Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Frum Shaming

An  outrageous flyer
OK. I know I probably should not be talking about Shaitels because I am a man. But I am not without an opinion on this subject.  Besides being a man has never stopped me from discussing women’s issues before. Why stop now?

Two articles about Shaitels have been published recently. One in the Forward by Avital Chizhik Goldschmisdt and the other in the Times of Israel by Alexandra Fleksher. I thought I would add my 2 cents. Which is probably more than my opinion is worth. But here goes.

First my disclaimer. I have always had difficulty understanding this particular Halacha which seems illogical by its very nature. The Gemarah (Brachos 24 A) cites R’ Sheshes telling us ‘Seir B’Isha Erva’. The (uncovered) hair of a woman is considered nakedness! Without getting into details this Halacha is derived biblically making it a D’Oraisa – a biblical level requirement.  And yet hair covering does not apply to all women. Only married women.  

Women that have never been married do not need to cover their hair at all. And they don’t. Even in right wing circles. Why is ‘married’ hair nakedness and ‘unmarried’ hair not nakedness?. Hair is hair, isn’t it? This conundrum has never been explained to me in satisfying ways.  

Be that as it may, married women are required by Halacha to cover their hair. And yet there was a time in the not too distant past when most religious (non Chasidic) women abandoned this Mitzvah. Even in pre Holocaust Europe as noted by R’ Yechiel Michel Epstein in his magnum opus, the Aruch HaShulchan.

But times have changed. The vast majority of Orthodox Jewish married women of all Orthodox Hashkafos cover their hair. Even Modern Orthodox women - at least of the Centrist variety. Usually with a wig, better known in the religious world as a Shaitel (which is Yiddish for wig).  This paradigm shift is in part due to the improved Jewish educational situation in our day. But it is also due to the improved ‘look’ of the Shaitel.

Today’s Shaitel is not your grandmother’s Shaitel. Back in the days of yore, a Shaitel looked like a Shaitel. You could tell a woman was wearing one a mile away. Why wear one if is was so unappealing? I guess it was still better than covering the hair with a plain looking head scarf scarf. 

But in recent years Shaitels have become so realistic, that in many cases it looks better than natural hair. One might think that is a good thing. I certainly do. A beautiful and flattering Shaitel is a great incentive for observing a Mitzvah that might otherwise still be ignored. Now, most people that are not attuned to this Mitzvah won’t even realize that a woman with gorgeous hair might actually be wearing a Shaitel.  That makes life a lot easier for women to cover their hair.

(One of the by-products of that is that most of the Charedi women I know look far more attractive after they are married than they do before they are married. Not because they are now more of a ‘forbidden fruit’. But because of their newly purchaced hair.  And wardrobe to match. Which they did not have before marriage.

I find this ironic and counter-intuitive. One would think that women who want to get married should look more attractive before marriage then after. The opposite seems to be true in Charedi circles. I’m not sure why that is. But I digress.)

Not everyone thinks that attractive Shaitels is such a great idea. In fact some people think it undermines the very intent of covering the hair. And have accused women that have these beautiful wigs of trying to look like prostitutes! I kid you not. From the Forward
Digital flyers were recently sent around the Orthodox community’s wig makers. The senders’ names were kept anonymous.
“Dear Jewish women,” it screamed in all-caps. “How badly are you trying to look like a prostitute? How important is it for you to slap G-d in the face?!”
The flyer featured a collage of images of young Orthodox women in voluminous, long wigs… 
As columnist Chizhik Goldschmidt notes, this is the Frum version of slut shaming. She then theorizes that this type of reprimand is just a symptom of a larger issue. That of the disappearing woman in Orthodoxy. I agree with her about this phenomenon. And have discussed my fierce opposition to things like the increasing tendency of Charedi publications no longer publishing pictures of women. But I don’t think that this is about that.

Frum Shaming is based an obsession with Tznius that is an over-reaction to increasing sexual permissiveness in our culture. They are placing the burden on women – casting all woman as temptresses whether they intend to be or not. They see a beautiful woman and say, ‘Stop being so beautiful!’ Because it will make men sin by virtue of just looking at you! 

In their eyes, a woman should stay home and out of the public eye as much as possible. So as to aid men in their quest for holiness. The sexes must be separated as much as possible outside of the home. So that men will not ‘God forbid’ be tempted to sin. Even if that means demeaning women by accusing them of being virtual harlots for simply trying to look their best. 

What about trying to convince men to control themselves? Why isn’t that emphasized instead of pacing the entire burden on women? I think it’s because the Tznius zealots are extremely self centered. It doesn’t occur to then that ‘Frum shaming’  hurts people and probably does more harm than good. Which undermines their entire purpose. No one will be ‘Frum shamed’ into compliance. If anything pressure like that might cause some women to just give up covering their hair altogether.  

Which brings me to Alexandra Fleksher. She wrote a beautiful description of what this phenomenon is all about in the Times of Israel. Hard to disagree with her conclusion. Which reads: 
Modesty is a challenge for many women today. The influence of popular culture doesn’t help. Instead of paining these Jewish women who are wives and mothers through disgracing and coercive methods, maybe recognize the stark reality that the only way this trend is going to change is if Hollywood says so.