Instead of debating the merits (or lack there of) of the Senate Impeachment trial yesterday, most of Twitter was abuzz with a far more important topic: why President Trump’s Orthodox Jewish lawyer, David Schoen, put his hand on his head every time he drank water. No one knows the exact reason. Schoen normally wears a yarmulke, but apparently wasn’t sure if it was appropriate or distracting to wear it on the Senate floor. However, as an observant Jew, whenever he makes a blessing before or after eating or drinking, he covers his head. He continued to put his hand on his head each time he drank, leading some to wonder if it was an unconscious reflex to “hold” the phantom yarmulke in place as he tilted his head back to drink. Whatever the reason, it was almost certainly religiously motivated. Yet his many detractors – most of them who I imagine consider themselves open-minded and into diversity – didn’t seem to care.
Snarky comments like: “If David Schoen doesn’t cover the hole in the top of his skull with his hand, water squirts out when he drinks,” and, “Omg! Schoen had to hold his head on to sip some water! ,” are all over Twitter.
Even after many of these people were informed that the reason was a religious one, the original Tweets were not deleted. Some people noted that they didn’t mean to offend. But if you mock religious Jews, you don’t have to delete your snarky tweet and beg for forgiveness. You certainly don’t have to worry about getting canceled.
To clarify – I hate the idea of getting canceled. Everyone will say something wrong in his or her lifetime and when most people have a megaphone via social media, chances are those words could be public at some point. But everyone should get a chance to apologize and do better, not get destroyed.
At the same time, I’m feeling increasingly annoyed by the people who claim to care about diversity, inclusivity, and equality, yet seem to think that only some people are worthy of respect. People who are proudly closed-minded is also not a great look, but at least they don’t pretend to be better than they are! Indeed, there is something especially pernicious when you hold yourself up to a higher standard and then don’t even attempt to meet that standard.
Last week, a couple people who claim to care about women’s rights felt the need to criticize the Orthodox practice of a married woman covering her hair. We made a video on the topic that is not meant to preach or judge – simply explain the reason and meaning many Orthodox Jewish choose to follow this law. First, a man name Eric wrote on YouTube, “Makes me sad that a silly thing that is used to control women is being taken seriously at all. Are there any religions where men are the second class citizens? Sure doesn’t seem like it.”
I responded to Eric, “Thanks for your comment, Eric. I know you believe you’re doing right by women to protect us from the “patriarchy,” and there are certainly some women who need that protection whether their being controlled by men is to make them ultra-modest or hyper-sexualized. But what you’re forgetting is that a whole bunch of us modest dressers and hair-coverers are making a self-actualized choice to add meaning to our lives. When you call our practice silly, you are actually the one degrading women, because we’ve used our womenly brains and souls to make these spiritual choices. If a modestly dressed woman is not your thing, don’t marry one or teach the concept to your daughters. But please allow those of us who proudly choose this to receive the basic respect we deserve as fellow human beings.”
I posted this exchange on Facebook, and another commenter, a woman this time, chimed in, “I agree with Eric. Choosing to wear wigs and look like Russian peasants is choosing patriarchy.”
I was perplexed by this statement and responded, “I thought feminism meant supporting women’s right to choose.”
The woman then replied, “Wanting to return to shtetl life is not true feminism.”
To which I asked, “Who gets to determine what ideas are OK and what we women are not allowed to do? This doesn’t sound liberated at all.”
I find it maddening that Orthodox Jews are known to be the closed-minded ones (and sure, some of us are!) yet many people who support progressive and feminist values don’t actually believe in the right to live one’s life (if the behavior is not harming anyone) without getting mocked and judged. What ever happened to “live and let live” or “agree to disagree?” We need to demand that people do better and the first step is calling out the double standard. Please help us start this conversation across social media by sharing this article and asking your community to let Orthodox Jews practice and dress how we see fit.