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.”
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.