Pride & Prejudice & Seminary

I used to love The Importance of Being Ernest, because it seemed like a farce about shidduchim; it was super-important to be something you weren’t because that is what was ostensibly desired. 

But the truth is, being a Bais Yaakov maidel is more like being stuck in a Jane Austen novel: perpetually trying to “fit in” in order to maintain or gain social status. Worrying about what the neighbors will think. And losing sleep over your eligibility. 

They start you young, and it doesn’t rub everyone the right way. Here’s some reminiscing from Leeba Weisberg. 

About halfway through 9th grade at Bais Yaakov of Barely-Out-of-Town, I noticed the older students acting strangely one afternoon. The 12th graders were usually the calm and collected ones — the mature students we lowly 9th graders were meant to look up to. But today they were chattering nervously, biting nails, slamming locker doors shut harder than usual. They were a uniformed wave of unsuccessfully repressed anxiety. Of course voices lowered to whispers as teachers passed. But I knew something was definitely up.

So I did what I always did when I sensed I was out of the loop. (Which was often.) I asked my friend Dina who had eleven siblings — most of whom had gone to our school once upon a time. She had an honorary doctorate in everything Bais Yaakov as far as I was concerned.

Dina grabbed my hand, pulled me into an empty classroom, hastily shut the door and said “You don’t know?!”

“No, I have no idea,” I responded, feeling even more clueless than before.

“The 12th graders are getting their seminaries acceptance letters tonight. Most of the best seminaries send them at the same time on purpose.”

“So what? Aren’t there lots of seminaries? If you don’t get into one you can always get into another one, right?”

Dina looked aghast. “But there are only a few top seminaries. And it matters a lot for shidduchim. Getting into the right seminary shows everyone what kind of girl you are and what kind of boy you want to marry. It affects your whole future.”

The thought had never occurred to me before. Did I even want to go to seminary? What kind of seminary? I was fourteen and still relieved that I had gotten into high school. I felt a little sick — like I had been punched in the gut.

For the last several years before high school, all the teachers ever seemed to talk about was getting into high school. Sure some of it was along the lines of “You better master that and study hard because you’ll need it for high school”. But far more was like “How can you let your socks slouch like that, Ruchy?!! You’ll never get into Bais Yaakov looking like that!” or “If you don’t start behaving yourself I’ll tell Bais Yaakov not to accept you!”. It was all “do this” and “don’t do that” in the name of getting into high school.

I had cleared that hurdle. I (mostly) kept out of trouble. I wore the long socks. I managed to seem moderately ‘aidel’. I studied well enough to pass the entrance exam and my yeshivish Hebrew was passable. When I was told at my interview that I was invited to attend, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was done. I was free. My life didn’t revolve around ‘getting into Bais Yaakov’ anymore.

And now, only a few months into my school year a new hurdle was set in front of me: Getting into seminary. Would it ever end? Getting into high school, then getting into seminary, then getting a good shidduch, then getting my children into the right kindergarten, getting them into the right yeshiva and on and on and on forever? Would I have to worry about fitting the mold until I was dead? Would I be closing the curtains to watch a movie at age 75 out of fear my grandchildren won’t get a good shidduch? Was this any way to live? Was it the way I wanted to live?

“Are you okay, Leeba?”

Dina was tapping me on the shoulder.

“Oh, I’m fine” I lied.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah….it’s just that I don’t know if I want to go to seminary. I might want to go straight to college or just start working or something.”

“Um…..” Dina looked a bit uncomfortable, like I had just said I thought four suns revolved around the earth.“Okay….just don’t tell anyone, okay?”

And we never spoke of it again.

Pride & Prejudice & Seminary

How Hashem Made It Impossible for Me To Be Aidel: Curly Hair

Have you ever seen an aidel maidel with curly hair? Think of all the girls who get praised by the teachers or a million shidduch suggestions. How many of them have curly hair?

This was always a source of consternation for me. How could it be that all the “good” girls had the same hair?

There were non-aidel girls with straight hair too, so it wasn’t like straight hair guaranteed that you were an aidel maidel knaidel. But conversely, you couldn’t be one without it.

Then some wannabe-aidel friends started ironing their hair every day, and I realized the trick. It wasn’t that the genes that code for straight hair also code for aidelkeit. It was simply that the aidel archetype had straight hair. If you were aidel, you didn’t have curls. Simple as that.

Straight hair is tznius. Straight hair is aidel. Straight hair is predictable. It stays in line. It goes where it’s supposed to. It’s neat and orderly. It is sleek and refined. Straight hair is everything a bas Yisroel should be.

Curly hair, on the other hand, is unpredictable. It goes in different ways, and never does the same thing twice. It can be wild, messy, and stubborn. Curly hair is everything a bas Yisroel should avoid being.

There’s an unfair double standard on curly hair. The Falk Theory on Fashion states that anything that is fashionable in the secular velt is untznius. And yet, genuine, naturally curly hair is never in fashion. Straight hair, straight hair with a wave, straight hair with a twist ironed in around the face are all straight out of Hollywood, and somehow, all tznius and aidel. Curly hair, bouncy hair, hair that boings when you pull it, never is.

Curly hair becomes rarer as you get older, with more people trying to pass as more aidel and refined  and dressed up. And then it vanishes altogether when you get married; suddenly you can’t recognize your friends as they meld into the uniform blob of 22″, straight-haired sheitels with the same part in the front and the same bangs swept to the side and the same ironed-in twists around the face…

Because when you’re married, you’ve made it. You’ve fulfilled the purpose of your education. You are golden.

You are aidel.

How Hashem Made It Impossible for Me To Be Aidel: Curly Hair

How Hashem Made It Impossible for Me to Be Aidel: Red Hair

This is from a red-headed friend who passionately denies ever having committed murder. 

It was Navi class. We were starting to learn about David HaMelech. And the teacher clearly had this anti-red-hair speech as part of her lesson for many years, as she just launched into it. The entire class went dead silent and all stared at me.

I just looked at her solemnly and nodded in agreement. I was trying to convey “That’s how it is. I have a very murderous and passionate nature. And here you are, insulting my people. Hmm,” with my eyes. But I probably just looked kind of sleepy.

Red is the color of very passionate feeling, which is naturally used for doing Esav-like things such as murder. But — if a redhead tries really hard, they can channel their bloodlust into something positive, like becoming a shochet or a mohel or defending klal Yisroel, and end up like David HaMelech.

And even he is kind of reprimanded for his passionate nature, what with the Batsheva incident.  Even the best redhead was still not 100% victorious over passion. So what hope is there for us hoi polloi?
Especially women, who aren’t supposed to be mohels or shochtim or warriors. We have no kosher outlet, so we’re doomed to random outbursts of hysteria or murder or something.
How Hashem Made It Impossible for Me to Be Aidel: Red Hair

How Hashem Made It Impossible for Me to Be Tznius: Curves

This narrative is from A, who never buys dresses that look amazing on her. 

I’m a bodacious girl. It’s not my fault. I’m not fat, I’m just curvy. If I wasn’t a nice frum girl, I’d be considered lucky. Instead, I’m considered immodest. In school, my teachers would tell me that benos Yisroel don’t have bodies that scream “look at this!” As if my genes disqualified me from being a real bas Yisroel.

It’s not my fault that the baggiest button-down shirt doesn’t fit me like a tent. Actually, they do — they definitely fit me like a tent, but like a rather well-endowed, still curvy, and highly eye-catching tent.

Even though I don’t have an hourglass figure on purpose, everyone knows that I should be doing something about it.  I’ve gotten everything from “Just layer and no one will know” (Which I do!) to “Have you ever thought of [reduction] surgery?…ya know…for tznius’ sake.”


How Hashem Made It Impossible for Me to Be Tznius: Curves