Whenever my wife and I visit New York, we try and “take in” all the Jewish neighborhoods. Among the places we visit are Boro Park, Monsey, and the Satmar enclave of Williamsburg.
A couple of years ago as I was walking down Williamsburg’s famous shopping district of Lee Street, I recall seeing a sign in one of the stores that had a message written in both Yiddish (Hebrew characters) and English. The English sign said “Closed”. The Yiddish sign said “Offen” – which is Yiddish for “Open”.
I smiled when I saw it. How clever, I thought for this storeowner to avoid “unwanted” customers. But that smile was immediately followed by the realization that not only was he guilty of Geneivas Daas (deception), he may very well have been guilty of ethnic prejudice.
I thought that the store owner wanted to avoid the ethnic minorities that share the wider Williamsburg neighborhood with him. Among the 45,000 Satmar Chasidim that live there are significant numbers of Black and Hispanic people.
But perhaps it was something other than prejudice. Maybe the issue was one of modesty in dress.
A sign was posted recently posted in one of those stores that read in English, “Please… do not enter in immodest clothing (i.e. short sleeves pants…).” This was obviously directed towards women.
That sign has caused quite a controversy. In these hot summer days where people tend to dress as comfortably as they can – modesty by Orthodox Jewish standards goes “out the window.” If one is not Orthodox one would hardly be expected to cover themselves up by Orthodox standards of dress. So when these signs went up, cries of “discrimination” were heard.
This is not discrimination. Requiring that patrons observe a dress code does not discriminate against a class of people. People have a right to require dress codes for their establishment. A restaurant for example is well within their rights to require jackets for their patrons. As long as it is all patrons and not just – say… black patrons. The same thing should be true of dress codes for religious reasons.
I therefore side with the Chasdim on this one.
But still… in the back of my mind is that deceptive sign from a couple of years ago: “Closed” in English – “Open” in Yiddish. Was it prejudice or modesty that motivated them? That there was deception involved makes me wonder what the real motivation is. Is this just a legal way of eliminating unwanted patrons?
But the way the sign reads now, there is certainly nothing wrong with it. Not any more than if I would put up a sign saying that only people wearing underwear on their heads would be allowed in the store.
About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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