On Being Hot

 Posted by on June 28, 2012
Jun 282012

A modestly dressed woman is sweating in the heat and thanking someone for telling her she looks hot

So it’s summer! Oh, sunny, lovely, sweaty summer. The time we pull out the little shorts and flimsy summer dresses. Except if you’re Hasidic, the people who continue to dress in nearly the same heavy layers of clothing, covering their bodies from head to toe. I remember that outsiders would often look at my H

asidic Palm stockings condescendingly, pity me endlessly, and ask “aren’t you hot in those… those.. ‘bulletproofs'”? “Bulletproofs, mind you, is a very original expression of outsider’s humor, and this word would punctuate these frequent statements of ‘utter’ compassion.

The truth is, despite the fact that I went to town with this cartoon, I don’t remember ever feeling extremely hot. I don’t remember ever wiping sweat from my forehead and back of my neck. No, thank you for your pathetic pity, I’m not hot. I’m sitting on this park bench with my stroller, not running, not skating, not biking, not doing push-ups, not rolling down a hill with my son or showing off my cartwheels or dancing on the grass to the rhythm of my spirit, just sitting politely and modestly watching you all with your wide sweat spots on the back of your A-shirts. No, I’m not sweating. I’m not. hot.

I could have used being a little hot.

I first knew hot, real hot, only later, when I was free. When I’d ride my bicycle for hours on end, under the afternoon sun, climbing a hill with hands so sweaty they’d slip off the handlebars. And then when I’d get over the top, whipping downhill, I’d feel the sweat on my cheeks and forehead turn to ice with the breeze. That’s when I knew hot. When I stopped my bike for a drink under a shade and see my face in my rear view mirror clip on; red as beat, my hair wet and curly under my helmet, so sweaty I looked like I walked out of a boxing ring. Then I was hot.

I don’t think too much heat is the problem for Hasidim. The modesty ideal that does not permit most forms of physical activity is much more damaging than the modesty rule of wearing an extra sweaty layer. Women are shunned if they don’t refrain from running, acting uninhibited, or getting too physical. Instead, they are meant to be in the home, away from the heat, an isha kasheira. Rebbetzin Hillary Clinton famously reminded us that the solution to heat is “to get out of the kitchen”. Which is what Hasidic women are in great need of doing. Get out of the kitchen, leave the nine days fancy blintzes for Green’s and go climb a mountain, hike through winding trails, run a marathon, ride down a scenic path, play tennis or go skating or yes, dance to the beat of your spirit. Just for heavens sake, stop staring at others and get moving. Stretch your legs and work that body and let yourself be. Exercise those muscles and joints and reserves of kokosh you spent too much time in the kitchen making and eating anyway. Then you’d be really hot

On Nida

 Posted by on June 26, 2012
Jun 262012
Paulino deliveries delivers a Hasidic woman's baby

Special Delivery

You may have heard about the Orthodox couple whose baby was delivered by a truck driver (reported here: http://www.vosizneias.com/108634/2012/06/25/new-york-ny-tow-truck-driver-delivers-orthodox-jewish-baby). The husband asked the truck driver to deliver the baby because the frum man couldn’t touch his wife. Obviously, as she was in labor she was a nidah and he couldn’t touch her and deliver the baby, even while lives were at risk.

I don’t know any details of this family; how old the couple is, if this is their first child or which branch of orthodoxy they belong to. But despite the little I know, I find it hard to judge the husband per se for his behavior. I think his inability to “reach in” himself to get that baby born can hardly be faulted to him alone. I think it is a larger societal issue. I know too many frum men who would in all likelihood get lost and freeze at such a time. I also think it is not unusual for men who have learned the ways of the birds and the babees through religious “marriage prep” courses to understand that they are to keep these rules at all times, even while the water is flowing and the placenta is emerging and the child is exploding between the mother’s legs. Several societal factors breed such cowardice: 1. marriage at a young age. For all you know, this father-to-be may be nineteen and freaking out and in the worst position to get a baby out of a vagina 2. dogmatic and rigid education of laws of niddah, as in, touching her will make your child a bastard, and do not ever hand her the baby so put the baby on the pavement and have her pick the baby up with a snow shovel, all to avoid, god forbid, any touching during nida! And there’s 3. men’s fear and ignorance of the female body. The third is especially understandable. A man who has been taught never to look at a woman’s privates will naturally find it hard to do so for the first time somewhere on the highway with his unborn child speeding in between.

Anyone could panic and run for help.

But of course, my sympathy goes so far as seeing this man’s clutziness as the religious sexuality problems at play here. Because religious problems aren’t hereditary, you see, so that scenario would be better for the world, now with Baby Clutziness around. But more seriously, because I think the nida laws aren’t so far from suggesting pretty unreasonable behavior during delivery either. That women who deliver twelve babies in their life should never hold their husband’s hand while pushing? Not a back rub or even a comforting pat on the arm? Or even if they have five children, or three or one. Why should a woman give birth to her child while her husband stands with his back to her, or is outside of the room, or if he’s a cohen, outside of the hospital and maybe at home? Isn’t that outrageous in itself? All of these seem strikingly inconsiderate, even heartless and mindless. Isn’t a little bit of physical support and comfort when the woman goes through so much pain for childbirth only humane?

I cannot attest to the overal norm, but it was pretty normal among the Hasidic women I knew to deliver the babies alone, while the husband either left the room or turned around. I also think many people are very, very strict about not touching a nidah partner during the first few years of marriage. The wife is untouchable, even while she is in most desperate need to be touched. With all of these rules, I ask you: is it only a road-side baby that is hair raising, or is it the overall way frum women are supposed to give birth?