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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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Letters To The Editor

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Yitta Halberstam Mandelbaum Responds: I wrote the article with tremendous trembling and trepidation because I didn’t, chas v’shalom, want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and because I knew in advance there would be people who would misread it, miscomprehend it, misconstrue my intent and lash back in anger, as Ms. Ross has done.

I apologize profusely if you or your daughter was inadvertently hurt by my piece, but I promise you, it came from the depths of caring and a genuine desire to help girls in shidduchim, which I have been doing for the past 40 years.

Ms. Ross, if you read the title of the article carefully, you will see that I called it “The Tyranny of Beauty.” This should have immediately alerted you – and anyone else who misconstrued my intention – that I am actually horrified by the priorities of beauty that hold sway in our society. I deliberately shared my own personal story – which was very painful for me to do in such a public venue – about the suffering I endured growing up as a homely teenager.

I also cited the name of my dear mentor, Dr. Jean Jofen, a”h, who was universally beloved and respected by everyone who knew her, as the person who recommended I get a nose job. Jean was renowned for her hachnassas orchim, chesed and a singular, abiding interest in and love for all people – and she felt it was in my best interests to get a nose job. Which it was.

And I related the story of the concerns of the Satmar Rebbe, zt”l, about the appearance of a young girl who could not get married. He provided her with money for both dentures and makeup. If such a gadol could realize the harsh reality that appearance plays a key role in shidduchim, al achas kamah v’kaman those of us who dwell in far lower realms.

A friend of mine begged me to use a pseudonym to protect my identity, fearing I would incur some people’s wrath. But I strongly felt I needed to “come out” in order to give the article more credibility and integrity. Because, as I said in the article, if even one girl can improve her overall appearance and her chance for a shidduch because she read my article, the disapproval that comes my way will surely be worth it.

I have spoken to boys in shidduchim until I was blue in my face about “inner beauty” and “real values” and their own shallowness in seeking good looks in prospective partners. I have begged them to give the girls a chance – just one date.

Believe me, I have been doing this since I was 18, and I have, b”h, made several shidduchim that resulted in marriages. I also worked as a volunteer matchmaker for Saw You At Sinai. But during all my interactions with these men, I saw over and over again (and it broke my heart) that appearance counts with them, some less, some more. So as I much as I dislike – in fact abhor – men’s emphasis on outer surfaces, I feel we all have to face the harsh reality and try to accommodate it.

This was my message, and once again I apologize if I caused you pain when all I was actually trying to do was alleviate unnecessary suffering.

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74 Responses to “Letters To The Editor”

  1. Daniela Weiss-Bronstein says:

    To Ms. Mandelbaum -
    Your mentor telling you to get a nose job is not an excuse to tell others to bankrupt themselves so their daughters can have cosmetic surgery – how I wish I were hyperbolizing! You have lost touch with what Judaism is about. The tyranny of beauty can be summed up with “Can you believe that someone wrote an article in the Jewish Press saying that single women should consider cosmetic surgery?!” Your attitude is precisely the problem, not the solution.

  2. Seek Therapy says:

    Ms. Mandelbaum,

    You state that you suffered as a homely teenager. I am sorry for your suffering. I don’t know you at all, but I have read the article you wrote for Aish about your mother. Just playing pop psychologist here, but based on what you’ve written, I’d venture to say that your misery and lack of self confidence were directly related to your “withholding” mother, who gave you little emotionally. You then go on to describe how things got worse during your adolescence (right when you were really suffering with your nose and frizzy hair) as your mother became increasingly absent from your life.

    My dear Ms. Mandlebaum, I’m sorry you didn’t have the love and care you deserved as a child. The kind of love that would have made you happy to be who you are, no matter what you looked like. I am sorry that your happiness depended on something so silly and so fleeting as a very narrow view of beauty. I hope you have taught your own children better.

    Link to Aish article: http://www.aish.com/f/hp/pa/49499572.html

  3. Shoshanna Goldstein Sanders says:

    "So as I much as I dislike – in fact abhor – men’s emphasis on outer surfaces, I feel we all have to face the harsh reality and try to accommodate it."
    The Jewish Press prints two letters, one negative and one positive, reacting to the Yitta Halberstam article. The author responds and basically says, "I don't like it either but this is reality" and again "I'm just trying to help". I don't think she has done anything here to calm the rage that her article provoked. I'm glad to hear that in her personal life she has tried to convince men to de-emphasize looks, but in this very public forum she seems to have given up the battle altogether. She also doesn't address the very serious question of whether her "helpful" attitude contributes to eating disorders and other mental health problems in the Orthodox community.

  4. Lynn says:

    If that is indeed the reality, that frum men are prioritizing looks, just how do girls without looks find shidduchim? Are those girls willing to overlook the negative physical appearance of some boys? If a girl is repeatedly turned down due to her looks, should she do anything to improve her looks? In that crowd, the few available boys are besieged with girls. Is it realistic to think that a popular boy will choose a girl who is not good looking when he has so many other prospects? Is there anything really wrong with encouraging women to look attractive within the realm of tznius? Plastic surgery is problematic from several medical and halachic standpoints, but there may be circumstances that require a consult with a rav. Is all plastic surgery treif? Should plastic surgery be limited to burn victims, accident victims, and those with birth defects?
    I know that to many, the answer is to educate the boys to prefer less good looking girls but we live in a day and age where the average man sees attractive and untzius Gentile women walking down the street. Are those expectations realistic?
    Anyone care to give answers?

  5. Lynn says:

    L’via, most women who are raising children are somewhat conscious of their own appearance. Kids know that their mothers buy clothing and make-up and may like going to the gym and may be weight conscious. Older boys may take notice of the diet foods in the fridge and see that their sisters, who go to school with other girls are always trading jewelry, shoes, and that they are into all of that. If the family shops in a mall, it may be obvious that general society pays attention to looks. I would be cautious about passing judgment on other mothers who may not be so successful in raising children not to value looks.

  6. L'via Weisinger says:

    And now for the rebuttal we've all been waiting for. A huge sh'koyach to Tova Ross (seems we in Bergen County have our heads on straight), a big shame on you to Leah Silverman (another eligible boy whose fax machine will probably go silent), and Yitta, your response is wholly inadequate. You and your ilk have raised those boys to place a priority on outer beauty – you only have yourselves to blame for the "shidduch crisis". You could have stopped at the make-up and hair and maybe had some sympathy and a fair amount of agreement. But you crossed a huge canyon of a line on so many levels, and then continued to defend it in your "apology". I was really hoping for an "aha moment" from you, a true statement of viduy, charata and azivat ha'chet. Not by a long shot. Shame shame shame. I hope your redemption is in that you are now the korban that will promote action to end the insanity and prevent anyone from ever taking your advice.

  7. ישראלה ישראלית says:

    it's not just the parents, they are as brainwashed as the kids are by secular culture

  8. Lynn says:

    L’via is busy heaping shame on a letter who praised Yitta Mandelbaum for advocating make-up and hair styles. The first letter writer did not mention plastic surgery. That anorexia is a problem, everyone realizes, but overweight is also a problem. Not everyone is attracted to people who are significantly overweight. If they are not attracted, does that make them bad people?

  9. L'via Weisinger says:

    if parents are willing and conscious of it, they can mitigate the damage of the secular culture – if they want to. someone who thinks she would never have gotten married had she not slimmed down, straightened her hair and gotten a nose job is not going to be a role model for accepting people as they are. if parents believe outer beauty is paramount, they will give that vibe to their kids, regardless of outside influences and what they supposedly urge other boys to believe. and those parents should certainly not be allowed to have any say in picking a mate for their kids.

  10. Lynn says:

    Shoshanna, if your son came home from a date and said that he was not attracted to the girl because she was not pretty and asked you to research that aspect of a shidduch a little better in the future, how would you answer him?

  11. Rachel says:

    Ms. Mandelbaum,

    Just as you will never give those wonderful girls second chances, you don’t get chances when you publish such offensive garbage.

    How sad that this one stupid article will make people forever remember you for your arrogance, superficiality, and now self-righteousness in your response. It’s too bad, since you are indeed a talented author and I can’t imagine you wanted to publically to ‘dis’ all the girls you met at the event-who by the way have probably read what you wrote, so I don’t know what you were thinking when you said you didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But don’t delude yourself into thinking that you’re some martyr for the Shidduch Crisis, sharing your personal ugly duckling story so that others will be inspired and then find their shidduch.

    The least you could have done was get off your high horse and admit that you messed up and were insensitive. Instead, you turned it around and said that we all just misunderstood you.

    There are HUNDREDS of comments filled with words of shock and disappointment in you. Wake up lady.

  12. L'via, I just wonder how old your children are. Are you sure that while you are busy shaming people for advocating lipstick, are your sons really agreeable to dating girls who are not putting effort into their appearance? I have often seen that the best moms don't have children of that age yet so they can pass judgement on those moms whose boys want girls who at least try to look nice. I agree that some of our priorities need to change but we can't force our sons to marry girls that they are not attracted to. What is your plan for your sons? If they are young, it might be awhile before you really know if your were successful in raising boys who appreciate the inner person.

  13. Aliza Novogroder Fischman says:

    I see the letters to the editor, but where is Ms. Halberstam's response?

  14. Shoshanna Goldstein Sanders says:

    Let’s just say I would consider it a teachable moment.

  15. Batya White-Novogroder says:

    Lynn, I don't think L'via is "busy shaming people for advocating lipstick" as you put it. I think she is OUTRAGED at a well-respected author for advocating plastic surgery (such as nose jobs & other expensive body enhancement procedures) as a recommendation for impressionable young women in the shidduch parsha. I think she is fearful of how this article will impact on frum girls in our community where eating disorders is already such a HUGE problem. I think she fears that this kind of article will only exacerbate the situation & potentially cause life-threatening problems among shidduch aged girls who are made to feel that they are not pretty, thin or attractive enough to find a mate & therefore must take drastic & dangerous measures in order to make themselves worthy of a guy.

  16. Shoshanna Goldstein Sanders says:

    I think it’s important to care about one’s appearance and to impart that value to our children. But I think that was Ms. Halberstam is talking about is an acceptance of looks as the first and paramount criteria (she calls it “the dealbreaker”)in even considering a first date. And she recommends that families to everything in their power to “enhance” their daughters’ natural looks, up to and including going into debt to afford plastic surgery that will turn their average-looking, normal girls into “swans”. She also says the shadchanim are blameless for this system. I disagree. In the yeshivish world the shadchanim and the parents are the gatekeepers and have coomplete control over who meets whom. They and the parents who tell their sons to hold out for a gorgeous model are perpetuating the system…witness the commenter who offered to set up girls for free as long as they are pretty and slim! And the shadchanit who told a size 6 girl to lose weight to make herself more “marketable” has blood on her hands.

  17. Batya White-Novogroder says:

    Aliza Novogroder Fischman, it says Yitta Halberstam Mandelbaum responds above..

  18. Lynn says:

    Most of my children are Boruch Hashem married and although outer appearance was not the only thing that mattered, it was among the top concerns that each child had. I also always let it be their decision but none of them would have chosen someone with a serious appearance issue. While no one was looking specifically for someone super thin, they would have turned down a noticeably overweight person. L’via, do your children care if the person that they marry is considerably overweight or not? Have you raised them to not view “looks” as important at all or do they have some criteria of what they view as attractive?
    I think that the vast majority of both girls and boys today but considerable value on outer appearance. I don’t think it is fair to pass judgment on those who are concerned about that.

  19. Shoshanna Goldstein Sanders says:

    Lynn, no one can "force our sons to marry girls they are not attracted to", that's against Halacha as well as secular law. But we can and should try to instill our beliefs and values in our kids, and that starts from infancy. Isn't that what parenting is about? Isn't that what chinuch is about? I'm so upset with the commenters who say "I can't tell my sons what to do" or "I don't like it but it's human nature". Have we abdicated all responsibility for trying to inspire our kids to do more than just follow "human nature"?
    Unlike the mothers Ms. Halberstam refers to, we can and should have some shame in asking the shadchan the "dealbreaker" question, "Is she pretty?" When that's the first question to be asked, we are perpetuating the problem, not just accepting it.
    I'll let L'via handle the question about her boys but for the record I have three sons in their late teens and early twenties.

  20. here's what i don't understand (particularly about her response). why are we humoring these men? why do they hold the cards? if these men, whose main criteria are good looks, were to find that they couldn't/wouldn't get married because the women chose to remain themselves – 'au naturale' as it were – wouldn't they be the ones not fulfilling the mitzvot incumbent upon them? wouldn't they grow old and single and alone? halberstam seems to indicate that they don't care. so let them not care, let them age lonely and alone, and let these women marry the rest of the population who can see beyond the physical.

  21. L'via Weisinger says:

    Aliza Novogroder Fischman click on next page.

  22. Lynn says:

    It is certainly a teachable moment but if you truly feel that the selection of a girl is his decision rather than yours, and he feels attracted to a certain look, why would you not want to try to accommodate him, if his request was in reason? I personally do not pressure my children to continue to date people that they feel not attracted to. I think that broken engagements start that way. Most of my sons did prefer girls who wore make-up.

  23. L'via Weisinger says:

    I am the proud mother of 3 boys in teens and 20's, as well as 2 girls. They're outraged by the article, and in fact, the older ones posted extremely mature and well-thought responses. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I will let my boys be the arbiter of who they are attracted to. I will help them and guide them, if need be, to choose a girl with good middos and character – the rest is up to them – and Hashem.

  24. Batya White-Novogroder says:

    Perhaps mothers of girls in Shidduchim should also look into surgical enhancements such as gastric by-pass & liposuction b/c I've heard that guys often want to know "what size the mother is" so that they will know what to expect in 20-30 years & whether or not they think they will still be attracted to the girl then ;)!

  25. Batya White-Novogroder says:

    Perhaps mothers of girls in Shidduchim should also look into surgical enhancements such as gastric by-pass & liposuction b/c I've heard that guys often want to know "what size the mother is" so that they will know what to expect in 20-30 years & whether or not they think they will still be attracted to the girl then ;)!

  26. Adriane Tick Meyers says:

    Exactly! How can she say she does not like society's emphasis on physicality when she is playing right into those societal constructs! And yes, her attitude corroborates the existence of many problems related to body image.

  27. Lynn, you are missing one important point. She was NOT criticizing girls for not wearing makeup on a DATE WITH A BOY. She was criticizing girls for not wearing makeup to a meeting with the boys MOTHER,which should have been ALL ABOUT CHARACTER and NOTHING to do with LOOKS – which is all in the boys eyes anyway.

  28. I think this reflects a new phenomenon I have been noticing recently. It seems that some women are paying more attention to the looks of their children's mates more than ever before. As if the "classic beauty" quotient of the person their children are marrying reflects on them. As if their son's wife is a decoration for the MOTHER'S arm.
    I posted to true – sad, but true – stories about real life situations. One, I was in a car with a well-known Rav, when the mother of a girl called, and wanted to call off a Shidduch because the nice, sweet boy her daughter was engaged to was not very good looking, while the girl was the "classic picture of beauty" – she felt her daughter could do better – not that the guy wasn't nice, he just did not look too great.
    The other story was when a mother was complaining bitterly that the Shadchan mislead her, when the SHadchan told her that a certain girls was a size 4, when in reality she was between 6-8. Never mind that her son was head-over-heels in lover with the girl, and they were getting married, she felt that she would have not let it get that far if she was told the truth.
    These mothers are making decisions for who should date their children. I understand the system of parents making sure their children's dates are somewhat compatible – You don't want a person who only wants to stay home be married to a person who wants to party every night, or a boy who wants to be Chassidish to marry a girl who wants to wear a miniskirt. I get that.
    What I don't get is parents who allow looks to be a factor in the decision if the children would date.I understand a person saying "I don't want you to fall in love with a girl who is all wrong for you"
    Boys may see a beauty and fall in lust even is she is incompatible. However, I do not see the reverse happening.

  29. I think this reflects a new phenomenon I have been noticing recently. It seems that some women are paying more attention to the looks of their children's mates more than ever before. As if the "classic beauty" quotient of the person their children are marrying reflects on them. As if their son's wife is a decoration for the MOTHER'S arm.
    I posted two true – sad, but true – stories about real life situations. One, I was in a car with a well-known Rav, when the mother of a girl called, and wanted to call off a Shidduch because the nice, sweet boy her daughter was engaged to was not very good looking, while the girl was the "classic picture of beauty" – she felt her daughter could do better – not that the guy wasn't nice, he just did not look too great.
    The other story was when a mother was complaining bitterly that the Shadchan mislead her, when the Shadchan told her that a certain girl was a size 4, when in reality she was between 6-8. Never mind that her son was head-over-heels in lover with the girl, and they were getting married, she felt that she would have not let it get that far if she was told the truth.
    These mothers are making decisions for who should date their children. I understand the system of parents making sure their children's dates are somewhat compatible – You don't want a person who only wants to stay home be married to a person who wants to party every night, or a boy who wants to be Chassidish to marry a girl who wants to wear a miniskirt. I get that.
    What I don't get is parents who allow looks to be a factor in the decision if the children would date.I understand a person saying "I don't want you to fall in love with a girl who is all wrong for you"
    Boys may see a beauty and fall in lust even is she is incompatible. However, I do not see the reverse happening.

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