Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Prince or Princess: On the making of a kosher transgendered ad

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A show's coming to town. Not quite to our part of town but targeted for our womenfolk though the performances will actually be held in the Camden Town Hall.

Prince or Pauper, it's called with the subtitle 'Judge not what thou sees'. That should be 'seest' but let's not get too pernickety over some archaic usage. No cultural event round here can do without its share of controversy though it has been relatively mild in this instance. The rabbis have so far steered clear but with a week to go there is still ample time to pull a rabbit in the last minute so keep your fingers crossed, if that's the right phrase. The Prince will be played by a princess which come to think of it is no worse than Lady Macbeth being played by a man. Yet despite this overstepping of modesty some schools have played safe and banned their charges from attending while others have left it to parental discretion.

Since there've so far been no rabbinical interdictions the opinion-free ad sheets are free to carry ads for the event. They never lose. Either it's ads for the event or it's ads for the bans and if they're lucky it's one followed by the other. The ads however are not without problems of their own: how do you advertise a female only production without a photo of the actors?

Actors should hold up a mirror to nature, we're told, but since there are as yet no kosher mirrors that pixelate the fairer sex mirroring actresses' faces is no mean feat. You can advertise ‘ladies’ and ‘girls’ since even the kosher dictionary has not excised them, yet. But publishing a photo of them, well that’s an altogether different dimension.

Trust however a yiddisher kop to come up with a solution and what you see above is the result. An androgynous looking boy standing in for a girl. Yentl in reverse if you like but it does the trick. Boys ogling the ad see only a boy which is permitted by even the most stringent of authorities while the girls get a heimisher version of Justin Bieber to develop a crush on. The rabbis too are happy since it is written that transgendering is no transgression and as the subtitle says, 'judge not what thou sees[t].

There is still however one slight problem. What of the boy who thinks it's a girl? Or to borrow that famous hypothesis proffered by our famed thinker, Ben Yitzchok, apropos Shloime Gertner's malkele song, what of the boy struggling on a difficult passage in the Talmud humming to himself a girl's name, Go- forbid? And what of the zealots who might call for the public burning of the ad unless concrete proof is provided that the 'girl' is actually a boy? Far more serious than some driving licence ingenuity, this really called for the thinking shtreimel so as to come up with a talmudic wheeze.

You won't be surprised that after much throwing around of brains our optimum minds did it again. It was decreed that every advert should carry a health warning in the shape of 'Thanks to Yisroel for posing for the photos.

Now that's what you call seichel. Girl acting as boy, named boy posing as girl, boys get a boy to fill their minds during the drearier bits of 'Two grabbing a garment' and 'The heifer that gored a cow' and the girls will pay anything to see their latest kosher heartthrob. And as for homoerotic thoughts and worse that could be engendered by photos of a she-boy in drag, only a filthy mind could suggest that images of young kids could do that to our pure neshomelech.

And so we get our own kosher culture in the shape of thespians who will ‘show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.’

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Monday, 28 November 2011

Words words (kosher) words

Letters (not) published in The Write Lines, the famous letters page that arrives from parts other publications won't acknowledge to exist

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Dear Editor

Like all heimishe yieden everywhere I was overwhelmed by hakoras hatov for the dedicated chosheve askonim who have made available the kosher dictionary. I immediately went out to the Hill to get one so that my children ke"h should no longer cholilo come across posule words when doing their homework. (Mentioning homework reminds me of the letter I wrote last year about the geferleche load of homework the girls are given so that they can't help their mothers in the evening, but now I am writing about something else.)

I had barely sat down to browse the new dictionary when I landed on my behind after noticing the word 'bum'. I didn't chas v'sholem go looking for such words but it literally stuck itself in my face. Luckily my children were not yet home so I could stick the pages together because oi lorosho v'oi lishcheino and I can't bear my children knowing other words that are tome from sitting so close to that disgusting word. But it made me realise that, like lettuce, how important it is to check even something with a hechsher. If rachmone litzlon that word crept in who knows what else might chas v'cholilo have been overlooked.

I am mamesh trembling with shock after searching a bit deeper at some of the words the Rabbonim didn't get to notice. I know I must be careful at the words I use in your publication which spreads yiros shomayim and ruchniyes to our kehille but it is equally important that parents are not chas vesholem nichshel. I ask those with heilige oigen to please look away but how can we tolerate our teiere neshomelech looking up words like 'butt', 'buttock', 'bottom' and 'breast'? I am ashamed to say this but even the word 's-x' was not taken out. What kind of chinuch are we giving to our precious kinderlech by including such miese verter? My father olev hasholem would wash our mouths with soap if we mentioned much more eidele words and here we have the worst possible words noch with a hechsher!

I immediately called my husband who told me not to do anything until he comes home from koilel because it's a sha'le if you must put it in sheimos as it has a hechsher or whether you are allowed to burn it because of those words. He agreed absolutely that such a book has no place in a yiddishe shtib and we must be so careful not to fall into the hechsher trap. I can now understand how meat from the same hechsher came to be transported with dovor acher after seeing those chazerishe words in a book certified by a lemehadrin authority.

What I think is even more shameful is that I saw in the Tribune by my friend's house (we don't buy beshite any papers) that Rabbonim who are fluent in English went over this dictionary before giving it a hechsher. First of all are such Rabbonim really suitable for us erliche yieden? And second of all how can we now trust a rov if we know he has sifted through all this shmutz? Maybe that's why there is no haskome because even the Rabbonim were ashamed that they had to read such treifene books. And third of all maybe that’s why they left in all those words and it's a simen they can't even talk such good English. They for sure can't talk French because they left 'lingerie' lying about in full view of the boys and rachmone litzlon even 'thong' was stuck in. Do they know the achrayus of publishing such a book? No wonder so many children are going off the derech if their precious neshomolech get to see such tomene words.

But I don't want to be nichshel with loshen hore and rechilus and also we must be dan lekaf zechus. The Rabbonim did include ‘spank’, beat', 'pinch', 'smack' and 'hit'. Boruch Hashem the Scrooges shlito also remembered to leave out 'Christmas' and even had the seichel to cut out 'fossil'. But couldn't they also remove 'evolution'? Isn't there enough kfiro that we need some more with the best hechsher in the world?

I also hoped at least they would include some heimishe English words like cheder, yeshive and shiduch. No wonder those chachomim from Oxford were so nispoel of the request for such a dictionary (besides that they required the cost of 2000 copies to be underwritten). The Rabbonim allowed them to teach our children narishe words like 'lugubrious' and 'rumbustious' which no one will anyway ever use but were ashamed to allow Hashem and mezuze? The Tribune thinks it was a kidush Hashem but it's really a huge chilul Hashem if you can't include 'God' and not even 'G-d'!

May we be zoiche to kedushe and to be nitzel from all the nisyoines that today's dor produces even with a hechsher.

A Dedicated Yiddishe Mame

***

Dear Editor

I heard rachmone litzlon that some children have developed a new game where they have to guess words and then look it up in the kosher dictionary. If the word’s in they lose a point and if it's out they gain a point. My eyes are filled with tears writing this that such a michshoil could come out from a koshere dictionary and the musar haskeil is to avoid using Rabbonim who can speak English which boruch hashem is not so bad by us.

An Experienced Mechanech

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Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Celebrating the Torah

Walking the street enjoying the sights of the flowers and the smell of dairy delicacies it occurs to me that while the other festivals are offshoots and commandments of the Torah, only Shavouth is the festival of the Torah itself. It is when we celebrate the Torah given to us on Mount Sinai though the Torah does not make the link and, like most things, comes to us by rabbinic deduction perpetuated by culture and custom. Perhaps like a birthday boy or girl who do not organise their own party, the Torah kept silent on the issue and left it to others to throw the bash. And what a bash it is!

Other Holidays go on for what seems a lifetime and come with truck loads of rules restricting what we can eat, when we can eat, where we can eat and sometimes whether we can eat at all. Pesach supposedly celebrates freedom but enslaves us weeks in advance in preparation and weeks after in paying the bills. Succoth celebrates the shade in the wilderness so we Jews decided to commemorate it by erecting booths during rainy and cool Autumn.

Shavuoth however is different. It's short lasting only 2 days; it's tasty with an abundance of cheesecakes and other dairy savouries; and it's colourful with beautiful flowers and foliage adorning homes and shules. So much so that the Talmud tells us that unlike other Holidays there is no dispute that Shavuoth must be enjoyed materially as well as spiritually.

For this reason Shavuoth has hardly any rules or special prayers and we're home early for lunch. Those prayers that there are like Akdomuth come with a special chant. The Akdomuth itself is one half glorification of God and his celestial creations and one half a recitation of the delights to expect when our time comes. A feast of the Leviathan and the Wild Ox, assuming they’re not endangered species, washed down with wine from the days of Genesis and held in halls of splendour. Unfortunately there is no debauchery to go with it and while others get 70 virgins all we get is a waltz with the righteous who as we know can't dance.

To top the beauty of the Festival is the reading of the book of Ruth, surely the most exquisite and beautiful story of the entire Bible both in content and style.

Since I seem to be giving a sermon there must be a moral at the end and here it is: Shavuoth is celebrated in the manner that the Torah ought to be before the killjoys decided to ruin it: short, simple, colourful and palatable. Leave the 'deeper meanings' to your slumber during the Rabbi's speech for Shavuoth needs no rabbis. The Torah has simple and pleasant meaning and that is just how we celebrate the Festival commemorating its presentation to us.

Good Yom Tov!

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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The Board’s birthday bash

We in Stamford Hill have always known the very many reasons to be grateful to our askonim. Whether they are in the hatzole sounding their klaxons to save our lives, in the kosher business to fill our stomachs, in schooling to babysit our kids or in the fundraising industry to improve our souls by diminishing the contents of our wallets there is a common thread running through them. Selfless men and a few women too who give their all to save us from looking after ourselves. Wagging tongues don't deflect them and nay sayers don't deter them. They are on a mission assigned to them from heaven and if they happen to benefit indirectly from their good deeds not only do we not begrudge them their sidekick but we open our pockets to line theirs. We know that for the exalted few our needs are theirs and so it is only right that we should let them treat us as as they see fit.

I am of course referring to those altruistic individuals who give from their time, their money, their jobs (if they are lucky to have one) and their family for their niche askonus. A much rarer commodity however are those individuals who will sacrifice even from their ruchnius, from their religious values and duties, for the sake of the general good. Men and women who will desecrate the shabbos, skip a minyen, speak loshen hore, refuse kids places in schools, converse with goyim and even strike up friendships with them and all for the sake of avoiding us opening our mouths and saying the wrong thing. Altruistic utilitarianism you might like to call it though such individuals are so rare a breed that their DNA is still being pored upon by askenologists. The Chofets Chaim it is said skipped a minche when at a meeting in Warsaw to discuss the terrible decree that would have obliged Jewish kids to get some secular education. And for that he is the Chofets Chaim. Yet we in our generation, in our country, in our city and in our very community have merited not one but indeed two such individuals.

This may sound incredible and indeed it is but true nonetheless. Gracing the pages of last week's papers were our own esteemed 'Rabbi' and Buffoon partying away for the sake of all of us. Cynics amongst you may be thinking, big deal, he went to a party, where for Christ's sake is the mesiras nefesh in that? Haven't we all been to a party? Of course, with a wall-to-wall mechitze, a glatt kosher kedassia menu of roast potatoes and schnitzel, or fish if that be your preferred choice, tznuesdike attired females on the female side and a bearded holy fool mumbling in the mic held too close to his moustache begging the ladies to be quiet. I mean you're not trying to tell me that they went to some goyishe or 'Jew-ish' G-d forsaken fest where men mingle freely rachmone litzlon with noshim, Reformists masquerade as Jews and the food is, well, dodgy at best considering the meat has a hechsher your dog wouldn't rely on and side dishes and dessert containing innocent looking broccoli or even those notoriously treacherous strawberries.

Dear reader it is just such a party I am referring to and this is what I mean by the mesiras nefesh of our unique and once-in-3-generations askonim. No less than the exalted 'Rabbi' and the esteemed Buffoon sacrificed all that is dear and holy to their precious souls and all for the sake of representing you and I. We know they give away their time to mingle with entire units of Scotland Yard's finest to prevent them rounding up all of us for the crime of being Jewish and for that we genuflect and kiss the concrete they walk on. We are fully aware of the dedication of being a councillor and mayor for decades for measly pay and sleepless nights so that our bins should be collected on the eve of Pesach. We will never forget the angst they endure when saying no to kids being admitted to their schools so as not to pollute the more delicate neshomes of our charges.

But this? Just take look at the pain in their eyes, their forced smile, the discomfort so evident in their body language, beard unkempt and tie askew and you will come to understand why there is virtually nothing they will not do for us. And then to read the Buffoon a week later and to marvel at him having the grace and mentshlichkeit he is so renown for in wishing the Board a happy birthday and with his hallmark modesty made no mention of his own attendance. Mi keamkho yisoreil? And who is like thou askonim, O Israel?

And imagine the sight when the envelope dropped through their toiredike letter box undefiled by the shmutz that is the common lot of non-heimishe letterboxes and their shock when they discovered its contents. How they referred their predicament whether to attend to daas torah. The 'Rabbi' explaining how he simply could not attend a party where women wore no sheitels and the tznius standard was lower than the reach of his beard. And the Buffoon shedding excruciating tears setting out how he would excoriate anyone seen at an affair where 'they' are represented as yidn. And the Rabbonim after consulting their oracle invoking eith la'sos lashem, 'if not for you who is for us' and decreeing that in the merit of representing their brethren they will see no evil and taste no evil.
They say a photo speaks a thousand words but photos like these make us lost for words. How do we begin to show hakoras hatov for people who are the personification of askonus. It is why Stamford Hill is the envy of the world and we more than anyone else feel safe in the knowledge that however few our abilities and however many our shortcomings we will always be able to rely on our askonim to walk, talk, smile, think and even sin for us.
 
Yasher Kochachem!

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