Monday, September 19, 2022

Insanity as the New Normal

Toe Shaitels (JTA)
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I kinda feel both emotions. There is an ad floating around the Jewish media selling fake toes. You heard that correctly. Why on earth would anyone buy fake toes? 

The answer should be obvious to religious Jews. it’s all about Tznius. Which is currently defined by the right as modesty guidelines for women. The usual conversations are about skirt length, necklines, or hair coverings. The latter of which revolves around  the Halacha that a married woman’s hair is considered Erva – usually defined as nakedness. Modesty laws therefore require married women to cover their hair. How much of it should be covered and where (i.e. whether it applies only in public or in private as well) is a matter of debate in Halacha. But all agree that a married woman must cover her hair.

The more stringent one is  greater the length one need go to fulfill this law. There are several ways in which a married woman can cover her hair. The most common in western culture is the use of a wig, known in religious circles by its Yiddish name – Shaitel. 

Wigs are not universally accepted as sufficient for hair covering. For example Poskim for Sephardim  (Jews of the Middle Eastern descent) do not allow its use. But Poskim of the vast majority of Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin) do allow it as a means of covering the hair. But among them are those who are extremely stringent limiting what kind of wig qualifies as a legitimate hair covering. They feel that the modesty intent of covering the hair is undermined if for example the wig looks too real. Or too long. Or too attracting in any other way.  

More recently wigs have evolved to the point that one can literally not tell them apart form real hair. The ‘telltale’ sign of a wig is the hairline. A traditional wig - no matter how well made - cannot fully mimic the actual hairline of a woman. That’s because it is attached to a base that covers the area where the hairline would begin. 

But that has changed recently with an innovation called a lace top. This allows the actual skin where the real hair begins to be seen. Making the wig look like it’s actually growing out of the skin.  There is no ‘telltale’ Shaitel line. This has generated much pushback by right wing Poskim who feel this innovation is the worst example of undermining the intent of hair covering. They have strictly forbidden it.

I am not a fan of this view, to say the least. First because the letter of the law is not violated in any way by a lace top wig. The hair is fully covered. Second because the idea that a woman’s hair equals actual nakedness is undermined by the fact that single woman (that were never married) do not need to cover their hair. No matter how attractive it makes them look. So that the idea of undermining the intent of not exposing hair because it is nakedness is in my view a misinterpretation of what Erva means as applied to hair. If a woman’s hair were really Erva, then all women – married or not – would be required to cover their hair. Clearly that is not the case.

But that hasn’t stopped the more extreme Poskim from defining it that way. The right wing in its eternal search for stringencies feel no compunction about telling women that they are forbidden from looking too good.

It is as though Judaism is a never ending surge to the right in their eyes. Forever chasing the most stringent application of Halacha to the point of absurdity. This unfairly encumbers women with stringencies that are really no more then their desire to define Judaism by the number of stringencies they can impose. Never seeing a Chumra they don’t like. Especially as it applies to modesty in woman’s issues. That it makes life a lot more difficult for them doesn’t matter. So long as they are as modest as their most extreme definition of the term. 

This is why for example there has been an increasing erasure of woman from the public square. Most notably in Charedi publications like Mishpacha that will not publish a picture of a woman under any circumstances. (On that note – I found it quite remarkable - if not surprising - that not a single picture of Queen Elizabeth was published in the many articles written in Charedi publications about her death and long reign. Articles that fawned over her as one of greatest Judeophiles of the last 100 years. Considered as such even by the most right wing Charedim in the UK.

With all of these ridiculous new standards of modesty it is easy to understand why an advertisement hawking fake toes was taken quite seriously by many people. The idea being that woman’s toes are immodest and should not be uncovered in public. So that open toed shoes may not be worn. These ‘Shaitels for the toes’ would be a modest way of wearing fashionable open toed shoes – without actually exposing their real toes.

That this ad was a parody seems obvious to me. But that it was taken seriously by so many people shows the extent of how normal ridiculous extremes of modesty has become. To the best of my knowledge a woman’s  toes are not Erva. But that hasn’t stopped some of the more extreme right wing Poskim from getting their public to think that way. Which is why  parody like ‘fake toes’ can so easily be seen as real.

As the world keeps turning – so too does the nonsensical Churma chase. Which is closely approaching absurdity - if it isn’t already there. Common sense has left the building. And with the generationally exponential  growth of the right due to a much higher birthrate they believe is mandatory – I see no hope of turning back the clock to saner times.  I guess all I can do is stay amused and see what comes next. Albeit with a tear in my eye for the loss of sanity.