Thursday, July 17, 2008

Just Because it's in Print doesn't make it so

Take a little mental journey with me right now. On that journey you are going to read a popular magazine, let's say People Magazine. In the magazine you are going to read a story about a young Catholic girl named Maria. Maria's family, going back to her grandparents, weren't religious Catholics, but Maria's mother hooked up somehow with one of the more stringent Catholic sects and became religious, very religious. She got married to a man from this sect and she had children with him. Maria is not happy with the stringency of the sect but goes along with it to the point of marrying herself within the sect and having a child. And then she decides that she has had enough and leaves her husband and child and goes off to find herself.

In the process of finding herself she hooks up with some dubious characters, tries drugs and in general acts like a flower child of the 60s. Her sect of Catholicism does not believe in education for women so she doesn't have even a high school diploma. She needs to support herself, considers that maybe she wants to be an actress, and looks for work in the meantime as a waitress. She has no particular skills for that job either. But there is one constant: Maria wants her daughter with her and away from the sect that ruined her life for her. She files for divorce and she files a suit to gain custody of her little daughter. The divorce is going to be a messy one, as many are.

Are you with me so far? So then, when do you think about the story so far? Do you believe every detail that the magazine presented? Sure you don't. You know that the magazine in question has no prior policy of being fair and balanced. You know that they like to publish sensationalist stories. You know that they have an anti-religious Catholic bent. And what about Maria? Well, you feel sorry for her. She is truly a "lost" child. Only she is not a child--she's a woman with a 4-year old daughter. And you look at the lifestyle she is living and in that part of your mind that has fairness in it you worry about that little girl. How is Maria ever going to take care of her? What will Maria offer her daughter, besides loving her?

And then you start wondering about how the magazine got the story of Maria. It's not just a little blurb buried in the back of the magazine; it's a full article and liberally illustrated with photographs of Maria. There's a photo of Maria putting on pantyhose in her car prior to going to visit with her daughter, upper thighs fully exposed. Did someone put a knife to her head to get that photo? Someone had to tip off the magazine that Maria existed. Someone took that story to the magazine and they ran with it.

Now if you were an indigent mother involved in a messy divorce and custody proceeding what would you do to sway the judge to rule in your favor? Well, you might try to get publicity for yourself and your plight. You might try to paint your former community in the worst possible light. You might try to get the world to pity you. And you might head straight for People Magazine or one like it.

Do we know if anything in the story of Maria is true or not? No, we do not; after all, the writer and the photographer are not reporting news, with any responsibility to present all sides of the story, or even the whole story. Of course, we, too, like Maria, have a very negative view of the sect that Maria ran away from. It's not a life we would want and we can't understand how anyone else would want it either. We've never actually stepped foot in the small town where Maria used to live, but we know all the hearsay stories that have circulated. Yes, there are some few facts woven into the story, and a few of them don't show some of the happenings of that sect in a good light. There is a self-formed Committee on Community Behavior that is using strong-arm tactics. Maria never actually had a run in with that Committee, according to the story, but you can feel her fear that she might.

But here is the thing--Maria is not really all that sympathetic a character to me. She runs away to find herself, to have a better life. Where is the story of her battling to get her GED so she can make something of herself? Where is the story of her finding and getting training for a job to support herself and her young daughter? Where is the report of seeing a therapist? Where is the reporting of the plans she has made of how to take care of that young daughter if she wins the custody battle?

Now what if we changed our story just a little. What if we made Maria into Gitty. What if instead of Catholicism Gitty was from Satmar? Would that change the story in any real, fundamental way? If Maria the hippie-wanna-be didn't elicit 100% sympathy then why would Gitty the hippie-wanna-be do so?

Serandez, the Wolf and Trepenwitz all reported about Gitty's story as presented by New York Magazine. There is real anger that New York Magazine wrote the piece on Gitty the way they did. There is real concern about Gitty. Yes, I think that New York Magazine sensationalized the piece, but then that is what they do with most of their pieces. Yes, I too have concern for Gitty. But here's the thing, the one I am most concerned about is a little four year old girl, Esther Miriam. I make no claims for knowing anything other than what was reported about the particulars of Gitty's case. Based on what is in that article, I, as a mother, would not award custody to Gitty. Gitty has by no means "found" herself yet, and to take along a small child on that trip seems to me to be an injustice to the child.

We should also keep this in mind: if Satmar is dangerous for Gitty's child then why is it not dangerous for every child living there? We've had lots of other experiences with "cult" groups where children have been removed from the cult en masse because of the danger to that group of children. The last case that our government did this to didn't turn out so well; the children were returned to their parents with, I believe, only two exceptions. Are we really claiming that Satmar is dangerous for children in general? Based on what possible evidence or facts?

Gitty's is a sad story, at least what we think we know of it. But Esther Miriam is being used as a bone between two warring dogs. Perhaps we need to temper our response to the New York Magazine story until there are some real facts in evidence. And perhaps we need to refocus our attention to the one person in all of this who really has no choice about what the outcome will be, who can't get her story out there for us to read: Esther Miriam.

If you were the judge in this case, based only on what was printed in the story, how would you rule to be in the best interests of the child? Would you rule for the father? The mother? A foster placement? What would be your decision if Esther Miriam's life was in your hands?

Just a little note: Gitty's underpants play a part in this story. I have no doubt that the New Yorker's readers gobbled up that part. And how it shows up Satmar to the rest of the world cannot be in doubt either. Anyone here who wants to disabuse the goyish world of the incorrect information that they now have? Anyone want to explain the halachas of niddah and the idea that a competent Rav needs to be consulted when there is a real question? Anyone want to mention that this practice is hardly limited to Satmar?


Anonymous said...

Yes, it is a sad story but yes you are right that we don't know all the facts and we sure aren't going to get them from the magazine story. And yes you are also right that the adults involved in this mess are just that--adults. It is the daughter and what is best for her that needs to come first. Hard decision to make no matter what the facts are. That little girl is hurt for life because these kinds of stories never seem to die.

Anonymous said...

If one defines a tragedy as a situation in which every possible situation will cause suffering, then that is what this is.

If Esther Miriam's father gets full custody, Gitty gets totally cut off from her daughter, and she will be raised in a culture Gitty sees as dangerous. I also worry if EM would be hurt in the future, in shidduchim, etc. because of her mother's past.

If EM's mother gets custody, well, Gitty can't really support a child at present, even if we assume that she is clean and emotionally stable. And EM will be raised in a culture Gitty's father sees objectionable.

If they get shard custody, EM is going to spend her life moving between two extremes, and I fear she'd never belong in either. Kosher one day, treyfe the next? A kid needs some stability in background.

I almost want to tell both parents to cut it out, compromise (ok, that's virtually impossible, maybe they could become MO and move to Teaneck? ;-)) and just find a solution. But I don't think there's going to be an easy one.

Anonymous said...

I am with you on everything and feel more than anything that the young daughter is the big issue here. I feel terribly concerned for her. I also feel outraged that she was exploited in this way, in this public venue with photograghs of her in so many ways. The mom, well, she is lost and will probably remain so for quite some time. I find it interesting, ProfK, that you seem to be so removed from her world. You write: "It's not a life we would want and we can't understand how anyone else would want it either." And, then you write that this woman, Gitty, is a woman, not a girl and that she should be pursuing a GED and gainful employment if she wants her child. So, here, I must clarify some things because I have Chasidim in my extended family and I know a little bit about that world. The world of the Chasidic woman--including that of Satmar in KJ--is not as oppressed and horrible as many make it out to be. What it is is wildly different from ours so if you haven't spent any time with them, you wouldn't possibly understand the joys and comfort. That is not to say that all of them are happy, but every group dynamic has members who are unhappy. These women have a strong support system in their friends and relatives. They live close to their moms, sisters, friends from school. They help each other. They have a completely different family dynamic than we do. We are very into our nuclear families. We are raised to visit with our families of origin and friends, but we run our homes with our spouses. The Chasidic woman is actually part of a constellation of women. Yes, their husbands are there and have great power at home, but don't underestimate the power of the woman in a Chasidic home. She is quite powerful too. And she is--as I said--quite supported by her network. Chasidic men spend a lot of time with the Rebbe, at tish, at other events that non-Chasidic Orthodox Jews have never heard of. They also work for a living which many of the Yeshiva guys in the Lithuanian Orthodox world do not do. The Chasidic woman is financially supported and the husbands are out working most of the day. Yes, there has been mentioned the whole government assistance thing, but no one ever actually pays attention to the facts. Chasidic men work. And they are willing to be store cashiers, small business owners, even gas station attendants to support their families. It is built into the Chasidic lifestyle that they will do whatever it takes to bring home a check so the wives can stay home with the kids and so that there can be large families. So, is this a lifestyle that no one would want as you say? I don't agree. Is it something to cross over into from other lifestyles? I would say, definately not. It is done, but it isn't a good choice. And, while I don't excuse Gitty, I want you to know that "women" like this are not women, but girls. She is completely culturally unprepared to plan and do the responsible things of which you speak. What is sad is that her grandparents don't seem to be helping her do those things. They live in that world and it would be nice if they could influence her to get that GED and stay away from tabloid journalists who exploit her daughter. I don't want to be presumptuous, but I'm sure she needs therapy and drug rehab. There is a program called Footsteps or something that helps these people. I don't know if it is a cult deprogramming thing which I would not agree with or if it genuinely helps them get their degrees and get acclimated to the outside world. Either way, Gitty is not a woman yet and you can't expect that of her right now. All we can do is hope that the judges do what is best for the child and I hate to say it, but that might be to remain with her dad (provided he is stable) and allow Gitty her visitation on KJ soil where the child will be less confused. Personally, I don't see how she will be well-adjusted if her mom keeps making lousy choices and following horrible advisors.

Anonymous said...

BTW, two more things about Chasidim.
A)Not all Chasidic groups are the same and Satmar tends to be more strict in certain ways. Belz, Bobov and others have a different approach. It depends on where in Europe the Chasidim are from. There are subcultures among the Chasidic groups.
B) I don't think it is appropriate to refer to Chasidic groups as cults any more than it is appropriate to refer to Teaneck Jews as a MO cult. The difference between any other Orthodox group and a Chasidic group is that the Chasidim live lives that are so encompassed by their community and live according to so many cultural norms--many more than the other Orthodox groups--that it seems to outsiders that they are a cult. If you traveled to an island in the Pacific and watched their habits, it would seem completely foreign and overwhelmingly different than ours, but would you call it a cult? When the planes flew over those tribes in Peru recently and everyone saw those pictures of them trying to shoot at the planes with arrows, no one called them a cult. We understood that they live lives vastly different than ours and that they WANT to live those lives because that is all they know. And, btw, much has been made about KJ being an insular town, but the life of a Chasid in Williamsburg, New Square, Mt. Kisco, Montreal is pretty much the same as the life of Chasid in KJ. The men still work out in the world and the home--which is what everything is built around--is pretty much run the same way. The only differences are, as I mentioned, in that Satmar is more strict than some other sects. Ger is strict in other ways. It isn't all the same.

G said...

Just to clear up one point:

Serandez, the Wolf and Trepenwitz all reported about Gitty's story as presented by New York Magazine.

We (the royal form) also "reported" the other side of the story via a piece from Vos Iz Neias.

No statement was made as to what parts of the story are true nor which party is correct or at fault...only that it was a sad situation.

ProfK said...

Point taken, but I was not reporting on the reporting by the three blogs mentioned, only saying that they reported about the New Yorker story. The focus of my posting is on the veracity of that particular article. And re "We (the royal form) also "reported" the other side of the story via a piece from Vos Iz Neias," it would be more accurate to say that "another" side of the story was presented, rather than the "other" side of the story. I have a feeling that there are many sides to this story.

Anonymous Mom,
I too am a child of chassidus. My parents grew up in Europe as chassidim, Vishnitz, Sighet, Munkatz and Satmar as the mix. We added in Bobov by marriage and a couple of Lubavitchers. My daughter's closest friend, with whom I am very close also, is a Bostoner Chasidistah. We still have many chassidishe minhagim in our home. I'm aware that not all sects of Chassidus are identical and that Satmar tends to come across as the strictest. I am also aware of the closeness of the women in such groups. I have certainly been in Williamsburg but I have never been in KJ, as I imagine most people reading here have not. My chasidishe cousins inhabit Williamsburg and Boro Park for the most part with a few in Israel. I was obviously not clear when I said we don't know much about what goes on in KJ--we don't have much first hand information is what I meant.

Re the cults, I never called Satmar a cult. Unfortunately the general press alternates between calling it a sect and calling it "cultish." To those with no knowledge of the various groupings in frum Yiddishkeit, the reporting in the story in the New Yorker is unfortunately parallel to much of the reporting about the various religious cults that has gone on in past years. And I did say "Are we really claiming that Satmar is dangerous for children in general? Based on what possible evidence or facts?"

As to whether Gitty is a girl or a woman, she is by age designation an adult, hence a woman. She is fighting to gain custody of her daughter. At least for me mothers need to be women, not girls. She cannot on one hand claim adult status in fighting to gain custody of her child and maintain child status when it comes to rectifying any missing elements from her growing up years. She was clearly adult enough to get involved with a lawyer. She has older grandparents who were fully immersed in the secular world and who surely could have given her some advice, if she would have wanted to get it. Is she a mature adult? That is a whole different kettle of fish.

miriamp said...

My understanding of the situation, based only on the story (although colored by my status as an Orthodox Jew) is that Gitty smokes, drinks, hangs out with disreputable types of people, at least occasionally does drugs, has no job, has no high school diploma and is taking the opportunity to act as if she were a secular teenager with absent parents, truthfully. She may be biologically a grown-up, but she's certainly not a mature individual capable of giving her daughter a stable home environment, all religious issues aside.

As the judge, I would not be jumping to give her custody, that's for sure. I might, however, give her a laundry list of how to turn her life around and a time period in which to do it if she wanted more than visitation rights.

I would hesitate to let EM's father's family just keep her and cut all ties, as I'm sure they'd like to. As an Orthodox Jew, I can't help but feel she should be given the opportunity to grow up frum -- I could wish for a more "centrist Orthodox" foster placement, but it seems even worse to tear the child from both homes and put her in a third one, even if those were plentifully available. Although if it seemed to me that the mother's was the more stable environment, frum or not, that's where I'd send her. Even from the biased against the father's whole community article, his side still seems to be the more stable one.

The Satmar approach to life unfortunately seems to have the side effect of if and when their children fall off the derech, they fall very far and fast, having no middle ground (MO, for example) that is "Kosher enough" yet less restrictive.

Anonymous said...

ProfK, I just wanted to clarify some stuff, but my intent was not to come off accusatory. I guess I am weary of the lack of knowledge and/or tolerance by other Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish people for Chasidim and for the lifestyle of the Chasidic woman in particular. I try to let people in on the secret whenever I can that they aren't a cult and that many of the women are happy with the lifestyle. Since you are familiar with them, then I hope it helps some of your readers. As for the girl/woman thing, I am a child of divorce so the bottom line is that she has to be a "mentsch" to get custody which would include financial and emotional stability and being drug-free.

G said...

it would be more accurate to say that "another" side of the story was presented, rather than the "other" side of the story. I have a feeling that there are many sides to this story.


Anonymous said...

My first marriage ended in divorce. My first wife and I were both from orthodox homes with orthodox schooling. We mutually decided that we wanted a frum home with all that required. We had two kids and then my wife decided that orthodoxy was too restrictive and didn't let her develop herself as she wanted to. And then came the battle for custody. In those days the mother was almost always given custody, which was the case with us. And I paid alimony to my wife and child support for the children and even paid for my wife to finish up college so she could go out and get a good job.

The situation was horrible. My girls saw one way of life with their mother and another with me. Because she was the custodial parent she could dictate where I saw the children, which was only at her parents house. Luckily my ex in laws were mentchen enough to allow me more time in their house and to sneak in a few extra visits.

My wife had promised that she would have only kosher food for the girls, but what use was that when she cooked it in her treif pots, pots she also cooked shrimp in?

I was in court dozens of times and managed to win a few of the battles. I got a sympathetic judge to agree that since I was paying for the school expenses I should decide on the school, so the girls were enrolled in a day school. My wife did everything she could to undermine what the girls were learning in school.

When I remarried I was personally lucky to find a wonderful woman but also lucky that she got on really well with my daughters and they liked her very much as well. Because of my new wife I was given chizuk to try for custody again. The girls were just old enough that the court decided that their input would be needed. They met with all types of social workers and psychologists and in the end my second wife and I were awarded total custody of the girls.

My first wife had never completed the few credits she had left to college and I have no idea what she did with the money I gave her for that purpose. She had a different job every 5 months. She was angry all the time and she badmouthed me every second of the day to the girls. She called my parents, who loved the girls and who the girls loved, "devil people" just like all religious jews are.

My girls are b"h married and happy wives and mothers. It was not easy for them to achieve this. They saw counselors for many years to help them understand that they were not to blame for any of the unhappiness their mother had. After the first year I had custody she stopped contacting the girls or having anything to do with them. Before their marriages she found out and contacted them and told them that I, a frum Jew, was the cause of all unhappiness and that they would be better off escaping while they could from the same fate that was waiting for them.

I am only commenting with all this detail because people need to understand that no strangers can ever know all the details of how and why things go wrong in a marriage. When religion is one of the causes it is even more difficult to get a clear picture. I gave her a get readily and she refused for a long time to accept it. It was only when her own parents threatened to go to court to have her committed that she accepted the get.

From my own experience I would say that the little girl Esther Miriam would be better off living in her father's stable home then with a mother that appears to be highly immature and unable to provide for her all the things she needs. So she will grow up chasidish, so what? There are far far worse things that could happen to her then being chasidish. People who are not chasidish need to soft pedal the sinah that so often gets shown. This isn't about chasidish versus yeshivish or MO--this is about one small girl.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to get into the custody issue here.

But, I thought the article was pretty fair. They showed Gitty faults and all. For example, they could have hidden her drug use. They also make her seem petty at times. For example, she doesn't want to dress appropriately and therefore misses out on seeing her child. They make it clear she's still a dreamer and can't support herself or her child (buying playdough and a barbie empties her wallet).

At the same time, they're veyr honest and fair with Satmar. I didn't see any blatant falsehoods or lies. It was sensationalistic and focused on the "odd" or "weird", but also spoke about the family bonds, going to shul, and joys they have.

I think the main point, and relating to your underwear comment, is how many orthodox (from MO to ultra-orthodox) would want their non-frum friends and neighbors to know about niddah and showing "stains" to rabbis. It is embarassing and uncomfortable and downright weird no matter how you try to spin it in light of mitzvot and hashem's will, etc.

However, I don't think writing about niddah makes the article slanted or biased. This is part of frum life and one many are uncomfortable letting others know about.

Anonymous said...

JS, I think you are being a little naive. The media knows one fact: sex sells. And it doesn't matter what a story is about, if you pepper it with some sex it is going to do better. That underwear story was just frosting on the cake for the reporter doing the article. And I agree with ProfK about the pantihose picture--it is titled something like Gitty prepares to visit with her mother. And it shows a half dressed Gitty. Necessary for the story? Adds something vital? Says anything about Satmar or about being frum? No way. It's to add a little salaciousness so the magazine sells better.

You say " how many orthodox (from MO to ultra-orthodox) would want their non-frum friends and neighbors to know about niddah and showing "stains" to rabbis. It is embarassing and uncomfortable and downright weird no matter how you try to spin it in light of mitzvot and hashem's will, etc." Why should they know? This is a part of our religion that is supposed to remain very quiet, between and husband and wife and perhaps a rabbi if needed. We aren't supposed to talk about it with each other, so why would we want anyone else to know about it? It's not shame or because we think it's weird that we keep quiet; it's because we believe differently then many others about the physical part of marriage.

You also say "I don't think writing about niddah makes the article slanted or biased. This is part of frum life and one many are uncomfortable letting others know about." No it doesn't make it slanted--it makes it more sensational. Why should others know about this part of frum life? As I said before, it is a private area between husband and wife. If you are frum you will learn about it; if you aren't why should it concern you at all?

You're right that Gitty isn't painted as an angel in the article. Ask yourself why. Was it so that all the facts necessary would be given? Or was it to add the type of sensationalism that is necessary to sell magazines today? Ask yourself if the New Yorker would have been so eager to do this piece if Gitty had not fallen in with bad company, had not tried drugs, had not agreed to the photo shoot and the pictures published, had not talked about her underwear. Of course they would not have. It would have been just one more routine divorce case.

Anonymous said...

1. ProfK your analogy is off. Catholics cannot get divorced. It is not possible for them.

2. There are similar stories about Christian sects and escape in papers all the time.

3. This place is a sect and many things described by an ignorant (about Judaism) author are revealed here.
a.Woman must see her husband and agree to marriage. (Gitty was forced into it)
b.If there was no adultery children are left with mother, boys are returned to father after the age of around 6. (Gitty's daughter was kidnapped from her)

4. About GED. Gitty does not have enough base to pass the GED. Imagine taking this test and not knowing what lobster is. In addition she is not ready for it.

5. Gitty's mother tried to run away from it all, but did not succeed. This proves that it's not a healthy enviroment to live and raise children.

6. Both of Gitty's brothers escaped, too. Another proove that it's not a healthy enviroment.

7. Author compared Gitty's town with Williamsburg. He refers to Chasids in Williamsburg as friendly and nice religious people. Therefor he wasn't attacking Chassidim, just this particular sect of religious fanatics.

Dave said...

The term "cult" is so loaded that it is practically meaningless in normal conversation.

It effectively means "religious group the speaker disapproves of".

That being said (and I certainly wouldn't use it in a mass-media publication for that reason), there are certainly aspects of parts of the frum community (extreme social pressure for conformity, vilification of the outside world) as well as some that are more specific to Chassidus (centralized authority) that do seem to fit the sociological definition.

So while I wouldn't use the term because of the general meaning, I can't say that the use of it would be entirely inappropriate (because of the sociological definition).

Anonymous said...

Catholics can get divorced Mlevin, but through a retroactive fiction of an annulment. I say fiction, because annulments in American law were only granted when a marriage had not been consummated. Catholics with children can get that annulment. It's not straightforward in getting it but it can be gotten and it allows a Catholic to remarry and remain in the church.

Anonymous said...

Reread the article mlevin because your two statements aren't based in fact.

--Gitty's mother tried to run away from it all, but did not succeed. This proves that it's not a healthy enviroment to live and raise children.--

Deborah, Gitty's mother, escaped from her secular Jewish home to a first marriage with a Lubavitcher, and had three kids with him. According to her father he was not such a great guy and the marriage ended. Deborah then went to KJ and she married a Satmar man with whom she had another three children. You're mixing up who escaped to what with whom and where.

6. Both of Gitty's brothers escaped, too. Another proove that it's not a healthy enviroment.

No actual reasons are given for why Gitty's brothers may have left. Considering this is a blended family with a stepfather, considering that the boys' grandparents hated their daughter's lifestyle and where she was living and probably said so to these boys, there could be many reasons why the boys left.

If Deborah and her children continued to have any contact with Deborah's parents that would explain more than their living in KJ.

Neither your two statements nor the article in any way prove that Satmar KJ is an unhealthy environment to live in or to raise children in. My father's aunt lives in KJ. Her children and grandchildren are all fine, healthy, happy people. They like the way they live and how they live. Because it isn't how I choose to live doesn't make it wrong or evil.

Anonymous said...


I'm not naive. I realize "sex sells". However, the underwear part of the story is about 1-2 paragraphs out of at least 50. It is such a minute part of the story. It's not the cover said "Chassidim show blood-stained underwear to rabbi ex-chassid reveals". You're just hyper-sensitive to anyone viewing Jews as freaks and therefore this bothers you.

In terms of Gitty being portrayed for both good and bad, you say this is to sensationalize. You say the story wouldn't be printed otherwise (or is he didn't agree to the salacious pictures). If they had presented her as a saint (and left out the bad stuff) you'd be just as likely to point this as the paper sanctifying her and vilifying KJ and frum Jews. You can't have it both ways. I see it as honesty, not sensationalism.

Also, as someone who felt the KJ lifestyle was restrictive and controlling how could a discussion of niddah and sexual practices not come up? This is especially so given how terrible the experience was for her and her husband.

Random points:
It's New York Magazine, not the New Yorker.

Also, her mother DID run away from KJ and yet returned:
"“I know what she goes through,” Gitty says, recalling the time when she was 10 and Deborah took her, along with her brother and sister, and left KJ. “She was running away,” Gitty says. “We stayed a couple of weeks at a time in different places, like refugees.” Eventually, they came to a Far Rockaway shelter, where they remained for several weeks..."

Anonymous said...

I remember reading a similar article about an Amish women a few years ago.I found it just as disturbing as this one as it also came across to me as being an effort to badmouth all religion.The features were almost identical(e.g. swallowing the former Amish womens story, not speaking to or quoting any Amish representitives etc.)Knowing a little about the Amish from vacationing in Lancaster I could see many parts of Amish religion being misrepresented.And guess what?Although the Amish as a matter of principle do not take any government funds,are almost all employed have a very low crime rate, and as a major principle of their religion do NOT require their children to join it, the article kept of making the same innuendo accusations made in NYM about people being forced to live an Amish life,sprinkled with heavy condensation about the Amish lack of education etc.Why because the liberal media hates ALL religion (MO included, Moslims excluded)

On anothe note a former friend of mine.(F.R.)left her frumkeit and husband and children to persue a secular career.She went on to be only valdictorian in Rutgers University.Her speach was the same story as the NYM article about what an oppressed orthdox women she was,how her family forsaked her because she went to college etc.Let me tell you that was all BALONY.She went to college prior to marraige,her mother babysat her children so she could go to college again (for a different discipline-journalisim as it happens to be)she was dieng to get married at 19,in the 11 years of her marraige she only had 2 children,3 of her siblings are professionals(one is a Rov) yet she she gave a whining speach about how all her religion allowed her to do was have children and marinate chickens and she is the first in her family to go to college.It goes without saying that the media treated her like a hero for giving it and standing up for womens rights.(One newspaper didn't disagree with her but did comment that a valdictorian speach is not the place to knock your family)

Anonymous said...

miriamp, how could anyone advocate that a child be taken from a stable parent and given to a foster family because of religious beliefs. He would only be able to limit a child's contact with the mother if allowed by the courts.

Should all satmar children be siezed and placed in "better" homes.

You know Modern Orthodoxy is plenty strange to. They can come after your kids too if we don't protect parental (not maternal or paternal - parental) rights.

Anonymous said...

How do we know that any of this story as reported in the article is true? We know what Gitty says, or at least what the article says she says, but there are not other voices except for her grandparents's and are we sure that is what they said? Where is the corroboration for any of what Gitty says happened? New York Magazine is not a news source; it's basically entertainment geared towards New Yorkers. No one has ever accused them of being impartial and of having high standards. Why assume they are having those standards now? If there is a custody case it would be interesting what the court record would say.

Anonymous said...

MLevin, it is for people like you that I made my long explanation earlier. So we have found the cult and the culprit after all and it is the liberal media and the liberals who follow it blindly. The myth that Chasidic women are all oppressed and miserable is a product of the liberal media and the ignorance of liberal Jews and non-Jews. As Zahava said, liberals feel uncomfortable with all super-religious people. And super-religious is an awkward term as we all know Chasidic and Black Hat Orthodox and Catholic priests are not always so religious. I get that. But by super-religious I mean those that maintain a lifestyle that is filled with religious rules and regimen. This is one of the reasons that many Christians voiced their discomfort with Mitt Romney. Mormons are different and have very different rules (more daily rules as a matter of fact) than your average Protestants. I have worked with a Mormon woman, lovely woman, who enlightened me a bit and there are quiet rules that they keep that many are not aware of. Rules of dress, even undergarments, etc. It is a religious choice that dominates a lifestyle. Chasidim live a life that dominates their lifestyle and part of the culture is to be insular. This makes it so much harder for people to accept. So, in the end, KJ just like any other Chasidic community is not by its very nature unhealthy. It is wildly different than your cultural circle of reference, ML, and that's ok. And, like I said earlier, Satmar is more strict in certain ways so that makes it more difficult for some. Also, add to the mix that this girl is coming from a home where she essentially did not have a father. She had a stepfather which in the Chasidic world is going to be a limited relationship due to laws of Yichud and Negiah. And I have no idea what kind of parents her parents are. Add to this the unusual tidbit that her mother wasn't raised Satmar and began her Orthodox lifestyle as a Lubavitcher. You have to know that going from the Lubavitch community to the Satmar community is odd to say the least and extremely difficult culturally. Some Chasidic sects are more open to "converts" but Satmar is not one of them. That doesn't mean they didn't treat her mother well, but it does mean that it would be extremely difficult to fit in. There are mixed-up families in every culture and community. There are also legitimately unhappy members of every culture and community who are unhappy with the lifestyle even if their family life is fine. At the end of the day, this is a story about one unhappy young lady not about an entire group of religious people. The liberal media and its followers need to be tolerant of all people, even the very religious.

Lion of Zion said...

haven't read the article. not interested, don't care.


"I don't think it is appropriate to refer to Chasidic groups as cults any more than it is appropriate to refer to Teaneck Jews as a MO cult."

why not? academically, satmar et al. fit the textbook definition of a cult a heck of lot more than MO does


"They like the way they live and how they live. Because it isn't how I choose to live doesn't make it wrong or evil."

but you get to choose. they don't.


"having no middle ground that is "Kosher enough" yet less restrictive."

that was one of my earlier posts:


"At the same time, they're veyr honest and fair with Satmar . . . also spoke about the family bonds, going to shul, and joys they have."

being balanced in these types of stories is irrelevant. people will read the article but only remember the negative. i did not read this article and can't comment on it, but this was my crticism of the NYT article on the syrians. people said that it too was balanced. the problem was that positive was "contextualized" with negative. so yes, even if on the scale it was 50/50, you can bet that what people remembered is not the extensive charity network of syrian jews, but rather how it is funded by shady or outright illicit businesses.

"showing "stains" to rabbis. It is embarassing and uncomfortable and downright weird no matter how you try to spin it"

It is embarassing and uncomfortable and downright weird no matter how you try to spin it"

uh huh.


"Why should they know? This is a part of our religion that is supposed to remain very quiet, between and husband and wife and perhaps a rabbi if needed. We aren't supposed to talk about it with each other, so why would we want anyone else to know about it?"

i think you are confusing 2 things. yes, the niddah state of an individual woman is very private and is a matter between her and her husband (and rav if need be). but there is nothing that demands secrecy about the concept in general. to the contrary, the prooftext for the practice is biblical in origin and is therefore in plain english (and every other conceivable language) for the world to see.


people run away for different reasons. it is proof of nothing.

Anonymous said...

anon mom, zahava, et al,

Is there any way to report about a religious group that wouldn't lead people to scream "liberal media" and "liberal bias"? Is the only appropriate medium the Yated, Yeshiva World News, etc? It's a bit silly to scream about the evil liberals (and no, I'm not liberal), just because you don't think certain matters of our religion should be discussed openly.

Also, what would it take to make an article on frumkeit "fair and balanced"? Would they need another dozen pages or so explaining the beauty and joys of niddah and how it brings a new dimension to the relationship? About how a rav is a guide and mentor and advisor? I'm finding it hard to understand what would make you feel this article is fair.

The article doesn't claim to be the whole story. It's Gitty's story (and to a lesser extent her grandparents story and her mother's story). I wouldn't be surprised if they approached her ex or other Satmar who refused to be part of the story.

I just find all this criticism to be more ad hominem (the evil liberals) or just discomfort at seeing mitzvot and a lifestyle which to a large degree resembles our own put out there for all to see.

However, I have yet to see anyone quote from the article any aspect of frumkeit that is inaccurate, or untruthful.

Anonymous said...

Oh come on Lion, ""They like the way they live and how they live. Because it isn't how I choose to live doesn't make it wrong or evil."

but you get to choose. they don't."

Just how much choice do children have? You're born into the family you are born into and the pattern for what you will do is set for you. If your family is yeshivish you will attend a certain type of shul, you will be dressed in a certain way, you will eat certain things, you will only go to certain schools. Care will be taken to limit your exposure to things not yeshivish. By the time you hit the age where real rebellion is possible the chances are that you won't rebel, regardless of whether you complain about certain practices. Maybe the cost will be too high.

Obviously Gitty found it hard to be in Satmar and chose to leave and it was hard--she calls it running away from them. And there are no "runaways" in the rest of the frum communities? Of course there are. To say that there is no choice in Satmar is simply not true--it is more regimented then many other frum groups but there is always choice to end the association.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the two comments, but JS

Is there any way to report about a religious group that wouldn't lead people to scream "liberal media" and "liberal bias"? Is the only appropriate medium the Yated, Yeshiva World News, etc?

you were the first person and only person to say that the comments were about the liberal media and liberal bias. So, anyone who criticizes anything that is in print, on television or on the radio has a liberal bias? Great deal for the media--they can say anything that they want and we will be categorized as anti-liberal if we choose to disagree with them.

The New Yorker does not categorize itself as a "straight news" magazine. It's an "opinion" publication. Are we now not allowed to argue that what they may write may be slanted and doesn't show the whole story? Neither the Yated nor Yeshiva World News, despite their protestations, is a "straight news" newspaper. Nothing really balanced in their reporting either.Plenty of people who disagree with what is in them, and nobody argues against the "unfairness" of doing that.

Better question to ask is why they found a pressing need to report on Satmar. What important need did their readers have to know this information? What void was being filled that needed filling? Probably none.

Anonymous said...

I'm an attorney and my firm has handled its share of divorces. When there is a question of child custody involved the procedure gets trickier. The courts have to decide what is in the best interests of the children.

Someone mentioned that the magazine probably had contacted Gitty's husband and Satmar and they refused to comment. Smart people. I'm sure their attorney is sleeping better at night. Gitty's attorney sure isn't. The magazine story has killed any argument he can make about the mother being a fit person to have charge of the child. Had Gitty come to our firm after the publication of the article asking us to represent her in the custody hearing we would have declined, as she has already poisoned the waters. As I see it, the best Gitty can expect now is that she get visitation rights with her daughter, probably supervised ones.

Lion of Zion said...


"Just how much choice do children have? You're born into the family you are born into and the pattern for what you will do is set for you . . ."

first of all, i wasn't talking (only) about children. but anyway . . .

of course freedom of choice is, from an idealist perspective, limited from day one by various external forces (tabula rasa, if it exists, gets filled in very rapidly). but the degree of limitation is all relative depending on various factors. for example, the fact that you are commenting here indicates that you have a fine command of the english language and that you have unfettered access to information. i'll bet that you had at least a decent secular education to expose you to the outside world, and that it included college and maybe even grad school. you really think you had the same choices compared to someone whose 90 minute a day secular education (actually not really secular, but rather just some english and math) stopped at 6th grade and whose access to outside (i.e., forbidden) information is severely restricted from day 1 to death? and then add onto that layers upon layers of complex social and communal forces that act on a person who would otherwise like to make a different choice. (and i'm not even talking about life-altering choices like altogether dropping out of a community.)

Lion of Zion said...


. . . and i didn't even get into informal educational or cultural exposure.

Anonymous said...

LoZ, so we finally disagree. Interesting. Many Chasidim (and by that I do not mean "scores of") leave the specific paths of their parents and do just fine. Some leave their specific Chasidic sect and join another one. Some stay in the sect, but move out of the community to a more relaxed Chasidic neighborhood. That is why you will find Skver Chasidim who do not live in New Square and Satmar who do not live in Williamsburg or KJ. Monsey and parts of Brooklyn and other areas have Chasidic groups and the word on the street is that some have made the choice to live in "melting pot" neighborhoods so they can breathe a little more freely. Shidduchim for Chasidic young men and women take this into account if it is known that a boy or girl is a bit less "by the book." No one talks about this, but there are ways to set up your son or daughter with a spouse from a different, more open Chasidic family. All these are grey areas that are very hard to explain to an outsider. Just know that while it is way more common for a Chasid to remain in the exact tracks of his parents, it doesn't always happen that way. Also, there are Chasidim who leave Chasidus altogether and stay in Orthodoxy. While it is unusual, it happens and I come across these people in our MO day school and in my neighborhood dealings. You can spot their Chasidic education a mile away, but they do try to find a new way to be frum. Then there are others who leave Orthodox Judaism altogether. That happens too. What is unusual about this story is that it is a woman. It is way more uncommon for a woman to leave because they marry so young that it would mean leaving or taking children (usually more than one) with you. It doesn't mean there aren't unhappy Chasidic women out there and that it would be harder for a Chasidic woman to leave than a Chasidic man, but they can leave. I know of divorced and remarried Chasidic women who are happy in their second marriages. They changed their circumstance, but remained religious. KJ isn't a Waco-type compound. And even the cultural ties that bind them to the community can be loosened as I explained above. When you have an unstable woman from an unstable family of origin, it is possible to get this kind of unstable exit from the community, but it isn't the only way out.

Anonymous said...


You just prove my point. I don't care if you want to call them "liberal", "conservative", "anti-religious", "anti-Jewish", or whatever. All these labels are just that - labels. They convey little to no information and allow one to simply dismiss the article without having to make a real argument.

If you want to say the article is biased or slanted or filled with lies, then do so and point out examples. I have yet to see a single person here do that. Instead, I see the following:

1) They spoke about niddah! It's sensational! It's private! How dare they!

2) They wrote about Satmars! They wrote about Jews! The mere fact they wrote about Jews/Satmars shows their true hatred for religion and everything good and holy!

Please. Make a real point and then we can discuss it.

Anonymous said...

js, perhaps I am the only one on this thread that has subscribed for years to New York magazine (NOT the New Yorker, to which I have subscribed in the past too). I am a Conservative Republican Modern Orthodox thinking Jew who likes popular culture and being a New Yorker. Both my feet are planted in the U.S. and the Metro NY area so I can read stuff that I don't agree with without spontaneously combusting (a word?). All I am saying is that the media is slanted. I don't blame NY Mag for writing this article. Someone above questioned why they would be interested. Oh, come on. Why the he-- not? It's got everything. It is NY after all! People see Chasidim around but have no idea about their world so this is a point of interest. Throw in some sex and a beautiful, tortured protagonist and this is pretty much the garden of eden to a reporter. Slant it however you want, just acknowledge the slant. I don't have high expectations for NY Mag as I don't for Time Out NY to which I currently subscribe. It cracks me up when people write in indignant and insulted that TONY used certain words or wrote about something in a certain way. So don't buy the mag, people. This is what it is. Where do I draw the line with the liberal media bias, with the papers of record such as the NY Times. I canceled my subscription years ago because it became evident (and this was a determination I made based on my study of the evidence not based on hearsay and pressure in the Jewish media) that the Times' liberal slant was clouding its presentation of the facts in the Middle East. Choices were regularly being made about WHAT to report and WHERE in the newspaper to report it and that's when I had had enough. So, the fact that NYM published this doesn't bother me. I am merely redflagging it as slanted which--given the history of this publication--is how it operates. I am only perturbed by the exploitation of the child and the blame for that I place squarely on this woman's lousy attorneys and on herself, oh and the angry grandparents who should know better than to allow this to happen.
Also, there are inaccuracies about Chasidim in the story but I couldn't care less to list them here because they would have done the same thing to any other group they were "outing" and the letters would have poured in. I've read many of those over the years about all kinds of topics that Mags like these exploit.

ProfK said...

What readers of the story are going to come away with is coming to general conclusions based on only one particular example. This would give them many errors of fact. First, Satmar is a sect of chassidus with adherents living in many different places. Geographic differences have also caused there to be some "practice" differences. You can't judge all of Satmar based on what may or may not go on in KJ. And there is no way to know if what Gitty is describing is idiosyncratic to her situation or is more generalized. But readers will assume it is representative of the whole.

Second, the reader of New York Magazine is probably not all that conversant with the ins and outs of chassidic life. They are going to go from Gitty's individual story to a judgement about Satmar chassidus and chassidim in general. Let's look at her plea to see her choson before she married him. She was told to look out the window and that was her only view. Error of fact. A beshau/beshow is alive and well in chassidic circles, Satmar included. The common version is where the choson and his mother go to the kallah's house. The kallah and her mother and the choson and his mother are seated around a dining room table for a short period of time. The choson and kallah may or may not speak to each other but the two mothers do speak. The couple get to see each other. The choson leaves and then the kallah is asked to say yes or no. If she says no it is no. Of course, they might try and get her to change her mind but if she doesn't there is no marriage. Gitty's experience is out of step with the norm.

As was mentioned by someone above, readers of this story will have no way of knowing just how unusual it is for someone who is Lubavitch to end up in Satmar. The readers will have no way of knowing that Gitty's family saga and history is way outside the normal range for Satmar.

I've mentioned before to beware of studies and statistics. If you consider Gitty's story as a type of "case study" of a Satmar girl you need to take the results with a gigantic grain of salt. Who did the study? What was their interest in the results? What were their qualifications for undertaking the study? What was the methodology? How were the results reported? Can they be verified by others? Are there any statistical or logical fallacies? Apply these questions to the article and the "results" the readers got aren't worth the price of the magazine.

Anonymous said...

OK, OK. You made me do it. JS, this one's for you:


1. And this is a doozy!!!!!
“Can’t I see him first?” Gitty asked. “Sure,” they said, “look out the window.”
It is against Halacha and the rules of Chasidic sects to marry someone off to someone they haven't seen. They sit them together in a room and they talk to each other. Always. Period.

2. "This what the Satmar rebbe told her to do if she had to sit down with non-Jews: Face the wall and pray."

Most Chasidim work in jobs which cause them to have to deal with non-Jews on a regular basis. Many have regular sit-down meetings with these non-Jews. If you go out to lunch or dinner in Manhattan from time to time you will see these business meals. Day to day if you are selling cameras or running a real estate business, you are going to have to work with non-Jews. And the Chasidim are pretty friendly to their customers and business associates. Ask any gentile who does business with them.

3. "While her brothers studied Torah at the yeshiva as much as fifteen hours a day, Gitty often did her homework here, memorizing the tenets of concepts like yichud, or “aloneness,” such as when it was appropriate for an unmarried Satmar male to be alone in the presence of an unmarried Satmar female."

Sounds very poetic, Doesn't happen. The 15 hours would be an older Bochur who actually wants to learn. The norm is about 10 hours as they all get home around 6, 6:30 and that would include some Gezunta meals and praying which takes Chasidim a long time because they actually sing when they pray. The high school boys probably get home later, but even then, you aren't going to get these numbers and they aren't learning all day. Chasidim are actually known to be more into nature and trips than their Lithuanian Orthodox Yeshiva student counterparts. You will see them walking outside in groups with their Rebbe. They take family trips to parks all over this country. They aren't actually known to be the most "learning-only oriented" of the fervently Orthodox. It's that whole pesky Baal Shem Tov thing about nature and joy in the world. But that would kill the joyless, miserable Chosid myth.
Also, she wouldn't be sitting there alone studying "aloneness." That's very convenient for the writer. More likely, she will be taught those rules whenever the other girls are taught them and she will be free to play with her friends just like all the other Chasidish girls. They actually have a nice time together, these girls.

4. "Some KJ houses don’t even have mirrors. Boys aren’t allowed to look in them. It’s vain.”
In my opinion, Chasidish homes especially those of the Hungarian Chasidim like Satmar have way too many mirrors!

5. "But you can’t look at him. The room has to be pitch dark. There’s no foreplay. This is totally about reproduction."
While it is true that there are rules about intention during sex, there are also rules that place the onus on the male to pleasure his wife and--while it wouldn't be out of the realm of reality to understand that these guys would be pressured and uncomfortable as she states--there are only a few rules about the physical enjoyment and all Orthodox people are taught the same ones. The rest is history. And, btw, I know plenty of Chasidic couples who vacation without their kids and have date nights. I know there is romance in Chasidland, trust me.

And these inaccuracies do not even include the misrepresentations and statements with connotations that can be misconstrued by the readers. I stayed away from those so you wouldn't argue with me about NY Mag's right to slant the piece.
In the end, they took her word for it. And Vanity Fair does these sledgehammer political pieces on Republicans that we are also expected to believe. It's their job to dish it out and our job to decide whether to take it, just don't convince me about what it is.

Anonymous said...

anon mom, profk,

I think the story makes Gitty look less than good, to put it nicely. She comes across as petty, confused, drugged out, a dreamer, and angry. The real victim here is her child.

The article does a very good job of showing just how abnormal Gitty's family is (up and down the family tree). While the grandparents are made to appear the most normal and the author identifies with them most, it's pretty clear this is where the problems started as well. I think the article is more about the family dynamics than anything else. The fact that Deborah's three kids ran away has less to do with religion per se than the fact that Deborah remarried into Satmar and had a "mixed marriage" so to speak.

I think this also tempers some of the extremism shown in the Satmar community because we know Deborah and Gitty were not the normal residents of KJ.

While the article is sensationalistic, I too do not view it as I do the NY Times. This is supposed to be a sensationalistic paper (like Time Out NY). They also got all the broad details correct and the nunaced stuff they got wrong, you need to be an expert to know and it doesn't change the story much anyway.

I think the larger issue overall - and why people are so upset - is that it makes our religious practices seem outdated, cultish, freakish, and abnormal. This to me is a more interesting topic.

Lion of Zion said...


i just wanted to point out where we can agree:

"I canceled my subscription years ago because it became evident . . ."

same here. i switched to wsj. much happier, esp. since they print my letters:

i also had a personal experience with a wsj editor that convinced me more than ever that the wsj is not trodding the typical media path vis-a-vis israel.

"Chasidish homes especially those of the Hungarian Chasidim . . . have way too many mirrors!"

no kidding!

Anonymous said...

LoZ, cool. You got published. I have to admit that I am sort of in love with that paper. It's actually more interesting than the Times. There were times when I would read the Sunday Times and the Book Review and say to myself, "Am I supposed to be interested in this?!"
Anyway, I'm relieved that we agree again. Good Shabbos. And, JS, the secret really is that we Orthodox are all weirder than the others realize. I happen to think it's a good kind of weird, but we sure are weird. I wish all of these people happiness, especially the little girl.

Anonymous said...

ProfK, when you mentioned your Chasidic origins, I had wanted to say that-interestingly--it fits your writing style and the "personality" you present here and in your comments on other blogs. You'll say I'm crazy, but I feel the genes are always there, even the Chasidish sect genes. My homeys are Belz so I roll a little more laid back, fluid, less straight. We were Galician farmers, my people. Down to earth. I think it may be why I ramble and why I love singing and music so much. Anyway, we can hang out since you have some Bobov and Lubavitcher in the mix too. I had to say it.

ProfK said...

Errrr, have I mentioned that I am Hungarian going waaaay back? And yup, I love mirrors and mirrored surfaces. Thankfully you didn't ask about the chandelier in the bathroom--not there but there is one in our bedroom so that should count double, especially since it is reflected in the mirrors in the room. But the bathroom does have an absolutely beautiful carved mirror. Besides, the mirrors reflect beautifully that other Hungarian must have--silver, crystal and china.

I told you I still practiced some chassidishe "minhagim" in my house.

A gutten Shabbos.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Mom, don't say Orthodox Jews are weird. We're just "weird" compared to normative American society. Yes, some of us have to live here (for reasons I'm not going to go into here), we go to American stores and work in American corporations, we may watch American TV, but really, what makes American society "normal" and Jewish society "weird"? It's all your perspective and I prefer to think of the non-Jewish and non-frum world around us as "weird".

There's no reason to be ashamed of the halachos of taharas hamishpacha. True, I don't discuss it with my coworkers, but they don't tell me what they do in the privacy of their own bathrooms either.

Dave said...

but really, what makes American society "normal" and Jewish society "weird"?


Weird is always relative to a society. So while you can say, for example, that wearing electric blue shirts would be "weird" for a man in a Yeshivish community, it'd be perfectly normal in other communities.

What is normal in New York is often weird in a small town (and visa versa).

But if you're talking about America, then yes, Orthodox practices are "weird" relative to normative American culture.

So are the practices of lots of other subcultures. It's just how things work.

Anonymous said...

By reading this story I felt bad for Gitty's husband. He was trying to make his marriage work, but she just wasn't trying. She was unhappy and she wanted to leave. Story doesn't say if he was a bad husband or a good one or how she felt about him.

My take on the story is at face value; this sheltered girl was forced to marry at a very young age. She wasn't ready for marriage and she was shocked to find out all the details that has to do with a married life. No one was capable to help her, so she escaped. While she was dealing with her emotions and learning about a new world she found herself in, her child was taken away from her...

Now, there is a huge custody battle. It is not right to take her child away from her. That little girl is the only constant in Gitty's life, and caring for children is the only thing she knows how to do and is fully capable of doing.

These stories are happening more and more often. And they will continue to exist until the frum world will wake up and realize that sheltering their children from the world is not healthy.