The Time I Tried an Interpretive Answer on a Hebrew Quiz

Another one from Rose, who knows what’s what, including elbows. 

Every week we had to memorize a hundred Hebrew words for our Safah quiz. In the beginning, I tried to. I remember the time it was body parts. I couldn’t remember the word for “elbow” so I wrote in “ervah.” She wouldn’t give me the point, even when I went over after and argued.


The Time I Tried an Interpretive Answer on a Hebrew Quiz

The Time Our Principal Was a Little Obsessed With Sexuality

Another one from Rose, who learned from her principal what is important to obsess over. 
We had an interesting principal.
One time our teacher didn’t come so she came in and told us to all get a Tanach.
“Open to the last Perek of Achrei Mos.” That’s the list of forbidden relationships.
She made us go around and read it all in both Hebrew and in English.
Then she gave us a speech that lasted two periods.
She went on about how the Torah wastes no words on these forbidden relationships. How harsh the punishment is. How we create gedarim go keep us away from them.
She pointed to two pillars on opposite ends of the room.
“If that one is tumah, and that one is tahara, then every geder around tumah pushes us closer to tahara.”
“Maybe it’s not necessarily true that  brushing someone’s hands while getting change will lead to znus, but talking to a boy in a pizza shop definitely will.”
I remember once she was talking about gedarim and she turned to the 12th graders and said “I just gave my Achrei Mos spiel to the ninth graders. Remember how uncomfortable you were? Now you understand why I do it.”
As the 12th graders filed out I overhead one say “I still don’t get why she did that.”
Another speech she took a period for:
She handed out printed sheets from Mishna Berura about davening in front of women.
“The reason that I can’t be in the room with my husband while he’s davening is so he shouldn’t have sexual thoughts about me. Similarly with keeping my hair covered in the house, in case he has to make a brocha.”
It was a weird thing to say to a bunch of ninth graders. If there was one thing we were pretty sure about, it was that nobody every had any sexual thoughts about any of our teachers.
Our school rulebook said socks should be “blue or black and shoes should be invisible in design.”
I remember in ninth grade I was so idealistic I spent days shopping for shoes that were the same color as my socks and even the stitches matched my socks so you almost couldn’t see them… my mother would joke for years about my shoes being invisible.
Anyway it was silly sock day, which means we wore colorful socks because of something to do with GO or Mishmeres.
In honor of silly, sock day, I went shopping for duck socks specifically.
Apparently nobody cleared this with the principal. So on Silly Sock Day, she was astonished to discover us all walking about brazenly in colorful, patterned, illustrated socks. She stopped a few students in the hall and asked about the socks situation — is this a new trend?
She was assured they would disappear tomorrow — it was Silly Sock Day.
She laughed. “I don’t mind girls expressing themselves with harmless trends. Only when it’s overtly sexual.”
Given how some high school principals are, I guess I should be grateful that she couldn’t think of anything overtly sexual about silly socks.
The Time Our Principal Was a Little Obsessed With Sexuality

The Objectification of the Male Tongue

This story is from Rose, who now realizes that tznius is about keeping the inside inside. 
In ninth grade we all had to make Eretz Yisroel scrapbooks. Our Safah teacher was about ninety years old and a little bit strange. I once used my inhaler in class and she kicked me out for that.
She gave out directions for the scrapbook in just Hebrew and never bothered to  explain them. Each page was supposed to have a quote and something. Lots of people just turned in a former student’s scrapbook.
According to my Big Sister, “nobody” made their own. But I was idealistic and decided to make my own. I did it all myself and had my brother do the lettering and help me with the Hebrew. I wasn’t doing so well in Safah so I wanted to get something right.
Over the course of a few snow days I made a gorgeous scrapbook.
I handed it in. Other people handed in old ones from previous years and she recognized them and they had to do it again. I got an aleph plus for presentation and aleph minus for content.
The most offensive content in my scrapbook was a 1″x1″ image of a soldier sticking out his tongue. She defaced my beautiful scrapbook by actually circling and crossing out the tongue. Twice.
I was pretty happy with my grade, but I went over and asked why she crossed out the tongue.
She looked up at me and started yelling “zeh lo tznius!”
“The man?”
“The tongue! Zeh lo tznius!”
She went on for a bit while I sort of gaped. I had never heard THAT one before.
The Objectification of the Male Tongue

More on Photos of Bais Yaakov Maidels

Click through to the article in full: (HT to MV)

The Troubling Trend of Photoshopping Bais Yaakov

Flipping through the book, I was struck by a photo, snapped sometime in the 1940s. The image depicted a cluster of Bais Yaakov girls studying around a picnic table. Suddenly, I endured an unsettling, almost déjà vu feeling. I had seen this picture before, but something was off. I realized that the image staring at me had been photoshopped.

In the original photo the girls in the picture wore short sleeves. In this newer version, the students’ sleeves reached their wrists. I looked through my research and found my somewhat torn copy of the picture. The original image appeared in a school fundraising pamphlet in the early 1940s. I suddenly found myself playing a round of “Spot the Differences,” and there were many. Sleeves lengthened. Necklines raised. Knee-length hems extended an additional four or so inches. Even the married woman in the picture, wearing a full Orthodox-standard head covering, was photoshopped: the bit of hair sticking out on the sides now concealed.

More on Photos of Bais Yaakov Maidels

Outside on the Inside: Part 3 – The Spying Overture

For part 1 of this series or part 2

One day I got called down to the principal’s office. My principal got straight to the point. “So. What exactly do you and Suri have in common?”

I put on my thinking face, palms sweating, panicking inside. Suri had been a frequent flier to the principal’s office in her first 2 years of high school because of her constant dozing in class and boy issues.  It would not be good to have a lot in common with her. “I would say that it’s not so much what we have in common that keeps us bonded. It’s more that we balance each other out and have the same feelings on the subject of loyalty,” I said thoughtfully.

The principal wrinkled her nose at the smell of this bullshit. “So what do you actually do when you spend time together?”

I put on the thinking face again. “Nothing really. We mostly eat and talk.” This wasn’t too far off, but the subjects of our conversations were not appropriate for principal ears.

The principal’s eyebrows crept together. “Who else hangs out with you?”

“No one,” I blurted out. This was the truth. I mostly heard about people she knew but hardly ever got to meet them.

The principal let out her breath slowly. “Ok. Get back to class.”

It took all of my self-control not to bolt out of there. That would make me look guilty.

“SHIT!” I had just finished telling Suri about my trip to the principal’s office. “We have to lie low.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Let’s think of some normal people things to talk about in school. They can’t hear us when we’re walking outside or at your house.”

This was how it went for the next year and a bit, until Suri graduated.

During that time I met her boyfriend. When they had an epic fight and she didn’t leave her room for 3 days, I went to her house with coffee and a bar of chocolate and forced her into the shower like in the movies. When I made out with a guy for the first time, she was the one I called that motzai Shabbos. She was the one who helped me find him again when I felt like making out again.  She was the one who cheered me on as I kicked my principal’s son (a different story). I was the one who got into a shouting match with her about how she should take the SATs. I was the one who paced around my block, full of nerves for her, when she told her parents about her boyfriend.

In later years, I was the one who delicately asked her how she and her boyfriend-turned-fiance intended to live off his meager salary. She was the one who listened to my crying about my first boyfriend when I was 18. She was the one who picked me up again after my second boyfriend.

Still later, she told me that I was right about the SAT. That she felt useless because only her husband made money. That she envied that I was single and childfree. When I called her even later, upset at how fucked up I had become, she reminded me of those blessings.  When her mom died and I worked the night shift and was in school fulltime, I phoned her to apologize for not making the shiva, and she managed a small chuckle when I pointed out that this was a literal shiva call.

I’m not saying that high school was perfect. I’m just saying that sometimes my school had the right idea. She definitely helped me and acted like a big sister.



Outside on the Inside: Part 3 – The Spying Overture

When Bais Yaakov Prudishness Sabotaged My Seminary Interview

It doesn’t get more ironic than this, I think:


The literal translation is “the man knew Chava his wife.” But my teacher had translated it simply as “Adam married Chava.” The following phrase is “and she got pregnant and gave birth to Cain.” I hadn’t questioned the translation my teacher gave us, because it all seemed to make sense – after all, the order of things is marriage and then babies, right?

Rabbi Neustadt clicked his tongue impatiently. “I didn’t ask you to give me the meforshim on the posuk, just tell me the translation of this posuk.”

I just did, I thought. But how do I say that to a rabbi, especially one who’s interviewing me and deciding on whether I belong in his seminary?

When Bais Yaakov Prudishness Sabotaged My Seminary Interview