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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Lakewood Girls School under Attack for Controversial Letter on Modesty

A "wonderful, diverse group of Camp Sdei Chemed girls" being both modest and cute.

A "wonderful, diverse group of Camp Sdei Chemed girls" being both modest and cute.
Photo Credit: David Teitelbaum

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The Lakewood, NJ, Bnos Yaakov elementary school is not happy over the fact that an internal letter to its students has been published online at the Lakewood View website. Posted by someone claiming to be a parent at the school, it contains a story from the Shomer Emunim, with a particularly disturbing version of purgatory for girls who don’t obey the laws of tzniyut (modesty).

The Shomer Emunim (“Guardian of the Faith”), Rabbi Arele (Aharon) Roth, is the 20th century founder of a Chasidic group known for their fervent and emotional prayer, and a rigid lifestyle guided by decrees from the Rebbe.

In the story, as it is cited in the flier, posted in Lakewood View, a group of men heard a scream and traced it to a small house in a field. Inside the house they saw,

“an old woman, with a younger lady laying on a bench. On the ground burned a huge fire, and on the fire stood a large pot filled with clothing. The clothing, which were boiling up in the pot, emitted clouds of smoke rising up to the ceiling. The old woman silently reached into the pot, took out a boiling article of clothing, and put it onto the young woman, instantly burning her body. The young woman was screaming terribly in pain, but the older woman continued putting more and more burning clothing on her.”

The men realize that this was a vision of the world to come and, according to the story’s narrator, this punishment had been meted out since the

“mother had not raised her daughter to be tzniyusdig (modest) … and the mother had to burn her own daughter.”

The comments, close to 100 and nearly all anonymous, veer from disgust to praise for the school.

“Bnos Yaakov is not an easy school to get into. If you are not happy there, have you considered moving to another school?” one commentator wondered.

Another visitor added a sober note: “This is a mashal (fable)! Like many medrashim, this is meant to be taught and discussed among adults. The conversation among mothers as to how and what we teach our daughters about tznius is worthwhile. The problem is presenting this story to children, and even worse, as a ‘true event.’”

But a shocked visitor stated: “Wow, it has finally happened. A tznius story even worse, much worse, than the one that has given me nightmares since I was 9 years old (and I am in my 50s). That particular story (about the girl who took certain extreme actions in order to prevent her skirt from rising in a revealing manner) was given over in a booklet for leaders of a popular program for girls. After MY 9 y.o. daughter came home telling me that story, I stopped sending her to that program. What an awful story! I will not be able to sleep tonight.”

And an angry visitor shared: “Did they give this to kids? Yeah, that will get them to love Hashem. Seriously screwed in the head. Then we wonder why Jewish girls are hanging out smoking and running around like street walkers R”L. Teach them if their skirt is not 4 inches below the knee they will be burned by their own mother?”

The reaction from the Jewish blogosphere has been unmitigated disgust

“Your letter was a psychological scare tactic to make girls dress tzniusdig (modestly) or they will boil their children in hot soup. It took me a full week to recover from reading it,” wrote Dovid Teitelbaum in his blog.

Teitelbaum, a resident of Marine Park, NY, and a graduate of Yeshiva Torah Temimah, is the director of the popular Camp Sdei Chemed International.

As angry as the school was about the letter being released, they were even more irate about being contacted by JewishPress.com about it. A secretary from the school initially confirmed to this reporter that the letter came from them, then denied it. Moments afterwards, another woman claimed that the page was taken out of context and a letter from the principal was sent out along with the story, mollifying it.

“This school is a school synonymous with positivity, joy and serving Hashem,” the second woman explained, emphasizing that they stress that “Hashem loves us and does all for our best.”

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About the Author: Michael Orbach is the Senior New York Correspondent for JewishPress.com. His work has appeared in the JTA, The Forward, The Jewish Week and Tablet. He was previously the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Star newspaper in Long Island. He is finishing up a novel.


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27 Responses to “Lakewood Girls School under Attack for Controversial Letter on Modesty”

  1. This whole tznius (modesty) obsession is going to explode one day…maybe one day soon…

  2. Amber Snommis says:

    We can only hope.

  3. Jonathan Weber says:

    One word to describe it – OY! Not seeing the original letter I can't comment on it one way or the other. But I have to praise the Jewish Press for presenting the story and trying to get both sides of the issue.

  4. Ava Katz says:

    As a Sdei Chemed camper and a girl in the picture on top :) I have to say I completely agree with Dovid. None of us are ever going to want to, or see the beauty or point of being tznius if all anybody ever does is scare us. Serving Hashem is partly about fear, but first about love.

  5. Yitzy Levi says:

    The Jewish Press stooping to new lows with this post. What point are you trying to make exactly? And by the way, the two girls in the middle of the picture aren't even attempting to cover their elbows.

  6. Is that all you notice. You should get a job with the vaad hatznius.

  7. Yori Yanover says:

    I believe the point we're trying to make was spelled out by one of the more reasonable voices in the article, namely that Medrashic Hell imagery does not help girls make good dress choices but instead makes them want to hide under the bed and wait to die. It's a minor difference, but, hey, it's something.

  8. Sergey Kadinsky says:

    "If the only way we can sell our children Torah is by forbidding everything else, then we are bankrupt." -Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld.

    Using hell to scare people into religious observance is a Christian and Muslim concept. In Judaism, "All Israel has a share in the world to come" -Tractate Sanhedrin 10:1.

    Also, we do not know which mitzvos and aveiros hold greater value by the Dayan Emet. The length of a skirt or sleeve certainly do not seem as bad as abuse, embezzlement, welfare fraud, get refusal, and other known ills in our klal.

  9. Yitzy Levi says:

    It's actually not all I notice and I can go on but let's call a spade a spade. The person who wrote the article claimed the girls in the picture were dressed to tznius standards, an untrue claim based on the standards he set forth. And as for calling the Shomer Emunim's story untrue in your article that's straightforward blasphemy.

  10. Yitzy Levi: It's "blasphemy" to call the story untrue? Nonsense. It has no mekor in Chazal. It's a foolish story told by some rustics to someone who told it to someone who told it to R' Arele, who must have been a very gullible man.

  11. Stephen Leavitt says:

    Follow the link in the article and you can see the original letter.

  12. Stephen Leavitt says:

    You are writing tongue-in-cheek. Right?

  13. Jonathan Weber says:

    I finally saw it. Thanks. It reminds of Beit Shemesh Charedi mentality. A bit off the wall to say the least. Somebody has clue in some of these Rabbsi that not every story from a Midrash is true – some are just meant to teach lessons and are to be used with common sense.

  14. Jonathan Weber says:

    Yitz, even in the Artscroll Chumash, there is a note about not every story from a midrash being true. The Gemera teaches us not to be fanatic. The ultimate result of overdoing it, is the situation in Beit Shemesh where an 8 year old girl is attacked not because of the length of her sleeves or dress, but what she was wearing was not plain black or grey. As Hillel said, "Don't do others what you don't want done to you, all else is commentary." That's our Judaism! Chesid, not constant mussar!

  15. Yitzy Levi BTW I was the one who wrote it. Just because its not your standards doesnt give you a right to say they are not dressed tznius. And besides you need to be a pervert to notice those kind of things. I think you owe those girls an apology.

  16. Yitzy Levi says:

    It seems you like to disagree with others but can't handle it when others disagree with you. If you look at what I wrote I never said they weren't dressed in an untzniusdike fashion. I wrote that based on the standards of tznius set forth in the article (i.e. elbows covered) these girls weren't dressed tznius. Perhaps it is you who owes them an apology for flaunting them in front of the world as specimens and saying here are girls who dress tznius.

  17. Yitzy Levi says:

    Jonathan Weber Point well taken. However, if a school chooses to use the story even as a mashal it is up to them. Everyone has a right to educate their students on their own level. It is hard for Lakewood people to understand the "non-yeshivish" crowd sometimes but at least try to give them some room to breath. This is not directed at you, rather to the article in general.

  18. Yitzy Levi , In my original article I never mentioned elbows. It was this writer that said it. He evidently doesnt use a measuring tape to judge exactly how long the sleeves of a every girl is. I think you highlight the stupidity of this new tznius lifestyle. You look at every detail to find the one girls that has her elbows showing. I really hope you are not in chinuch. BTW the girls all gave permission to use the photo.

  19. This should not be. It's sadistic in nature. If a woman runs about naked in the streets, it is still a man's responsibility to contain his lust and overcome. We are not from Shechem. Love your wives and daughters and strangers as you ought to… This si a dumb article, published to shock and mock…

  20. "another woman claimed that the page was taken out of context and a letter from the principal was sent out along with the story, mollifying it." OK, so give us the context and show us the letter.

  21. Chaiya Eitan says:

    You're turned on by an elbow???? Shame on you!

  22. Chaiya Eitan says:

    Yitzy Levi An elbow is sexy????

  23. Chaiya Eitan says:

    No wonder that – according to a study – more and more religious girls are surfing porn sites on the Internet and many are leaving Judaism all together. It is getting more and more extreme….becoming more and more lilke the Taliban. How dare a Jewish school use an example of a mother burning her daughter to make a point about being tzniut! Sickening….

  24. Yitzy Levi says:

    Again you missed the point. Perhaps if you would come with an open mind and read what I wrote instead of simply trying to push your views on others you wouldn't react so negatively. "He illustrated his blog post with a picture of modestly-dressed high school girls, their skirts down to their knees and their elbows covered, smiling against a desert background." This is from the Jewish Press article. My point the line is not true and the standard of tznius others have would view the standard of tznius in the picture as unacceptable. Don't claim everything is perfect and try to prove it when your proof can't hold up to a 2 second glance

  25. Cymcha Green says:

    I recommend a class in anatomy if you think the girls in this picture all have their elbows and knees covered. And the girl with the orange leggings may have gotten the letter of the law but missed the spirit of the law i.e. she is NOT modest, she screams to be noticed.

  26. Yosef Adler says:

    Michael Orbach is one of the best reporters of Jewish news I've ever read. Perhaps the best. Looking forward to reading more articles from him.

  27. James Brickey says:

    Yitzy Levi What the hell, so elbows make weird Jewish guys pop boners? Sick, sick, sick. Clearly, Judaism = Islam.

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