The Other Orthodox Women in the Crowd

By Alexandra Fleksher

In his latest Voice in the Crowd column entitled “In Her Place”, Sruli Besser does what no other chareidi columnist has done before: he recognizes how it must feel for Orthodox women to be relegated to the back of the room. The female readership of Mishpacha and others, who received this article via email and social media, have been abuzz debating whether or not the author wrote a parody actually supporting women who feel marginalized in frum culture or simply wrote a piece stating his gratitude that he is not a woman, for while he couldn’t handle such demeaning experiences, women can as they are “made of special stuff.”

Mr. Besser’s message is delivered via his experiences attending his daughter’s graduation from a Bais Yaakov high school. He recalls his father going to his sisters’ graduations but for his own daughter, he is informed when to show up in small print on the invitation and senses he doesn’t belong. When he does arrive, the valedictorian is speaking, “so the fathers stood outside and made awkward conversation and felt demeaned.” For the first time, he felt like an outsider and a second-class citizen (his words). And he didn’t like it.

Besser then does a brilliant little piece of writing which at first glance appears to satirize the common refrains given to Orthodox women about their place in Orthodox society. He writes:

I tried giving a little pep talk to the other men. I told them that we are the true kings of the Jewish home, that we are the center of the family, and we can’t come specifically because we’re so lofty. I told them that it’s a matter of perspective, that the secular world could never appreciate the true glory and majesty of the Orthodox father standing on the sidewalk outside his daughter’s graduation. 

He continues:

I caught a glimpse of my daughter as we entered the hall, but we men were shuttled over to the far left, behind a mechitzah of potted plants. But there were cookies — two paper plates of cookies for us to share. 

The principal presented diplomas and the girls walked up to receive them. I know because I heard the footsteps. 
The men muttered and one suggested that the air-conditioning wasn’t even working on our side and that we didn’t get enough chairs. 

At this point, audible gasps of shock, sighs of relief, and exclamations of amazement could be heard emanating from women sitting on couches around the world this past Shabbos. Could it be that finally a male writer at Mishpacha is giving voice to what many Orthodox women experience when they attend shul kiddushim without grape juice, community speeches with limited visibility, graduations behind mechitzas and dinners without the female honoree’s first name, picture or presence? Could it be that Mr. Besser is our ally, that we have a man who has finally has felt what we have felt, said what needed to be said, and will provide a call to action for our institutions to be more sensitive and accommodating to the female members of our society?

Then his thesis detoured. Many felt that he was on the right track but just couldn’t take the next step as a highly admired writer for a chareidi publication. In conclusion, he writes:

And I had a message for my daughter, the graduate. You’re joining the ranks of the women of our nation, they who uncomplainingly, good-naturedly, graciously endure being relegated to the back of the room. They accept and embrace their destiny — I couldn’t handle it for an hour, yet for them, it’s a way of life…They’re made of special stuff. The she’asani kirtzono is real — there is something of the Divine in that role. Take your place among them with pride. 
And please, move away and let me back in front again.

It was precisely the fact that Mr. Besser “felt demeaned” – being shuttled over to sit behind the potted plants, not being able to hear the speakers or have adequate refreshments or air conditioning – that made readers feel he understood and was willing to stand up for the plight of many Orthodox women. He seemed to display empathy and recognize that so many of our social norms and customs seem to put women in a second-class position. Mr. Besser didn’t enjoy how it felt. So why does he get to feel the way he feels but the women don’t?

His answer is that women don’t feel this way. Because we never complain and are good-natured and gracious. Because we accept and embrace our destiny. And he, representing Orthodox males, is ready to regain his place in the front of the room, putting us back where we belong – in the back.

So here is where things got very interesting. Apparently, Mr. Besser didn’t realize that there exists a whole segment of passionate, dedicated, and happy Orthodox women, many of whom are rebbetzins, teachers and kiruv workers, who do feel like second-class citizens when it comes to certain accepted social practices of late in our circles. They associate with the yeshivish/chareidi world or the right-of-center world. They love their community and seek to improve it at the same time. As one Facebook commentator wrote on Mr. Besser’s page, “they recognize that frum society isn’t perfect, but it is wonderful, and it could be even more wonderful if we sought to address the imperfections instead of celebrating them.”

On Sunday, Mr. Besser posted on Facebook. He spoke in reaction to all the messages he has received in response to his article:

Been a fun day on my timeline…I feel bad for those who are enraged, and worse for those for whom mainstream Orthodoxy isn’t working, who want me to vent at the system, to fulminate about the injustices… ‘Haters are gonna hate and those looking to get offended will never disappoint.’ …the column is a lighter look at the foibles and realities of our beautiful, glorious, functional, stable, happy frum world. That’s my view. If you want a dark underside and hidden agenda to rock the chareidi boat and a secret ally in your battle to save us from ourselves, I’m not your guy…The column wasn’t a dog-whistle to Orthodox feminists that I get them, because, Boruch Hashem, the women in my life are thrilled and proud of their behind the mechitza role. Yes, for real. Not satire.

And the voices of many proudly halachic, mainstream Orthodox women, neither haters nor rabid feminists, reacted in turn. Here is part of my comment to his post:

Please do not assume that the ones with gripes are the ones with issues about the “yeshivish world”. I have learned of so many “yeshivish” women who do feel exactly how you felt! Again, we are not talking about davening behind a mechitzah. Please do not the play the “women have binah” card and therefore must be on a higher spiritual level and chas v’shalom have no struggles, graciously relegating themselves to the back of the room. Please recognize us each as individuals in 2017 with varying opinions and feelings, not just a collective “bais Yaakov” of Biblical proportions. Many women have no issue with some of these cultural norms, but please recognize that many stocking-wearing women actually do.

As a society, we aren’t quick to change, and oft for good reason, but making sure there is grape juice on the woman’s side and all the other little things that make women feel tended to when at shul, at a speech, etc., is nothing revolutionary.

In a second comment, I wrote:

So the thesis is coming clearer to me. I see it in two parts:

  1. The typical frum woman graciously accepts the things in Orthodox culture that men, who apparently are the weaker, less-righteous sex, would experience as demeaning. Men would not be able to handle it, but nshei chayil They always have.

As a thinking, 21st century women, I find this quite offensive. It asks women not to think, question, evaluate or seek improvement. You’re asking us to accept everything and shut our mouths. Swallow the bitter pill and keep smiling. And again, to clarify, I am talking about cultural practices, not matters of halacha.

  1. If a woman finds some of these practices demeaning, then mainstream Orthodoxy isn’t working for her. She might be a feminist, have had negative experiences with Orthodoxy, or be off the derech

As a vocal Orthodox woman, I feel so misunderstood. You have made women like me to feel we do not belong, that maybe most men in shul share the same feelings about us as you do.

You cannot categorize Orthodox religious women into these two camps. It is inaccurate and ill-informed. Please find a way to hear the voice of so many other Orthodox women in the crowd.

A college campus kiruv rebbetzin emailed a letter to the author including this: “There is a real danger in placing women on a pedestal so high that you cannot hear their screams. I don’t want compliments for accepting my lot in life gracefully. I want help in making my situation better.”

A stranger sent me a private message amidst the flurry of activity surrounding Sruli Besser’s post. “It’s made me so proud tonight,” she wrote. “I always feel like the odd man out and barely share these thoughts. How incredible to see so many others with similar views!” And in a private message to the author, she wrote, “I am SO incredibly relieved that other Orthodox frum ‘normal, mainstream and wonderfully appropriate’ women have taken a stand and shared their thoughts and voices on your piece.”

A friend who works as a head counselor at a sleepaway camp said all the post-seminary counselors were huddled around a couple of smartphones as the drama unfolded live, cheering every time strong female voices posted. They were swapping their favorite comments and high-fiving every time a particularly great one popped up. Screenshots of the comments were taken and circulated around seminary groups on Instagram.

And then there was the conversation my friend had with a girl who has been quietly stepping out of the yeshivish system. From a prominent family, she was struck keenly by that night’s discussion. She feels if we’re not clear exactly about what we are struggling with and if enough people don’t speak up, the frum world will continue spinning our hamster wheel without getting anywhere positive. But she is too afraid to speak up.

I close with the following comment posted on Mr. Besser’s thread:

If you do not see many frum women saying aloud or posting in this particular thread that they were hurt by how this piece was written and subsequently handled, it is because any time we try to bring up these issue, even in a quiet, tsniusdig fashion (writing private letters to the editor, privately calling those in charge of our shuls to ask for a few basic amenities, etc. ) we are immediately pronounced unfit in some way: we are suddenly – despite previous glowing track records as ba’alos chesed, ba’alos middos and nshei chayil – labeled as dissatisfied with our G-d ordained roles, shrill feminists, etc. Is it any wonder most of us prefer to toe the line and say in public that we’re fine with the status quo?

Sruli Besser was the first to bravely open up this conversation and actually voice the experiences of many Orthodox women and Bais Yaakov graduates. He started something that needed to be addressed, and while he doesn’t want to be the game-changer or revolutionary, he unintentionally shot the first shot and now is caught in the cross-fire. Maybe we women should just take it from here. And we would be thrilled to welcome any male sympathizers who also champion this cause for the betterment of the entire Jewish community.

Alexandra Fleksher holds a M.S. in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and a B.A. in English Communications from Stern College for Women. Her essays on contemporary Jewish issues have been published in various blogs and publications including Klal Perspectives, Torah Musings, Cross-Currents, Hevria and The Five Towns Jewish Times.

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154 Responses

  1. Eli Blum says:

    Plain and simply put, Mishpacha could never print an article that asks how can we make women’s lives easier and more comfortable as part of the visible Klal.

    Why not? Because Mishpacha needs to keep one foot in the Charaidi camp, and the Chareidi view is that women should NOT  be part of the public sphere or to a large extent, seen. Hence the continued disappearance of women in public: for example, making girl’s high school graduations “private”. Part of that is to limit women’s influence and visibility in the public sphere, including not supporting shul/davening (only the “modern” shuls have groups for children so the mothers can daven) and reliance on the husband to represent women in the public sphere (leaving older singles with no voice).

    Finally, this is a cultural thing, not a reflection of Halacha, Tznius or any positive Jewish ideal. The days of Rebbitzens such as Rebbitzen Perr YLT in our neighborhood, or L’Havdil Rebbitzen Alte Faige Teitelbaum and even Rebbitzen Bat-Sheva Kaniefsky ZL are over. Not because there is anything wrong with a strong public Rebbitzen, but because of “Charaidism”.

    And one can make a strong case that it is exactly what you accuse of R’ Besser, a societal reaction of anti-feminism.

    That being said, I don’t think you give Rabbi Besser enough credit. Even though he had to end the way he did (and can’t say anything else in public due to the same fear of backlash), it was clear that he believes change is possible for the better, although he can’t push for it outright.

    • Karyn Toso says:

      Eli, reading Rabbi Besser’s original article, I came away with the same feeling that you did and was one of the few female voices defending him on social media . . . until I made my way over to his Facebook page and read his dismissive and condescending response to all the women who replied to his article. His reflexive “haters gonna hate” attitude and his refusal to take seriously any woman who feels differently than his wife and daughters was, to me, far more demeaning than the original article. Being dan l’kaf zechut is important and it’s true that occasionally readers make incorrect inferences about a piece, but in this case Rabbi Besser was truly hoist with his own petard.

    • Lisa Shevin says:

      I don’t buy the last paragraph. “He believes change is possible for the better…..” It seems to me that he’s saying the exact opposite, that change isn’t necessary because truly frum women are happy with the status quo, and those who are not ate not meant to be a part of the Orthodox community. To use an inexact analogy, he’s blaming the victim, like women who stay in abusive relationships and come to believe that they deserve the treatment they receive because they are weak and need the discipline.

    • lacosta says:

      while ‘burka babes’  had been seen as a halachic distortion, in part since the klai koidesh and gedolim’s family don’t yet dress that way,  does anyone doubt that the community will get there sooner than later, in Israel , and in hassidic villages?

      • Julie K says:

        If by “get there” you mean most charedi women dressing that way, then yes, I doubt it, and I think your comment is motzi shem ra and a failure to be dan l’kaf zechus.

  2. Chamie says:

    Wow, there are so many frum women who thought they were alone in wanting to be treated with respect! Mr. Besser has brought us out of our quiet corners where we grudgingly accept the societal norms while inside we formulate the concerns we wish we could voice.

    Thank you for taking up the cause where Mr Besser stopped short.

    May HKBH guide us to serve him in the way He wants to be served.

  3. I read Rabbi Besser’s article after it was brought to my attention…and then was similarly disappointed by his response (that it was satire).

    These are complaints about behavior that goes beyond halachah – as you pointed out, the women who are complaining are women who accept and even cherish the mechitza while davening. We’re supposed to be on the same side, the side of halachah, and yet increasingly we are feeling disregarded and dishonored.

    Even when we are behind a mechitza, the space should be clean, free of men who congregate there for extra space, large enough to accommodate us, and we should be able to see and interact with speakers during divrei Torah given before or after the tefillos. If the mechitza is present for dancing, then the space should be sufficient for us to do the mitzvah of making the kallah happy without stepping on her toes or the toes of other dancers. Accepting the mechitza doesn’t mean accepting indignities.

    Moreover, once women started sending him letters, emails, texts, Rabbi Besser should have acknowledge that as women ourselves, we are the experts in our feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. To then turn around and tell us how we should feel (that we uniformly placidly accept the situation) shows he did not sufficiently internalize the lessons of the experience he was trying to satirize.

    • Sarah Elias says:

      A bit off-topic, but most yeshivish/chareidi women are not looking to interact with darshanim speaking in shul and would feel uncomfortable with a mechitza so positioned as to permit back-and-forth between the two sides.

      There are enough other changes that need to be made that we can leave the mechitza as it is.

      • As this article points out, there are many, many women who are frum, and they have all sorts of preferences and opinions. I don’t think you can say “most” feel a particular way unless you’ve taken a survey.

        Our shul is a Centrist Yeshivish shul. The mechitza isn’t usually moved, but the darshan stands at its end, and thus can make eye contact with his audience on both sides, male and female.

        The point of the article is that mechitzos are being used in situations in which it is not required to have a mechitzah. It is permitted for a man to see a woman’s bare face and hands and covered body while speaking words of Torah. And excluding any singing, it is certainly okay for men and women to either sit together or sit apart but no mechitzah at a school graduation.

      • (I’ve also been to Haredi shuls set up like mine. No one bats an eyelash. The men and women in the audience aren’t interacting, but both have access to the darshan who is teaching them and occasionally asking questions.)

      • Sarah Elias says:

        If you mean that the mechitza is set up that way not in a prayer setting, then I have no quibble with that.  But I think it would be pretty inappropriate for a drasha that comes during or immediately after tefilla.

        I believe that I have fairly good insight into what most (note, I didn’t say “all”) yeshivish and chareidi women (note, I didn’t say “frum”; I specified only two subsets of frum) would feel comfortable with.

  4. Johnny Solomon says:

    Dear Rabbanit Alex, You have written a compelling and majestic perspective which not only reflects your wisdom, insight and nuance, but which provides a safe and healthy window for reflection and discourse about matters that affect more than 50% of the Jewish world. I am sure that Jewish women worldwide will be grateful for your courage and clarity, and as a father of five daughters, a teacher/mentor to Seminary students, and someone who cares passionately about inclusion within Orthodoxy I deeply value your contribution. Please note that I am likely to cite your fabulous article in my future teaching as an example of how to translate confusion and negativity into clarity and positivity. With blessings!

  5. Ben Waxman says:

    Amazing that we can talk all day long about the need to understand the other person’s pain, until we’re asked to actually understand the other person’s pain.

  6. Moshe Shoshan says:

    This ” can’t say anything else in public due to the same fear of backlash” cuts to the core of the problem in the charedi and some corners of the MO world. People act as if they live in an authoritarian state in which real criticism can only be expressed obliquely. This is precisely what keeps the system in power. There is no culture of legitimate dissent and debate. No community committed to amitah shel torah can function this way. As numerous gemara’s teach us, the truth of Torah can only be revealed through open debate in which even those whose motivations are less than noble are let into the beis medrash.  The current ORthodox leadership, models themselves on R. Gamliel before he did teshuva rather than Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Reish Lakish and R. Yochanan.  

    • dr. bill says:

      to amplify on your point, the inability to challenge the status quo, inhibits change, which is often bottom up versus top down.  in a number of situations the religious sensibilities of the community caused changes to which halakhic leaders added some boundary conditions. (history al pi the greatest jewish historian of the 20th century.) the practical changes that various communities require will be delayed by a phenomena where the rabbinic domain, normally limited in scope, has achieved almost godly breadth.  anyone familiar with the history of jewish traditional practice can supply numerous examples.

  7. anonymous says:

    This article says my thoughts in words. Thank you for this, I hope we can finally make a change

  8. Ann koffsky says:

    What a wonderful insightful piece. It means so much to read that there are likeminded women who are concerned about this within the chareid community! Thank you Alex for bringing this to light so thoughtfully.

  9. Ann Koffsky says:

    In response to Eli Blum: You make interesting points! but I would note that while Mr. Besser may have changed course towards the end of the article to avoid backlash…in fact, he got more backlash this way! The silent majority is in pain. And just as Sara Schenirer saw a lack of Torah for women in her generation, and addressed it, so too, someone in this generation is going to have to address this new crisis. I

    • Eli Blum says:

      No disagreement, but the first step is getting the issue out of the closet.

  10. Steve Brizel says:

    Excellent post.I think that this post underscored the need for a lot more hakaras hat of on the men’s side of the mechitzah and the awareness that HaShem created both men and women as spiritual personalities Btzelem Elokim. As a fair my recent and loyal Mispacha reader I can state that we enjoy but don’t always agree with its coverage. The special issue on the Six Day War was especially moving and I do note that writers do mention RYBS RAYHK from time to time and the Family issue always has articles involving issues that present stresses to the Family. It is always an excellent read.

    • dr. bill says:

      despite being pictured in the photo Mishpacha used in their article on the Rav ztl, I always want him to be portrayed as he was in reality and not, as some do, describing only those aspects that attempt to conform him to their image.  I remember the late Prof. Hyman talking fondly of his meeting the Rav, whom the Rav attracted, despite being a JTS graduate, to YU in order to teach Jewish medieval philosophy.  He visited the Rav’s other library, on the second floor of his home that he described as very much used and housing an extensive collection of  books of a secular / academic nature.  I have no doubt where the Rav and his son and SILs ztl spend the (vast) majority of their time, but to understate their other intellectual pursuits does not reflect the reality of these intellectual giants.


  11. Moe says:

    “Plain and simply put, Mishpacha could never print an article that asks how can we make women’s lives easier and more comfortable as part of the visible Klal.”

    I don’t think women are asking to be more “visible” here. It seems to me they’re just asking to be treated with Derech Eretz.
    The argument that they’re made of “special stuff” and accept their special lot of being neglected is imposing righteous ideals on someone else which is always frowned upon. It reminds me of the following anecdote

    Rav Yisroel Salanter once related that he met one of the great Yirei Shmayim in the Bais Medrash on Erev Yom Kippur.  Rav Yisroel asked him a question, but the man’s thoughts were so lost in the upcoming day that he simply did not hear Rav Yisroel and ignored the question.  Rav Yisroel thought to himself, “why am I guilty because he was scared of the Yom HaDin?  Gemilus Chasodim demands that he answer me with joy!” (Chaim SheYesh Bahem – Ki Seitzei)

    Women, or anybody we can help or make more comfortable, should not be asked to live up to the lofty expectations, or accept the circumstantial neglect, of the men of the community. Hashem is the One creates challenges for us to grow. It’s not our job to create challenges for women, or anyone else, to help them grow. Nobody asked us to be their spiritual trainer or coach (unless of course they have…).
    This is simple Derech Eretz which Mishpacha, or any Chareidi publication, can understand, and I believe should be writing about. Then again, maybe  I’m imposing my own righteous expectation on these publications…

  12. joel rich says:

    1. ” As one Facebook commentator wrote on Mr. Besser’s page, “they recognize that frum society isn’t perfect, but it is wonderful, and it could be even more wonderful if we sought to address the imperfections instead of celebrating them.”  Interesting that OO advocates say the same thin7g to MO

    2. On the broader issue of intent – New Criticism, as espoused by Cleanth BrooksW. K. WimsattT. S. Eliot, and others, argued that authorial intent is irrelevant to understanding a work of literature.   Joel Rich espouses that how we read that literature says a lot more about what is on our mind than on what is on the author’s


    • Alexandra Fleksher says:

      KT, reagarding #1…interesting comparison. This quote actually is how people who strive for excellence and seek to improve conditions speak in general. In our case, of course, we are talking about societal mores, most of which were non-existent in Orthodoxy 20 years ago — not matters of halacha.

      • dr. bill says:

        not all traditional Jewish practice is necessarily a matter of halacha and are thus more amenable to change as a result of changing “societal mores.”  That is often at the heart of disagreements between those in favor of a change and those who are opposed.  i have never found a hard and fast method of resolving this quandary;  but, as I believe Rabbi Lamm once implied, such things are often much clearer in hindsight.  His suggestion that change occur in a more measured way is great practical advice but unfortunately also not always that definitive. 

      • joel rich says:

        and as social psychologists have shown, once something has occurred, we tend to look back and convince ourselves that we always knew this is how it would turn out and construct an explanation as to why it was always so obvious (much like the market report after the exchange closes  :-))


      • dr. bill says:

        the late prof. katz whose  Ph.D. was in a field related to sociology, the last received by a Jew in pre-war Germany, gave dozens of examples how such changes, with some subsequent  halakhic refinements, have occurred in our history.

  13. Le Newyorkais says:

    Besser wrote a courageous exposé. For it to be published, he had to pretend to snap back to the Haredi perspective, rather than advocate action. His indictment of the usual unbelievable excuses is so bitterly pointed (“we r the kings of the home,” etc.), we well know where he stands. His pretend-reversal at the end changes nothing–he got the ideas out there.

    • lacosta says:

      disagree 100% .   he created the classic tautology—  a frum woman is one who thinks like  X.   if she thinks like notX , she is not frum .  therefore, there are no frum women who object to The Derech , The Absolute Only True Derech…

    • Alexandra Fleksher says:

      Please Mr. Besser’s recent Facebook post in its entirety to see exactly where he stands. His responses to the comments are also very informative.

      • Alexandra Fleksher says:

        Been a fun day on my timeline. Enjoyed reading the comments about the Mishpacha column and appreciated the passion in each one.
        Reading them, I was reminded of a wise comment I once heard- the internet is to rage what a credit card is to debt. And I would never argue with an angry person, so don’t feel I can answer many of the comments.
        I feel bad for those who are enraged, and worse for those for whom mainstream Orthodoxy isnt working, who want me to vent at the system, to fulminate about the injustices.

        Never, beezras Hashem.
        Every word in every column is written with ayin tova for our community, not to make change. Every word is written against a backdrop of Ashrenu mah tov chelkenu.
        The basic point of the Voice in the Crowd column was nicely summed up by an insightful commenter, Shmaya Gestetner , who wrote: Haters are gonna hate and those looking to get offended never disappoint. Firstly, the voice in the crowd is a slightly comical, often cynical and generally light reading entertainment where Mishpacha let’s Sruli Besser be his witty and insightful self in reward for his highly professional other work (my take on the column). in this article, if anything, he brought the frum woman issue to light in a safe way. if you didnt smile and at the same time have more respect for the nonsense we all have to put up with, you either misread it or dont understand the nature of the column. im also guessing that the majority of Mishpacha readers are in fact bothered by this phenomina, but it isn’t their primary issue, enabling them to enjoy what was written.
        Thanks Shmaya Gestetner wish I was that eloquent. But yes, the column is a lighter look at the foibles and realities of our beautiful, glorious, functional, stable, happy frum world. Thats my view. If you want a dark underside and hidden agenda to rock the charedi boat and a secret ally in your battle to save us from ourselves, Im not your guy. There are plenty of others, dont worry.
        Im like a teenager grumbling about his over-protective parents in front of them. He might sound critical, but if you listen, you hear the appreciation for the love, security and comfort of their rules.
        Yes, charedi society isnt perfect, but its alot more perfect than anything else out there. Halacha is certainly perfect.
        The column wasnt a dog-whistle to Orthodox feminists that I get them, because, Boruch Hashem, the women in my life are thrilled and proud of their behind the mechitza role. Yes, for real. Not satire.
        So to those who found the writing poor or grammar choppy, I’m sorry. To those who found the tone patronizing, I’m sorry. But to those who found the hashkafa weak and the inherent pride in our society offensive, I offer no apologies. Maybe Mishpacha Magazine isn’t for you. There are other wonderful options.
        Thanks for reading and for respectful, candid dialogue.

  14. Shiranne says:

    The fact that SO many women in the frum community have spoken up about how upsetting his piece was tells us exactly how wrong he was – women may be putting up with that kind of treatment graciously, but it does NOT mean we are okay with it or don’t want to change it. We can love our Jewish world and still seek to make it actually halachic, just like many of these men claim to do….. Any response from men about how “the women in their lives seem to be fine with it” is shameful when you step back and see how many women this struck a nerve with. Thank you to all who speak up!

    • lacosta says:

      again , he solves this problem with classic haredi doxology— if you think differently than the generation of de elter bubbes, then you are anything but haredi

  15. Alexandra, while many of the concerns that you and other women in the right of center frum world raise are real, that wasn’t at all the point of Sruli Besser’s column.

    His weekly column is satirical and meant to call out the foibles and quirks of the frum community. He is NOT trying to influence policy, be a voice for change, etc. That is more for Rabbis Grylak, Rosenbloom and Kobre.

    Now you may feel that change is called for and you do speak up in this eloquent column, but that should probably not be connected to his column.

    • Alexandra Fleksher says:

      Meir Goldberg, the strong reaction from women is not so much that he doesn’t call for change , but more that he makes assumptions and generalizations about Orthodox women and delivers a patronizing message that we are built for dealing with handling second-class treatment due to our special, innate status. Please understand that we women have never seen such an issue being raised before in public in a hareidi magazine. So we take it very seriously (especially since many felt validated during the first half of his piece) and felt dismissed by his dismissive tone at the end.  Also I find that R’ Besser DOES bring up serious, timely issues about contemporary Orthodoxy, even if his motives are to “call out the foibles.” We are listening!

      If he doesn’t want to call for change, which is completely acceptable and understandable, at least end the piece with more of a recognition that many women feel the way he felt and follow through with the message of understanding, rather than the messages that lump us into one supposed group of nshei chayil who have accepted our lot that he himself just experienced to be “second-class.” And the last line was the clincher.

      If a writer, who is read worldwide, is going to even go there, then please address such topics with more sensitivity and understanding. Not assuming that all Orthodox females are like the writer’s family will be a very helpful first step.

  16. lacosta says:

    Mishpacha magazine is already teetering on the liberal edge.  To even bring up this issue before knocking it down and crushing it once and for all, is to put the mag at risk to be banned in many homes…

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Compared to its competition Mishpacha is alwaus a good read. It is by no means MO but understands the critical role of the frum yeshivishe and chasidishe family and the stresses that it faces. I also agree that some of the articles about Nshei Chayil who choose to stay in dysfunctional marriages are problematic but overall inclu

      • Steve Brizel says:

        ( continuation from my last post) ding Mr. Besser’s column Mishpacha is far better than its competition especially one editor of another publication who interviewed a Charedi psychologist with an expertise at kids at risk with absolutely no sympathy to parents their kids and and hostility to mental health professionals. You won’t find interviews or articles of that nature in Mishpacha.


      • lacosta says:

        I agree that Mishpacha beats the competition and is more middle of the road. it has the measured editor [ far more nuanced than satmar oriented Ami ], the measured intellectual BT [ JRosenblum ], and the potshot hurling fireballer amongst others …. it’s the mag the MO community might wish they could have, if they had a need for such weekly reading….

  17. tzippi says:

    Re Meir Goldberg: so we can let YB be YB (and he’s an excellent writer, generally)? When it generated so many different reactions, including but not limited to:

    1. The RW woman who says, right on, finally, someone gets it.

    2. The RW woman who may sound like she’s drunk the kool-aid. She’s fine with her position. She doesn’t see the men in her community acting like louts. The kiddushin are usually much more lavish on the women’s side. (May I suggest they have ample grape juice for women to make their own Kiddush rather than wait for a man to show up. But that’s the only gripe.) The men get to go to their daughters’ graduations. She’s wondering if this is another of those OOT vs. in-town things.

    3a. The LW woman who says, in my community we’re appreciated and respected and treated well. Come see how things are done here.

    3b. The LW woman who says, that’s all well and good but you’re all missing the major point: we’re still in a patriarchy and as long as I can’t lein and learn Gemara, it’s all window dressing. Oh, and that Gemara I’m so passionate about, what’s up with passages like like the women drown?

    These are just a few of the voices I’ve heard debating this week.





  18. Shira says:

    Alex- thank you for this.

    How convenient for the writer to assign women with superhuman abilities.  And how convenient for publications like Mishpacha to blame the chasidish clientele for their decision to belittle and silence women by excluding their printed images from every issue.

    Does anyone else notice the latest trend in Mishpacha to highlight heroic N’Shei Chayil who sacrifice their happiness and safety by remaining in emotionally abusive marriages using their amazing binah yesaira?

    As a Torah observant mother of girls, and a boy, I am sick to my stomach at the overarching mysoginystic attitudes that seem to be so prevalent in our community.  As others have mentioned, these unrealistic lofty expectations of women to be saintly martyrs are completely man made.

  19. Bob Miller says:

    It would help if more commenters set forth the details of how they believe things ought to be.    What would their recommended alternatives actually look like?   Would these abandon any age-old, generally accepted traditions or just some recent inventions now being pushed on us as traditions?  Sometimes, I feel as if some Jews have mastered time travel, adjusting our past according to their views.

    • Alexandra Fleksher says:

      Bob Miller, I am glad you brought this up. Here are some actionable steps I raised in my article: Could it be that finally a male writer at Mishpacha is giving voice to what many Orthodox women experience when they attend shul kiddushim without grape juice, community speeches with limited visibility, graduations behind mechitzas and dinners without the female honoree’s first name, picture or presence? 

      Please note that when separate seating is appropriate for any particular audience in any community, the rule of thumb is that the women’s side should have equal. “audio visual” as the men’s side.

    • Shira says:

      Sarah commented on this very articulately below- as for time travel, yes, not so long ago there were photos of women in frum publications, men could attend and watch their daughters’ graduations, women were honored at community dinners alongside their husbands, etc.  Our current cultural standard is undeniably to make women and girls more and more invisible.  The underlying metaphor implicit in this growing attitude is terrifying.

      • Bob Miller says:

        One day, yeshiva men wore various color/style suits and hats. One later day, all wore black.  Whatever dynamic drove this change may be the same one happening today.   But how on earth do we get an objective study to replace all the good or bad guesses?   Every conceivable investigator may have an ax to grind, and the public would be wary of involvement.

      • dr. bill says:

        when described in strictly halakhic terms, i have heard from a former RCA president a hierarchy of issues starting with women’s exemption from mitzvot aseh she’hazman grama and covering in order – a) limmud hatorah, b) serrarah and 3) tzniyut.  In modern communities, the  the scope of the latter three issues have, to varying degrees, been reduced.  In some communities they have effectively disappeared.  As history has amply demonstrated such changes are often accompanied by a reaction pushing in the opposite reaction.  That is what we are witnessing.  Wait a few generations and we will see where the center ends up.  Until then, pronouncements are just reasoned and unseasoned opinions.


  20. Dr. E says:

    I would not hold my breath for your viewpoint to be validated by Mishpacha Magazine.  After all, they have so much respect for women and hold them in such high esteem, that their pictures are just too special to publish. I suspect that most of the women from subscriber households are not regular shul goers.  So to a large extent the conditions in Ezros Nashim in shuls and shteiblach are largely irrelevant and as such, perfectly acceptable.
    Instead of waiting on Mishpacha (which would probably close down like Volozhin before capitulating to feminist pressure to publish pictures of women), I would be encouraged by the recent OU Statement which was a genuine recognition of the potential intellectual and social contributions of women to the frum community.  That’s obviously a different stream of Orthodoxy than Mishpacha, but one in which you would probably find more aligned with your worldview.

    The proliferation of increased gender separation in the Yeshivish community has become quite mainstream.  As such, it will certainly continue toward even more absurd universal applications, including the separation of husbands and wives at events of what should be mutually celebrated nachas.  So, as long as the men will continue the recent 30 year trend of making up new rules as they go along, and females acquiescing (because no woman wants to be seen as chas v’shalom “un-tzniyus”, “feminist”, or “in opposition to Daas Torah”), I do not hold out much hope.

  21. Sarah says:

    I read the original article and was upset, appalled, insulted and demeaned by it. If we do not call attention to this negative continued treatment of women, we become guilty by our silence. It is simply not healthy. We, who DO indeed, live our right wing lifestyles by choice, cannot help but wonder how this ‘chareidisation’ will progress. What else and how much more invisible can women become without it backfiring.

    I am old enough to remember the mixed-gender attendance at very religious public functions that did not involve mechitzahs. The Jewish Observer printed pictures of women in their publication. Organizations honored women at public mixed events and listened to women speak to mixed audiences. All these events were sanctioned and under Orthodox auspices.

    I am young enough to have watched it change over the years to include single gender attendance at shiva houses. (!) It has become perfectly acceptable to honor a couple with no acknowledgement of the wife or to honor a woman and have her husband stand to accept the award.


    I cringe when I think of the message it is sending our daughters and granddaughters when we pretend it is ok to ‘sit in the back of the bus.’ Every action has a reaction. And actions speak louder than words. Attending a simcha or public event and allowing women to stand because there is not enough seating for them, while their husbands, sons and grandsons are all seated, is a terrible message. If asked, there is no man who will condone an older woman standing while a young child remains seated. Yet, if that is exactly what happens at public events that do not have enough seating, your message is loud and clear.

    Relegating women to ‘know their place’ is neither healthy nor is it productive. If we do not make our voices heard when these situations occur we will continue to suffer the consequences which inevitably result in poor self image, lousy life choices and even poorer marriages. This behavior threatens the fabric of our very lives. It diminishes the beauty and nobility of our mission.

    We appreciate and cherish the ‘Kol Kevudah Bas Melech Pnimah.’ We embrace it.

    Dignity, respect and consideration, however, are not things that we should have to fight for.




    • Alexandra Fleksher says:

      Sarah, thank you for these tangible examples.

    • sheina carlebach says:

      There is a shul sponsored Sheva Brachot for the daughter of the Rabbi and Rebbitzin of the shul. Only men are invited.

      • Sarah says:

        Ouch…help me to understand what possible explanation there is for THAT?
        I am not as offended by the event being for men only.
        I am more concerned by the attitude that extending such an invitation is considered acceptable.

  22. Beverly Beard says:

    I was recently at an aufruf in a Chareidi shul in Israel (I know, not America).  It was extremely hot.  The women were upstairs at the back with no air conditioning while the men’s section had it full blast. Spoke to several women including a rebbetzin who complained bitterly that they felt totally neglected by the shul and rabbi.  And these were definitely Chareidi ladies. Women need to be respected and treated with consideration and dignity.  Well said Alex Fleksher.

  23. BW Posen says:

    Thank for sharing. You put words in the author’s mouth. Never does he say that women do not or should not feel bad about their lot. You say “His answer is that women don’t feel this way. Because we never complain and are good-natured and gracious.” but he never says that.

    You have some god points but your attack on him is imagined, in this case, even considering his FB posts. Sorry you feel this way, for a good reason but this is not it. Kol haposel bemumo posel. You claim he is deciding how women should feel but you are doing that to him.

    • Alexandra Fleksher says:

      BW Posen,

      As a writer and English teacher who is trained to analyze essays :-), I honestly think there is some confusion surrounding exactly what the author is saying due to his shift mid-essay in tone and theme. The beginning reads like a satire but his tone diverges towards the end. Reading the first half, especially where he gives that fantastic pep talk to the men, he is recognizing that women may feel bad about their lot and this is the self-talk they should give themselves to feel better about it (being the center of the family, being lofty, etc.)

      I base my conclusion (“His answer is that women don’t feel this way) on two quotes, the first from the article and the second from his FB response.

      1. You’re joining the ranks of the women of our nation, they who uncomplainingly, good-naturedly, graciously endure being relegated to the back of the room. They accept and embrace their destiny — I couldn’t handle it for an hour, yet for them, it’s a way of life.

      — This is the first generalization. The women of our nation don’t complain, are good-natured and graciously endure it. Pashut pshat. He’s presenting good frum women to have this attitude, which of course is innaccurate. Now do they “feel bad about their lot”? I think in reality, some may feel bad and some may not because they have no problems with it. But yes, when he’s talking about sweeping generalizations of nshei chayil who accept their destiny, those don’t feel bad.

      What is “it”? I am using the example he did of being behind a mechitza for a non-halachic event. Not being able to fully hear and see, not feeling adequately comfortable, not feeling tended to, not feeling like your presence is really appreciated or the event is really with you in mind. This was a trigger example for so many woman. Mechitza during davening, hearing shofar, etc. is not. (Ok, watching the men dance on ST is for some!)

      2. The column wasnt a dog-whistle to Orthodox feminists that I get them, because, Boruch Hashem, the women in my life are thrilled and proud of their behind the mechitza role.

      — My understanding of this line is that Mr. Besser is not sympathizing with women who feel dissatisfied and bad about their lot (Orthodox feminists).  He’s generalizing women who may struggle as feminists, and he’s also generalizing by basing the model of the Orthodox woman ‘who doesn’t feel bad’ on his experiences with his happy and proud female family members.

      But what we have learned is there are happy and proud Orthodox women who also struggle with some of the ways Orthodox culture treats females. I personally don’t think Mr. Besser was aware of them, as I have gleaned from his compartmalization of Orthodox women in his writing, until this whole thing blew up, and that is why I wrote my article.

      Now who’d know that Sruli Besser’s words would be dissected like a Ralph Waldo Emerson essay. He should be flattered.

      Happy to see a new column of clarification in next week’s Mishpacha!

      • BW Posen says:

        Mrs Fleksher, thanks for your response. I just read another article of yours here and see you are a great person. About the dog-whistle, I think he is referring to much more extreme feminists etc. not those like you who are asking for basic respect. Waiting to hear feedback from the author.

  24. Tzvi says:

    With all due respect, I humbly suggest the topic that started this debate (Bais Yakov graduation)is very tricky and not an ideal example.

    A graduation is both a time for public and private acheivement.In a normal situation every child wants their parent at a milestone in their lives and the parent wants to be there as well. A graduation though is not just a personal milestone but a very public event.

    Each of these women are their daddy’s little girl, but as a class these are all women, some of whom are old enough to get married within the year.

    For all said purposes a Bais Yakov High school graduation is a Women’s event. As a class, a graduation is an emotional time and very personal as well. Not one comment that I saw  has said that there probably was a sizeable amount of the class who were actually happy the Mechitza was there!

    If this was any other event for women this topic would not have been broached at all, as it would have bordered as inappropriate for the men to even think to be seated with the women.

    It is also a bit unfair both from the woman’s and man’s perspective to compare a one-night affair that one does not have any familiarity with to sitting week after week in a Shul. The expectations are also so very different.

    In Shule everyone is expecting to immediately further develop a relationship with G-d and community. Unless one is very inspired that generally does not happen by graduations nor do I know of anybody who has gone in with such expectations.

    Additionally, there is something wrong that the issues of Mechitza has taken on such a prominent role in our society. If people were properly engaged, Mechitza heights, thickness, sight lines etc…would really not be the hot button topic it is.

    So many men are disengaged and they don’t have a Mechitza to blame they  daven with tefilin, learn, etc.. and are still disengaged and feel uninvolved. These men have no Mechitza except in their hearts and difficulty in Ivdu es Hashem Bisimcha. The same is true for many women.

    For all those out there that think if there was no real mechitza or if women were Rabbis then things would be better they are missing the point. This would be true for some but not for all, otherwise the reform would be frummer then the Orthodox.  Hashem always gives the Refuah before the Makka, we have our neshamos and seichel we must enhance our education  to reach out to not only others but must ask and work on ourselves to make sure there is a positive feeling about Yiddishkeit.

    While ritual is important if your neshama isn’t in it, the biggest talmid chacham can falter.

    If you feel in my last statements that I am being dissmisive of the Mechitza issue:

    I fully understand that if you belong to a Shule where you can’t see or hear you are feeling marginalized. I do not have my head buried in the sand . If your Shule is like this, the women should get together and petition for one way glass or other type of Halachichally acceptable partition both in height and opaqueness.

    Just because the men can’t look at women  does not have to have a bearing on women being allowed to see whats going on and feeling unwanted. Shule has to be a place where everyone should feel welcome, like a family simcha.


    If Mechitza change is not doable whether it be for minhag or monetary reasons realize many men have a lack of closeness or feelings of being marginalized despite their additional ritual involvement, learning, Davening and study . If a person feels stymied in any area try growing different ways. Everyone has a Mechitza to overcome.

    • tzippi says:

      Sorry to pick on just one point but re graduation: YB himself says that his father went to graduations. I know that in some communities it’s never been done, and perhaps understandably: maybe there was a cantata or vocal presentation of some sort. But for the rest of us who did have graduations, it’s a bit jarring not to have fathers there.

      And the separate shivas I’ve seen: I don’t know if it’s for practicality but I certainly hope it’s not for tznius. Unless there is a large number of aveilim sitting in one home, it’s so comforting to be in the same room.

      Sorry if this is nitpicky, just picking these two examples of the island shifting for some of us. B”H not in my community. I should say that I’m someone who feels pretty comfortable as a Jewish woman.

    • Eli Blum says:

      Mechitza in Shul is not the point of contention. Ta’anu Cheitin V’Hodu Lo B’seorin. There is no Halachic reason to have a mechitza by a graduation (of either males or females), while there is for a Shul.

      More than being “daddy’s little girl”, it was (in many cases) “Daddy’s (or Mommy’s, in case of a boy’s graduation) large dollars” that paid to get to this point, and he (as does everyone) deserves to “shep Nachas”. If you want a female only event, then have a play and don’t pretend you want to include the men.

      And in the same vein, if you aren’t willing to create a comfortable environment for women, don’t pretend that you want them there.

  25. Steve Brizel says:

    Maaseh Shehaya Kach Hayah. Many years ago I worked at a hotel that had a wonderful hashgacha in the Catskills. The RCA, NCSY , NCYI and Torah Umesorah all had their national meetings/conventions at this hotel which does not exist anymore thanks to the needs of  a local NYS penitentiary. One year, Torah Umesorah had its conference and all the RY and mchanchim all sat at mixed tables throughout Shabbos. The Melaveh Malka was announced as separate and there was almost a riot by the wives of the RY  and mchanchim-IIRC, the seating was mixed.

    About dysfunctional marriages-we attended a NEFESH Conference one year. It was the same year after R Pam ZL spoke to a huge  audience ranging from Satmar to RHS on the subject. The theme of  the Oneg Shabbos was spouse abuse. R D A Twersky stated that an abused spouse should leave the house even in the middle of Shabbos. R D Cohen urged caution. The entire conference saw a potential conflict in the brewing as to what should be the proper stance taken by Nefesh. On Shabbos morning, a prominent person in Shalom Task Force spoke to the entire assembly and told them the following:

    1) There is no rav in the US who does more ( including running abusive husbands out of his community) more than R D Cohen.

    2) R D A Twersky urged all present to have more respect for the Psak of eminent Poskim on the issue, including R D Cohen.

    That public address restored Shalom Al Yisrael among the attendees who had been left in a quandary

    I think that Mishpacha has been walking that tightrope for a long time. It certainly favors couples and family members  seeking therapy either individually or  together, etc, but is  cautious about urging couples to seek legal advice and terminate dysfunctional marriages.




  26. Daniella says:

    Thank you so much for publishing this piece. Such a necessary voice. Thank you for letting it be heard.

  27. Yakov says:

    A number of years ago, I attended a Parnassah Conference outside of Lakewood. They had a crowd of hundreds watching presentations in the Shtark Tank, in which entrepreneurs were looking for investors. A woman presented her idea for fashion shoes with interchangeable bows, etc. She got up to speak about women’s shoes in front of a crowd of men and women not separated by a mechitzah. The men were mostly chassidish and yeshivish. There was no mad rush for the door, no protests or heckling. If she had presented a devar torah or chas vesholom a devar torah in a shul; I suspect the reaction would have been very different. Does anyone really think that the average frum man has any real problem with hearing a women speak in public. Are their modest pictures in Mishpacha really causing any hirhur problems. More than the ads that they are all exposed to on the street. The hypocrisy is all too obvious. Most of these men are online and seeing much more than a frum woman giving a devar torah. Living in this frum pretend world allows us to be totally dishonest with ourselves about what really is important. Is it any wonder that some of our children are walking away from our idyllic lifestyle.

  28. Rivka says:

    Thank you Alex! To me the ” norm” in our community is not my norm anymore. I don’t hold a political position. I don’t even need to talk about it. I simply stopped participating where it’s disrespectful.  Is not worth my time to be there. We end up creating our own events at our homeand people feel comfortable and welcomed. The other thing I do is just work exclusively with women. I just can’t deal with the disconnect and the fact that it’s not obvious that women have a place and a voice.  To me this is my revolution. To stop waiting for men to change it and to start making my life and leadership what I want it to be.

  29. Shades of Gray says:

    As Yisroel Besser wrote, it was common for fathers to attend Bais Yaakov HS graduations with more participation than he experienced. In fact, I remember an opinion piece in the Jewish Observer where the author thought it  inappropriate that men should watch the procession of girls, and that young girls should give a dvar Torah in front of accomplished talmidei chachamim. In the next issue, there were letters criticizing the article, and the author backtracked somewhat from his position!

    Also, when Orthodox feminism was growing in the 1990s, I remember the Jewish Observer advocating among other things  that improvements to the ezras nashim should be made to make women more comfortable. This is similar to the OU statement, which while forbidding women clergy, gave positive ways for female leadership.

    I am curious what  Rabbi Besser would say about why Mishpacha recently  pixelated a picture with a woman, as  Alexandra Fleksher wrote in a previous article. This is unusual for Charedi publications, as they usually don’t publish the picture in the first place.

  30. Sarah says:

    Thank you Ms Fleksher for writing an article that neatly and eloquently arranges for a larger audience just a hint of the discourse and turmoil that has been bubbling in the frum female underworld.

    Mr. Besser had an incredible opportunity; to validate and publicize some of the struggles and concerns that good frum women deal with daily, and yet he dropped that opportunity by resorting to platitudes and a condescending attitude at the end of his article.  And then he went a step worse, and ground that opportunity into the mud with his facebook response.  But whether it was his intention or not, he has created an opportunity for change, and has inadvertently removed some of the silencers placed on the frum female voice.

    This is not merely about better shul configurations, or improved Kiddush food.  This is about the erasure of women; our faces, our voices, our opinions, our needs.  This is about an externally (ie: male) imposed box that gets smaller and smaller each year.  This is about our chronic concern that verbalizing our true feelings and publicizing our struggles will buy us the label of apikores or feminist (the worst F-word in the chareidi lexicon).  This is about a patronizing and demeaning attitude that cannot be hidden even within the most effusive “praise”.  This is about valid internal struggles having been assigned the role of passive-onlooker in a religion we love and live.  This is about belief in Hashem, belief in ourselves (as strong, smart, and capable) and the need to reconcile the two, while trying to unravel actual halacha and Torah demands from confounding societal and social constructs.  This is about the dissonance in being full, active, participatory members of secular society and then passive, second-class, invisible members of frum society.

    If I could address Mr. Besser and those who think like he does: These are not the complaints and rants of rabble-rousing, anti-orthodox women.  These are the struggles and concerns of the good frum women who surround you and support your Torah society.  But you’ve never heard these voices because you don’t want to hear them.  They are frightening, and impel scrutiny on a society you wish to imagine perfect. Lo meduvshech v’lo me’uktzech.  We don’t want to be shoved into this ever constricting box of invisibility and otherness, and we don’t either want to be praised for wonderfully, uncomplainingly accepting a lot you have just barely begun to recognize as unpleasant.

    With the hope that this discussion spurs change, if not in practice then at least in attitude.

    (a different Sarah than the poster above)

    • Bob Miller says:

      “This is about an externally (ie: male) imposed box that gets smaller and smaller each year. ”

      I rise in defense of religious Orthodox males in general, both rabbis and others. Here we have a subset of a subset making radical changes that then propagated through our society, propelled by a fear of bucking wrongly imposed authority and suffering social repercussions . I suppose many can be held accountable for not resisting appropriately, but, left to their own devices, few would have chosen to go this route. In fact, the threat of unjust social repercussions is our society’s type of WMD.

  31. MRS HENYE MEYER says:

    Thank you for your reaction to that piece. As a frum chasidishe woman I have attended boys’ school events where there were not enough seats or enough room for the women (who come with baby carriages, don’t forget); I have attended simchos where the men entered at ground level but the women used a back entrance with steps (I exclude veibershuls which by their nature are often up a flight); I have waited in line for a kapores chicken at a chasidishe facility and been totally ignored, the men behind me being attended to; and donated what for me were large sums to frum mosdos and Chasidic establishments only to find the acknowledgement and receipt sent to my husband. Yes, I’m glad Rabbi Besser raised the topic, but what a disappointment to find him too cowardly to carry the point to its logical conclusion.

  32. Faigy Rothman says:

    Bravo! MANY women, who are real-deal yeshivish (I hate the stupid word “Charedi” which makes no sense in Israel, and less so in America) know that women are often relegated to second-class status for reasons that are cultural, not religious. Just because we don’t complain loudly or are afraid to say so (oy, what we must do to marry off our daughters!!!) doesn’t mean we don’t think it. Rabbi Besser, I know you are reading this, so please make a note of that.

    Maybe the kotel fights are a fitting punishment to those who decided to divide the kotel plaza so unfairly. (Yes, yes, there are more men and they often need more space. But not ALWAYS….many times I’ve been there where it’s crowded by the women and empty by the men). The default on a daily basis should be 50-50, with the option to slide it over for times where there will be more men.

    Kiddish in shul? Only on the men’s side. Yes, many times a shul will announce a kiddush ONLY for men. (Don’t argue that women get fancy cakes and fruit platters so their kiddush is better.  When women get fancy cakes, men get herring and kugel and cholent – so it’s just different, not less expensive). It’s OK to invite people to come to shul at a certain time for  a women’s shiur or men’s program. But when we are ALL in shul together on Shabbos morning, and then you announce, “We are having a party, females go home” that’s RUDE. One lady in my shul got sick of seeing invitations that said “Kiddush for men” or Kiddush for men and also women” so she issued a kiddush invitation in honor of her new daughter that said “Kiddush for women (and also men)”. And she’s a yeshivish lady!

    You can tell us from here to tomorrow how we are so frum and today we are Bais Yakov girls unlike our grandmothers so we need ever more rules telling us things are forbidden even though we all know they never were (women’s pictures in Orthodox magazines, mixed seating at simchas, etc).

    But guess what? Even though Mishpacha won’t print our pictures and women have started wearing burkas and mechitzas are everywhere, go to a wedding sometime in the black hat New York community. Check out the mother of the groom – who often learns in BMG – and mother of the kallah –  who went to Bais Yakov — and often they are wearing super-clingy dresses that our grandmothers knew instinctively were immodest – even our grandmas who didn’t cover their hair or elbows and wore skirts that almost got to the knee but didn’t quite cover them would NEVER have shown up to marry off a child in form-fitting knit dress that shows off every curve and has sleeves as tight as a second skin. The new stupid rules have the effect of making tznius something illogical and extreme, so the result is, people just ignore the whole concept.

    Finally, when frum Jews ride subways, go online, and go to work, they interact with the opposite sex and see their pictures and have conversations about religion and what’s silly about their communities…why make the non-Jewish world seem normal by making the religious world seem so crazy? And I’m not even getting into kids off the derech or how many potential BTs are turned off by these crazy new rules.

    May we be zoche to always be normal and tolerant!



    • met says:

      Wow Faigy! I cannot believe how horrible that is, to have a kiddush for men only! I have never heard of such a thing. Where do you live that people allow this atrocity to happen?
      Dif you know that not only is the men’s section at the Kotel bigger in the open area, but that they also have a coveted area all to themselves under the arch, where women are forbidden even if there are signs that say they’re allowed during minyan times? Did you know women not only have a much smaller section, but also that the small room for them to take shelter barely fits 15 women if they squish? Do you know why that is? It’s because the Kotel sections were made by a man, the Kotel rabbi. Did you know that the current Kotel rabbi said that the reason they can’t make the women’s section bigger is because the men’s section will be smaller, and the specs of the men’s section has an elevated kedusha that can’t be lowered in kedusha to the women’s section? Yup, you heard that right: he said the women’s section has less kedusha than the men’s.
      Our religion doesn’t believe women are holier than men; that’s not written anywhere. There’s no source for it. It’s just something we are taught.

  33. Meir B says:

    No good deed goes unpunished.

    If articles that actually challenge societal norms (subtly, whimsically) merely result in sound and fury that the article was inadequate or prevaricated, what do you think the likelihood is that Mishpacha will allow further or more trenchant challenges to be printed?

    If your response is that Mishpacha and it’s writers as irredeemably closed-minded anyways, then you’re using a different paint, but the same broad brush that you accuse them of using.

  34. Ruchi Koval says:

    For years I chafed at these issues silently, even vocally defending them as I thought a good girl should. I am bolstered and reinvigorated as a Jewish woman to hear that my instinctual recoiling to plain old lack of Derech Eretz is on point. Thank you Alex, and all the articulate voices above, and mostly Rabbi Adlerstein, for being upstanders.

  35. Charna says:

    I am so happy to see and hear that other women are stepping up to the plate and addressing this! As a a from 27 year old woman I choose to Daven at one shul in brooklyn that opens the mechitza during the rabbis speech rather than being made to feel left out. I appreciate other women coming together and discussing this and it would be so nice to see further improvements in our shuls! Thanks ladies

  36. Rikki says:

    As I don’t have facebook (or any other social media), I am posting a response to Mr. Besser here. I am a frum, Chareidi woman. Educated in typical Bais Yaakov’s, I am proud of my role as a frum woman. I love Yiddishkiet, and love to reach out to non frum girls and women and expose them to their treasure.

    I think it is unfair of you to assume that all of us women are okay with our situations behind mechitza’s. Do you think we like pushing to get spots? Do you think we like going to shul’s where we can barely here the davening? Do you think I enjoyed going to a shiur recently with a famous speaker, where the women were unable to hear him, and we all just had to sit there straining to hear him for almost an hour? What makes you assume that we aren’t inwardly feeling frustrated sometimes? This is no way takes away from us appreciating our special role. It is an understanding that there is room in Judaism to listen to the silent needs of women without breaking apart all of our beautiful hashkafos. Look at Sarah Schneirer. There is a system in place. And it is beautiful. Listening to our voices does not have to be viewed as a threat to that system. We love our Chareidi hashkafos. But if you want to know what is going on in our hearts, then please listen to us.


    Much as it has been acknowledged that Chareidi America is not the same as Chareidi Israel, I would offer the notion that Chareidi “in town” (NY/NJ) is not the same as Chareidi “out of town” (the rest of the country). The conduct of frum society outside the environs of the Brooklyn-Monsey-Lakewood axis is considerably more mindful of the fact that one size does not fit all.

    When my daughter graduated from the out-of-town Bais Yaakov she had attended – the one where virtually all the graduates went on to seminary in Israel, most to a recognized Chareidi one – I and the other fathers were most certainly in attendance during the entire event, seated separately of course. Likewise, it is common at most kiddushin in our frum shuls and kollels to see identical arrangements of refreshments and seating on both sides of the mechitzah.

    I could enumerate any number of social circumstances where the degree of gender distinction and relegation is much less profound – if present – than the ones identified here. Of course, there are also out-of-town communities and institutions where they mimic the in-town excesses. I’ve wondered what the critical number of frum families is necessary before a community loses its unique identity and begins to take on the NY/NJ attitudes. But that is not the rule; being Chareidi does not automatically translate to social behavior that lowers respect and consideration for women.

    Perhaps one solution to the dilemma posed here would be to “look to the west” and see the beauty and possibility of living well away from the proclaimed center of Jewish life (no, I am not being satirical). At the very least a distinction ought to be made between behavior that results from adherence to Chareidi values versus those that are driven by some shifting community standard of what is currently unacceptable because people say so. The former can be respected; the latter not so much.

    • lacosta says:

      maybe people ‘out-of-town’ would rather keep the ‘Axis’ jews away , so that the Axis rigid enforced hyperconservative social mores don’t infect the hinterland communities….

    • Steve Brizel says:

      You can even live within a wonderful Makom Torah in Queens and still BH be considered living out of town because you don’t live in Brooklyn!

  38. Esther says:

    Could not agree with this more. There’s a vast difference between “Judaism makes women 2nd class and I want to change it” and “Orthodox norms that have nothing to do with halacha make women 2nd class, and I want to change that”. Wanting there to be adequate food and grape juice on the women’s side of a kiddush isn’t at all the same thing as wanting to lead davening, and pretending it is is an insult to our intelligence. Plus, there are places where women who want to lead davening can do that. If we’re not there, it’s because we don’t want to be.

  39. Yosef says:

    I am surprised no posts have questioned the school itself for not allowing the fathers to see their daughters get their diploma even when they are finally allowed in. This is unacceptable from a Torah weltanschauung. When has insensitivity become permissible in our communities? If I want to be machmir more than the Torah and precedent require, I can’t do it at the cost of hurting others’ feelings.  Derachecha darchei noam….

    • Sarah says:

      Deracheha darchei noam… that’s the elusive piece for which we women have been searching for years.  Interesting that you use it now to question why fathers are relegated to the back during a BY graduation, yet this is not referenced when women are denied access, opportunity, and voice across vast swaths of lived Torah Judaism.  When has insensitivity become permissible in our communities?  Towards women it has been the norm for years (in select communities of course).

      Why no posts have questioned the school for not allowing fathers to watch graduation? Why, because it’s par for the course in our world.  Being relegated to the back, poor visibility and audio access are mere drops in the pool of grievences we have.  We have long felt that these are “unacceptable from a Torah weltanschauung”, but if we dare vocalize those feelings we are labeled “shrill feminists”.  That being machmir more than Torah requires not come at the cost of pain to others is not a sentiment often extended towards women.  And THAT’s what this discussion is about.

  40. Yossi says:

    I’m so torn about this one. On one hand, as the father of many daughters, many of the points mentioned here bother me as well. On the other hand, Yisrael Besser is right that it isn’t necessarily because there is something wrong with the “system” or the “men”. Much of this is cultural, and it isn’t necessarily the men’s fault.

    Everyone is blaming Yisrael Besser as if HE is the one oppressing women, or as if men in general are. Much of our yeshiva society is holdovers from a past time that is slow to change. I can guarantee you that in most shuls, and in most schools, if enough mothers start speaking up, it will change. Start showing up in shul, the next time they make an expansion in shul, there will be more room. Tell them you want to hear better at the drashos, and they’ll get speakers. I have no doubt that much of it can be changed rather easily- not all, but I don’t think there are forces against the grape juice, visibility at drashos, etc. Much of this probably comes because women used to not come.

    And it’s funny- some of the most vocal here are accomplished Orthodox women who are authors, kiruv rebbetzins, national speakers who are brought in by kiruv organizations that are headed by yeshivishe men to speak to their men and women. You’ll see these same women have close working relationships with their husband’s rebbeim to guide them and advise them in their klal work. Yet their still complaining. If you want to change it, just go change it. In most cases, no one is stopping you. You tell the Rov of the shul or the board, and it will change.

    As for pictures in publications, that I don’t think you’ll change, but that’s changing as well. Matzav has started posting lots of pictures and Touro has lots of ads on with females that aren’t grandmothers, Benny Friedman has women in his music video, Ami magazine has a few women in their Jbiz video- so slowly slowly, the internet will do what print media isn’t willing to do. And considering that women today DON’T dress the way their grandmothers did, I don’t think it’s always a bad thing that some of their pictures are left out. Sure, we don’t have to pixelate a 14 year old or women in general, because that’s gross, but maybe women have to be a little more honest about their level of tzniyus as well.


  41. Risa says:

    Our girls are educated very young about their sacred pedestal.  In my not so in-town community, a recent ad in a local magazine touted a learning program open to “all children of the community.”  Apparently my daughters are not children of the community because this program was for boys only.  Sensitivity training AND girls extra learning programs are needed here.

    In my opinion Rabbi Besser’s concluding remarks in the article and his social media response missed the mark.  Nevertheless I have hakaras hatov to him for (inadvertantly??) opening this can of worms and prompting so many voices to emerge.

  42. Mrs. Smh says:

    The mishpacha article brought to mind the story of the ger who went to Hillel hazaken and asked to learn the Torah on one foot.

    Hillel told him:

    – דעלך סני – לחברך לא תעביד, זו היא כל התורה כולה

    That Which is hateful to you don’t do to a friend, this is the whole torah.

    That is a noncontrovertial message that does not condemn a whole society and is a mussar all men and women of all factions could have drawn from this article. when faced with new found empathy for others, we don’t need to shift our focus to what our friends should or should not do.

    Men would try not to treat women in a way that bothers themselves and women would not expect men to save them and would advocate for their needs (ie take ownership of bringing grape juice for all the women at the kiddush just as men do for their side of the mechitza or offer to arrange stereo equipment at speeches) so it would not take a once in a lifetime graduation for men to become aware of our frustration and resentment.



  43. I suspect that much of the hesitation to publishing women’s pictures are due to the sheitel and women’s fashion ads (that didn’t break halacha but was certainly not in the spirit of halacha) that were common 25 years ago and are still in some weekly publications today.

  44. Alexandra Fleksher says:

    I am happy to share Sruly Besser’s most recent Facebook post here:
    Sruli Besser
    Another interesting week winds down.
    I didn’t have the time to follow all the threads, sub-threads and other links sent to me regarding the original article and follow up posts, but I think I got a clear picture.
    Several people, some public, some private, have asked me for a follow-up statement- for half, it meant you better apologize, for the other half, it meant you’d better double down and not give an inch.
    I’ll try a mixture.
    First of all, some things I’ve learned. I have a pretty thick skin and certainly accept than when I write something in public, then everyone has the right to disagree, analyze, or argue. If you put it out there, you gotta be prepared to take the heat.
    But it gets hard to differentiate between intelligent, coherent disagreement and bitter, vitriolic hate. I know that Im not the reason everyone’s off the derech, as a commenter asserted with tremendous certainty. (Im pretty certain that the good years of my life I gave to teach high school boys full time for very little in salary, when the salary came at all, actually kept people on the derech. Many of those students are still close friends of mine and we learn and speak frequently, so I can’t single-handedly be responsible for tragic OTD phenomenon.)
    I also know that the commenters who took the time to find memes or pictures showing my little brain and small head are wrong. I have a weirdly huge head, the type that the hat store guy has to go look in the back for my size.
    Regarding the article thing about woman and breast cancer, thats a sobering statistic. Of course it has nothing to do with what I wrote.
    Id also like to make a point. We’ve been doing our thing now for several years, always trying to be honest and real and focus inward on what needs to be done. I was personally the first charedi journalist to interview Dr David Pelcovitz about abuse in our community and Mishpacha, to its credit, put it on the cover- ten years ago! We were banned then by several stores and over the years, there have been other reasons. We were too pro-parnassa, back before everyone copied us, but we never backed down from the fact that a productive Jewish community needs breadwinners and if writing about businesses and jobs normalizes that, well, thats great. We knew our mandate.
    But when readers reward our willingness to try something with anger that we didnt do more, it works against the cause itself. Example. Everyone knows we tried something earlier this year in regard to pictures of women. It was a toe in the water, working with our rabbanim and editorial team.
    When the response is, ‘Now that you did it go all the way or well boycott you,’ you just hurt your own cause. Respect, sechel, and calm, rational presentations always work and engender the same. Anger and boycotts and threat are as effective as a punching bag. They make you feel better for a bit, but nothing changes.
    So lets get down to business. I personally expected negative backlash to my piece. I tried something new, describing the ‘omg this is what my wife always feels like’, sure that the criticism would come from the right.
    Then, my takeaway, ‘Wow, pretty amazing that my wife handles it with a smile and is fine with it,’ is exactly what I really thought. Yes, for real. I can only base a very personal column on my personal experiences. She, BH, truly feels blessed in her role as mother and wife and the very real pillar of our home and lives in a very un-corny way.
    But heres a very real, very sincere apology. I honestly didnt realize how much resentment there is on part of Shulchan Oruch women regarding their treatment. If you write for a public, you have to ‘get’ them and this was a surprise to me. I feel bad if the tone was patronizing, and am truly sorry that I was flippant about a topic that is hurtful to so many. I am more in awe than ever of the kiruv rabbis and rebbetzins in the trenches dealing with that confusion every day.
    Of course, it goes without saying that nowhere in Shulchan Oruch does it say women shouldnt have air conditioning. It says the opposite, that a wife should be honored by her husband, more than her husband. Women should be able to hear and see and be comfortable in shul. Most new charedi shuls, like my own, include women in the programming- they have a role and place and schedules and events are planned with them in mind, very often for them. In our shul, there is a special Kiddush and shiur for women by the rov every second Shabbos and the ezras nashim is as attractive and as spacious as the mens. (I must say, I was surprised by the commenters who said the food at kiddush is worse on their side- Ive never seen that. In fact, Ive often sent my children to pilfer pastries for me from the other side.
    The topic is real and its just starting to be addressed. Were happy to have played a role in it. Youre welcome for putting it out there.
    And I close with this- causing pain to another is never okay and I genuinely apologize to those hurt by my words, but please consider this: when you unleash attacks on those who are actually trying to discuss things rationally (and have a proven track record of being effective. Check the archives of Mishpacha Magazine covers over last ten years and see how many cover stories have spilled over into our world), you make yourself weaker, not stronger.
    Unless anger is your end-game, just to stew and forward another nasty comment and say, ‘Look at this great comment, we got him now..’ Then youre a big winner.
    I thank the magazine and its editors for allowing me space to reflect, I thank them for backing me this whole week and never urging me to either apologize or double down. I thank my rabbeim who always have time to set me straight and clarify things for me. I thank every reader and commenter and those who sent private messages and texts for caring.
    Thanks for listening.

    • Chana Siegel says:

      That’s pretty impressive. A lot more thoughtful and well- spoken than his rather flip first FB comment. I do think most religious men are decent and try to let that decency and consideration temper their dealings with the woman in their lives. I also think that most religious women try not to assume the worst of the religious establishment. Clarification is always useful and the wise person (and community) loves mussar and truth.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      This comment is directed to Mr. Besser. See my prior comments re Mishpacha being a far better read than its competitors. Many of us read Mishpacha because the secular Jewish media has a distinctly anti Torah perspective and promotes OO and Chabad and has positive to say about either the OU, YU or the yeshiva and chasidic worlds. A case in point would be the promotion of a feminist freak show at Columbia and the absence of any coverage on he OU’s day of learning at Citifield. A number of years ago, we as a family decided that we could and would no longer read the JW which now has become a publicity flack for OO and YCT like and their views.

      Our family conducted a try out of a number of Charedi publications and went with Mishpacha and the Yated-which has the best letters into what bothers many in the Charedi world, a wonderful Chinuch Roundtable, good advice from shadchanim and the best of the NYT and W Post without the awful rest of the NYT. On occsasion, the Yated will mention RY of RIETS with their titles photos and full respect-which is more than one can say about the JW’s treatment of RIETS RY.

      Back to Mishpacha-The special edition on the Six Day War was excellent. I should note that Mishpacha had an interview with RHS and has excellent columnists in R Gyrlack, R Y Rosneblum and R E Kobre. I fully agrre with Ms. Flecksher and share her her views 100% on the absence of pictures of women in the magazine. Look at it this way-we are talking about Mishpacha, not the junk and trash that the mainstream media markets for women for women or presents women in a Pritzusdik manner.

      I do have have one question-why a new serial that gives the distinct impression of legitimizing the “Burka women” phenomenon, which one cannot call a chumra balma or extrreme midas chasidus rooted anywhere in Chazal and Poskim?

  45. Sara W says:

    What I appreciate about this conversation is that women are taking pains to clarify that their grievances with aspects of their treatment are in no way attacks on the larger system to which they belong with great joy and pride. This is what Rabbi Besser’s facebook reply seems to miss, when he says, “If you want a dark underside and hidden agenda to rock the chareidi boat and a secret ally in your battle to save us from ourselves, I’m not your guy…” One can hope for change and improvement without having a hidden, or not-so-hidden, agenda–right?
    In general, this is a problem in our frum community. We are all so careful making sure our comments toe the party line that we can’t be authentic and we can’t criticize aspects of our society without looking over our shoulders to make sure we still fit properly into the camp. Read the frum publications today, and you will find real-life interviewees as well as fictional characters qualifying their every move by assuring the reader that this action was taken, or this thought was thought, only after consultation with da’as Torah (and, when appropriate, mental health professionals). I’m all for da’as Torah–but is it not frum to occasionally have an opinion about something, even a negative one?

    • tzippi says:

      “:What I appreciate about this conversation is that women are taking pains to clarify that their grievances with aspects of their treatment are in no way attacks on the larger system to which they belong with great joy and pride. ”

      Not everyone.
      There’s a lot of conversation going on out there, and actually, this has released an incredible amount of resentment and bitterness about the larger system. There is little joy and pride that these women seem to be able to access.

      I’m not sure where it will all end up.

  46. David Z says:

    I just read Besser’s apology and all I can say is it doesn’t even seem like the same person who wrote the stuff quoted by Ms. Fleksher. The apology was rational calm and all the things he says we’re attacking. But his… previous statement wasn’t. And I actually had no idea I was attacking “Mishpacha” as a publication which is sometimes fun to read. I was attacking Besser the man, not the entire publication kh”v. Anyway I hope he internalizes the apology and never talks/thinks about women that way again.

  47. Yossi says:

    I think his latest comment that Mrs. Fleksher shared really summed it up. He’s a pretty great, normal, engaging guy and he admitted he really didn’t understand, and apologized while being firm at the same time. Kudos to him; I have even more respect for him than I did before. I hope it is indeed good enough for everyone.

  48. Faigy Rothman says:

    I am glad that Rabbi Besser learned something from this experience. His followup made that simple point: his wife was happy with disrespectful treatment – or despite it – so he assumed all women are genuinely forgiving and if they notice being treated poorly, they are fine with it.
    Now he’s learned that many religious women – yes, the ones in his shuls and schools and neighborhoods, not the “modern” or “feminist” women – are angry and turned off by the many experiences where they are treated a second class citizens. It’s a bit defensive to prattle on about how some shuls have air conditioning and comfortable space for women – nobody said every shul has this issue – the point is, it’s not an exception, but rather, is widespread, and I hope Rabbi Besser learned that too.

    His point about whether it is a good idea to attack Mishpacha Magazine was lost on me. People can boycott or refuse to buy a magazine if they want to, and if the magazine won’t publish pictures of women, women shouldn’t be buying it. By buying it, they send their daughters a simple message: you don’t count. No matter what you wear, you won’t be tzanua. If people want to try to change Mishpacha magazine, let them – this is a democracy. Call, write, post, don’t buy – why not?

    Finally, I find it deeply offensive that commenters here said Mishpacha magazine can’t publish women’s pictures because they are not tzanua. When Rebbetzin Kanievsky died, they didn’t publish her picture, and she was pretty darn modest. They don’t even publish pictures in the women’s magazines. Lavish hotels, European children’s clothes – those are splashed all over Mishpacha – not exactly promoting a modest lifestyle.

    • Yossi says:


      What do you mean that you find it deeply offensive that people said that they don’t publish pictures because they aren’t modest? Why would you find that offensive? Disagree, think it’s wrong, but find it personally offensive? When you take offense to an opinion that isn’t about you, you are personalizing it in a way that makes it hard for others to disagree with your opinion without being called insensitive. After a woman calls it offensive, a sensitive male has almost no way to disagree without being called a chauvinist, and you run the risk of falling into what many males would write off as what they see as a stereotypical overly sensitive female who emotionalizes every argument.

      On a separate note, of course it’s silly to say that not printing Rebbetzin Kanievsky has nothing to do with tznius. But let’s call a spade a spade. The mode of dress in the frum community in the tri state area, including in many families where the husband is an insulated, “eidel” kollel guy, is not tznius. Many men are less worried about the billboards that they may pass than going to a frum family Simcha.

      So maybe reserve your offense for these women who dress in a way that doesn’t represent what your values and ideals are. But the conversation till now has made it as if our world is much more tznius than it is. It may not even be so relevant to this conversation because they can pick what they publish, but it must be stated.

      • Alexandra Fleksher says:

        I wholeheartedly agree that many women today look quite different than Rebbetzin Kanievsky, or the published women in The Jewish Observer 20 years ago. But we believe that just as Mishpacha is selective in article content, they can be selective in the types of pictures printed of women and girls. (I’m sure the decision will be made that the women would NOT be be permitted to wear the sheitels in the photograph that the magazine itself advertises.)
        Secondly, it is interesting how Mishpacha hasn’t avoided publishing controversial articles about OTD, abuse, drug addiction, etc. They have certainly received flak from offended readers. Lets get some rabbonim on board to make an official statement that pictures of modestly dressed women are permissible for publication. Can this issue just be yet another thing that some find controversial, and we can be confident and ok about it?
        The million dollar question is will they lose more readership and advertisers due to pics of women or articles on abuse?
        And hence we have our biggest concern: is this really all about the money?

      • Shira says:

        I’m not sure exactly when omitting pictures of women started but I’ve heard the reasoning “It’s too hard to draw the line and be selective about what’s tzanuah.”
        The measure of omitting all women is extremely drastic- why not omit all pictures of people, men and women, if it had to come to this?

    • Bob Miller says:

      Does the average reader relate at all to the upscale lifestyle in the ads? Maybe the not so rich and famous are numerous enough to warrant their own, more down to earth type of magazine that deals with their main concerns. As a group, we tend to promote modesty in too narrow a sense. Perhaps we’re now so well-loved and respected in America that extravagance among us doesn’t provoke our neighbors. Perhaps not.

    • dr. bill says:

      in the not too distant elegant past, black hats were worn by the rabbinic elite. R’ Chaim Brisker ztl eschewed one because of what it implied. I have been told that in Lakewood, no bachur would exhibit such chutzpa in the late 40’s/early 50’s. pictures of various famous yeshivot in pre-war europe seem to support the role of black. In volozhin only one bachur, you can guess who, was allowed by the Netziv ztl to wear tefillin all day.

      hats are now de rigeur for every post bar mitzvah urchin; maybe tefillin all will soon follow. i understand lavish hotels and clothing; wealthy jews – and by all standards we are an affluent society – often lived and dressed the part. i find children in hats and tight fitting clothes by either sex, regardless of what is covered, much more worthy of note. the two phenomena show an unhealthy attitude towards modernity.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Wearing a hat today is a sign of group identity much more so than a kiyum in wearing proper attire for davening or special clothing on special days which are both halachos mentioned in the Talmud and Poskim.
        The Chinuch may offer an additional rationale in his famous comment that Acharei hapeulos nimshach halevavos.

      • dr. bill says:

        as we both know the halakhot of modesty and head covering have dictated traditional practice for many millennia and centuries , respectively. my point was our practice of these halakhot is strongly impacted by rather inconsistent reaction to modernity. at times, we seek to separate ourselves – black hats being a rather harmless one, education a rather harmful one. at other times, it attracts us – figure accentuating clothing a rather negative one, participitation in advancing our Adam I personality a rather positive one.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        RHS has commented for those who work in the secular world it is advisablevand commendable to take on hidurim.and chumros that each of can handle just so that our Avodas HaShem and commitment to the life of what RYBS called Adam II remains unimpacted by the values of the secular world.

      • dr. bill says:

        i must assume you misunderstood RHS. anyone who was privileged to spend any amount of time be’mechitzoso of the the Rav ztl or RAL ztl can attest to the influence Kierkegaard or James and Milton or Lewis had on the religious, and i would add even halakhic, personalities of the Rav and RAL respectively. Last i checked the four mentioned and many others were not recognized Baalei ha’Mesorah. in fact i heard RAL refer to “the Screwtape letters” as one of the best works of Mussar produced in the 20th century. the secular world has much to offer even Adam II.

      • Mycroft says:

        I may take your comment that a black hat may represent a sign of identity/ allegiance rather than frum kelt. In my schul there may actually be a slight negative correlation between black hats and shiur/ davening attendance. It is like a flag, thus some schools require 13 year olds to wear black hats. Even stranger IMO saw a 13 year old shaliach zu burn davening with tails over head. Far from a Chaver

      • Steve Brizel says:

        There are definite halachos about proper and formal attire for Tefilah and that one should wear special clothing on Shabbos. Those halachos today are considered. Part and parcel of the attire of an aspiring Ben Torah is to dress in a dignified manner with special attire as opposed to someone who thinks that proper attire for tefilah can be overly casual attire or on Shabbos be the equivalent of a casual day in the office. I always get a kick sociologically of seeing kids at bar mitzvah age head off to sleep away camp with black hats and hockey sticks.

      • dr. bill says:

        Steve, please provide me the seif about BLACK hats, i cannot seem to find it. the Rav ztl, who was very makpid about his bigdei Shabbat, wore some version of a morning coat on shabbat for many years; elegance defined in social/secular terms.

        Mycroft, perhaps in your shul those whose kiyum of kavanah is already covered by a black hat, do not need any further concentration. 🙂

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Yet, the Artscroll published books on Rebbitzen Kanievsky ZL and Rebbitzen Henny Machlis ZL contained numerous pictures of both women.

      • tzippi says:

        Do you see a difference between books and magazines? If the biography will be dedicated to a woman, chances are she will be unimpeachable, and if there were pictures that might not have cut the mustard (WADR to Rebbetzin Machlis, zt”l, I can think of some awkward family photos of myself and siblings, cousins as kids that might not make it) no one will be the wiser if the publishers opted not to use them. Ditto for the women in the lives of male biographees.

        And not that their pictures aren’t on the covers. Which I have no problem with: I cannot imagine that they, or others, would ever have wanted that.

      • Julie K says:

        The biography of Rebbitzen Kanievsky was quite selective in its photos- they show her as a small child, and as an old woman, but not as a young woman, and they show random men coming to see the Rav, but not random women coming to see the Rebbitzen.

  49. Faigy Rothman says:

    Let me clarify. When a magazine says they won’t publish ANY pictures of women, even one of Rebbetzin Kanievsky, because it is not tznius, that’s offensive.
    Yes, there’s a problem with how many religious women dress (see my first comment above, in which I pointed out that I see women in yeshivish circles wearing tight clingy gowns to their children’s weddings) but I happen to think that is a direct RESULT of these crazy picture-banning policies. When women are told they are immodest no matter what they wear, they tend to dismiss the “tznius police” as wackos, and tune out all the messages.
    However, it is offensive to say that ALL women are not tznius, so we ban all their pictures. I know MM argues that some women are modest but some women are not, and they don’t want to have to tell a certain woman “sorry, you can’t wear that in your picture”, so they’d rather ban them all. Well, Hashem gave us brains. We can set up a magazine photo policy that goes something like this: please wear long sleeves, a hair covering, a long skirt, and something loose for your photo” or “pictures of rebbetzins, especially dead ones, are OK” rather than banning them all.

    • Alexandra Fleksher says:

      But they will publish a picture of a woman in a burka! She is tsnius enough for publication. These are the messages we and our children are getting.

      • Julie K says:

        When they did the cover story on the “burka ladies,” the cover photo was a doll in a burka, not even a woman.

      • Shira says:

        True, but had they put a picture of an actual woman in a burka the statement would have been clear- that this is a level of tznius they can condone and publish.

  50. Faigy Rothman says:

    And Yossi…
    Finding something “offensive” is different than feeling personally “offended”. I’m not insulted or crying about this policy – I find it obnoxious and harmful. I think the no pictures of women policy is insulting to women and harmful to young girls in particular because of the message it sends. I also think it is quite a joke to think men will be harmed by seeing pictures of rebbetzins in a WOMEN’s magazine (can’t they simply control themselves and not read it if a pciture of Rebbetzin Kanievsky is going to harm their spirituality?) when they see billboards in Times Square and ride the NYC subways….
    But you can feel free to disagree – many men and women do – without worrying about being labelled “insensitive” (you seem to be the one taking this very personally…) That’s what argument is all about.
    I advise you to try to refute the argument/opinion on its merits, rather than nitpicking a particular word used to express it.

    • Yossi says:

      Thanks for your advice. I will keep it in mind. Your response was pretty thoughtful and eloquent- till the last piece with the advice. If men took women’s advice so well, you’d probably have your desired pictures in the magazines.

  51. Shana says:

    Women feel marginalized in settings they shouldn’t have to. Having a cancer girls face blurred out because she is female, pictures of men in reports of a girls trip, it’s no wonder some of us feel the community leaders at large don’t care about us. How are we supposed to show our young girls they are not inferior to their brothers when women are completely eliminated from print in frum a media? Some fences that our communities are building are not for halacha but it really feels like it’s to keep us out.

    • Shana says:

      Also, what does it mean for my sons who are being told by proxy that their yetzer Hara is so great they cannot be trusted with women and girls tsnius pictures in frum media?

    • Bob Miller says:

      Are brothers supposed to seal themselves off from their own sisters in their own home? If not now, maybe later on this long, strange trip.

  52. lacosta says:

    it was disconcerting to see the only letter published in Mishpacha was one that took the far RW position, that r besser was wrong to even consider these issues….

    • Alexandra Fleksher says:

      Here’s the letter I sent Mishpacha today:
      Dear Editor,

      Regarding the letter you published in response to Yisroel Besser’s piece, “In Her Place”, why did you only publish one letter representing one side of the story? You published both sides openly and fairly when it came to your decision to put a “picture” of Hillary Clinton on the cover of your magazine.

      Alexandra Fleksher

      • Marty Bluke says:

        This week in the magazine they have a separate sections of letters in response to R’ Besser’s column. Most of the letters are in consonnance with the views expressed here.

  53. Yossi says:

    On a related note, made so much more poignant after all these conversations- Mishpacha Magazine had a piece this week about a family that went cross country in an RV. In the picture, you see a dad and probably eight kids- some male and some female. But no mom!

    And it just looks ridiculous! Leave out the whole thing, show one kid, but to have the whole family besides mom?? For a second I thought the story was “How a single father took his family on vacation” till I realized that the mother was alive and well, but not in the picture.

    So it is pretty absurd. But it’s part of our confused modernity that goes hand in hand with our yeshivishness. We’re not sure who we are and what we subscribe to. So we want to be super frum and have the slickest magazine with the most cutting edge stories. It just doesn’t seem to work. It works fine in the MO world- see the very unprovocative and not immodest Jewish Action. It’s not gluttonous, it’s not ultra luxury, and totally beseder. The Yeshiva world can learn from them.

    • lacosta says:

      for what it’s worth, chabad has never deleted the femme fatale from any of their publications. maybe their early and widespread exposure to real world jews is somehow immunoprotective…. the million plus haredim seem somehow to be immunodeficient–maybe their stronger Yetzer mandates a ‘bubble boy’ environment…

  54. Faigy Rothman says:

    I assume everyone here saw the ads that people have been circulating on social media….
    Two dads sitting playing dreidel with two sons, all in kipas, one dad with curly payos….looked like an ad for an alternative family!
    An ad for a “Mother’s Group” which showed a dad and a son…was it just me, or did everyone think, Hmmmm, they’re promoting transgenderism?
    Cereal boxes with dads and sons…picture books with Shabbes tables full of single dads…there’s something very sick about a society that erases every image of women, even CARTOON women (surely even if you can’t tell real women what to wear in a photo shoot, you can ask artists to draw women with kerchiefs and loose clothes?).
    The Lubavitcher rebbe insisted that children’s magazines include pictures of girls. Nice to know Mishpacha magazine is holier. They say they can’t have picture sof women because people won’t buy the magazine. Well, nice to know money is more important than Torah values.
    And why on earth would anyone normal buy it? I truly don’t get it. The writing is not that great…so why support something you think is wrong?

  55. Shades of Gray says:

    “It’s not gluttonous, it’s not ultra luxury, and totally beseder. The Yeshiva world can learn from them.”

    It may be because the OU subsidizes the Jewish Action, while Mishpacha needs the luxurious advertisements to pay its costs.

    It would be nice if the MO market could support a weekly magazine, perhaps developing the Jewish Press, or a similar publication to cater to the segment of the Yeshiva world which has different needs than Mishpacha.

  56. Yossi says:

    So I’ll actually agree with Mrs. Rothman on this one- it’s sick. And I saw the picture of the guy playing dreidel with the two chassidshe kids in the ad for that supermarket.

    But I don’t think boycotting is the way to do it. How do we get our point across that we think this is not normal in a way that they’ll hear it? As many people pointed out, many of the Mishpacha readers don’t have an issue with it at all and encounter women in business settings all the time. Who are they afraid of- the few kanoim that make a lot of noise? They’re scary indeed, but wouldn’t it just blow over?

    Many of my ultra yeshivish friends dot read Mishpacha at all, and their wives would have no problem with having women in the magazine.

    And besides the wig ads, the Jewish Press ads were fine.

    Interestingly though, there is a local frum paper that has rabbonim writing in it but caters to a diverse crowd of yeshivish and MO and many of their ads are NOT ok- and I’ve been pretty surprised because no one says boo.

  57. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Bill there is no explicit requirement for a black hat in SA. Yet one cannot deny that the Talmud and Poskim state that one must wear clothing that is dignified for tefilah as opposed to walking into shul in what we would both classify as casual attire.

    • dr. bill says:

      i wonder if a charles tyrwhitt short sleeve sport shirt and nordstom’s chinos are a more appropriate kiyum of dignified clothing than a tee-shirt, dirty jacket and misshapen black hat. if i had a thousand dollars for everyone matching the latter description today, i think i would do quite well. afaik, proper dress is often defined by societal norms.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Most men who wear hats do not wear misshapen hats. That description fits chabadnik s whose hats look like a truck ran over them.I have never seen anyone combine the obviously sarorially challenged combo of a t shirt and a dirty jiacket but I have seen gym pants and sweatshirts and shoes without socks.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        That is akin to rationalizing tax evasion because others do it. Proper dress for regular means more than dressing forr a barbeque or a workout at a gym and definitely not what us viewed as fashionable by the secular world.

  58. Steve Brizel says:

    RHS’s comments re the need for those of us who work in the secular world to take on chumros can be found at Torahwb @ at Parshas Vayishlach. As far as RYBS and RAL referring to the effect that Kierkegaard or James and Milton or Lewis had on the religious, that is all well and true in terms of their hashkafic writings. Yet, one can argue that today, as opposed to the 1950s and 1960s, there is as equal a need to focus on adherence to basic halacha Lmaaseh which for many within MO may sound like chumros.

    • dr. bill says:

      The Rav ztl died years ago. But RAL ztl spoke of Milton and the Screwtape letters in the last decade of his life.
      i personally heard the former with respect to HALAKHA not just hashkafa; the latter occurred when a Gushie was looking through my Sifrei Kodesh and found the Screwtape letters. he asked to borrow it remembering RAL mentioning it in one of his sichot.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        The fact that RAL ZL spoke of Milton and the Screwtape letters cannot be denied, but for those of us who neither were talmidim of RAL ZL either in RIETS or Gush does not render us spiritually deficient in any way shape or form. In 2017, there is as equal a need to focus on adherence to basic halacha Lmaaseh which for many within MO may sound like chumros.

      • dr. bill says:

        a number of practices are chumrot. sadly, when that is not recognized, knowing how to act bemakom tzorech is negatively impacted. in addition, the inability to precisely delineate a d’oraysah, something machmirim extend based on isolated and/or discredited opinions, leads to excessive/unnecessary chumrot. that on occasion causes violations in other areas

        imho, reading the screwtape letters will enhance anyone’s religious persona and even halakhic performance. read it and you might be surprised.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Many so called “chumros” are mail at had in. We have many “chumros” in many areas of halacha that have been accepted for thousands of years. A small list would include how we observe Chanukah and Yom.Tov Sheni. Knowing the difference between lchtachilah and believed is essential but so is not turning the bdieved into a lchtachilah as a matter of course. Denial of that fact won’t be cured by a dose of CS Lewis or Milton79th

      • Steve Brizel says:

        My point was with respect to basic bread and butter halachos not hidurim or chumros which are viewed as showing ones Ahavas HaShem by going beyond the minimum.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Could you set forth which practices you view as chumros and which Dinei Torah are not properly delineated and which chumps cause violations in other areas of halacha?

      • dr. bill says:

        steve brizel, let me dispense with latter first for reasons of brevity. telling women precise lengths of various clothing as opposed to the intent of the halakhot of tznius leads to skin-tight clothing that is not uncommon to promote what one could very loosely call a menuval or menuvelet be’reshut hatorah.

        now for chumrot – excessive emphasis on limmud hatorah leads to violation in the requirement to teach a child a profession. excessive emphasis on kashrut chumrot causes less attention/resources to more critical areas like education. chumrot in deot causing the wisdom of the torah to be mocked. one i recently witnessed – chumrot in a kevurah causing an elderly avel unnecessary physical discomfort. excessive/exaggerated beliefs in daas torah causes a decline in proper emunat chachamim. non-traditional (gargantuan) shiurim cause some to entirely skip the kiyyum ha’mitzvah. chumrot in hilchot shabbos/YT cause less than complete simchat YT and Oneg shabbat. chumrot in hilchot gerushin creates unnecessary agunot. “chadash asur min hatorah” contributing to opposition to techelet. and dozens of more limited/specific examples. i could go on for hours.

    • Mycroft says:

      One can also argue that without emphasis on yiras shamayim nothing means anything. “RAK ein yiras Ellokim bamakom hazeh” might be as big a problem as not knowing specific halachot. I doubt that most Averos are done because lack of knowledge, most are done because lack of concern. Certainly some Halacha lemaaseh is complicated eg hilchos borrer, but I believe most violations are because of lack f yiras shamayim or lack of belief of lifnei mi attah aYid lattes din vcheshbon.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        My point was with respect to adherence to bread and butter halacha, not halachos like Borrer. WADR, Yiras Shamayim does not mean that we all have to \have a working knowledge in Milton or CS Lewis.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        See my previous reference to the words of the Sefer HaChinuch who emphasizes that one’s actions influence one’s heart and thereby increase Yiras Shamayim. If you don’t think that the lack of adherence to bread and butter halacha in all sectors is an issue, there is plenty of sociological and anecdotal evidence on the ground supporting such a conclusion.

  59. Steve Brizel says:

    RHS wrote as follows:

    “A man like Yaakov who is very involved in the outside world, establishing shopping malls, etc., has to accept upon himself additional chumras and harchakos to prevent himself from being swallowed up by the secular society around him. One who sits in the beis hamedrash all day long, or who lives in Bnei Brak or Meah Shearim doesn’t really need all such extra chumras or harchakos; he’s no where near the secular world”

  60. MK says:

    I think there is an important point that has not been made. Women watching “Hakafos through slits in the mechitza” is not only inconsiderate but is also an affront to our mesorah.
    This is not ancient history. I and thousands of others remember the incredibly uplifting Hakafos in Chaim Berlin, in the presence of the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Hutner ZTL. And the women were right there on the side, with no mechitza! That included, of course, Rebbitzen David and Rebbitzen Shechter!
    One of Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky’s closest talmidim told me that in Torah V’daas, likewise, there was no mechitza for Hakafos. One year, there was a “very frum” guest who protested to Rav Yaakov ZTL. Rav Yaakov responded, “It is the minhag in Klall Yisroel for the women to be at Hakafos without a mechitza!”

    • Alexandra Fleksher says:

      Wow! And I was just told by a graduate of Yavne seminary about 15 years ago that she and her classmates spoke and delivered divrei Torah in front of all the rabbonim (most from Telshe!) who attended the graduation. I assure you they weren’t behind a row of bushes. Don’t know if this is the practice today. She remembers a male guest in attendance stood up and walked out of the room when a graduate started speaking. One of the big rebbetzins tsked tsked! This is mesorah! Let’s keep sharing these stories. It’s quite therapeutic.

      • Sarah says:

        As a proud graduate of both Yavne High School and Yavne Seminary I can tell you that the Yavne Seminary graduations (dinners to accommodate out of town parents) had separate seating (mostly) with no mechitzah.
        Rebbitzen Ausband spoke (in Hebrew) and the Roshei HaYeshiva were always seated at the head table.
        ALL graduates often spoke – it was a small school –
        Over the years I continued to attend the graduations as a sign of respect to both ‘Morah’ – Rebbitzen Ausband and in recognition of her leadership.
        In the past few years that all changed.

    • Rafael Quinoaface says:

      In a yeshivishe minyan I attend on ST, the mechitzah is always removed for hakafos and the women are seated together, right there to watch the hakafos.

      • dr. bill says:

        OMG, next you know they will want to dance with a Torah, heaven forbid!!!

      • Rafael Quinoaface says:

        I am not sure why you read my comment as a criticism, because it wasn’t. My comment was an observation to show that there are yeshivishe minyanim that remove the mechitzos for hakafos and I am just fine with that.

  61. Dr. E says:

    While I am neither Chareidi nor a woman, I agree with the CC commenters who fit that bill and have appropriately leveled sharp criticism against Mishpacha. I do chuckle at some of the conjecture over whether their “no females” policy is because of Tzniyus, marketing, or a sell-out to the Chassidim (non-Chabad at least).. At the end of the day, who cares? The magazine came up with this ill-advised “policy” based on making up their own ground rules. (They tested the waters with the notorious “Hilary photo”, and definitely got their answer moving forward.) Throw a Rabbinic Advisory Board and Daas Torah into the mix and who are we to argue? One can quibble whether Mishpacha is the chicken and every Yeshiva’s Dinner ad is the egg, or vice versa,. But, either way, the Yeshivish world is where it is and theire’s no turning back. Any deviation from this trend at this point would be viewed as a regression in Kedusha.

    I don’t envision any effective boycott of Mishpacha happening. [Personally I don’t subscribe or buy the magazine, so I’m already doing my part. I read it somewhat for entertainment value and to learn about a different culture–laughing and crying, at same Letters to the Editor.] After all, to be consistent, the boycott would have to also include many of the same institutions that educate the children of the dissenting commenters here, for the very same reason.

    All of this does not mitigate the harmful messages that this development has been sending to young nd not-so-young women. Let’s take a real scenario. A 21 year old bochur (without a Plan) is now “in shidduchim”. As part of the set of dossiers that his mother is collecting for him, he asks for a “visual” to go with the Shidduch resume. For the uninitiated, that is merely code for a photo of the girl. He is looking for a young woman with looks, and a Masters degree who will work full-time to financially support him, yet be on-call to have lunch and dinner ready for him during Bein Hasedorim. So, she is good for the income she generates outside the home, yet her image can somehow never been seen within the community because of “Kol Kevuda”. She must continue living this way and dare not ever utter the blasphemous words “Moishie, you’re 33; maybe it’s time to get a job”. I guess many 20 year old girls will take that deal in an instant. But, many will see through this hypocrisy beforehand and take their chances down another more genuine path. Unfortunately, many will not, with some disastrous spiritual results.

  62. Faigy Rothman says:

    Check out Yaffa Ganz’s book (1986) “The Story of Mimmy and Simmy”. The main characters appear to be about 6-8 years old…and they are wearing short socks, short sleeves, and v-neck dresses. I am sure today the author would be advised that no mainstream religious family would buy a book with cartoon pictures showing that much skin…
    But at the same time, we all know that sheitals down to your waist, tight sparkly/neon clothing, killer high heels, etc. are all over our shuls and simchas – and this is all in the black hat crowd.
    So what’s going on? 30 years ago, dressing your Bais Yakov first grader in ankle socks and short sleeves was fine, but the mothers dressed more modestly (and yes, I include in this women who wore non-tight, non-showy, basically modest clothes, even when they weren’t quite covering every bit of knee and elbow.)
    Now you’ve got the little girls in knee socks or tights, with long sleeves…but somehow something’s missing.
    I wonder what we have lost and what we have gained.
    Perhaps we would do better focusing on other issues, like honoring our parents, mourning the dead, judging favorably, loving our neighbor….because the whole tznius thing just doesn’t seem to be working. The more we tell our teenage daughters “denim is bad, long earrings are bad, floor length skirts are bad, long loose hair is bad” the more they tune us out.

    • Alexandra Fleksher says:

      Oh, Faigy Rothman and Dr. E, you leave me with little hope.
      Faigy, spot on analysis of what’s happened to tsnius over the years. It’s just a little crazy.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Hard to believe that no Posek or sefer on Tznius has not addressed the appropriateness of ” sheitals down to your waist, tight sparkly/neon clothing, killer high heels”

      • dr. bill says:

        you should not be surprised; the halakha often leaves precise details to the sensibility of the individual. what is appropriate is that rabbis address people’s distorted view that is at least partially CAUSED by people who try to write (source-less) rules for exactly what you seem to be suggesting.

  63. Faigy Rothman says:

    Steve, that’s my point…many women are tuning out because they naturally seek to be attractive, and they’ve learned that “tznius” is a synonym for “extreme” or “crazy” so they just wear what they want. At the same time, because of the people who control the schools, the standards for little girls have crept more and more to the right…who ever thought a seven year old can’t wear short sleeves? But today it is considered shocking in Bais Yakov circles.

  64. lacosta says:

    quite interesting to see that Mishpacha allowed a selection of letters on the topic , across part of the spectrum. there’s no way to know all the letters they got , and if there really is a core of haredi women that are really agitated by the issue raised-or is just a momentary sigh and go on with the never changing reality….

    • Alexandra Fleksher says:

      Lacosta, I know a group I am involved in representing centrist to yeshivish circles sent in over 100 individual letters. Some of the letters that were published were quite edited, but we are very happy they decided to print more than just one.

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