The problems with the Lubavitch

I Guess nude stockings,slingback open toe shoes, and tight short skirts aren’t okay for a Lubavitch rabbi’s wife
December 29, 2008, 5:34 pm
Filed under: Entitlement, The poor women

Friday, December 26, 2008

What Not to Wear

Some in Crown Heights detect modesty crisis

By Marissa Brostoff

An outsider visiting Crown Heights might be forgiven for thinking that the women in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood represent the height of modesty. But some in the Brooklyn community, where the Chabad-Lubavitch movement is based, are concerned that modesty standards are slipping, and have launched a campaign to counter the trend.

Thus far, the effort—­organized by a woman named Sheyna Goldin, with the approval of Chabad’s women’s organization, N’Shei Chabad—has involved putting up 500 posters encouraging adherence to modesty laws. But not everyone in the organization agrees with Goldin’s approach, and a frisson of disagreement has broken out over it—and whether the declining standards are even anything new.

“It’s Not Just a Good Idea, IT’S THE LAW!” proclaim the posters, which appeared recently on Kingston Avenue and other neighborhood thoroughfares. The fliers go on to list the laws of tznius, or modesty (modest dress must begin at age three; shirts must cover collarbones; skirts must cover knees) and their talmudic sources. Fine print at the bottom explains the spiritual rewards for modest dress and the consequences for disregarding it.

Even in Crown Heights, such public pronouncements of religious law are unusual—which was the point, Goldin argued.

“Everything is out in the street now; it’s kind of corresponding to the times,” she said, in an interview with Nextbook. “In the shuls, not everyone would see it. It’s more emphatic, like we really mean business.”

“You have to set the standard, not lower yourself to it,” echoed Esther Rochel Spielman, who coordinates subscriptions for N’Shei Chabad’s newsletter. Spielman said that she was seeing more short or slit skirts and tight clothing on young women in the community.

“There is a decline in the men also, the teenagers,” she added. “A lot of them will think it’s cool to go without tsisis [ritual fringes].”

But even some who agree that modesty standards are slipping find Goldin’s approach too aggressive.

“Modesty standards have been declining for decades,” said Bronya Shaffer, a mother of 10 who teaches and lectures in the community on Jewish family life. Shaffer, who was sitting in her dining room surrounded by hundreds of religious books, picked up a copy of the New York Times Magazine that was lying on the table beside a copy of a Chabad magazine and gestured disapprovingly at a risqué Chanel advertisement on the back cover. But the posters also made her wince.

“The medium itself is antithetical to the very essence of modesty,” she said of the posters. “It’s not the Chabad way. I cringe at the specter of kids, young boys and girls, reading in huge letters, in bold technicolor, about uncovered legs and necklines and tight clothing.”

Goldin said that the posters are directed toward both Lubavitchers who live in the neighborhood and visitors to the community.

“The darkness in the world is very great and influences everybody,” Goldin said. “The posters are a fortification and a reminder that this is really not just a nice thing, but a total law from the Torah.”

Sara Labkowski, the dean of a school for young women in the process of becoming more religious, said that because Crown Heights, unlike more isolated ultra-Orthodox enclaves, is “a very open community” located in the heart of Brooklyn, the posters would help to remind young Lubavitchers in the neighborhood of the modesty laws. She helped to distribute flyer-sized versions of the poster at a vigil for the Chabad emissaries killed in the recent terrorist attack on Mumbai.

For Spielman, the decline in modesty is just another sign of what she believes is directly on the horizon.

“I guess we’re getting very close to the moshiach,” she said, using the Hebrew word for messiah. “The satan [devil] tries to attack in any ways he could.”


Lubavitch Chabad bans women from Succot event
October 15, 2008, 7:35 pm
Filed under: The poor women | Tags: ,

October 14,2008

Responding to haredi pressure, Chabad blocked the participation of women in its Succot celebrations in Jerusalem’s Shikun Chabad neighborhood Tuesday night.

Chabad’s rabbinical leadership acquiesced to a call by heads of the most important hassidic sects – Ger, Belz, Sanz, Sadigora and Viznitz – to restrict the music and dancing to indoors, effectively preventing women from participating.

Last year Chabad ignored a call by the Lithuanian rabbinic leadership to tone down its festivities.

However, this year for the first time hassidic leaders joined the call.

Chabad, a hassidic sect that is known for its outreach work with assimilated or unaffiliated Jews all over the world, traditionally celebrates outdoor concerts and dancing that targets the wider Jewish population.

Chabad’s last rabbinic leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson – who passed away in 1994 – vigorously encouraged holding Succot festivities outdoors in the most visible locations possible.

Rabbi Menachem Brod, spokesman for Chabad in Israel, said that Schneerson, known as “the rebbe,” directed his followers to “take the Torah from the study halls to streets” on Succot.

“We will continue to follow the rebbe’s orders in all locations except Jerusalem, where the local public specifically requested that we respect their sensitivities,” he said.

Chabad events at other venues during the holiday will take place outdoors. Both men and women, separated by partitions, will be allowed to participate.

Rabbi Mordechai Bloi, a senior member of the Guardians of Sanctity and Education, an organization based in Bnei Brak that enforces what it sees as normative haredi behavior, praised Chabad.

“The rebbe of Chabad told his hassidim to spread the joy in the streets, but he was not talking about haredi areas,” said Bloi. “Let them do what they want in secular areas.

“The Talmud teaches that even in the time of Temple men and women were strictly separated and this was called ‘the big tikkun.’ I am happy that this year we will have this tikkun in Jerusalem.”

Brod said that Chabad respected the call by the rabbis to maintain strict codes of modesty. However, he added that the increasingly stringent demands by haredi rabbis that have effectively brought about a total ban of outdoor concerts might be counterproductive.

“If haredim are not given a kosher option for musical entertainment they might end up turning to non-kosher options,” he said. “As a result of the changes we made this year in Jerusalem, women who came to our annual event in the past will be forced to stay home.

“Only time will tell whether or not this is the best policy to adopt,” he said.

Satmars….Not so different from the Lubavitch
July 28, 2008, 10:32 pm
Filed under: The poor women | Tags: ,

Escape From the Holy Shtetl

Gitty Grunwald fled the pious world of her mother to return to the secular city of her grandparents. There’s only one problem: The Satmars kept her daughter. A family saga of four generations of American Jews.

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New York Magazine By Mark Jacobson

  • Published Jul 13, 2008

Gitty and Esther Miriam eating a meal—tuna salad and toast—at Gitty’s mother’s house.

(Photo: Clémence de Limburg)

A more typical American scene would be hard to imagine: a young mother and her daughter in Wal-Mart. Yet as she pushed the shopping cart with the 4-year-old Esther Miriam sitting, princesslike, in the child’s seat, Sterna Gittel Grunwald (call her Gitty), her five-one frame nicely defined in snug black jeans and white cotton shirt, kept an eye out for spies.

The Satmar Hasidim from Kiryas Joel, the Catskill village where the now-23-year-old Gitty grew up, only came to Wal-Mart for the big sales. There was something about the store’s dizzying display of cheesy American choice that made the townspeople nervous, Gitty thought. But still, in KJ, you could never be too paranoid.

Once, when Esther Miriam was a baby, Gitty took her for a walk. “A guy looked into the carriage,” Gitty recalls. “He said how cute Esther Miriam was and went on his way.

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Slideshow: Gitty’s World

“It was nice. But then these three minivans come tearing down the street. Hasids jump out and surround me, screaming, ‘Who was that guy? What did he want?’ ”

It was the Vaad Hatznius, Kiryas Joel’s “moral police,” whom Gitty refers to as “those stupid Talibans.” Mostly, the Vaads write down the license plates of people who drive on Shabbos and note which women enter the Landau supermarket with their legs insufficiently covered. But if someone ratted on you, the Vaads might come to your house to see if you were watching porn on that DVD hidden under the bed. In Kiryas Joel, Gitty says, they think there’s no reason to have a DVD except to watch porn.

“They call it the holy shtetl,” Gitty said, rolling her matchless pale-green eyes as she talks about her former hometown, where the streets are named for famous rabbis and European Hasidic settlements. When KJ was founded in 1977 by the Satmar grand rebbe Joel Teitelbaum—Kiryas Joel means Joel’s Village in Yiddish—holiness was the goal. Like Moses before him, Rebbe Teitelbaum had led the Satmars from the shadow of Auschwitz to the Williamsburg promised land, where they thrived, becoming the largest Hasidic sect in the world.

But Williamsburg could be noisy and cruel, with the thrum of the BQE and Puerto Ricans on the street. Kiryas Joel, an incorporated village within the town of Monroe 50 miles up the Thruway, would be a sanctuary. In Kiryas Joel, a Jew could live as he did in eighteenth-century Europe, where the great sage the Baal Shem Tov first articulated the mystic, ecstatic path to G-d that would evolve into modern-day Hasidism. Here, a scholar could think of nothing but Torah amid the bounty of Creation.

Only 3 when her mother, Deborah, a former hippie and the child of secular New York Jews, first came to KJ as a bal tshuva, or Jew returning to orthodoxy, Gitty would reach her late teens before she realized she was living in perhaps the most religiously conservative community in America. “In my parents’ house, there’s no TV, no radio, no newspapers not in Yiddish, no Internet,” Gitty says. “We weren’t supposed to pay any attention to the outside world.” Indeed, even today, a year and a half after fleeing KJ, in one short conversation, Gitty evidenced unfamiliarity with Che Guevara, Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson, Dolly Parton, and Keith Richards.

It was only after her arranged marriage, at age 17, to Joel—nicknamed Yoely—Grunwald, another Kiryas Joel teenager, who would become Esther Miriam’s father, that Gitty knew “I couldn’t live in KJ anymore, that I didn’t want to be one of those women who pop out babies every eighteen months and think whatever their husbands tell them to … When Esther Miriam was born, that raised the stakes, because now there were two of us. Two KJ girls.”

In early 2007, Gitty fled Kiryas Joel for good, taking Esther Miriam with her. At first, they lived in the relatively relaxed frum (Orthodox) community of Monsey, New York, then moved to Brooklyn. “It was just the two of us. I loved it,” Gitty says. Then in January of this year, as Esther Miriam was walked with her class to a Flatbush playground, she was taken, says Gitty, who believes her husband was behind the act.

“Some KJ guys snatched her off the street. Esther Miriam said they were wearing masks. All she remembers was crying, crying so hard,” Gitty says, calling it the worst day of her life. “When they told me what happened, I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was being suffocated. I still do.”

Since then, Esther Miriam has been in KJ, at times in the house of Yoely’s parents, as Gitty works through the courts, both secular and rabbinical, to try to regain custody of her daughter. For the time being, Gitty says, “Yoely calls the shots, when I can see my daughter and where.” That’s why Gitty was nervous taking Esther Miriam to Wal-Mart. Yoely had decreed the store off-limits.

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