We’re so vain. It’s a simple fact of human nature that’s inextricably tied into self-image. Or as Hillel’s wife might have said, “If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us? Especially if we have circles under our eyes?”

This article in Haaretz takes an interesting look at the Ye’elat Chen beauty salon, which has been operating for 24 years in Jerusalem, not far from Mea Shearim and Kikar Shabbat:

The side entrance on the main street is suited to women who want to steal in without being seen. Behind the simple door a surprise awaits. A pleasant and aesthetic space divided into cubicles. Several rooms have a secret exit to the salon’s backyard. They are meant for the wives of leading Hasidic rabbis, women from extremist Hasidic sects, along with several female MKs who have heard about [the owner] Larrie. In other words, all those who have to maintain their privacy.

Eshet Chayil, the poem about women of valor and what their attributes are, states “sheker hachen, v’hevel hayofi” — charm is a lie, and beauty is vanity/meaningless–but clearly today’s premium on the external appearance still affects people who are religious.

Sima Salzburg, who researched the attitude toward beauty in the extremist Toldot Aharon Hasidic community in Jerusalem, as part of her doctoral thesis at the Hebrew University, discovered that one’s external appearance is of great significance even among the most extreme.

She says that cosmetic treatments are common mainly for young women. “An 18-year-old girl who is about to about to be introduced to a potential match doesn’t have the time to impress her partner or his mother with her qualities, and therefore her external appearance is more important than anything else,” she says. “The meeting with the designated partner is very short: from one meeting in the Hasidic sects to several meetings in more open communities.”

Salzburg found that young married women in Toldot Aharon use makeup under the noses of the “supervisors,” older women who are in charge of the behavior of the younger women. “They use neutral colors,” she says.

I wish there were going to be a companion story about the steps Haredi men are taking to be considered a good shidduch or feel attractive to their wives, but I guess that’s too much to hope for, right?

About the author

Esther Kustanowitz

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.

10 Comments

  • I’ve advised more than one of my male Chasidishe friends to shower regularly and use a deodorant / anti-perspirant. Might give you an idea…

    Middle, you get facials?

  • Just when I was about to start wondering what was going under the 10 thick skirts, veil and scarfs…

  • Esther, I’m sorry for the joke.

    My feeling about this is that it’s not really news. I’ve seen lots of Orthodox women of all ages who use makeup extensively, wear very stylish clothes and even the ones who wear wigs, are completely in mode and looking quite good. That young women are doing it is not surprising and their reason – looking good for a potential mate – is well understood by the majority of the non-Orthodox women out there of all faiths.

    You raise a valid point, though. What does the potential male partner have to do? Well, in a recent story told to me first hand by an angry father of an attractive, intelligent and very frum young Israeli woman, the potential groom informed her that he wanted “to study.” He had no intention of providing for his family other than subsidies for studying if he could get them. She’d have to work. Then his parents got into the act and asked for the father to add a $50,000 dowry. This is not a man for whom that sum of money is realistic and yet there it was, expected. He refused, not because of the money as much as his notion that a husband who doesn’t want to work and who would make his wife pop out numerous babies AND provide for the family would not be a good match. The shidduch broke up.

    In other words, men in the Haredi world seem to feel they are God’s gift to women, literally. And apparently the women believe it too…

  • Not all Haredi men feel that way, Middle, as there’s many a one out there that earns a living. Just as there are wives (or rather: fathers-in-law) supporting hubbies, I know several Haredi men that are getting financially exploited by their wives. We hardly ever get to see the many balanced, harmonious relationships among Haredim, cause true happiness (as opposed to $150k wedding for an arranged match labelled ‘simcha’) is boring news. There are many pretty vain male young frum guys as well, just that their standards of beauty do differ from mainstream views, e.g. there are ones that put a lot of work into perfectly curled peyos, ones that hit the gym regularly (to be skinny, not buff) and others that pay a lot of attention to the quality of the cloth of their attire.

  • I happen to have family where the father works and has raised his children to work (the ones who are married already do work). They represent the minority in his community and he’s quite critical of the typical approach of most men in his community to work.

  • Look at the NY communities, and there it’s mostly the men working. Even in Bnei Brak it’s not as common that hubbies rely on their wives’ support as some try to make it out to be. I’m well-aware those guys that try to avoid work like looking for a wife in Israel, where the clash between ‘fahrfrumpte’ and the average Jew appears wider to people in insulated communities than in, let’s say, Brooklyn. All I can say is: see them get choleric when you tell them that it’s against the Torah that men avoid work as it clearly states that from the expulsion from Gan Eden on, women will give birth under pain and men will labour in the fields (an explanatory legend to lay out where the suffering in the world stems from). Ironically enough, kollel-learning lazies eventually led to the European Women’s Rights movement.

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