Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 12 July 2012

People Who Just Don't Get It

Hat tip: Rav Bechofer
One of the interesting psychological tendencies people have is to focus on little problems because the big problems are too complex or hard for them to handle.  Yes, the U.S. economy is going into the crapper but let's focus on how to make people recycle better.  Why worry about Western culture collapsing in the next few decades when we can worry instead about whether you should have thrown that Coke bottle into the regular garbage or the blue bin?
Judaism is, of course, no different.  We have problems, big problems in the frum world.  We have created a divisive culture in which the clothes we wear are more important than the actions we perform.  We have an underclass of poorly educated benchwarmers who think they are the aristocracy of our nation even as they pride themselves on being incapable of stringing together a simple sentence in any language other than Yeshivish.  We have leaders who are out of touch with the masses and are presented by their handlers as Jewish ayatollahs with another prohibition and ban appearing every week.  And those same masses are disillusioned, going through the motions without feeling anything much inside.  They celebrate when they are told to, mourn when they are told to, but it's all just rote and fear of what the neighbours will say that motivate them.
So what should we tackle first?  Nail polish colours.
Now, off the top I will state that I don't have a problem with private schools enforcing a uniform or code of conduct on their students.  After all, it's a private school.  You don't have to send your children there if you don't want to and if their expectations are offensive to you then you have the right to send your children elsewhere.
But there are two things to note as exceptions in this case.  The first is that within any UltraOrthodox community the private school you send your child to isn't an option but a demand.  Can you image a couple living in Crown Heights saying "Well we don't want to send our daughter to Beis Rivkah because we disagree with some of their positions and the uniform standards"?  No, I can't either.
The second exception is when the uniform requirements go beyond the school and into the family.  Read through the article and the combination of self-righteousness and an urge to control others becomes palpable quite quickly.  It starts off with the usual assumption: that what this woman's opinions of what tznius are, the ones she was doubtlessly taught as a young girl, are the only valid opinions.  And so she starts off with a blanket statement designed to justify the torment she is going to inflict on others who cross what she has established to be the red line in modest dress:
This may surprise you, but I asked for the job of tznius lady. I told Bais Rivkah that someone needed to stand in front of their doors and tell mothers that they couldn’t enter if they were not dressed according to Jewish law, and I offered to do the job. 
Get it?  "Jewish law".  There is only one.  There is no variation.  There are no disputes amongst the poskim.  Like global warming, the issue has been settled.  Did you learn something different from her?  Do you have a family tradition going way back that differs from hers?  Too bad.  If she says it ain't tznius, don't bother bringing out your seforim.  They're wrong because she's going by "Jewish law".
It's one thing to say "I hold by this standard" but that's often not what we do.  We go beyond and add, "And if you don't hold by that same standard, why you're a sinner!"  And that's exactly what Ms. Lerman does next:
Also,” I said, looking her straight in the eye, “if your parent was being disgraced in the streets, would you sit at home and do nothing, or would you be out in the streets to bring back honor to your mother or father? Well, it is my Rebbe, my Rebbe’s community, my Eibershter and my Torah that is being disgraced.
It's a disgrace!  God's self-appointed policement, Ms. Lerman, has you pegged.  You're a perutzah for not meeting her standards.  There is no grey.  There is only her way, well the Rebbe's if she were to say it, and the wrong way.
I spoke to a woman who teaches in one of our schools. I asked her not to wear dark- colored nail polish. She was not happy that I had called her. She said to me, “If you would just stick to the black-and-white areas we wouldn’t have such problems with tznius. It is because you pick on things that are in the grey areas, that’s why we are losing the girls.” I was almost crying.
And why shouldn't she cry?  Isn't the tzidkus of her position obvious?  How could anyone question her?  Do they want to throw these innocent girls into the gates of Gehinnom?  The histrionic approach to Jewish law does no one any favours.  Consider this vignette that she brings to prove her point:

Last year, on the final day of school, a Friday, I was proctoring the 12th graders who were taking their last test. I saw one of my students with the buttons of her shirt open quite low. I knew I had to say something. She is a good student, the daughter of Shluchim, a really nice girl. I started to give myself excuses. “I don’t want to embarrass her. I will speak to her when she comes up to the desk to hand in her test paper.”

Well, when she put her test in the envelope I didn’t say a word. After all, there were other girls at the desk and I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable.
That Friday night, I dreamt that I saw this student walking in the street with pants on. On Shabbos day, after a Pirkei Avos shiur, I told my friends what had happened and what I learned from it all.

It reminds me of an Ephraim Kishon story in which he dreams that he is an Israeli soldier performing all sorts of atrocities in Yesha.  When he wakes up he writes an angry note to the editor of his local paper condemning Israel for allowing their soldiers to do such things!  From a dream!  And here is Ms. Lerman, the Big Sister of Crown Heights who has decided that since this girl had her shirt open low (which, in Chabad-speak means you could see her Adam's apple) that she would next cast off the yoke of Torah and mitzvos and walk around in public wearing pants.  Because, you see, for Ms. Lerman there is little different between a top button being undone and a halter top and mini-skirt.  A slut is a slut!
Never mind theft, corruption, pedophilia, violence and the imposition of poverty on the masses.  What really matters is that some of our women are wearing the wrong colour of nail polish.
Attitudes like this have only one benefit.  After reading this article on 17 Tammuz I was inspired to take a Gravol (Dramamine in the U.S.) which put me to sleep for four hours on the longest fast day of the year.  Other than than, the "I'm so holy attitude" serves no one well and will only drive more Jewish children away from a Torah lifestyle that is presented to them as a Jewish version of what goes on in Saudi Arabia.


Anonymous said...

For your information, there are at least two alternatives to Beis Rivka in Crown Heights.

The rest of your article is almost as accurate as your ASSumption about a community you know nothing about.

yosef said...

Ultra-Orthodox Jews make the Tea Party look like a picnic.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Anonymous, I'm curious. I'm well aware that Chabad has people who monitor the internet for critical posts and then show up to leave disparaging comments but I'm curious. Are you specifically assigned to follow my blog or am I on some kind of watch list run out of 770 and today just happened to be your turn?

AztecQueen2000 said...

Nail polish isn't covered in the Torah, but treating your fellow (wo)man humanely is. If you can anger someone or make them cry, your message is already lost. And you have lost them.

SJ said...

Chabad is one of the things that makes judaism look disgusting with their lying about their messianism.

Secondly, it's time to stop being in denial. A significant part of orthodoxy is already akin to Saudi Arabia.

Pragmatician said...

Great points, and I love satiric description of the "benchwarmers".

I just feel like the day will come where the schools will come to people's homes and judge the kiddush cups, parent's bedrooms, cjoice of books etc.. And no one will be able to stop it.

tesyaa said...

I just feel like the day will come where the schools will come to people's homes and judge the kiddush cups, parent's bedrooms, cjoice of books etc.. And no one will be able to stop it.

Sure you can stop it. Send your kids to public school. I don't know why more people aren't doing just that.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

This was quite depressing. Though I did like the comparison between nail polish/wearing pants and bringing guns and knives on an airplane. Nothing like perspective.

I think I'm less bothered by this woman bullying fellow adults than by the thought of her being a teacher.

Rye said...

Gravol on a Rabbinic Fast Day? What's next, tylenol for a migraine on shabbat?

JRKmommy said...

Reading between the lines, it doesn't sound like she's so popular in Crown Heights - she had to make up the "tznius lady" position and bother the school until they allowed her to do it, and she herself said that she's gotten negative feedback from other teachers who don't appreciate her comments.

I'm wondering if there's more to the story.

Anonymous said...

Right on!

Anonymous said...

well done!

one [relatively minor] quibble: even if it’s true (and apparently, in Crown Heights, there other options) that a given school is the only orthodox game in town---they could argue that by choosing to live there, you’re opting for whatever that community offers, including the school, with its rules, whatever they are.

The larger point, which you made well, is that the school or community itself demonstrates distorted priorities by pursuing such non-issues.

SF2K01 said...


I'd disagree. You don't usually choose where you live because of the school. You often choose where you live because of your job or your family is already established there. I doubt any of the Chabad families in CH grew up with these kinds of schools, but a woman like this decides to transform them and it's suddenly the only option short of sending your kid away.

There's something to be said for trying to defend your own, even if the opposing force tries to claim the moral high ground.

Anonymous said...

I am the first anonymous.

Your ASSumptions about Chabad are wrong again. There is no blog squad. The official Chabad policy is to ignore the ignoramuses. I am a private person with no connection to official Chabad whatsoever. I am a chossid of the Rebbe, not of any organization or party in today's Chabad.

I just happen to be a friend of Mrs Ella Lerman's husband. We were very close with each other until I relocated, so I have been at their home enough times to know who she is, how intelligent she is and how much she knows (more than many rabbonim) and what she does for others.

You have no idea what the background of the story is. You also have no connection to Chabad or to Crown Heights, so what is your business?

Mrs Lerman happens to be quite tall, but regardless of your height (whatever it may be), I can tell that you do not measure up to the soles of her feet.