JTA – As soon as this incongruous advertisement started circulating on WhatsApp groups haredim Sunday, the debate was opened: do the toes “of modesty” really exist?
Aimed at Orthodox women who want to look stylish while conforming to their community’s conservative dress standards, the ad features “durable” and “high quality” silicone toes that shoppers can slip on over their own. which allows them to wear sandals without their own feet being visible.
“Do you want to be fashionable while being tzniuysdyig? the ad offers, using a Yiddish form of the word modesty referring to “modesty of dress.” “You want to be fashionable, while you refuse to wear open shoes? »
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The advertisement looks like many real advertisements circulating in the market haredi. In this market, where innovations that facilitate religious observance are on the rise, orders often have to be placed over the phone or in person, with the use of the Internet being strongly frowned upon.
Yet this announcement also has the appearance of a parody, in a context where some Orthodox Jewish women are trying to oppose the norms that dictate their dress, control the authorized accessories and prevent their faces from appearing in many Orthodox publications.
Speculation about the authenticity of the mysterious advertisement and its meaning for Orthodox communities has concerned parts of the Orthodox world this week. Many call this product the “toe sheitel” due to the similar role of sheitelsor wigs that some married Orthodox women wear to cover their own hair in accordance with Jewish law, or Halakha.
“Some think it’s real. Others think it’s a joke,” Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, a longtime activist of Orthodox feminism, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about the sheitels to toes. “I think it’s a joke. But more than that, the mere fact that so many people think it isn’t is a real problem – the mere fact that it’s plausible is annoying. »
To place an order, the ad lists a phone number with an area code in the Hudson Valley region of New York. The multiple calls made since Monday by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency went straight to voicemail – which perhaps attests to the lack of seriousness of the whole matter.
It seems that at least one person has managed to join the company. In widely circulated video taken on Monday morning, a man holds back laughter during a seven-minute call with the person who answered the phone, who identified himself as Chana. The interlocutor asks about the different offers and learns that the toe covers can be personalized in different skin colors for Ashkenazi and Sephardi customers. They can also be accompanied by nail polish in shades named after Orthodox schools.
If buyers want a bunion or moles to make their false toes look more realistic, that’s possible as long as they’re willing to pay the price, Chana tells her interviewer.
“You know, sometimes when a woman gets a sheitel, she sprinkles it with fake dandruff? Well, it comes to the same thing,” explains Chana.
The controversy stems from several current controversies within Orthodox communities. “Orders may take a while as the fake toe supply chain from China has been interrupted by the fake COVID disease,” the rep says, alluding to the medical misinformation that has plagued the Orthodox world during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The color of Yeshiva University’s name could change, she says, if the Supreme Court allows her to dismiss what she calls ‘the gay club’, in reference to the group of LGBTQ students fighting against the flagship university movement modern-orthodox to obtain the right to exist on campus. Yeshiva University in New York City will have to recognize an LGBTQ club, at least temporarily, after the US Supreme Court refused on Wednesday to intervene in the case.
After telling his interlocutor that people who treat themselves to expensive vacations during the Passover period can probably afford this new product, Chana makes an explicit critique of the conspicuous consumption that characterizes some Orthodox communities.
“It’s not meant to be another measure of how much money you have and how fancy you can afford,” she says. “Although we are afraid it could happen. »
The call was genuine, the caller’s wife posted on Facebook, adding that the pair were in no way connected to the business or the prank of any kind. Several people, likely to match the profile, also said that they were not involved, either publicly or with the Jewish Telegraphic Agencywho contacted half a dozen women proposed as likely suspects because of their feminist activism or their posting of orthodox parody videos.
The tradition of covering the hair after marriage is firmly rooted in the Halakha ; Orthodox Jewess who advocate for greater female leadership generally do not oppose it. Toes are not subject to specific laws, but there is a general commandment to dress modestly, as well as countless examples of rabbinic edicts and community standards expanding the boundaries of what is considered respectful of the modesty.
However, in some parts of the Orthodox world, the use of human hair wigs, which can cost up to $3,000 and require care, is controversial. Some Orthodox women choose to cover their hair with a scarf or hat instead. The existence of branded wigs can also put financial pressure on women who feel pressured to blend in with their community.
The sheitels toes can be considered as part of this dynamic. But the images of the advertisement do not make it possible to know if this product is real. Toe prostheses like the ones in the ad are used by people with foot injuries or congenital conditions, as well as amputees due to complications from diabetes; they can be found easily by performing a quick google search. The false toes in the advertisement also resemble those used by nail technicians to practice the nail artotherwise known as nail styling.
Other replica body parts have been produced for observant Jews in the past, but for entirely different reasons. Among other examples, an Israeli barber released in 2015 a synthetic hair yarmulke so that men could meet head covering requirements without immediately being identified as religious Jews.
Hokhmat Nashim, an organization whose name means “women’s wisdom” and which aims to include women in Orthodox decision-making, said online that it was not behind the ad. This week, the group focused on a new cookbook published by ArtScroll, an orthodox publisher, in which women are represented by photos of ingredients, not of themselves. Many Orthodox publications do not show women, citing reasons of modesty, a practice which, according to Hokhmat Nashim among others, excludes women from their own communities.
Hochmat Nashim said that the advertisement for the sheitel toe and the response it elicited raised an important question.
“What happens when you no longer know the difference between reality and satire? “, wrote the group in an Instagram post. One person commented that they were sure it was a joke – although they had personally heard a rabbi say that women’s toes should remain covered.
“FYI, this is indeed a satire,” added Hokhmat Nashim later, without explaining his sources. “The question is how do we keep it that way. How to push back the sexualization of all that is feminine and the distortion of Judaism that we see today and which, let’s face it, is not very far away? »
Mid-week, parodies of what might or might not have been a joke increased, such as advertisements for fake breasts as well as T-shirts depicting breasts, designed to allow “modest topless”, and for plastic “neck concealers” intended to allow strapless tops to be worn without revealing too much of the collarbone. Thin partial shirts covering the collar and shoulders under garments that reveal these areas, are already sold in Orthodox communities.
The email address of the company that sells neck warmers was quick to send an enthusiastic response to a request for information.
“The neck warmer company is not related to the prosthetic toe company,” they replied. “We’re just presenting the same concept of trying to be modest…while still being able to wear your favorite dress (or shirt). … We are both trying to bring ultimate redemption. »
Another email soon followed expressing what the company of sheitel toes had not said, namely that “this whole thing was supposed to be a joke between some friends, since we all laughed at that of the toes! »