In recent years, Israel’s walls have been causing quite the brouhaha. Two have transcended brick, mortar and security guards, becoming the country’s leading conflicts incarnate.The Western wall and the women at it have been stealing the headlines with questions of traditional religion in the modern state. Meanwhile, a younger partition serving as the apotheosis of the occupation – the Israeli West Bank barrier— was just dubbed “100 times more horrifying” than Berlin Wall by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. “Terrorist”, “apartheid”, “humanitarian crisis”, “security”, “oppression”, “green line” and “ethnic cleansing” are words commonly associated with the former wall, but thanks to the work of one Israeli designer, we just might have another rather surprising one: “fashion.”
On the 23 of August I hopped on a plane in search of self, and study of “the enigmatic seminary girl amid her natural habitat.” Did I assume I had enough courage to undergo the tribulation my mission called for? Could I don features of religiosity like Chanel’s little black jacket; in such sangfroid that I could circumvent Rabbi’s and live among Frummies without authorities discovering I was only an aspiring Frenchwoman with a boisterous brown mane, just observing to “take notes”?
Having Obama in mind I answered “yes, oui, כן (ken)!” I supposed I could. I had some faith in my acting skills and thought sacrosanctity could be assumed long enough to complete my task. Could I pass ten months in a West Bank Jewish nunnery? I said I could and I would—and I think I did.
After opening the unexpected email of admittance, I rushed to practice the part in which I was to make my debut the following day. What a difficult task, I thought, to appear before a crowd and convince them that I was a Dosi. I was already unaccepted to one institution because of an uncovered photo of myself with scantily clad arms—I was not about to invite déjà vu. I began to think my task a hopeless one, but it had to be done. So I flew to the mirror and examined my face.
“I am afraid of that wily smile of yours,” quipped my Orthodox friend. “I will smile no more,” I said imprisoning a grin in order to embark on my delicate and, as I found out, ensnaring mission. I was bent on looking at my condition through unsympathetic glasses. It’s just as well to take a last “fond look,” I mused, for who could tell how the strain of playing pious , and being shut up with a crowd of Semgirls eating peanut butter and the Bible, might turn my own brain, and I would never get it back. But not once did I think of eschewing my mission. On the following sweltering August day, I French braided my hair in two, threw on my longest black skirt, my mother’s high collared linen blouse and navy J.Crew cardigan. Far more covered then any of my peers taking group flight, I looked like a gentle little school girl who should have been accompanied by a succoring adult.
I had little confidence in my capacity to deceive the religious experts, and I think my prudent friend had less. Nonetheless, from the moment I entered the settlement, I made no attempt to keep up the assumed role of piety. I purported and prodded as I do in ordinary life.
Calmly, outwardly at least, I went out to my cockeyed business.
As a fashion habitué, my initial observations were topical at best: I noticed how all Semgirls sported snug Hard Tail skirts with fitted chambrays. How the Anglo Jewess toted her iPhone in a kaleidoscopic LeSportsac cross- body and come Friday, how that small purse morphed before my eyes into a LeSportsac tote available in an even grander salad of prints. I analyzed what each sartorial decision indicated vis-à-vis group dynamics, conformity and economic status of the modern orthodox nymphet. It was only a matter of time before the curious anthropological case, turned into an addlepated excavation of my Dasein.
I imagined myself as a sort of Nellie Bly. In 1887, Ms. Bly revolutionized journalism and most importantly treatment of the mentally ill, spending10 days at Bellevue Hospital while posing as a mental patient for a madhouse exposé. Sociologists, anthologists, psychologists, and all other “ists” call this method participant observation: data collection, where the researcher actually slips into the subjects shoes, taking on the studied role. While I am not calling seminary an asylum, the parallels subsist for your own musing pleasure.
All I had to compare to the Orthodox Jewish world were books. The Beit Midrash appeared to be the gateway to the Yeshiva world. The practices, the uniform, the thoughts were alien— I figured I could at least learn my way into this cerebral circus.
In Gush Etzion , darkness lands precociously. It dangles in the morning air like the sword of Damocles; then in the midafternoon a pewter blue vesper descends, and the Jerusalem stone houses and aluminum caravans bare a somber expression. Yet high atop a steep Judean hill, across from the passing shepherd with his flock, and contiguous to Beit Fa Jay jayFajjar, an elevated pentagonal roof accompanied by a great triangular window emanate hoards of light, shattering the fat darkness of moonless, starless nights. Through the first few weeks at Migdal Oz, a gossamer menace of assumptions, ignorance, and Lilliputians, startled me, drying my hands, grating my apprehensions, making me eat saccharine, budget halva disintegrating with human touch (the only kind Migdal Oz provides) too often. I would pace to and fro; my palms gulped by the long sleeves of shirt a friend had lent me too fit in.
In my first night-learning period’s, which leading up to Yom Kippur were all about atonement, I wanted to escape and tread towards Efrat through the twilight in order to touch the twinkling Jerusalem lights, but each time I tried , I became entwined in some wild, vociferous Talmudic dispute drawing me back, as if with corroded chains, into my seat.
“Ben Azai answered ‘What can I do? My soul desires Torah! Others can make babies’ (Yevamos 63b).” Sing-sang Shira, my Chavruta.
“Who does this Azai guy think he is? Is that a valid pretext for pussyfooting the Cultural Mandate? Following creation, God tells man to be fruitful and multiply— except for those who fall in love with texts?!” I roared at my Chavruta, struggling to match my tone and gesticulations to the notorious Talmudic melody.
Our Oz-like, green roofed seminary’s stream of glowing windows must have added our share of mortal mystery for the passing spectator in the dimming mountains. I was her too, watching the light and speculating. Was I walking up the wrong yellow road from the closest settlement of Efrat? Should I search for bricks? Was The Great and Powerful Oz really inside? Was that a flying monkey I spotted in the corpulent night? Would I pull aside a curtain, revealing the Wizard to be an old illusionist who would only prove that the brainless Scarecrow, heartless Tinman and spiritless Lion, each had what he wanted all along; that all I needed was a pair of scintillating red stilettos to take me home? Entranced and disenchanted by a surfeit of information, I had one foot in, one foot out; at once I stood inside and outside the wonderful Beit Midrash of Migdal Oz.
Drawing her chair closer to my perspiring body, Shira released a torrent of warm breath justifying Ben Azai’s deviant conduct.
The following mornings, evenings, and afternoons in the Beis, I quaffed a Talmudic sugya, and one more, and one more, and one more, and one more, and just one more, until I became loudly intoxicated with knowledge, struggling to maintain my balance with an indifferent Gemarah glued to my hand. I was addicted. Talmud satisfied all my needs. She challenged me with legal battles, aphorisms, literature, philosophy, bible, questionable biology, math equations, sex advice, table manners, philological challenges, Persian history, and fashion tips. Nonetheless, I was simultaneously terrified by the truth she was left behind on each daf.
Sitting alone in a strange territory, far from my wardrobe, house, family and everyone I knew, a sensation waylaying, finally attacked. It was like remembering something I’d never known before or had always been waiting for— but I didn’t know what. Maybe it was something I’d overlooked or something I’ve been missing all my life. All I can say is that I felt, at the same time, pleasure and repulsion. But not too much pain, because I felt alive. That was the moment I fell in love with the Gmarah’s pages, and I felt the Gmarah fall in love with me.
But acting the part of a Dosi was one thing; becoming one was my biggest fear. I snubbed the thought of morphing into just another religious girl when I had no one at home encouraging me to trim my negatively free wings. At all costs, the investigator undergoing participant observation must circumvent ‘going native’: becoming a full-time group participant ruins the entire experiment. Thus, I had lots of fun comparing myself to the Tannaic scholar who’s “tongue was never tired of singing Greek songs” (Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 9), the sage who infamously thought his student R’Meir Torah while illicitly riding a horse on Shabbat (Hagigah 15b), the “Other one”—otherwise known as Elisha ben Avuya.
I had successfully dissected every theological statement, verse, concept, and precept into something psychological, tangible, human, not to mention, deprecatingly rational. Probing to such an extreme, I sucked the numinous, the whole Godliness out of religion. According to my philosophy, I could easily break down what the Talmud meant stating that God cried, that when one enjoys without blessing, he steals from “the assembly of Israel”, and that on Shabbat you cannot separate the unwanted bits in your salad from the wanted bits. I was left in Migdal Oz singing the Tinman’s “If I only had a soul, dudu dudu dudu.”
Maimonides teaches that we learn in order to know what God isn’t, in order to love God: “In proportion to one’s knowledge is his love of God.” I could finally speak the language of the Talmudic man, but so what? Drowning in pilpul, I forgot learning’s raison d’être— love.
Of course it took the other gender’s touch to wake me from my surreptitious slumber. “My god” was not “his God” and that could cause a problem when building a life together, because “we don’t live on Islands.” I was still barred from the Orthodox coterie. I knocked, pushed, pulled, and clouted those overbearing doors but no one would let me in.
That’s when like an uninvited guest, decision time had arrived. I could no longer play the part of the jaundiced spectator; the trial was over. I could leave the madhouse, or join the patients. A double life would leave me unhappy, confused and entangled in a plethora of possibilities. But thankfully Judaism is a religion rooted in action; salvation through faith alone is like saying “salvation through pork alone” to a Williamsburg Hasid. Members in the same synagogue may be reading the same prayer, bowing at the same time, and wrapping the same phylacteries, but what goes on in each person’s head is his own business. Belief is dubiously even a precept.
So I dived headfirst into the theological furnace, hoping to make it out alive—notwithstanding with a few valiant scars. The plan was that by acting like a religious woman, I would become a religious woman.
Weeks earlier a phalanx of students amassed in Sacher Park. Two commanders arrive on stage. Beats explode; debris blankets the ground beneath me; smoke shields the sky; shots scream from every direction. Instead of ducking for cover, the young polluted bodies convulse, bounce, pulsate, roll, grasp, and clasp. Enflaming, propulsive grunts and truculent synthetic rhythms put prospective doctors, lawyers and engineers at the mercy of the Infected Mushrooms. Music permeates the cracks between strangers, and I can almost feel the melody’s moisture in my ear, like a whisper from my neighbor’s lips. Whispers erase the masses leaving only my ear and his mouths condensation. Before my eyes, the whispers transformed the public affair into a private ear-to-ear.
My strongest sparks of human connection this year have been in moments like that concert, or sitting around with my Dosi peers on Friday nights singing after dinner. I found holiness in the absence of words, in the intellectual abyss, in the serene sea of song. In fact, the singsong tune accompanying Torah learning is sine qua non for the fullest study experience. In Judaism, the musical pronunciations associated with the cantillation marks used for ritual Torah reading are called Taamim— taste or reasons. The tune to which each words is sung reveals more than the limited word itself, they let you consume the idea, savoring each succulent note. If God created the world in ten sayings (Pir’kei Avot 5:1), then accordingly, the moments beyond words should allow us to surpass this world, letting man sneak a peek at the transcendental essence like a shaky Skype tryst between long-distance lovers.
At Migdal Oz I learned not to learn. My obsession with knowing propelled me into a vortex of unbridled intellect. Flooded with cases in which the less erudite are appointed to higher positions than the experts, the Talmud proves that unlike my presumption, knowledge does not conquer all (Brachot 4,Rosh Hashaana 25,Horiot 14,Ktubot 103).In Brachot, the prophet Eili concedes to a legal point made by his student Samuel, but forewarns that one who renders a halachic decision in the presence of his teacher warrants death (5:35). If one can keep his intellect and ethics as tight a Hardtail skirt on a Semgirl— he will succeed. However, if the intellect overpasses ethical boundaries, damage will indubitably ensue.
Who am I to think I can acquire it all like a cheap Forever21 knock-off? The wisest King of Kings himself confessed that “all this I tested with wisdom; I said, ‘I will become wise,’ but it was far from me” (Ecclesiastes, 7). Befuddled by this statement, many commentators purport that Solomon alludes to the paradoxical Red Heifer. How could the same substance purify the defiled while defiling the pure? If a golden cow defiled the nation at Sinai, how can a red one bring atonement? As a gilded man made construction, the Golden Calf represents a conviction of total comprehension, making the Red heifer the perfect tikkun (fix) as she is bewilderment incarnate.
Knowledge is a Red Heifer, a double edged sword. Its power can be used for defilement or purification. Taken to an extreme, and sans proper intentions my intellectual pursuits turned into a pernicious game. Consuming every little morsel of information, gluttony overcame me, igniting an insatiable appetite bound to burst. It took a destructive romantic quake to save me, but now the reconstruction is up to me.
I came to Israel in costume, on a mission, and under the assumption that I would leave in a few months to spend the other half of my year studying French, piano, math, and “smart people stuff” in Paris or at my local community college. At the moment, I’m writing to you under a spoon chandelier (wondering if it comes in spork) from a cramped hipper-than-thou Jerusalem café, deciding if I should spend the next year here in the holy land. I came to prepare for college life and sharpen my mind through Talmud study, but all I gained was an ice coffee obsession, a nose ring, cheap second- hand treasures, ugly-pretty Naots, war time nightmares, love stories I fear to repeat, newfangled values, and an oversize purse full of questions. Hope my closet back at home has space.
“Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.”
– Pablo Picasso
An artist knows that at the very moment he completes a sculpture, a painting, a song, or a poem and lets it out into the vast abyss we call the world, his work is immediately subject to criticism, approbation, and of course imitation. But when Monet released Water Lilies, I doubt the following is the type of reproduction he had in mind. Googling “Monet dress” led me to discover I had more in common with Gayle King, Diana Argon and a few other celebrities than expected. Turns out we all sported my graduation dress, the en plein air “Revisited Impressionist Dress” by Tracy Reese which was once available at Anthropologie for the relatively affordable price of $298.
Now that I’ve exhausted the attempt to establish what is fashion/beauty in my previous post I can speculatively say, this artistic frock seems to qualify, certainly passing Hume’s test of time. What other dress can be worn with dashing élan by me, a young orthodox Jewess, a 16 year old movie star, a 26 year old silver screen icon, and a news anchor on the cusp of the big 6-0? But as usual, the obvious question on all the editors’ glossed and augmented lips is –WHO WORE IT BEST?
Let’s approach this chronologically; this is fashion we’re talking about and despite the constant kerfuffle it is supposed to be an orderly, beautiful discipline. June 4th 2012, I walk into the auditorium wearing the dress. Black Steve Madden platforms— an extra six inches never hurt anyone—as well as the edge of a black JCrew studded belt provide the perfect foil to the ultra-feminine print and darting. And the well-chosen modest addition– say, a white long-sleeved undershirt— made the ensemble all the more seductive.
Next on June 18 of that same year, Caroline Sunshine stayed true to her name illuminating the faces of fans and photographers at the premiere of Brave. The 16 year old kept the look chic pairing the busy garden number with nude pumps and a complimenting pink minaudière, channeling the focus where it should be. Usually au natural makeup and hair in addition to simple accessories equates to BORING, but Sunshine made a smart choice as the dress is a chef-d’oeuvre in and of itself.
The very next day a Glee-full Dianna Argon stole the show at a Coach party in New York City adding high fashion to the high Line. Diana sported the dress with a black belt featuring a filigree buckle, blue and black ombre Coach Legacy sunglasses, a Coach Legacy Clutch, and glittering Miu Miu Sandals, landing her a spot on oodles of best dressed lists. Has she forgotten that less is more?! That the wise Coco once said “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off”? The dress’s grassy digital embankment, and painted girly garden print are already verging on an eye sore— the over accessorizing and filigreed belt do not do the fin de siecle Impressionists any justice.
As you all have eyes and a growing fashion sense from reading my posts, I’ll let you be the judge of the last two contenders; nonetheless, I must interject one point—boy does that bright print look great in contrast to Gayle King’s dark complexion, 10 points to the Oprah camp!
Since this whole gap year thing has made me adopt an I think therefore I philosophize modus operandi I must ask – Is all this imitation eating away at the vehicle of individual expression known as fashion? Is the fifth times the charm when it comes to this sartorial masterpiece?
Being the good Semgirl that I am, I first turned towards the Bible for clarification. After a good scratch on the head and mental “control f” of all the midrashim, agadot, sugyot,mishnayot, and halachot I’ve encountered, “imitation” received a bright yellow highlight in a most unexpected context: God.
Imitatio Dei, man’s obligation to imitate God is a central doctrine stemming from the biblical account of the creation of man in the image of God, acknowledging a resemblance between man and his Creator. Yet man is to imitate God, not impersonate Him (Gen. 3:5). Biblical sources for the injunction, call man to walk this way: in the command to be holy as God is holy and to walk in God’s way (Lev. 19:2; Deut. 10:12, 11:22, 26:17). Man is to be God-like in his deeds, but not aspire to be God, differentiating the biblical notion from the pagan attempts to achieve apotheosis or absorption in the deity. Man is to imitate God in resting on Shabbat (Ex. 20:10–11); loving the
little monster stranger (Deut. 10:18–19); and in other ethical moves. Surprisingly I’m not the only one mulling over the faux facet. In rabbinic literature Ḥama bar Ḥanina, expounds on the verse, “after the Lord your God you shall walk” (Deut. 13:5): “How can man walk after God? Is He not a consuming fire? What is meant is that man ought to walk after [imitate] the attributes of God. Just as the Lord clothes the naked, so you shall clothe the naked. Just as He visits the sick, so you shall visit the sick. Just as the Lord comforted the bereaved, so you shall also comfort the bereaved; just as He buried the dead, so you shall bury the dead” (Sotah: 14a).
Among medieval Jewish philosophers, Maimonides dealt most extensively with man’s copy rights when dealing with the ultimate Creator. The Spanish polymath enumerates “emulating God in His beneficent and righteous ways to the best of one’s ability” as part of the sacred commandments (Sefer ha-Mitzvot, positive commandment 8). For Maimonides the commandment intertwines with his famed fetish for the middle way. In his Guide of the Perplexed, the philosopher stresses that the acquisition of academic knowledge, especially that of God, should be the goal of human life, but in the final chapter of the Guide he holds that such knowledge leads to the imitation of God:”Having acquired this knowledge he will then be determined always to seek loving kindness, justice, and righteousness and thus to imitate the ways of God” (Guide, 3:54).
In contrast to paganism, Judaism propounds copying not counterfeit: we should walk in the way of God, not strive to be God. Similarly in fashion, counterfeit is certainly unacceptable, illegal, and a highly punishable crime, but the borrowing of ideas, concepts, techniques, is sine que non for fashion. By its very definition, the French for fashion –mode—is mathematically understood as “the value that appears most often in a set of data”. Essentially fashion favors frequency over function, ubiquity over uniqueness.
Musicians, filmmakers, painters, and even Lady Gaga are legally protected against copying, under the premise that leaving work up for grabs, translates into ‘au revoir innovation’. But despite the recent retail rivalries like the red sole lawsuit between shoe king Christian Louboutin and the father of le smoking suit YSL, to the shock of many, copyright laws barely protect the fashion field. Yes, some couturiers have lost sales to knockoffs, but design replication has not been a serious menace to the survival of the chicest. Au contraire, much of the development and ingenuity of the industry hinges upon imitation.
Why the exception oh fashion gods? Well, it seems to be a corollary of what an English playwright picked up on back when women still frolicked in farthingales. As Shakespeare said, “the fashion wears out more apparel than the man.” Meaning, most of us go shopping not to satisfy a need, but to quench the thirst of staying au currant, a la mode, and away from societal jeers.
Sans patent fetters (no not the patent leather kind), companies can modify a design as they please and join the bandwagon of a projected profit reaping style. Mix it all together and what do you get? The industry’s holy doctrine: the trend. Imitation produces trends and trends sell fashion. Each summer-spring, winter-fall, Ready-to – Wear, Couture ,Cruise or however many ways you can divide time and styles to maximize production, design houses “get inspired” by each other(I’m taking to you Dior, we notice how you seemed to forget in your advertisements and products that you’re not Chanel). Chanel summed up the cycle echoing Hume’s on aesthetics as follows, “fashion fades; style is eternal.” Trends become “hot”, “not”, then a relic of seasons past until they’re revived with the kiss of a handsome editor or somehow lucky enough to earn the coveted title “vintage.” We all know this circle of clothes, this wheel of fashion, but we often turn a blind smoky eye to the fuel behind this fire— the freedom to fake.
Despite a recent punch to some designers thanks to the recession, overall since World War II the American fashion industry enjoys solid progress; clothing businesses accrue over $300 billion a year, employing millions. Undoubtedly some designers suffer losses from copying, but increased copyright ‘protection’ would bring prices up, the creative cycle down and ultimately lead to the torpid ungainly death of the industry we all love to hate, hate to love, but fund anyways— fashion.
Has technology created monsters or an industry by the people for the people? Take a look at the mini-doc featuring Tim Blanks on the Fashion phenomenon brewing in the past decade.
What do you think about the ever growing burst of bloggers: coco or coocoo?
Weekday mornings from 8:30 a.m. to 12:45.p.m.,and again in the evenings from 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.,I indulge in what some members of the tribe label an ever-so-guilty pleasure. With the turn of each page, lechery rises as enigmatic Aramaic engrosses me. Each morpheme leaves much to the imagination, and a hunger for more. A work off the Index Librorum Prohibitorum? Foreign erotica? No — just Talmud.
“Teaching your daughter Torah is teaching her Tiflus (promiscuity)”(Babylonian Talmud,Sotah:20).” Let the words of Torah be burnt and not given to women!” promulgates Rabbi Eliezer in the Talmud itself (Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 3:16).
Despite such an ominous prohibition directly from Judaism’s sacred legal canon which arguably outstrips even the Bible in authority, I am dedicating this academic year to Torah disquisition in Israel.
In a famous passage recited thrice daily in the Shema prayer, the Torah adjures to“ teach [the commandments] to your children” (Deuteronomy 11:19). From this verse,the Sages derive the obligation to both learn and teach Torah (Kiddushin 29b). They further extol Torah study as the greatest of commandments (Peah 1:1), while the Bible also prescribes Torah study day in and day out (Joshua 1:8).Reasoning that since women are not commanded to teach, accordingly they are not commanded to learn, the Sages interpreted that passage in Deuteronomy to exclude women from the formal commandment, at least in its most comprehensive form(Kiddushin 29b).Thankfully, being the maverick that he was, Maimonides held that that the whole prohibition referred only to the Talmud, the five books of the bible conversely, are permissible (“Yad” Talmud Torah, i. 13).
Last month, my seminary dedicated an entire day to elucidating the elephant in the beit midrash (house of study): Are women actually allowed to learn G’marah/Talmud? Even here, within one of the leading institutions of women’s Torah study on the planet, we still question if learning the very material to which we dedicate well over four hours a day is halachikally (according to Jewish law)permissible.
Coming from an American Modern Orthodox day school, females parsing G’marah never fell afoul of credos.Opponents seemed to be remote extremists; controversy, an isolated phenomenon. Nevertheless, I soon realized that the vast majority of my Israeli peers had never opened a Talmud before entering the terror-targeted gates of Migdal Oz. In Israeli state religious schools, boys begin studying Talmud by the fifth grade, while girls must settle for subordinate Mishnah studies. Turns out, institutionalized G’marah curricula for Jewish women in most parts of the world remains as recherché as a diamond filigreed crocodile Birkin Bag.
“I want a wife, not a chavruta (learning partner),” is a resounding shibboleth rolling off many sabra lips to be flung at my Israeli friends.“Many religious Jewish men refuse to date a girl from Migdal Oz, or any girl who studies Talmud.It is intimidatingly unfeminine,” confessed Eilanit, my G’marah chavruta from Givat Shmuel, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Ironically, in arguably the Middle East’s most progressive country, Eilanit unwillingly reduces her marriage prospects when expanding her knowledge.Is this a tremendous sacrifice for learning some books, or a de minimis price for joining the cross-generational philosophical,ontological and judicial conversation on everything from oxen violence and demeaning omens to bedroom tips and divine providence?
Each page of Talmud plumbs the depths of deliberations in an uncompromising search for truth of behavior and thought. No matter how mundane, we can carry out, or refrain from an action to elevate the self.The Talmud therefore represents much more than a mere compilation of ancient wisdom and weltanschauungs.These pages carry the power to transform one’s life from the common to the cosmic, connecting its student to the past while simultaneously sculpting her future.
Like Chanel’s sylvan German Romantic Spring 2013 presentation at the Grand Palais, the world of the Talmudic Sages (Chazal) seems remote and exclusive.Nonetheless, it brands every decision an observant Jew makes, from the way she ties the knot, down to the way she ties her shoes.Talmudic interpretations of the Bible lay the foundation for Judaism by underpinning halacha, thus establishing the foundation of our entire religious corporality.Can I possibly comprehend myself as an observant Jew, if authorities bar me from even a tenuous peek into that world?Only via Talmud can I step into the past and endeavor to enter Chazal’s mindset—inching towards a fuller understanding of life as a halachic woman.
Yet these intellectual fetters are nothing new.Men have been and continue to systematically deny girls in the developing world access to even a basic education.Young women from the United Nations Foundation’s focus countries of Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Liberia, are hit particularly hard by this reality and as a Senior Advisor for Girl Up, a campaign of the UNF, I have been working to empower my sisters in those target countries by raising awareness and funds for their cause.Nevertheless, I am still startled to find such chauvinism alive and well in my very own community.In a settlement 9537.5 kilometers from home, it suddenly struck me that I had more in common with Tigist of Ethiopia than I expected.She might live in the slums of Merkato while I live in a West Bank Kibbutz, nonetheless, we are both surrounded by authorities endangering our basic right to knowledge.
We all know the now-axiomatic justifications for educating women. I have consistently based my campaigns to promote gender-equality in learning on a few mantras, now forever ingrained in my mind by veterans of the global girl-power community of advocates:
1. Investing in girls is smart economics, their rescue giving the most bang for the international development buck.Consider the virtuous potential upward spiral: An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by up to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school adds as much as 25 percent. Girls who stay in school for seven or more years typically marry four years later, having two fewer children than their counterparts who “drop out.” Fewer dependents per worker allows for greater economic growth (Policy Research Working Paper Series 5753, The World Bank). Additionally, the World Food Program found that when girls and women earn income, they reinvest an astounding 90 percent of those earning back into their families. For men, that figure contrastingly remains less than 40 percent.
2. Educated females give birth to a healthy population. Basic education helps girls understand essential health, nutrition, and family planning, entrusting them with new choices and the power to make informed decisions about their bodies. Direct outcomes include better reproductive and family health, resulting in economic growth for her family and her society, as well as lower rates of child mortality and malnutrition. Most notably, this basic education helps fight the burgeoning of HIV and AIDS.
Despite the numerous earnest arguments that educated girls have fewer children, raise healthier ones, earn more money, spend it more wisely, and empower countries, the most fundamental justification to educate a girl continues to be skirted.She should be educated for the same reason a Jewish woman should be allowed to delve into Talmud: simply because we women are equal to men.
On discussing female education within the developing world, Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir Aggrey famously said, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” With no disrespect to the Ghanian scholar, let us look at this more fundamentally.When you educate a girl—you educate a girl.This is how we should regard the fact.Although a compelling justification and a compelling rationale, we should not view the role education plays in the life of women merely in the context of national benefits, as this has turned into a mainstream buy-in based on hackneyed gender norms.Why must I tie my empowerment to how useful my womb is to my country?According to the logic of those common arguments we should then ask if the country fails, is the female population to blame? Thus, girls should be educated for prima facie, we too are human beings.
Philosophical innuendos should be superfluous when propounding the education of womankind. Will society only educate a woman because of raison d’état? Or must we educate womankind for the same reason we educate mankind?When engaging in obfuscation oversimplifications, and understatements, society imperils equality—the very cause for which we are fighting.
Women should be encouraged to reach their highest potential, not simply for their nation or religion, but more fundamentally, for their own sakes.Without a formal education women have spontaneously lit paths to development.After all, Gabrielle Bonheur Chane ldid so without a degree. Many women are developing their respective nations both with and without formal educations. Therefore, learning is learning for its own sake (lishma); the nation is the nation for its own sake, and women are women, for our own sakes.
Ultimately, if society educates a man or a woman, it educates an individual. As all individuals are important, why should we force anyone to watch the show by peeking through the tent? There are no Anna Wintours or Grace Coddingtons when it comes to knowledge—everyone deserves to sit front row.
While women in the western world began receiving a greater general education, a number of Jewish schools for girls developed, particularly in 19th-century German communities.Leaders were convinced that the knowledge necessary for a women to maintain religious commitment was greater than ever before.In earlier years, women’s Torah education offered a basic curriculum stressing practical halachic knowledge and other morally edifying studies.This alone was a concession to the changing times.
Fearing that women would leave the religious fold, the Chafetz Chaim rendered his now infamous ruling that women should only learn Scripture and ethics. Fortunately, men slightly mitigated this intense ban on learning, if only for selfish reasons. Fathers did not want half the population, the part raising their children, to go off the derech (lit. ”off the path”) and drag the rest of the family unit with them.
Given that a woman is human just like man,shouldn’t she be granted full access to all Judaic learning? Since a man can learn for simply for himself, shouldn’t a woman too be able to learn not just for others, but for herself? Additionally, does she not deserve to be included because of her fecund contributions to Torah scholarship? In fact, a woman’s distinct sensitivities are shedding new lights on the text, revealing hitherto hidden spiritual valences still awaiting full discovery.
Thankfully, in a growing number of coteries today, the archaic restrictions on the scope of women’s Torah learning have begun to melt. Recent years have seen the inclusion of Talmud and other subjects that men had previously considered exclusively their turf. Women are rightfully beginning to have the opportunity to study Torah on a high level, not only in practical preparation for a family life or a career in teaching, but as Torah lishma, learning for its own sake, which many believe to be the highest form of Torah study.Likewise, women in the developing world should also be able to engage in learning lishma.
Years of cogitation on this issue recently culminated in a surprisingly personal event. Growing up, whenever I helped my grandmother or blushed an exceptional flush of color, she would put down her wooden knitting needles, pull me in for a kiss and tell me I was just like my aunt “Shahlah,”the only one of my mother’s siblings who remained in Tehran after the revolution.To mini-me, Shalah was a mythical figure belonging to the bible:a cross between the Persian queen Esther, who saved her entire people, and Rachel, who sacrificed personal happiness with her true love for her sister’s dignity.Ironically, I finally had the opportunity to meet my famed Iranian auntie and her two daughters when a wedding here in Israel brought them over (via Turkey, of course).
Unfortunately, it was not exactly the meeting I had pictured as child. Beyond genes, we didn’t share much.Now in their twenties, neither of my cousins has stepped foot on a college campus. Instead, each attends a simple art class twice a week: one learns embroidery, the other, drawing.I uncomfortably searched for topics of conversation, but beyond how the family is doing, we didn’t have much to schmooze about.When I mentioned how some friends in seminary omit a certain passage in prayer, I discovered my family did not even know the basic fact that most Jews are either Ashkenazi (German / Eastern European) or Sfardi (Spanish / Middle Eastern),resulting in distinct customs.The generational fall-out, and opportunity costs of female educational barriers were both staring me teasingly in the eye, whispering calls of action in my benighted ears.
At least their situation is an improvement. For fear of being forcibly married off to local radical ruling Muslims and economic realities, our grandmother was removed from school by age eleven, married at 14, and became a mother herself by 16. Needless to say, I am eternally grateful my mother was able to break free of her Middle Eastern shackles to build a better life for herself and future family in the United States. My families past pushes me to embolden my similarly fortunate colleagues, classmates, and chavrutas to join in our duty to use our own education in order to help our global sisters likewise get their over-worked hands on their intellectual birthrights.
But why just take my word for it? Who is to say we are even equal? To get to the bottom of this conundrum, I turned to our source: Creation.Surprisingly enough, The Book of Genesis enumerates two distinct, but nevertheless complementary, accounts of humankind’s origin.
“And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27).”
“And the Lord G-d built the side that He had taken from man into a woman, and He brought her to man. And man said, ‘This time, it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called ishah (woman) because this one was taken from ish (man)’. Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:22-24).”
Now I know this must be flabbergasting, but luckily ancient Rabbinic literature, known as Midrash Aggadah, with the help of Chagall, paint a picture resolving the duplicitous narrative. Together these accounts illustrate the complete rise of humanity.Rabbinic commentary explains that man was originally created with two faces, then afterwards G-d divided him. Fortunately, the second variation explains explicitly how this nearly incomprehensible division played out: woman emerged from man’s rib — not from his head, his hands, or his feet, but from his side. Now how’s that for equality?
Enough from me, what is the ancient text telling you about how women should be viewed today? Email/comment/tweet/ (enter social media here) away…
Denevue, Bardot, Depardieu. As a diagnosed Francophile, these names arouse images of big blonde hair, New Wave cinema, and amorous scenes of The Last Metro.Yet recently, these former sex symbols have been making headlines in rather unexpected territory.
This week, France’s most renowned male lead, Gérard Depardieu, announced he will be relocating to Belgium.There he will be joining the likes of Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH and France’s richest man, in the recent flight of affluent French to less tax-laden nations.The larger-than-life star’s grand move comes at a notably sentient time. The country currently entangles herself in a brouhaha over the Socialist government’s new tax policies, particularly the controversial 75% rate for earners of at least €1 million.
Following a grandiose open letter to Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault abdicating his Franco citizenship, Depardieu accrued public support from both Bardot and Denevue. In the second round, the French PM headed attacks on Depardieu, calling his move “pathetic,” while French actor Philippe Torreton followed his lead, censuring Depardieu for thinking solely of himself and money.
Conversely, in her correspondence headlined “Monsieur Torreton…” published in the left-wing Liberation, Catherine Deneuve lashes out against Depardieu’s treatment. Bringing out the big guns, she quotes none other than Voltaire: “I don’t agree with his ideas, but I will fight to the death so that he may be able to express them.”
The Socialist Party’s new policies are not only draining the established enterprises from the republic, but are also stopping up up-and-coming companies dead in their tracks. A new survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris recently revealed that France’s allure as a business partner has plummeted in the eyes of the French divisions of US companies.
Staying true to a long standing Franco tradition, the youth are revolting. Young entrepreneurs and leaders of tech start-ups under the alias “pigeons” — French argot for “suckers” — began a rough social media battle against the new President’s plan to nearly double taxes on capital gains to some 60%. With the face of a piqued birds as their Facebook logo, the “pigeons” warned the tax quota would smother creativity and guillotine the start-ups, forcing them to also flee France and become “an example of hostility to entrepreneurism in Europe and in the world.” “From oppression – freedom will be born” and “Let’s coo together” are just some of their sardonic tweets.
This past Monday, I observed the fast of Asara B’Tevet (the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet). While reading the latest on this monetary matter via France24, my thoughts on the day, the past, and what is currently fomenting in France all entwined like the gossamer knits of Rodarte’s cobweb collection for Fall 2009.
The 10th of Tevet is a sort of double jeopardy, a two-for-one deal. We commemorate two atrocious phenomena on both ends of the chronological spectrum on the very same day. The first befell us over 2,000 years ago on of the 10th of Tevet, while the second remains the most recent tragedy to strike the Jewish people. In order to curtail the myriad of fasts, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel also turned the 10th of Tevet into a “Day of General Mourning” for those murdered in the Holocaust whose yortzeits (dates of death) remain mysteries.
Of all fast days appearing in the Bible, Asara B’tevet clearly emerges as the weakest in terms of awareness of the Temple’s devastation. Others include the 9th of Av for the burning of the Temple, the Fast of Gedaliah for the last embers of Jewish sovereignty in Israel, and the 17th of Tammuz for five incidents – most notably the Roman breach of Jerusalem leading to the Second Temple’s obliteration.
Yet on the 10th of Tevet, Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who controlled the Near East in 588 BCE, merely barricaded Jerusalem. Meanwhile, life went on. Destruction was a gaunt Ralph Lauren model at the far end of the runway –a picayune sense of devastation compared to other days of gastronomic abstention (Kings II; 25). Contrasting in both timing and scope, the contemporary carnage of the Holocaust remains the most colossal calamity in Jewish history (and boy do we have a long history of suffering, and an even longer history of kvetching). Thus, when examining the Holocaust, some remonstrate that the wound still remains too fresh and that the phenomenon stands beyond comparison. Nevertheless, while all lessons learned from the Holocaust present as problematic, apathy would be ad absurdum.
With the Adhan (Islamic call to prayer) of the neighboring Arab village reverberating through the shiur covering the fast’s scriptural sources in Zechariah, Ezekiel, and the Talmud, I waited for the much anticipated “so what”? What exactly do these two seemingly dissimilar events share, besides a date of carping and collywobbles for observant Jews?
Perhaps both caliginous events shed light on the window of reflection. Long after the destruction, we must now realize the sparks of those flames consuming Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av were already flickering on the 10th of Tevet; sharpen our awareness of the past, and, most importantly, take note of new branches burgeoning from the roots. As we examine the past, we learn not only to focus on the final hammer blow, the sensational headline itself, but also to take note of the process – even in its seemingly innocuous infancy. This message resonates louder with the Holocaust. Unlike the Temple, the Shoah has been shrouded in the Sturm und Drang of modern history, creating a seemingly Sisyphean task of answering: Where did such an atrocity sprout from?
In response to this question, many historians have thrown in their Hermès scarves. The strong dichotomy between the culture of the German nation and her actions seems enigmatic. On the flip side, in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer seeks to uncover the underpinnings, positing that German history logically proceeded from Martin Luther to Adolf Hitler, and that the Führer’s ascension to power was an expression of German national character, not zeitgeisty totalitarianism internationally en vogue during the 1930s. Shirer summarized his perspective by pointing out that “the course of German history… made blind obedience to temporal rulers the highest virtue of Germanic man, and put a premium on servility.” Around twenty years ex post facto, Shirer reaches a conclusion that with a discerning eye could have been reached while the tragedy was still unfolding.
In hind sight, one can lucidly identify ominous warning signs: the music of Wagner, the dominance of the Bismarck, and the teachings of Nietzsche. All may be obvious now, but all were unfortunately overlooked in their time. Lebensraum (“living space”), the genocidal expansion policy adopted by the Nazi party, was nothing new. The term itself coined by Friedrich Ratzel in 1901 was actually based on the German people’s aggressive eastern expansion throughout the Middle Ages termed Ostsiedlung.
I cannot blame those who listened to The Flying Dutchman or agreed with Beyond Good and Evil. Nevertheless, now we must be cognizant that such a robbery of humanity is indeed possible. Before the Holocaust, such destruction was unfathomable. The buds went unnoticed as no one knew such a tree existed. However, as the post-Shoah generation, history behooves us to refine the awareness connecting siege and destruction. Heightened sensitivity simply out of the fear of a second Holocaust, or even hate in general is not enough. Instead, we must hone our awareness since if such inhumanity emerged from just a spark, how pernicious must be the sparks themselves?
So here’s the common denominator– refining the cognizance of progressions. Refining discernment of what lies in front of our very eyes to understand the horror extreme power, nationalism, indifference, and militarism will ignite.
Rabbi Soloveitchik, the unchallenged leader of modern Orthodox Judaism in the United States, expounded on tshuva (repentance) en route to sin, in contrast to repentance from sin. There lies the raison d’être of Asara B’ Tevet. Even those concepts accepted for seeming “eh, not too bad”, are the concepts that require most inspection. Through the chovah (obligation) of contrition on this day, we see in “real-time” what would appear on “playback”.
Finally, the ancient siege, the Holocaust, and the contemporary French monetary mambo all coalesced in my famished mind. The Depardieu affair is about much more than simple citizenship and French nostalgia—it parades the failure to acknowledge a country’s own long standing aversion toward capitalism and the profit-making rich, as well as steps the current policy makers are taking to promote an entrepreneurial brain drain. Earlier this year Hollande defined France’s “main enemy” as the “world of finance,” resonating back through the epochs, even pre- 1685, when Louis XIV seized the possessions of the country’s 1 million Protestants. France’s best financiers, the protestant financial leaders, either fled or died, initiating a commercial dearth.
So whether you’re under a Babylonian siege, living in Nazi Germany, or alive amid Hollande’s France…Wake Up! Understand the past, and read the signs of new developments right before your very eyes. Be proactive, not reactive. Take action before policies encircle you, and your new Birkin bag will be taxed right out of your freshly French manicured fingers.
What do you get when you mix the serene Mediterranean, cascading chiffons, an archaic train station, the dernier cri, piquant falafel, and even spicier designers?
Tel Aviv Fashion Week, of course.
I had the pleasure of ripping off my sem girl ‘uniform’ and slipping into blog-worthy clobber for what turned out to be the first of two takes of Israeli fashion this month (let’s hope good things really do come in pairs even when accompanied by techno and strobes).
We can thank the war for the two separate affairs.
No, not operation, “Pillar of Cloud,” the current strife between Gaza and Israel.Rather, a lesser known, yet equally ideologically driven battle between two resolute Middle Easterners. Just last month, creator of the original Tel Aviv Fashion Week, Moti Reif, withdrew from the event in the wake of an imbroglio with his former partner Ofir Lev.
Reif fled to the Gindi real estate group as backers, who offered to pay the designers’ production fees. Compelled to the same especially for his young artists, Lev invested his own resources with government funding to do the same.
“That’s what you do in a war,” he said flippantly.
Lev runs the first Fashion Week, which he calls the “official” one, because as overall director of the Israel Textile and Fashion Association, he simply can. Ironically the more established Israeli designers such as Sasson Kedem, Dorit Bar Or, Shai Shalom, Dorin Frankfurt and Karen Oberson are slated to participate in Reif’s fashion week no.2.
In Israel’s adolescence, when she still had a substantial textile industry, there used to be a bi-annual event. However, as the economy shifted to tech enterprises, the industry showcase was tossed out like last season’s ab fab “tops.” The revolution from chic to geek meant the “Start-Up Nation” had the well earned revenue to makeover the White City and cloak its shabbiness.Twenty years later, in the spirit of cultural ardor and new money, revitalizing Fashion Week seemed only natural. Thus in 2011, Tel Aviv Fashion Week was born.
Last week’s event was an ode to the parvenu, Tribeca not Oscars, highlighting fresher less affluent talent. “I’m not looking for fireworks and balloons from the ceiling and sushi on the table,” says Lev. And indeed there was not a piece of raw fish, or a skinny vanilla latte in sight. It was the first time I entered a press room where the only nosh options were rugelach, “café hafuch” (literally upside down coffee) with three percent milk, champagne, and more pastries.
Across the railroad, Moschino opened the show. With a soupçon of imagination, and a lot of bubbly, the Ottoman-era station hosting the event appeared a bit like what I remember of Milan last summer: elegant and silhouetted, postmodern and liberal. Gender restrictions here vanished, resulting in a crowd of women vestured like men who were vestured like women ,countered by men vestured like women who were vestured like men.
That said, I was transported back to Israel when looking at my watch to find shows starting over forty minutes late, and Karen Dunsky, a former model sitting a few rows ahead, stridently harping on how the venue looked like Gaza.
Gaza war mongers, apartheid, oppression and Bar Rafaeli are the first associations one has with Israel. The nation clearly has a branding problem – and then some. But that’s where Fashion Week can help.
“We want to change the concept of what Israel is. This is not just a place on the Mediterranean with camels and M-16s,” said Lev, followed by a thunder of laughs from the audience on the opening night.
In this country, cultures and outlooks merge to create a sum greater than its parts. Amharic words to a Sephardi melody, European handcrafts amongst Ottoman buildings, Arabic graffiti adorning a white Bauhaus building, and North African foods fusing with dishes familiar to anyone with a great Lebanese restaurant around the corner. As for the nightlife – the Big Apple wishes it slept as little as Tel Aviv does.
Israel’s hot climate and even hotter political scene forces a culture of creativity. Meanwhile, the dearth of basic resources likewise forces a culture of innovators. Israeli artists are bursting with unique talents and Lev hopes to present them all on an international stage . Most importantly, Fashion Week helps transpose Israel away from being a central prism of a simplistic conflict, to it being a vivacious hub of ingenuity, art, music, architecture, cuisine, scholarship, and entrepreneurship. Coverage of the events via social media (“hasbara“) and other outlets goes where any op-ed or official government statement has never gone before. Reading about TLV Fashion week from blogger extraordinaire Rummi Neely or seeing the country though Bryan Boy’s Instagram creates an emotional bond between Israel and a global audience who would never have thought of the nation on such terms.
Tel Aviv may not be uttered in the same breath as fashion capitals of Paris, Milan, and New York just yet, but millions will hopefully be inspired to look beyond the vitriolic headlines and discover Israel for themselves.
“Why would you come to Tel Aviv unless you’re gay or looking for a war?” says Lev. Now, I hope a few other reasons come to mind (besides all the warm rugelach you can fit in your Mulberry Del Ray Bag).
I am almost 18, about to graduate high school, and ready to start the next chapter of my life: college. But what if I didn’t live in Rockville, Maryland, and instead grew up in a developing country, such as Liberia, Malawi, Ethiopia, or Guatemala?
Fewer than one in five girls in Sub-Saharan Africa go to secondary school. Almost half are married by their 18th birthday. One in seven across the developing world marries before she is 15. Next, she gets pregnant. The primary cause of death for girls 15 to 19 globally is not sickness or violence, but problems from pregnancy. Girls age 15 and younger are up to five times more likely to die while giving birth than women in their 20s, and their children are more likely to die as well.
This horrific reality and the prospect of changing these statistics is why I am involved in Girl Up. As an ambassador for the unique organization of the UN Foundation, I mobilize my community and my country to empower girls just like me in the developing world, giving them the opportunity to become educated, safe, healthy, counted, and positioned to lead.
While it is very important to be aware of the hardships facing these girls, I believe it’s also crucial to celebrate their rich traditions and contributions to the international community. Thus, in honor of the strong, smart, and bold women of Liberia, Malawi, Ethiopia, and Guatemala, I am hosting “Dance for our Daughters,” featuring music and food from these rich cultures to benefit Girl Up.
Please come and join Coco Eco to support the cause and change the world, one girl at a time!
Yves Saint Laurent is taking its conception of Le Smoking too far. Although the fashion house is employing African artisans to mend purses together from recycled plastic bags and fair-trade cotton, it’s also producing a deadly line of cigarettes. Advertised to women in Russia and Asia, the cigarettes come in sleek, black packages with a glistening gold foil. You don’t even have to cough up a fortune to get your hands on the couture culprits. The cancer sticks, which appeared around 1989, will only hold you back $44 for a 200-pack.
The cigarettes, according to the brand, create a “sense of appeal to female vanity, thereby making the woman who chooses to smoke Yves Saint Laurent cigarettes more attractive than one who smokes another brand, or more attractive than a woman who did not smoke at all.”
Surprisingly, these aren’t the first couture cigarettes. Other labels that experimented in the business include Givenchy, Christian Lacroix, Versace, Pierre Cardin, and Cartier. Oddly, Saint Laurent himself confessed in 1986 that he didn’t smoke his eponymous cigarettes because he did not “like the flavor.”
Sex, smoke, cancer, and deceit — that’s fashion for you.
1966: YSL’s Le Smoking trouser suit
On the way home from a long day of shopping, a feeling came over me. No, it was not relief from a post turkey hangover, but rather remorse and disgust from seeing malls packed with people and hands overflowing with bags. How many of the items did people actually need, and how many did we buy in the haze of Black Friday? How many came from overworked laborers or toxic factories? This year, we have seen some remarkable Black Friday incidents: one woman at a Walmart in L.A. pepper sprayed shoppers while trying to get the upper hand to buy cheap electronics, and some even resorted to shooting in other locations.
I find it fascinating that after a day of thanks and family bonding, Americans flock to shopping centers to fight over the last Jimmy Choo markdowns or cheap flat screens — instead of volunteering, and giving back. After a day of reflecting on what we are grateful for, we do what we do best on the next: shop.
Annie Leonard (creator of the life-changing Story of Stuff) wrote this eye-opening op-ed today in the L.A. Times on the issue, and I urge all my readers to drop your credit cards and read this article!
Violent scene of the shopping rush from Confessions of a Shopaholic