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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Make Men More Mature Rather than Send Girls Under the Knife


Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
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Few columns I have read from the orthodox community have disturbed me as much as Yitta Halberstam’s recent piece in the Jewish Press advocating that young women engage in plastic surgery in order to be more in demand for a shidduch (Jewish marital match). Worse, Yitta encourages us parents to be the ones to send our daughters under the knife. I was so floored by what I read that I decided to take time from my all-consuming Congressional campaign to respond.

I have met Yitta. She’s a fine woman with a luminous soul. So Yitta, please don’t take this personally. I mean no disrespect. But you can’t be serious.

Here is Yitta begging orthodox Jewish parents to heed her call: “Mothers this is my plea to you: There is no reason in today’s day and age with the panoply of cosmetic and surgical procedures available, why any girl can’t be transformed into a swan. Borrow the money if you have to; it’s an investment in your daughter’s future, her life.”

Witness the modern Jewish tragedy writ large. Had this piece been published even in a secular magazine it would have come in for the sharpest criticism and condemnation. Yitta, are you not aware that we face an epidemic of young American women dying of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia because of the kind of misogyny you advocate above? About eight million American women have an eating disorder and the numbers are increasing greatly in the orthodox community. I published a column a few years back about a seventeen-year-old girl in a seminary in Jerusalem, known to my family, that died of anorexia. The root cause of eating disorders is this dangerous belief that a young woman is not born a princess but an ugly duckling in need of some radical personal makeover in order to appeal physically to a man.

How dangerous is the kind of drivel about young girls undergoing surgical procedures as advocated in Yitta’s column? Well, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Ten percent of anorexics die within 10 years of contracting the disease, twenty percent will be dead after 20 years, and only about thirty-five percent ever fully recover. And the mortality rate associated with anorexia is twelve times higher than the death rate of all causes of death for females aged fifteen to twenty-four years old. (Source: South Carolina Department of Mental Health)

The assault on women in our time is serious, concentrated, and deadly. It’s remedy is a more wholesome, more spiritual culture that looks at a women in her totality: mind, body, heart, and spirit. This is the kind of world that Judaism, with its unique emphasis on a woman’s spiritual gifts, has always sought to create.

How tragic, therefore, that columns of this ilk are appearing more frequently in orthodox Jewish publications, as if the words of King Solomon “that beauty is negligible but a woman who fears G-d is to be praised” is something of a bygone era, replaced even in the religious Jewish community by the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.

Is the author really suggesting that we take our young daughters – and I, thank God, am blessed with six – and put them under the knife, bankrupting our families in the process, so that they can better appeal to shallow religious charlatans who would prefer a woman who is all form and little substance? Is this what three thousand and three hundred years of Jewish tradition has come to, that a nation that has always dared to walk alone, with different ideals and values from the wider culture, should so fully capitulate to the most corrupt, misogynistic values, that we would advocate that our young women have plastic surgery in order to get married?

Earth to Yitta: It’s not women who have to have breast enlargements, collagen injections in their lips, and Botox needles shoved in their foreheads in order to marry. Rather, it’s men who need a deeper, spiritual inoculation. Tell the Yeshiva students that the Torah they are learning is supposed to actually change their hearts. They’re supposed to be influenced by its values and judge a woman’s beauty not just by her hourglass shape but by her incisive opinions, graciousness of character, and spiritual glow. It’s the feminine which draws the masculine, and the feminine is something subtle, noble and refined. It is vulgarized when it becomes entirely about the physical form and rapidly loses its appeal.

And by the way, Yitta, I assume, in the interests of egalitarianism and fairness, that you’re also advocating that the young guys who indulged a bit too much in the cholent  get their stomachs stapled and liposuction to make them more appealing to the girls?

I have worked in the field of human relationships in the secular world for most of my professional life and I have never even heard it suggested by the most superficial relationship expert that we should take young women for plastic surgery in order to attract a husband. Because most of those experts would rightly say that any man that expected extensive surgical procedures prior to marriage is a shallow jerk, and any parent who would inflict that on their daughter might just be guilty of abuse.

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About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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212 Responses to “Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Make Men More Mature Rather than Send Girls Under the Knife”

  1. Batya White-Novogroder says:

    Miriam Isaac , whoops…it's hard to remember from my BY days but thanks for clarifying!!

  2. FINALLY someone addresses the CORE issue of mothers picking out their daughter-in-laws instead of the boys themselves!

  3. FINALLY someone addresses the CORE issue of mothers picking out their daughter-in-laws instead of the boys doing it themselves!

  4. Ari Stein says:

    I’ll repeat this again… I think one of the big problems is that the mommies are going on dates with these girls in order to decide which ones should go out with their precious little boys. Perhaps the young men and the young women should go out with eachother and leave mommy out of it. It’s time to grow up kids… If you’re old enough to get married, then you’re old enough to date all by your little self. It’s also time to stop researching everything about eachother & interviewing 3rd parties – go on a simple date and make a decision.

  5. Miriam Isaac says:

    Batya White-Novogroder don't worry about it! Hatzlacha!

  6. Julie Safar says:

    thank you Rabbi Boteach for publishing this article! I was totally disgusted at Yitta's article!

  7. in my humble opinion boteach is an idiot if he thinks learning torah will make a person stop caring about physical beauty. scripture is FILLED with references to the physical appearances of our matriarchs/heroins. that having been said, before we jump to plastic surgery maybe we should talk about getting into decent shape. most boys will find a girl attractive if she looks reasonably well put together and in good shape. granted, there are some people who do require surgery! if a person has a feature that stands out as "ugly", sure, get it fixed, why not? but i see a far easier way to get these people dates: LAY OFF THE (second bowl of ) CHOLENT!

  8. Debra Brody says:

    Amen.

  9. Rivkah Fischman Weiss 100% correct.
    I am all for doing your best – within reason, whatever is normal. The article makes it seem that women must do "heroic measures" in order to get their spouse. It makes "getting as many dates as possible" be synonymous with "finding the right person".
    The supermodel may get more dates, however it is very hard to believe that they will find their spouse quicker.
    So, perhaps if your goal was to go on a date every night of the week, maybe the answer is to become a supermodel. If the goal is to find your spouse, then be who you are. You will be happier that way. (as you found out)

  10. Shoshanna Goldstein Sanders says:

    Sarah was hidden from Pharoah because he was a pig and would take her against her will. How is that an example of how we should raise our own kids?

  11. Yonatan Silver says:

    Michael, how many wives do you reckon Solomon would have had if his mother had first interviewed them and only allowed those who she considered good enough for her son (who, as she informed everyone, was a king) to actually even meet him?

  12. Cohen Zalman says:

    I think rabbi shmuelly needs a nose job

  13. Mr. Salzhauer, i think you missed the point, and your examples of people in chumash that were singled out for their beauty are faulty.
    yes their physical beauty was bar none but you can also say the same thing for their inner beauty(middos) which are mentioned in the gemara and meforshim( which if you would like i can find for you, i dont have the maarei mkomos at hand)
    and with yosef- being the most beautiful man in the world wasnt really such a good thing- IE see eishes potifar medrash, it was a very hard test that in order for him to pass he needed to see an apparition of yitzchak's face.
    I feel that the main point of the article was not to say that women shouldnt try to make themselves look good, that is just illogical, but i feel his main point was that they should not mainly be judged on the outer beauty( yes it is a factor- ayain chovos halivavos) but inner beauty, hence the the title and accusation of us men growing up and not being so shallow
    and about speaking from the heart- do you know anyone who has or is suffering from anorexia/ bulimia? it is a horrible disease that the shidduch scene is not helping.
    while you may have issues with Boteach's political aspirations or his other ventures, when it comes to relationships between men and women and marriage especially in the orthodox community, he is very attuned to the sensitive issues and how to somewhat deal with them.

  14. Hannah Sharron says:

    There's absolutely nothing wrong with putting on some makeup and brushing your hair. But surgery is just unnecessary – not least because if everyone has surgery, they'll all look the same and where does that leave the guy? Liking every woman equally – because they all look the same, since he's incapable of judging based on personality, values or anything else of substance? I completely agree that women should make an effort with their physical appearance, because, as you said, beauty is and always will be important. But it is not necessary to go to the lengths of surgery in order to achieve some superficial, airbrushed-version of beauty.

  15. Yonatan Silver Good point. :)

  16. Shoshanna Goldstein Sanders Against her will….because she was beautiful. Why would the Torah mention beauty at all if it wasn't important. Why does it have to be either inner beauty or outer beauty. Why not at least try for both?

  17. Heidi Hodes says:

    Very interesting discussion tx for sharing

  18. Rachel Fish says:

    That article made me sick! And anyone who is marrying someone only for their size is in for a divorce shortly down the road. IF she really thinks people should be having gastric bypass so they can get married, then Im sorry, but there is something seriously wrong here. ASide from the fact that many people who have it wind up jsut as heavy if not more so a few years down the line becasue they have serious eating disorders, the whole idea of it is really sickening. I wonder if Mrs halberstam was simply drunk when she wrote this dispicable article.

  19. Michael Salzhauer Nobody is saying looks aren't important. Nobody is saying that there is anything wrong with makeup. There is something very wrong with a woman who is SHOCKED by the fact that overweight girls exist, and (gasp!) have the audacity to want to get married!! And, even worse, they made the mistake that meeting a MOTHER is all about character and about who they are.
    The fact that she thinks that she knows what "look" would get her son all hot over is creepy, at best.
    The meeting should have been all about character, not about looks. Let the kids figure that out for themselves.

  20. Rachel Fish , many of the commenters to the article thought it was a satire to get people talking and to make the men more accountable. We can hope…

  21. batya novogroder says:

    Rivka, sadly Yitta confirmed in her response to last week’s Jewish press letters regarding the original article that it was NOT satire at all (not that I thought it was for even a minute) but in case there was any doubt about it there should not be. She wrote the article with what she felt were good intentions but thankfully many in the community disagree with her message (which she kind of predicted would happen anyhow in the original article).
    In any case, Mazal tov on your marriage & so glad for you that you found your bashert & you didn’t need to waste money on unnecessary surgeries to achieve that goal! I should add though that if someone REALLY needs a nose job b/c they cannot bear to look at themselves in the mirror, than kol hakavod let them go for it (if they can afford it or if the kind doctor on this thread is willing to do it for them pro bono) but the problem is when people who are basically happy with their noses feel pressured by others to have surgery in order to find a shidduch THAT is not right!!

  22. Anonymous says:

    It is a travesty that certain quarters within Modern Orthodox society have become so materialistic and superficial that they would be receptive to the idea of plastic surgery as the remedy for young Jewish women struggling to find their basherte / zivug. Yitta Halberstam's suggestion plays right into the utterly shallow notion that looks are everything. As a young man who himself has been struggling to get married for many years, I now see that materialism seems to be the root of the Modern Orthodox Jewish singles crisis not just in New York, but across the world. I've heard many stories of women who themselves seem to be shallow and materialistic; if they come across a guy who doesn't LOOK like a potential match for them, i.e., doesn't look cool, etc.they won't even stop to talk to get to know him better. Although I've read that women have a knack for sizing up men just by looking at them, I think much of their reactions towards men can be traced to the SAME SICKNESS IN VALUES that UNDERLIES Yitta Halberstam's disgusting suggestion – that looks are EVERYTHING, and that the SOLE REMEDY is to change them. This regrettable attitude only serves to objectify women as worthy only of sex, and socializes BOTH men and women into using appearance as their primary criterion for marriage. Women get the worst of this type of thinking, as Rabbi Boteach noted, since they are the most susceptible to anorexia, which is a devastating psychological disorder that often kills those afflicted with it.

    I'm not suggesting that men and women ignore appearance in their search for a mate. IT IS definitely important. But that cannot be the be all and end all of marriage. Marriage must be based on shared values, shared goals, psychological compatibility, and good middot. A potential spouse with all of these attributes and B level looks is FAR MORE APPEALING than a potential spouse with A+ looks. IF looks are all that matters, one might as well put a poster up in one's room to look at instead.

    Ms. Halberstam, I realize that you had good intentions in writing your article. But, as they say, the road to h__ll is paved with good intentions. Plastic surgery should be used ONLY in extreme situations for people of either gender – not on a regular basis. Men and women have been meeting and getting married in the Jewish world for thousands of years. It's absurd to suggest that after all this time, plastic surgery, which was never used until recently, is now somehow necessary. WHAT'S NECESSARY IS A CHANGE IN OUR VALUES THAT VIGOROUSLY PROMOTES THE ADMONITION: "DO NOT JUDGE A BOOK BY IT'S COVER," INSTEAD OF PAYING LIP SERVICE TO IT.

  23. Shoshanna Goldstein Sanders says:

    Yonatan Silver I guess Shlomo Hamelech had his own solution to the shidduch crisis.

  24. Nelda Bibb says:

    The looks, physical attributes are all in the GENES. We can chanaage the looks, but they come back in the forms of our children. So we play the cosmetic circle cycle with our bodies.

  25. Dear Yitta, (writer of the article suggesting plastic surgery)…Here is some SURPRISING NEWS for you! Those children that are born to the "swans" who have undergone surgery will have the large noses and ear that stick out and everything else that their Mommy had BEFORE surgery. Those poor unsuspecting husbands! Should they sue for.
    deception? Of course I am being sarcastic…I am a full blooded Jewish comic with all my original body parts and a husband who thinks I'm gorgeous EVEN with the little droop at the end of my nose!

  26. Anne Guetta says:

    Dear Mr. Salzhauer

    Agreed. Makeup is important.

    Plastic surgery is not. Where is the appreciation of natural beauty? I have many friends, many of which do not have 'perfect' noses. And their noses are beautiful! It adds character, personality and uniqueness to their faces.

    You offered to give free plastic surgery to girls who need it and can't afford it. I admire you're generosity and concern, but I have to say that I looked at the before and after pictures on your website and I think that most people looked nicer with their natural noses from before the surgery – not because the surgery was not good (I'm sure you're a very skilled surgeon), but because their faces lost a lot of the character after the surgery – all of their noses looked more or less the same, which I found really sad. If they found that their new noses looked nicer, that's good for them and they're entitled to do what they want, but what bothers me is that todays society influences people to think that 'perfect' noses are nicer – why can't people be happy with their natural look? Now don't get me wrong, in extreme cases where the person feels like it's ruining their life, they may need it. But in most of the 'before' pictures on your website, they looked perfectly good with their natural noses!

    People are entitled to do what they want, but encouraging people to get plastic surgery is wrong on many levels. Does this mean it's better to be man-made than G-d-made?

    Respectfully,

    Anne

  27. Michael Salzhauer says:

    Well said.

  28. Sandra Jull says:

    I am not Jewish, but have admired Jews for a long tim. When I this article, the first thing I thought was, “This is not Jewish.”

  29. I read with utter dismay Yitta Halberstam's "Purim and the Tyranny of.
    Beauty". I would like to think she wrote the letter in haste not.
    thinking of the pain she would cause by its content. There are
    hundreds of singles girls that work during the day, go to college at.
    night and still find time to do chessed. They are presentable, kind.
    and many things in between. However, if they are not a raving beauty.
    and a size 2 their chances of getting a date are slim. The boys saying.
    no to them can be jobless, sleep late, dress like a slob but they.
    still have the upper hand. To get the "great guy" (usually not either.
    deserving of the girl)the girl needs, the looks, money and yichus to.
    possibly score a date. Does this author understand the amount of girls.
    that have died of anorexia, bulima, suicide, on the operating table.
    etc because they were unhappy with their image. Do these same girls.
    need to starve themselves during pregnancy to stay beautiful for their.
    husbands? Do they have to worry their whole lives if they can have a.
    second piece of challah at the shabbos table? Many boys today wont go.
    out without a picture, and a 2 hour analyzation of the girls facebook.
    picture! Anyone that is married will tell you that a persons.
    character is ultimately what effects the marriage. The beautiful wife.
    that yells at her husband as he walks through the door, is no longer.
    beautiful in his eyes no matter how physically beautiful she is. The
    woman that is loving and caring and sets up a warm, inviting home.
    becomes increasingly attractive.I know countless girls that go to.
    sleep crying at night. Girls that would make unbelievable wives and.
    mothers. Sadly, they are not good enough for the boys that are taught.
    to put physical beauty above all else. My children are still young but.
    I often bring them to nursing homes, special needs homes and parks.
    where they encounter people of every denomination. I pray that they.
    grow up knowing that ultimately its anothers inside that counts most.
    Several years ago I decided to get into "shidduchim" to help the.
    countless single girls in my community. I started off so confidently.
    and excitedly. My bubble was quickly deflated by those (unfortunately.
    too many) people that have Mrs Halberstams same view points. I'm am
    saddened to say that I am minimally involved in shidduchim today.
    However, there are two rules that I have for when I do work on.
    shidduchim 1. I will not work with a boy that wants a "barbie doll" I.
    will not degrade my dignity or the dignity of the incredible girls.
    that I know. 2. I will never exchange pictures. Every person is much.
    more then what can be revealed in a picture. If everything sounds.
    right and you get a basic picture from talking to reference. A date is.
    the best way to meet the whole person. I hope others will follow my.
    lead in these two areas, as to not further pain the girls that may not.
    be "picture perfect"..

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