Monday, January 10, 2011

Mixed Messages

Guilt is an awful thing to bear. Sexual guilt is worse. Sexual guilt among adolescence in Israel was the subject of a recent study under the auspices of Bar Ilan University and presented at a conference on “Challenges in Jewish Education”. Imagine: a conference was held in 2011 about a subject that was beaten to death in the 1960’s and 70’s. Novel perhaps about this conference was the focus on the orthodox community. Apparently orthodox youth may be sexually conflicted and repressed. Apropos, when I was in high school, preference was to go out with girls from Bais Yaakov without of course the knowledge or permission of their parents. In retrospect it would appear that they must have been profoundly conflicted, but it never occurred to us when “in the moment”. The depth of conflict and the psychological stress was and still remains beyond my comprehension. This study certainly is revealing.

Disturbing were some of the observations underscored at the conference regarding the attitudes of adolescence to sex. For example researchers discovered that orthodox youth were disgusted by “porn” believing that god didn’t create people for their bodies to be on display, which although is a silly argument (by the same token I can argue that if god intended men to be circumcised we would have been born that way) reveals deep seated issues as expressed in their conflicts: being passionately and inexorably pulled to and attracted to natural sex, but feeling guilty about those lustful feelings.

None of this is surprising to me. It isn’t my intention to be dismissive of this community or treat them in a cavalier manner. However one of the glaring problems with this segment of the Jewish community are the mixed messages that the adolescent community receives from their parents and community. On any given Shabbat one can readily see these young adolescent girls in their shabbes best: decked out in suggestive outfits, spiked heels and coiffed like upscale call girls. You have to wonder how in the world did their parents let them step out of the house like that, unless of course they approve, which means they are enabling them and thus reinforcing the mixed message. A few years ago I posted an essay on the thrill of attending a frum wedding. The exaggerated smorgasbord was barely outdone by the over the top parade of nubile eligible (and not so eligible) women sauntering through the smorgasbord as though they were there on display and in competition with the roast beef.

Another unfortunate mixed message has begun to emerge from none other than the ultra orthodox spiritual leadership: the rabbinic establishment, which has recently begun to permit elective plastic, cosmetic surgery such as nose jobs, breast enhancement, tummy tuck, buttocks lift, liposuction etc. Hitherto it was the opinion of the ultra orthodox rabbinate that there was no need to improve upon god’s handiwork. Apparently chanting “eshes chayil” to an unflattering nose or underdeveloped bosom was inappropriate to many within the community. The rabbis, in their dubious wisdom modified their previous p’sak to now assume that god’s handiwork may be improved upon by a nip and tuck here and there. So this new and improved mother of thirty something transmorphing into a “Barbie” albeit with a sheitel, has now become the new and improved version of the “eshes chayil”, a woman of valor and the new role model for her nubile adolescent daughter.

Not surprisingly there is yet a new phenomenon among our young orthodox girls: eating disorders. In 1996 Dr. Ira Sacker studied ultra orthodox women and found that 1 out of 19 in his Brooklyn sampling had an eating disorder:

“Experts say the orthodox community is sending mixed messages to young women. Parents, matchmakers and potential mates want a svelte bride, but may shun a woman who divulged she has an eating disorder because of the stigma of mental illness. For arranged marriages among the ultra orthodox, the first question matchmakers ask is about physical appearance, including weight and the mother’s weight, which feeds the message that thinner brides are now more desirable, said Dr. Ira Sacker…”

It makes one wonder what the face of the ultra orthodox community will look like in another generation. After all, it is to the ”eshes chayil” the pillar of the Jewish family that we all look up to in holding together the values of “yisroel saba”. This study is indicative that they have embarked on a slippery slope and the matchmakers that Dr. Sacker referenced doesn’t help but rather hinders. Perhaps these ultra orthodox families ought to consider or or other social networking sites as alternatives to these misguided matchmakers. It makes you wonder if Mark Zuckerberg got it right when he developed face book?