berlin does not represent "the community" there. If you know that area its extremly mixed and contains a diverse group of Jews.

In fact, JUST AROUND THE CORNER on the same block as the wig store is a Lubavitch Shul/Center.

There is a large modern orthodox population there, as well as yeshivish, as well as Israeli and sefardik, and syrian.

It's one thing if the whole community (like Bnei Brak) leaned ONE way and this guy opened shop in the middle of the town. But its not like that at all.

I think if these guys feel the standards of the community have dropped, they should consider leaving to Monsey or Lakewood, where they CAN control what the shop owners do.

PS - Excellent Post.

efrex said...

The story with the water is told of R' Yisrael Salanter (see here for example, also told by Rabbi Rakeffet in his shiur (about 55 minutes into the audio)).

The Bray of Fundie said...

An Israeli leaves Israel for whatever reason. Perhaps he is entirely secular, perhaps he is religious but not chareidi

You err. The wig-store owners are themselves Charedim. Read the letter. In fact the lady running the store is suporting her Kollel Avreich husband. This has nothing to do with secular vs. Charedi clashes and everything to do with Isreali apartheid supremacy denigrating all and every American TK.

It is the same ugly mentality that makes Yeshiva leit in Israel refer to S'fardic Jews as "Frenkim" while RAS has an heir apparent Moroccon son-in-law.

SephardiLady said...

I had a completely different image of what these offending photos would be. I had imagined 6 foot heads gracing a corner store with very luxurious sheitels, with a bright backing (maybe orange, pink, or yellow).. . . more like the lingere store in the mall that I try to avoid when I have to take my kids.

Instead, we have 16 by 20 photos of ladies wearing very nice sheitels and the display is so far from eye catching it seems like the owner could do more (like eliminate the glare.

Let's face it, practically every young woman in Flatbush is wearing a similiar sheitel (or at least that was my observation when I was there). I too was holding out on a verdict, but it seems that there is a bit of flexing muscles going on here.

joshwaxman said...

I stand corrected on that count. I reread the letter and saw that he is a chareidi *from* Bnei Brak. (assuming I am reading it correctly)

Which perhaps gives a different reading to "this is not Bnei Brak." Perhaps he does not like the strictures imposed in Bnei Brak and this is why he left those environs. It is difficult to get into someone's head. I am not quite ready to accept your proffered explanation, and not accepting RAS as his Daas Torah need not mean all that.

On the other counts, I still believe that one allowing for others to have their positions, rather than imposing one's positions / stringencies upon others, is something positive, which IMHO outweighs tznius concerns. As well as the other points I made about whose responsibility this should be, and the over-focus on tznius, etc.

I'll try to correct the post. I'm having gmail issues so I might have problems doing this.

joshwaxman said...

does this include Rabbanit Keren?

yaak said...

Chaim, thanks for clarifying the situation - but the fact is that there is a Yeshiva nearby. I'm not going to judge him, but if I were faced with a similar situation, I would hope that I would try to accommodate my neighbors as much as possible, especially when faced with a Safek Lifnei Iveir and a Vadai "Et Hashem Elokecha Tira - Lerabot Talmidei Hachamim". Unless, he has a Posek that tells him that he's not obligated to remove them -then, he's off the hook from those 2 Issurim, but still isn't very neighborly.

Josh, at first I thought you were talking about your aunt. :-) I had to do a Google search to see who you were talking about, and I now see what you mean. Wearing a burka is absolutely the opposite of what Tseni'ut is all about. She's drawing more attention to herself that way. That's just ridiculous.


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