Sunday, March 25, 2012

So Plastic Surgery DOES = Shidduchim?

And here I thought we (the readers and I) had concluded that the issue was moot after I wrote a post based on The Grogger's video, "Jewcan Sam."

Then there was the intensely controversial that was published in the Jewish Press right around Purim by Yitta Halberstam called "Purim and the Tyranny of Beauty: A Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shidduchim." Among the many ridiculous things written in this article, I think her comparison of the extreme beauty pageant of Achashveirosh to modern day Jewish girls is horribly misguided:

"The women of the kingdom who vied for the Queen’s throne were given twelve months to prepare for the beauty pageant – why hadn’t some of the girls at the shidduch event taken a mere half hour?"

Seriously? You want to learn mussar for our daughters from the hedonistic, easily manipulated menuval who was basically complacent with our national destruction? Really?

For a great response to this article, read Rabbi Eliyahu Fink's post.

The plastic surgeon who commissioned the "Jewcan Sam" video, Michael Salzhauer, is actually under investigation by the American Society for Plastic Surgeons for violations of medical ethics in trying to "sell" the idea of plastic surgery.

On top of all that, Dr. Salzhauer now has the gall to offer plastic surgery, pro bono (that's free, for those of us less legal savvy folks) to unfortunate Orthodox Jewish singles who can't get a shidduch because of their looks, based on the recommendations of their shadchanim!

(Link hat-tip to Surfin' the Shidduch Scene. For a complete news coverage of this ongoing sage, see The Huffington Post).

This is SICK.

What is happening to the Jewish community? Instead of working on practical solutions to end the "shidduch crisis" we're focusing on the wrong things and creating more issues than we are solving.

Everyone has their own preference when it comes to physical attractiveness, and I've been to weddings where I wonder what the guy or girl saw in their new spouse in regard to their looks. But who cares what my opinion, or anyone else's is, when the chosson and kallah have found someone they find attractive and look forward to seeing when they wake up each morning?

It seems like in today's chumra-crazy society, we're taking the machlokes between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai regarding how to praise an "ugly" bride at her wedding (Kesubos 17a) and adding in our own redaction to the Gemara. Whereas Beis Hillel says we should praise the bride as she is seen through her husband's eyes - clearly he finds her to be beautiful - Beis Shammai says we should stick to the truth and not lie about her lack of beauty.

So instead of holding like the position advocated by Beis Hillel, we're now going to make sure we can follow Beis Shammai too, since every "homely" girl out there will be objectively beautiful once she's been "fixed" thanks to Dr. Salzhauer and others, if this practice becomes the norm.

Why are we learning the wrong things from the secular society around us, which preaches and advocates the value of physical beauty above all else, including health and happiness. All this had led to is a dramatic increase in people going under the knife, eating disorders, years and years worth of therapy and doctor visits to correct damage done to women's bodies and minds, and who knows what else!

Where can we go next, as a society, if we don't stop these shenanigans soon? Check back later this week find out....


  1. How right you are. But please, don't make this a chumra issue. Unless that was satirical?

    1. That wasn't satirical, but I do not think you understand what I meant, since that was a loaded reference that begs further explanation.

      We have become a chumra-crazed society. Many, many "frum" people out there look for the strictest, most inflexible halachic positions on any and every matter that exists. They do this not for the sake of spiritual elevation because they've already mastered a particular aspect of their behavior or relationship with HaShem, but because it's the thing to do or it's what they've been told to do, and they don't take the time to think about the ramifications of what taking a stringency upon themselves really means to either their personal lives, their spouses, children, family, and community.

      This had lead to the obsession with knowing the most minute details about people when dating, and turning down completely "ball park," decent suggestions because he/she doesn't live up to some unreasonable expected in area x or y. There is no such thing as imperfection that is acceptable, or more maykil, which is perfectly halachically acceptable - for every chumra out there there is a perfectly legitimate kulah to go along with it.

      This has gone from truly halachic things such as established minhagim (such as gebrochts) to ridiculous things like using plastic table cloths on Shabbos - and has also transformed the way men look at women and women look at/think of themselves. If a girl doesn't have a certain size, she's out, because "l'chumra" (and I use that colloquially) she's not good enough any more. Or, her nose is just a bit too long, like the famous story with the Steipler that I quoted here:

      The societal issue is rampant, especially when it comes to "frum" people and business dealings, which has led to the abundant horror stories of "religious" Jews being arrested for this or that "kulah" they used at work while being "machmir" on 100 things at home. As Rav Shachter said in a Dvar Torah that I wrote about here: - and this is a paraphrase:

      "The guys sitting in kollel and learning all day, surrounded entirely by an atmosphere of kedusha should be the most maykil ones, what do they need to be worried about? Today’s society is entirely backward, with the full-time learners trying to our-frum each other with unnecessary chumros, while many people out in business try to do the most minimum to get by halachically. Definitely something to think about."

      The unfortunate zeitgeist has plagued us for far too long, and now look where it's leading us, not-ironically, by the nose. We need some sense knocked into our heads to get our brains thinking for ourselves once again.

    2. Oh.

      Yup, that's what I thought you meant. Really?? Do you really this ridiculous attitude has to do with trying to out-frum others?

    3. I think it's symptomatic of the larger OCD-ness that is exhibited these days that has gained expression in these unrealistic expectations of humans. In an attempt to leap ahead of where we are spiritually, we have locked ourselves away from the world and attempt to keep out negative values. But in doing so, we fail in our mission to be an ohr lagoyim, and end up absorbing some of the worst middos out there.

      We obsess about being "better," more affluent with less effort and less legal obligations, and more physically desirable/successful than the next person. You do/have X, well I have X+2!

      Back in the day, as I've heard from grandparents and others of their generation, most everyone focused on finding someone from a good family, who could in turn raise a family according to proper Jewish observance, and was pretty or handsome "enough." There didn't exist this concept of physical perfection outside of literature or maybe one or two movie stars that epitomized beauty (which was vastly different anyway).

      We need to return to a healthy sense of what can really be expected of our fellow Jews, both from their performance of mitzvos - wherein halacha is adhered to, but the most stringent measures are not applied across the board - and physical attractiveness, among other categories in dating, where people need to determine what is actually physically attractive to him/her and not what is dictated to them by secular society.

      We don't need standards of attractiveness determined by the dress sizes and facial characteristic of Hollywood starlets and models. Studies have been done to show that guys really don't know what these numbers mean anyway unless someone tells them by assigning a number to a full-body picture. Thus, we are artificially constructing picture-perfect ideal images in our heads which can't compare the vast majority of real women out there.

      Even in marriage, there are certain things that someone may not like about their own body, or about their spouse's, but in the end, everything is acceptable because no one is perfect. I've always been very picky about my teeth, and regardless of how many times ASoG tells me she doesn't mind, it's still going to bother me. It doesn't make me any less attractive to her. ASoG happens to have hair on the curlier side, but straightened it while we were dating - and still does on occasion as a favor for me when it's just us in the apartment. Just because I happen to like straighter hair and her natural hair doesn't mean I think she's flawed or unattractive - she's human just like the rest of us.

      All this hoopla about being unable to get a shidduch unless someone gets plastic surgery is very disturbing, and clearly demonstrates a misguided sense of priorities in life and when considering physical attraction.

    4. I've been mulling over your reply all day yesterday, and here are my thoughts. While I *never* would have put that particular 2 and 2 together to make 4, I've been thinking about what, indeed, is the root middah here, because I do believe there is truth to what you're saying. And here's what I'm contemplating.

      There is a general Jewish middah that stretches across all segments of our nation, from the most religious to the most secular and that is ambition. Call it chutzpah, guts, or whatever - we've always pushed and shoved and risen above. So just as any extreme behavior manifests in the culture of its particular community (OCD manifests religiously in religious people, for example), in the frum community this manifests the way you've described (although I would certainly qualify that this is taking it to an embarrassing extreme), whereas in the non-frum community it might manifest in doing very well financially, attending the best universities, moving into the best suburbs, taking the nicest vacations - again not across the board, because I know many non-frum people that have tempered this drive in a healthy way, but the root middah is there, available for our use to accomplish either positive or negative things with.

      Your thoughts on that?

    5. That's an interesting way of putting it, and one that I had not considered before. I was actually going to mention the OCD thing manifesting itself in specific ways depending on the community, in light of the statistics that demonstrate that the percentage of population groups with OCD is the same across all cultures/ethnicities/etc just manifested differently.

      I'm not sure if the middah of ambition is the source of all this. There is a positive notion of ambition/jealousy mentioned in Chazal (I can't recall where) which starts off negative but becomes positive. The case I remember is someone who is jealous of another's success in Torah studies, so he is spurred to push himself to become as successful and knowledgeable as the first guy. In the end, he will have amassed a great wealth of Torah, and hopefully worked out the taint of his original motivation.

      I'm having a little trouble seeing that being applied here... but I honestly don't have a better suggestion.

      I can see that coming into play a bit with some of things I mentioned, in terms of one-upping another person in terms of expense of a wedding, tallis, tefillin, lulav, chanukiah or some other religious event/article. In some sense, the purpose driving the person is creating hiddur mitzvah.

      If I were to then suggest how it got to where we are now, I would say that it started infiltrating what we spent and how we thought of less religiously connected things, such as chosson watches, suits for shul, hats/streimels, houses - all of which are important in their own way, but as inherently important as mitzvos or mitzvah objects.

      From there it would move to even more physical and less spiritual things, like furniture, cars, technology etc. Once we're there, already in the domain of the secular materialistic culture, that goes hand-in-hand with the emphasis on all things physical, not just possessions but people - who we can come to view as objects or possessions in our darker moments.

      Once you lump all that together, that misplaced ambition could easily become an obsession of unseen levels, with some pointing back to sources in chazal or some other stretch of an explanation to justify the current practices. People forget where the initial ideas came from - such as a particular story I heard where a guy wanted a size Y girl because he knew that a certain actress was that size, and thus became the definition of what was beautiful to him. That kind of stuff starts spreading around and becomes so ingrained, we begin to believe there is some Jewish value inherent in these mistaken and misguided notions.

      So, after thinking it over (as I was writing) I think there could indeed be a link.

      I'm not sure simply re-directing the ambition is the answer per se, rather than opening our eyes and realizing what we're actually doing to the community and what foreign, damaging values we've incorporated into our society and daily lives.

      Simply speaking out against it won't be enough - the obsession with looks over all else is so entrenched that I think greater measures are needed. What practical things can be done to make people honestly do some cheshbon hanefesh? I'm not really sure.

      PS - thank you for such an engaging and interesting dialogue. I wish I had more comments and readers like yours/you.

  2. :) Thanks. I wish more bloggers were as truth-seeking as open-minded as you!

    As far as what the answer is: One might argue less exposure to pop culture. Others may decry that approach on principle, or argue that it simply cannot be done, given the universality of it all.

    Ultimately, God gave kids parents for a reason and they are the first line of defense in transmitting values. Where the parents fail, others can try to pick up the pieces, but ultimately that would be plan B.


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