The Time My Mother Called the Rabbi Listed on the School Letterhead

Here’s a funny one from Rose about the need to have the right names listed to garner community approval. 

In sixth grade we had this awful English teacher that we didn’t like. She had us read a book called Wringer by Jerry Spinelli, which was about wringing pigeons’ necks. I read the first chapter and complained to my mother about it. The people in it were pretty awful to each other (as well as the pigeons.)  My mom read the book in one night and said “You are not reading this book for school.”

She decided not to fight this with the low ranks, and went straight to the top. So she called the (big, local) rabbi whose name was on the school letterhead. She read him passages and said that he was on the Halachic board, what did he think?

He said “What school?” She named it. “I’ve never heard of this school. Are you sure I’m on the letterhead?”

She confirmed it was true.

“What’s the number? I’ll say that in this day and age you can’t make a girl read a book that her mother doesn’t approve of.”

The principal was kind of upset. She said they had read passages to a rabbi and he said it was okay. Obviously, that was a different rabbi. Not the (very prestigious) one listed as their Halachic Board.

I got to read a different book “Among the Hidden.” The principal graded it because the teacher refused to have anything to do with my book report.  The principal noted on my report that it was a great book – one of her favorite – and a great book report.

My friend also wanted to read “Among the Hidden” and wanted to have a second book discussion with me. She didn’t succeed. Because her mother didn’t call the rabbi. The teacher made a speech about how you can just move past the icky parts and get over it. So she did.

The Time My Mother Called the Rabbi Listed on the School Letterhead

Things My Teacher Told Me: Crossed Legs are Untznius

This post is by Esther. 
In seminary, we didn’t wear a uniform. Our skirts, however, were still duty length or longer, and not too tight. Besides for the dress code, we were sitting all day, for goodness’ sake, and we needed to be comfortable.
But one day we got a tznius talk from a teacher. She stood at the front of the classroom, in front of the rows of girls sitting at attention in their desks, and spoke to us about how to comport ourselves when the person at the front of the room is a man.
“Rabbi teaches you and sacrifices a little bit of his shemiras eynayim, puts himself in the position of potentially looking at girls every day.”
He had perfected the method of charedi males of looking half off to the side when addressing women or girls directly. But she had a point. He was sitting in front of rows of young women for an hour or two every day.
She went on. “You all realize that, surely. And I understand that you want to be comfortable and you cross your legs. That’s bad enough, that you’re crossing your legs in front of a man. But then some of you bounce your foot, and do you know what that does to a man?”
No, we didn’t. And she didn’t tell us. But we got the point. We were drawing attention to the fact that we had limbs, and that those limbs moved. We weren’t behaving as proper Bais Yaakov girls do. Leg crossing, and definitely foot bouncing, had to stop.
This post is by Esther, who would like you to know that she, for one, has no limbs or anything else untoward, so don’t let your mind go there. 
Things My Teacher Told Me: Crossed Legs are Untznius

My Bad Seminary Interview

I already put this up on the ‘net on my previous blog, but it’s relevant, and (imho)  it’s classic. 

My interview was conducted by a man with a big gray beard.

He wasted no time in getting to dislike me.

The first question he asked, after “What’s your name?” (and then, “That’s a real name? A Jewish name? I bet it isn’t.”) was “What was your SAT score?” He found my verbal to be too high; it meant I read secular literature. Oops.

The next unlikable thing about me was purely my fault; I opened my big mouth and suggested that Henoch Teller uses pretty big words in his books, too.  (Maybe I even said “polysyllabic.”)

My Interrogator retorted, “Nothing longer than ‘delicatessen’.” This isn’t true; Teller uses “septuagenarian” all the time. But I was smart enough not to pursue the point.

He then asked me what I like to read and I said anything written well. He pushed for genres. I began listing, “Historical fiction, classical literature, mystery, fantasy—“ he cut me off to accuse me of wallowing in fantasy—was I hiding from reality? “I have 24 hours of my own reality every day,” I answered, perplexed. “Why would I find someone else’s sordid doings interesting?”

It was not a clever reply.

Then he had some issues with my family tree. My grandparents were American? Surely then my parents were ba’alei teshuva? “Nope,” I said proudly. “Religious American Jews back four and five generations.” He came very close to telling me that this was impossible, because nobody except R’ Herman (“All for the Boss”) was religious in the USA before 1930, and, still not getting the pattern of “I’m-right-you’re-wrong,” I attempted, in a friendly way, to set him straight on that score. Bad move.

Then he took issue with my father. Why had he gone to an Israeli yeshiva and not an American one? And why had one of my brothers followed him there? I explained, naively, that the caliber of learning is higher in Israeli yeshivos and my relations wanted to do some serious studying. Bad move. Rabbi-Interrogator went to an American yeshiva after all, and I was casting aspersions on his education. I also admitted that my father cycled through three yeshivos before settling on one he liked, which Rabbi-Interrogator interpreted in a way that I don’t recall exactly but made me temporarily see red.

He didn’t like the high schools attended by my other siblings. He skimmed my aunts and uncles and found them mostly uninteresting. The only person he liked was one uncle, and you could see, as he was asking “You’re related to Rabbi Approved? Fine man, very fine man,” that he was thinking, “How did a fine man like him get attached to a family tree like this one?!”

Rabbi-Interrogator then frowned upon my inability to make sense out of the Ohr Hachaim he asked me to read, despite the fact that he hadn’t previewed it before assigning it and couldn’t make sense of it himself when he took over to show how simple it was. He was absolutely horrified when I tried to provide an explanation by referencing something else I’d studied in high school, harshly informing me that I shouldn’t be thinking on my own.

We parted in mutual disdain. I prayed that I not be insulted with an acceptance. My prayer was answered.

My Bad Seminary Interview

What Is Up With the Idea of “Real” and “Fake” Names?

“What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

And yet, if you meet Rose, and you call her by any other name, you will be lucky if your nose can smell anything at all after, let alone sweet.

Names are our personal labels. How you use them reflects how you relate to the person in front of you. A nickname can be endearing or offensive. Refusing to use someone’s name is like refusing to acknowledge them. This is always offensive.

It is also a power trip.

I have had a number of Jewish types tell me that my name “isn’t real.” I don’t even understand this concept. Just read the birth of the shvatim. Did their mothers consult the Iron Age Book of Baby Names? Check the back of the Shulchan Aruch?

What about all the names found in Tanach and Talmud? Is Tzurishaddai a real name? What about Tzuriel, or Tzurya? Is Antignos a “real” name? It doesn’t sound very Jewish; it probably shouldn’t be. And yet, Saadia is a Jewish name, right? Even Alexander, somehow.

In what era was the Big Book of Jewish Baby Name sealed forever?

In one of my seminary interviews, the rabbi doing the interviewing informed me that my name wasn’t real. I told him to take it up with my Yerushalmi great grandmother. That shut him up. A contemporary rabbi can say anything he wants to a teenage girl at a seminary interview, but nobody is allowed to cast aspersions on the holy Yerushalmis of yore.

Later, as I travelled around Israel, my name was a source of consternation and fascination for many of my hosts. Was it real? What did it mean? My confusion was as genuine as theirs. It’s what I’m called. What did they mean?

Finally, one of my hosts pulled out a Shulchan Aruch, or something, that has the Jewish Book of Baby Names in the back for purposes of divorce documents or something, and informed me that my name was Real. This was an enormous relief to me. Not that I was remotely concerned about the authenticity of my name. But this made it so much easier to silence the naysayers. Now, when people asked “Is that a real name?” I could confidently state that it was in the Big Book of Jewish Baby Names.

Anyway, when it came to seminary interviewers denying one’s name, I got off easy. I wasn’t the only one to have this experience, and others had it much worse. I’m told of one young lady who was also informed that her name “wasn’t real.” And since it wasn’t a real name, the rabbi was unwilling to pronounce the “ya” ending, because he was afraid of taking God’s name in vain.

So for the rest of the interview, with an entirely straight face, he addressed her as “Orca.”

But I know that her name (Orya) is legit, just based on her reaction. Instead of making like a killer whale and eating the rabbi alive, she was a light unto the nations, and comported herself with politeness and decorum for the duration of the interview.


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What Is Up With the Idea of “Real” and “Fake” Names?

Link: The Blame Game

This is a rather long post with a short point:

…During a summer break she got into a major accident where she almost lost her life. Happy to be alive, in the hospital she was told she might not have use of her legs anymore. As she sat in the hospital bed and visitors came by, she promised Hashem that she would do whatever He wants if he would give her the use of her legs again. That she would use them only for doing good things and nothing else. At this point, you could just imagine how strange it was to us that it was this very girl who was unwilling to dress modestly. That’s because of what happened next.

A rabbi of hers came to visit and sat down next to her. He began by telling her how she should accept Hashem’s will no matter what. He explained that it was her legs that were no good and that Hashem was sending her a message. She must have used her legs for some un-tznius reason or maybe some yeshiva boy was staring at her legs and causing him improper thoughts.

Now, it may very well be that this rabbi meant well, but this girl was destroyed. I cannot imagine the mental and spiritual damage that was done. It bothered her more than the physical damage of her legs. Now she wasn’t just a cripple, but she was responsible for it too. She was so appalled and disgusted at what this rabbi told her that she made one more promise. She told herself that whether she regains her legs or not, during summer vacation they will remain uncovered. B”H she did recover and she kept her promises. She kept all of them. She now displayed her legs so that everyone could see…

Link: The Blame Game