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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 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
Photo Credit: Screen shot

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.

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. Ah Shmuley, it cuts both ways. When I was in grad school at the Brooklyn College campus I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Until 5:00 the Kosher Corner had a normal college crowd, but at that time the social changeover occurred. The Yeshiva boys came in dressed like shlumps with their shirt tails out, etc., and acting like princes and the girls came in dressed to the nines. I was fascinated, in a morbid way. You see, the boys felt no need to present their best face and the girls had no self-respect. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, but I think that it's only a matter of degree. I've seen this repeated many times in the American milieu, but not so much in Israel but I'll leave that explanation to someone who's an expert in the field of Comparative Jewish Society. In the end, neither sex has self-respect, but the genesis probably has to do with mothers who don't teach their boys to clean up after the meal, and teach their daughters that the boys don't have to. It continues with Rabbeim who don't teach boys about both sexes being sacred parts of a whole, and the mystery of life. And it achieves its zenith with mothers who worship their sons to the degree that perhaps, but only perhaps, there might be found a woman superior to their son. Feh. Not the world I live in nor would I ever want to.

  2. Thank you so much for your strong eloquent response! Perhaps Yitta can refine her values of what an Eishet Chayil is and is suppose to be about! Jewish values have always taught its what's on the inside that counts and for each person there is a mate, perhaps when you are dolled up and superficial, you might choose the wrong one! Thank you

  3. Gosh, how poetically you've rendered the relationship between man and woman in order to place it within the procrustean bed.

  4. Shoshanna Goldstein Sanders says:

    Michael Salzhauer Do you really consider your plastic surgery practice to be comparable to the development of penicillin and immunizations? I never heard of anyone dying of a big nose. Or a school requiring a nose job prior to admission. And oh, yes, your grandfather did NEED antibiotics and shots in order to stay healthy, he just didn't have access. People may WANT to alter their looks, but nobody NEEDS a nose job unless their face has been literally mauled. I get that you want to make people look better and feel happier. There's good evidence that you succeed at doing so. But are you saving lives? Come on.

  5. Naomi Cohen says:

    those sad depressed housewives in beverly hills and other places try plastic surgery and look horrible- everyone must agree that it should only be used in extreme cases and not just to enhance – it will get us far away from reality.
    mainly though the shidduch system is so broken- you need to meet your bashert through other means- although I'm not sure what that might be- meanwhile keep yourself happy and productive- don't cry yourself to sleep – get super busy and be as happy as you can- then being single won't be so hard- the girls feeling so unimpowered is terrible.
    yitta was trying to empower them- but that is not the only piece of this puzzle and part of it is not part of 'our puzzle' as Jews at all- shmuley want's the men to grow up- but wanting an attractive wife will not stop – and no one can say it should- it just should be like with all things- with moderation:)

  6. Yitta's insane article notwithstanding, how one person's comments can give this author (and many commentators) the license to brand an ENTIRE group consisting of thousands of people ("Tell the Yeshivah students.." "immature men.." etc.) is beyond me. If a "Modern Orthodox" person were to write an article promoting mikvah for single women (for obvious reasons) and then someone would take the liberty to brand all self-identifying Modern-Orthodox people as proponents of assur behavior based on that one article, the guns would be blazing. Yitta's opinion vis-a-vis plastic surgery can and should be attacked in a vacuum.
    I guess it's just too hard to pass up an opportunity for some good-old yeshivish bashing.

  7. Andrea Ginsburg Strosberg says:

    I finally read her actual article–her position makes a lot of sense after you hear that she herself got a nose job

  8. :) Chanale after Pesach iy'h. I decided I have to try again:) Pnina while there are both boys and girls that are looking for people that only a computer can create I find girls much more flexible and open-minded as to who they will go out with.

  9. Rachel Furman Stern says:

    And David, you were married to an extraordinary woman — the kind of woman who would have been a Rabbi had she been male. And should have been (a Rabbi, not male). Yeah, I like what you wrote, David. I did not grow up with what you described — but I was definitely part of life is similar even growing up as a more secular Jew.

  10. Dvora Windham says:

    wow, thats pretty sad.

  11. Ben Waxman says:

    i didn't grow up there also. when i went to yeshiva in israel, all guys came in dressed totally like shlumps. however, someone who learned at pardase told me that dressing this way is simply the way guys in all male societes act. the guy who learn in pardase come to classes dressed properly, nicely.

  12. Avi Bitterman says:

    Aside from the paragraph that said women should be pressured to get plastic surgery I pretty much agree with everything Yitta said in the original article.

  13. Yonatan Silver says:

    I strongly suspect that even if women were to have a complete body transplant, mothers like Yitta would still find other excuses to prevent them from taking away their baby.

    And then they would claim it's because their sons have certain "standards."

    Rabbi Boteach, I'm really surprised that you don't suggest that mothers like Yitta keep out of the way and let their sons decide who they want to date.

  14. I agree that it is the system that is flawed with the mothers' ideals being corrupted. Encouraging girls to get surgery is treating the symptoms, not the cause. Did none of these mothers gain weight and lose weight on and off through the years as they themselves had children and experienced life? Were none of them larger than a size 2 when they got married?
    The fact is, nobody can be truly joyful walking into a room filled with potential mother-in-laws. It's impossible and far too stressful. As Audrey Hepburn said,"happy girls are the prettiest girls," because a girl who is truly happy and is smiling and joyful attracts people to her. No girl can be happy in a room like that! Meryl Streep is beautiful and sexy at any size with any nose because she gives off a deep sense of joy and confidence.
    So, to address Yitta, I would have raised my son in a home filled with joy and love and confident women, so that he might grow up seeing joyful confident women as beautiful women. Alter his perception as a child so he will see beauty wherever he looks. I am certainly raising my own sons that way. And I have Audrey Hepburn's quote stenciled on the wall of my daughter's room so that she might understand it every day.

  15. Menachem Minkin says:

    Oy Vey

  16. Menachem Minkin says:

    "Is the author really suggesting that we take our young daughters – 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?"

  17. When I was in college, the administration closed down the last all male dormitory – it was an "animal house".

  18. I don't get the part about marriage being the holy grail for any religious woman. I understand that we all would aspire to meeting someone to share our lives and procreate with, but the context that has been created for this in the religious world is kind of twisted and terrifying. most women have been completely disempowered by this "truth" they have been socialised into, that marrying a man and starting a family is the only way to achieve meaning and happiness. when starting from this viewpoint, how can we not fail to deteriorate into the intricacies that are now laid out before us – cosmetic surgery, resumes and botox – all of these are merely ways to achieve something we have been taught that we cannot exist meaningfully without.

  19. Anne Guetta says:

    Michael Salzhauer

    Ok, I started looking at them – I don't have time to look at all of them but I went through the first 43 and these are the ones that I think looked better before the operation: 1,4,5,7,8, 10,11,12,13,14, 18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26,28,29,30,31,32,33,34,35, 38,29,40,41,42. I know it seems exagerrated but I genuinly think so. Very few girls actually needed it. I did notice that the girls in the before pictures mostly had no makeup and more skin-blemishes, whereas in the after-pictures, they were wearing more makeup, had less spots, and looked better (besides the nose) so I've taken that into account in my list above and only looked at the noses.

    By the way, you're right – not all of the noses are the same, and you're right in taking pride in your work because I can see that they're all good jobs – it's not you I'm against, it's the concept of nose jobs in general. The operations all end up making the same type of change in the faces of the patients. They all look more 'modernized'.

    Also, I don't think I included any boys in this list, but just as a point, I think that there was only one guy who actually needed it in the whole gallery. I especially found it unnecessary in the boys – not just from your pictures but in general. I've met boys who have had nose-jobs and I have to say that I don't find it attractive at all. It really gives them a plastic look that makes me cringe. Maybe it's because I'm Jewish and used to it, but it's never seemed to have bothered me. So boys who are reading this and considering getting nose jobs – there are some girls who LIKE natural jewish noses :-)

    Either way, this not meant as an attack at all, and is only a means of my expressing my opinion on the matter. It makes me sad that this "can work wonders for self-confidence and overall well-being" because the world shouldn't be this way (it's understandable if it's the case for makeup or losing weight but not for plastic surgery). Then again, I'm only one voice, I'm crazy about nature, and I'm not American, so all I can do is have an opinion.

    For girls who do want nose jobs, your offer is very generous and I admire that. However, I don't think that shadchanim should be contacting girls to tell them that they need nose jobs. It's insulting.

    Have a wonderful Shabbat and a Chag Kasher Vesameach


  20. Now I understand that some men may try and stop demanding respect,in order that they should be respected,and hey,if it starts getting them to do it,then fine,people don't normally starts doing something without seeing whats in it for them. The eventual goal,however,is to not want the respect in the first place. Not that men shouldn't respect themselves of course,or let people walk all over them,but they should only be respecting themselves for another persons sake,for the sake of having the energy and stamina to be able to give to others.

  21. Now I understand that some men may try and stop demanding respect,in order that they should be respected,and hey,if it starts getting them to do it,then fine,people don't normally starts doing something without seeing whats in it for them. The eventual goal,however,is to not want the respect in the first place,or at least,not for its own sake. Not that men shouldn't respect themselves of course,or let people walk all over them,but they should only be respecting themselves for another persons sake,for the sake of having the energy,stamina,and inspiration to continue giving to others.

  22. Danielle Siegel-Cohen says:

    I was engaged to a guy that his mom preposed to me not him. It's a sad sad world we live in. Does anyone know how it got this bad?

  23. Shoshanna Goldstein Sanders says:

    Debi Nevel Drecksler I too am "attached" to my natural nose. And it to me.

  24. Bites Bakery says:

    Modern orthodox people aren't part of the shidduch scene. Shtetlized jews are. Perhaps if young men and women (not boys and girls, as they are often referred) are allowed to socialize in a normal way each sex would see the variety of looks, personalities, and beliefs that exist and eventually match with their own. My daughter goes to a co-ed truly modern orthodox yeshiva, where boys and girls (still boy and girls) meet, hang out, and socialize. When the time comes I'H, she'll know how to pick a spouse with the values that we, and her own experiences, have helped her to develop.

  25. Bites Bakery says:

    Michael Salzhauer : maybe you should sell plastic surgery to the losers that are sending their mothers out to find them wives. they're too busy doing, what? davening? no. cleaning their rooms? no. working? DEFINITELY NOT. let me tell you something…these "boys" will not be able to pay for your services for their own children because they won't have jobs, remember, they're LEARNING Torah, while beautiful wife (thanks to plastic surgery) makes the money. maybe you should encourage them to become DOCTORS instead of shnuerers.

  26. Naomi Graves says:

    Excellent article. I'm so out of the loop, the idea that somene actually suggested surgery floors me…great response.

  27. Naomi Graves says:

    David Staum I'm not sure that a good response needs to be a radical one. And you can never tell who was influnced by Ms. Yitta's original article.

  28. David Staum says:

    Bella Tonini, I never denied he was right here. I was as disgusted at the original article as anyone else. I just don't think he deserves any kudos here for taking an extremely obvious position. It was a cheap way for Boteach to get positive publicity and yet again promote himself, which seems to be his only interest.

  29. David Staum says:

    Naomi Graves, I'm not saying his article needed to be radical. I just don't think he took any great leap here and I don't see any credit deserved. I have met NO ONE who agreed with Halberstam's article.

  30. I read that article too, and was shocked. What a message we are sending.

  31. Elana Joffe says:

    David, while I don't agree with Boteach on everything by any means, he was right on target with this article. He said the right things…and they needed to be said (and printed). Let's just give him the benefit of the doubt for good intentions here. The paper has a large readership (many of whom you don't know) and maybe some will benefit from hearing his response to the original article.

  32. David Staum says:

    Elana, I hear your point. I'll leave it at this – I just don't like Boteach and think he reflects very poorly on Orthodox Judaism, so I don't like seeing him lauded for stating the obvious.

  33. Stella Podgornik says:

    our culture has basically said its ok for our men to not have responsibility. women can and will survive without them. but that doesn't make it ok…

  34. Naomi Graves says:

    Moriah Steiner when stuff like this pops up, I always think to Koheleth where it is advised to not be too religious and that all vanity. Koheleth 7:16. Be not overly righteous, and be not overly wise; why should you bring desolation upon yourself? In this world, we are kidding ourselves if we think that full tilt, unchecked pursuit of even religion is a "save all". We are master liars, especially to ourselves. We end up justifying the most awful things that go against that quiet humility that drew us to begin with. We have to work at it to keep the focal point where it should be, on HaShem.

  35. Ken Goffstein says:

    David, was the "cuts both ways" pun intended? :) anyway, i read his article and the one he wrote it in reponse to. Not always in agreement with him but he got it right on this one. your comments enlighten the topic further. And I second Rachel's comments about Ruchi z'l!

  36. I join in rebuking Mrs. Halberstam for advocating surgical procedures. Nonetheless, I'd say that her basic point of encouraging young ladies to do their best to look their best is good, practical advice. Telling yeshiva boys not to be concerned about a prospect's beauty is not very practical.

  37. David Staum – not really. I am goiong through the shiddach system right now with my two daughters. One of the first questions asked is their skirt size!

  38. Pnina Jacob Baim – the sytem is messed up and the mothers of boys are encouraging and perpetuating it. Shame on them!!

  39. When all someone carea bout is a skirt size and nothing else it is a huge problem! So shallow and superficial. Everyone should do their best to look good on a date and put their best foot forward – but when all the boy and his mother want is a Barbie Doll then that is over the top and disgusting. In addition as was said it is not like the boy is so amazing and has so much to offer…

  40. David Staum not really. I am going through the shiddach system right now with my two daughters. One of the first questions asked is their skirt size and not much else. It's crazy.

  41. How did this happen and why is it tolerated in the frum community?

  42. Anne Guetta I understand your position. I am not offended. Here is link to patient number 1 for the readers to evaluate on their own. I can't see how anyone can say that she isn't more attractive, more of a "catch" in the after picture…but I may be biased. I'd love to hear what the readers think.


    Warning: The many of the other pictures on the before and after gallery are NOT TZNIUS so be careful if you start clicking around.

  43. no it is not…I am living through it. You just don't know how the mothers of these boys and the boys themselves act. It is disgusting. If it was just make-up it would be fine. her articel is just encouraging this whole messed up mind set.

  44. Becky Waxman says:

    I realize this is not my community, so this may be entirely out of turn. However, women are not cattle. I feel saddened that the idea of surgical "enhancement" in order to land ourselves a man has become this infectious. We're attracted to who we're attracted to, yes, I agree. And anthropologically speaking, men are more visual than women. I agree, it's impractical to think men won't be concerned with appearance. But I don't I also don't see any harm in encouraging young men to think beyond the superficial.

  45. Anne Guetta says:

    Michael Salzhauer I agree that she looks better in the after picture but i think that is because
    a) she's wearing makeup
    b) her hair is done in a much nicer style ('before', her hair is natural and 'after' it's straightened)
    c) she's wearing eye-makeup (eye liner + mascara)
    d) I'm under the impression that she's wearing skin makeup too
    e) she's wearing a beautiful par of earrings
    f) she's wearing a black shirt which gives her a smarter look
    g) the lighting is different and makes her look much better!

    Had those things been present in the before picture, she would have looked very good too! Without meaning to be disrespectful, the 'after' pictures have been given many other advantages besides from the nose, which biases the picture to makes us think that she looks better!

  46. Of course you are right. I see from the comments that the author was universally blasted (and with good reason) for the surgery advise. FWIW, the yeshiva Rabbis do exert great efforts trying to educate young men about looking toward character traits.

  47. Anne Guetta –Thank you. You have essentially proven Yitta Halberstams point.
    BTW: In your detailed analysis you didn't even notice that her neck was liposuctioned giving her a much cleaner jawline.
    If those pictures don't impress you then nothing will. We must agree to disagree. On a personal note I should add that this young lady blossomed after surgery and become much more self-confident and outgoing.

  48. Anne Guetta Anne Guetta –Thank you. You have essentially proven Yitta Halberstams point.
    BTW: In your detailed analysis you didn't even notice that her neck was liposuctioned giving her a much cleaner jawline.
    If those pictures don't impress you then nothing will. We must agree to disagree. On a personal note I should add that this young lady blossomed after surgery and became much more self-confident and outgoing.

  49. Lynn says:

    Personally, I have seen very few frum Jews elect to have plastic surgery. American society however does set a standard of using plastic surgery as a means to improve appearance. There are ads for plastic surgery where the surgeons run ‘specials’ on various procedures to get the customer in the door. Once inside, it is a bit like home construction; it never ends. Not just halacha, but price, may be keeping most frum Jews from going under the knife for appearance reasons. Nose jobs are also very public statements. The person is sometimes changed so much that friends who haven’t seen them for awhile don’t recognize them.

  50. I applaud you writing this. What I have wanted to say all along.

  51. Shoshi Boshi says:

    It's about time

  52. And perhaps the problem is the subliminal influence of the terms "boys" and "girls". When it's time for marriage, perhaps people should start referring to them as "men" and "women".

  53. Becky Waxman says:

    David B: I agree!!!

  54. Chanala Kornfeld says:

    Thank you rabbi boteach!

  55. Menucha Kolodny says:

    Attention Rabbi Shmuley Boteach,
    If your going to write an article about this sensitive topic at least get your facts straight.
    The "Girl" that your referring to in your article that died of anorexia is not only untrue but, a lie.
    How do I know this? Because that "Girl" was my sister. And, Her name was Chanie Kolodny a"h.

  56. Kayla Elshevich says:

    Mr. Salzhaur-
    Yes, you're right, if a girl is miserable about the way she looks, and she really wishes she could change it, surgery is a great option!
    However, in Yitta Halberstam's article, the girls intentionally showed up without makeup. They were obviously comfortable with themselves. Yitta is suggesting that girls should fix things that perhaps she, or some men don't consider attractive. People don't have to change themselves to fit someone else's idea of beauty. Confidence is the most beautiful thing in the world.

  57. Shoshanna Goldstein Sanders says:

    Danielle Siegel-Cohen For real???? How does a woman go about proposing on her son's behalf???? I have no idea how it got to be like this. Four generations back, when my great-grandparents were married off in the shtetl, it was the fathers who did the arranging. don't know when this tyranny of mothers began.

  58. Sheila M Lati says:

    Wow thats pathetic! I never heard of this women before but im really shocked. Thankfully i was raised knowing looks arent everything and would raise my children knowing the same. Who would even want to marry off their daughter to such a guy? Who would want to raise their sons to think in such a way? So shocked from that article, what a sad world

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