One of the worst books I’ve ever read

I wrote this in the Spring of 2002 for my old Angelfire site, about Evelyn Kaye’s thankfully out of print The Hole in the Sheet. This was at a time when I was starting to finally realize my dream of becoming more observant, and becoming very attracted to Orthodoxy. When I met actual Orthodox people, I quickly realized I’d believed ignorant stereotypes and misinformation. Obviously, I can’t speak to certain factions in the Hareidi (ultra-Orthodox) community, where things are much different. I had many, many, many posts on my old website about how appalled I was at a number of things the modern-day Hareidim do, say, and believe, like how they Photoshop women out of pictures in newspapers, rewrite history to bash other denominations, and teach anti-scientific nonsense in schools. For the sake of relative brevity, I’ve taken out some of what was in the original essay.


I recently read this horrible hate- and lie-filled invective against the entire Orthodox and Hassidic world, under the nasty pretence of “telling it like it is.” This woman obviously had a very bad experience, or came to have a different value system which led her to completely reject how she was raised, and I won’t deny her that basic reality, but she projects that bad experience/radical value change onto everyone in the Orthodox and Hassidic world, can’t stop spouting off lies and inaccuracies, putting words in people’s mouths, saying untrue, insulting, and disrespective things about traditions, basic Jewish customs like Kashrut, and most of all people who’ve chosen to be observant.

What makes it particularly repugnant is that the title is The Hole in the Sheet, a very old urban legend which started when people saw the tallit katan hanging in the wash. That’s a pretty big hole to be having sex through! Sure a handful of extremely fringe individuals may be having sex through a hole in a sheet, but like 99.9% of the Orthodox/Hassidic world have sex like normal people. She admits she’s never actually seen such a sheet, but has no doubt it exists. What blatant bullshit. Our own worst enemies are ourselves.

This book is so bad it’s hard to know where exactly to start. Even the chapter titles are insulting and derogatory, like “Childhood: The Perfect Time to Be Orthodox Because You Are Helpless and Everything Is Clear,” “Why Orthodox Judaism Doesn’t Like Women,” and “Why the Modern World Is Better for Women.” This woman clearly has an axe to grind, and an ideology to push. She takes isolated incidents out of context and projects them onto everyone, doesn’t explain why things are done, puts words into people’s mouths, won’t accept how many women in the Orthodox and Hassidic world really are happy, that people do choose out of their own free will to become observant, and has totally not looked at the traditional sources. If she had, she’d come to know that in the Talmud, halacha, and other traditional sources of Jewish law, women are treated a lot more fairly and better than they were in practically every other society at that time in history.

It’s really insulting my intelligence how she honestly believes so many women say taharat hamishpacha revitalises their marriages and makes them feel like brides again because it’s what they’ve been told to say by their rabbis. So then they really don’t feel these things and are all brainwashed liars. I’m not even married yet and I saw something special and beautiful about this custom when I first found out about it! It teaches your spouse not to see you as just a sexual object he can boink whenever an urge strikes him. If you really truly believe no Orthodox woman is happy, you’re past help. And, oh yeah, it’s translated as “ritually impure,” not “unclean,” and anyone who knows anything about taharat hamishpacha knows that.

This woman also thinks the Orthodox love embarrassing people who don’t know as much about Judaism as they do. She also thinks “[t]he mark of a truly devout Hasidic or Orthodox Jew, as well as many other Jews, is an unquestioned hatred of non-Jews.” What complete lies! None of the Orthodox people I’ve ever known believed any stereotypes about non-Jews, like they’re all drunk, anti-Semites, junkies, untrustworthy, have horrible family lives, etc.

Her comment about how they also avoid any contact with African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics is also completely off the mark. Guess what! There are many African-American Jews and Jews of colour! She also relates a story about how a friend of hers saw a Hassidic woman late at night, lost, and asked if he could help her. How would he know “she didn’t dare speak to me as a man, and a non-Jew too”! He wasn’t inside her mind! After giving her the directions back to Brooklyn, this hate-filled woman continues the anecdote: “‘I felt so sorry for her,’ he said. ‘She had no idea how to cope with what had happened to her because she didn’t dare to break the rules. And yet she didn’t know what to do or where she was.’

“I wonder what she told her husband when she came home.”

Excuse me, anyone would be scared and nervous when lost and alone in a strange place late at night! How dare they arrogantly assume these things about a total stranger?!

This woman really has a fetish about unnecessary capitalisation, and the word “naughty.” Please give me direct quotes where the rabbis actually called bare skin, exposed hair on a married woman, mixed dancing, chametz during Pesach, etc., “naughty.” She completely insults the entire Talmud on more than one occasion, and doesn’t take into account how some of the rabbis were very minor, how some were fairer to women than others, how not every view is meant to be followed, how one shouldn’t accept any one view as the absolute truth, and the era in which it was written, when of course many people had primitive and outdated views of medicine. You know, unfairly judging a past attitude about medicine with all the hindsight and modern knowledge which have accumulated since and then expecting it to be held to the same standard of today’s world. She obviously isn’t reading the same sources I’m reading, and has badly misinterpreted what little she has read.

This woman also does a big disservice to her cause by not presenting the other side in a positive light. To her, all Orthodox women are oppressed and only parroting what men have told them to say, and she doesn’t even take into consideration the many observant women who are very happy living that life. Who are you to tell them their personal belief is wrong? You don’t like Orthodoxy? Fine. But don’t expect them to just up and throw their entire belief system through the window because it offends your ultramodernist sensibilities.

She cites isolated incidents such as an Orthodox rabbi bursting into a Reform shul on Simchat Torah and trying to break up the party because he felt it was a sin for men and women to dance together, or an Orthodox rabbi taking over a Reform bar mitzvah in Poland because the rabbi was a woman. Those are isolated incidents and don’t represent how the majority of Orthodox Jews live their lives.

And yet she’s doing exactly the same thing. You don’t like a fringe lunatic trying to hijack a happy holiday service, yet you seem to be saying you want the Reform to become the norm in the Jewish world, with no regard for more traditional customs. There are different branches of Judaism for a reason. It’s insane to want one of them to stop observing the way they’ve done for centuries. What an arrogant hypocrite, presuming to tell people to abandon their values they’ve lived by their whole lives because she thinks they’re foolish and outdated. There’s something called choice, and free will.

This woman doesn’t just personally disagree with certain aspects of Judaism, she outright attacks them and insults them with such venom it’s unbelievable. The way she talks about the b’rit makes it seem like the mohel is actually chopping off a chunk of flesh instead of just removing the foreskin. If you honestly believe the b’rit is barbaric, child abuse, mutilation, and traumatic, you haven’t compared it with female circumcision or some of the male circumcision rites in the Pacific, such as inserting a tube into the urethra and then slicing the organ in half (but not cutting it off!).

The Orthodox are far from the only Jews who practise circumcision. And there’s a doctor standing by in case anything goes wrong. Many mohelim are trained in medical care, and even the most UO of rabbis would never permit a baby to be circumcised if he felt there were a danger, such as prematurity or a serious medical condition. The b’rit can be delayed until the baby’s healthy enough.

This woman of course wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater and objects to it on the grounds that she thinks it hurts the baby. One little prick at eight days and then it’s over. And of course she doesn’t believe in all the great medical benefits to be had from circumcision. To call the b’rit foolish and barbaric is spitting in the face of those many people who had it done to their sons during the Shoah, Inquisition, Greek and Roman rule, and other periods of extreme persecution.

This woman must have done some serious drugs to be saying all these off-base things, such as “The basic duty of the Orthodox parent is to create a permanent sense of guilt in their children.” I think you need to look at yourself and why you feel guilty if you find money in your pocket on Shabbat or feel paranoid about people watching you taking the bus on Shabbat. Your feeling guilty has nothing to do with your parents who only told you the rules.

“Maximum insecurity and discomfort for young children” my ass. You belong in a therapist’s office discussing these issues, because the great majority of people in the Orthodox community are not experiencing these feelings! Comparing Orthodoxy to a cult is mind-revolting. It’s like she doesn’t accept that this is how some people choose to live their lives. What does she expect, they’ll just up and abandon traditions because she says so?

Of course a boy in her youth group objected to mixed dancing and eventually had it voted out of their activities! You have to expect that many people in the Orthodox world believe these things, and to want them to change to conform to the modern world is the height of insensitivity and utter hypocrisy. And only a handful of very fringe individuals still buy into the shtetl superstitions about Lilith harming newborn babies, the evil eye, etc.

I’ve known a lot of Orthodox women, and I seriously doubt their families felt shame or rage at how they weren’t married at age 17 and pregnant at high school graduation. Nowadays even Hassidic women work outside of the home, though they might not be in jobs to your liking, such as working in a local shop instead of being a big-time executive. And there are Orthodox women in “serious” jobs nowadays who are still able to be observant and work independently.

Do you honestly think no Orthodox or Hassidic mother talks to her daughters about puberty and that these girls are totally in the dark when it starts happening? I was raised in what this woman would call a “modern” home, and I didn’t know what was happening to me for a few days because I hadn’t gotten any information on it other than what I’d read in books, from which I had idiotically assumed it didn’t last that long, much less a whole week! I was ashamed and secretive of being niddah till I found out about taharat hamishpacha at 18, and now I view it as something beautiful and spiritual. Of course she’d probably drop dead of shock if she found that out!

This woman is also somehow offended by “the opening blessing of part of the synagogue service,” since according to her it isn’t “about a more sympathetic, modest and quiet God, who appreciated the simpler less adulatory aspects of prayer.” God is indescribable, and however you want to address him/her is fine by me, but getting offended over how a prayer is worded because it doesn’t jive with your modernistic interpretation of him/her is really out there. This woman also goes on to say that her mother told her she had to keep going to shul even though she didn’t believe it in because who knows why anyone is going? From this she jumps to the wild conclusion that most people aren’t going to shul out of genuine belief or spirituality. You’re not inside their minds!

This woman has totally NOT read the traditional sources on marriage and divorce. If she had, then she’d see that the halacha is very fair to women and that the ketubah is insurance against a bad husband. There are long lists of when divorce should be done, such as a husband forcing a wife to hold to a vow longer than a certain period of time, and if he refuses to release her from the vow to not wear shoes, for example, for over a week, then he must divorce her and pay her her ketubah.

There are also very bad consequences for a man who refuses to do this; he may even be whipped in public until he relents and divorces her. A woman may also divorce a husband if he smells bad or doesn’t provide her with enough sex, according to his profession, such as how a sailor must sleep with his wife at least once every six months.

She also keeps speaking about arranged marriages like they’re so horrible. It’s an arranged meeting, not an arranged marriage. If it were the latter, they would never have met most likely before the wedding, and there would be no door out. The girl is permitted to reject the guy if she doesn’t like him. She isn’t forced to marry the first guy she meets, and they go out on several arranged dates before they decide. How again are people who have a traditional ketubah hurting you?

Then she gets into how she believes Orthodox couples don’t know anything about sex, and that they think of improving the baby-to-be instead of satisfying the other person. In theory, yes, and certainly a handful of fringe lunatics do do that, but I’m pretty sure the great majority of Orthodox and Hassidic couples are having sex for pleasure and not just procreation. Actual practice is not always what’s written down in theory.

This woman does nothing but insult the laws of Kashrut. She again wishes to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Once you’ve abandoned Kashrut, Shabbat, and the b’rit, what are the important traditions keeping you within the fold of Judaism? What’s left, seriously, if you think observing Shabbat and holidays is foolish, the b’rit is barbaric, and keeping kosher, much less during Pesach, is crazy?

She really thinks only the Orthodox keep kosher. And why the hell would she ask for a glass of milk with her pastrami sandwich in a kosher restaurant? That is as much a deliberate and blatant act of utter provocation and disrespect as sitting in the men’s section at an Orthodox shul. She really shows her true hedonistic colours with lines such as these:

“Adhering to laws like these demands an obsessive passion for illogicality. Why, if you live in a place like Maine with shellfish and seafood of every description, should you not take advantage of what’s available?….Why can’t you have a glass of milk with a meat meal? What is so terrible about this mixture?….And what is so unacceptable about pork? That brings up emotional and psychological responses, none of them rooted in any particular logic.”

Oh, I don’t know, maybe faith is important to you and you have enough self-control to withstand temptation. When you’ve been doing something like Kashrut or Shabbat for a long time, it’s like second nature, and doesn’t feel like a burden to you.

This woman isn’t alone in her hatred of “Ayshet Chayil,” but she is totally off-base in her attack on it. It’s a sweet way to honour your wife and tell her how much she means to you. I don’t find it insulting at all. And it was originally intended as an ode to the Shechina, the feminine attribute of God, not some overworked housewife.

How is it offensive for a man to love and cherish his wife and express these feelings in song? And the things in the song aren’t even that concerned with household tasks, so there goes her baseless argument about how it’s all about an overworked housewife!

She also goes off on another insulting offensive tangent when it comes to outright attacking those who kasher the house for Pesach. Once again she thinks only the Orthodox do this. What is so damn offensive about a thorough cleaning of the house once a year? You want to live in a mess? And sure it’s a hell of a lot of work, but it’s one of those things you’re glad you got out of the way. No one wants to do it, but it’s one of those things you have to do, like taking out the trash once a week, going to a proctologist, or doing a term paper.

Please tell me you’re not that simplistic and don’t really think it’s as simple as throwing out, hiding, or selling your food for Pesach and only replacing them with new ones exactly the same, only with labels saying they’re kasher l’Pesach. If you start to relax rules about Kashrut, what’s next? I don’t feel I’m being manipulated by rabbis by choosing to keep kosher.

It is the height of arrogance to say “the modern world is better for women.” Modern and better by whose definitions? Plenty of Modern Orthodox women fully live in the modern world, and there are even MO feminists! Her beloved choices for women apparently only apply to choices about “living in the modern world” instead of choosing to live a more traditional lifestyle. Becoming observant or Orthodox is also a perfectly valid choice an educated woman can make, even when she knows there are other options available to her.

The way she talks about women who’ve chosen to live the frum life is truly insulting. Instead of talking about how they might’ve seen something truly beautiful, meaningful, and special in a traditional lifestyle, she’ll spout off such disrespectful platitudes as “Somewhere along the way, she became convinced she had to become extremely Orthodox” or “But we’re dealing with someone caught inside the total craziness of Orthodox teachings. She has given up her mind in exchange for the fairy stories about Judaism and its teachings. She has allowed herself to become as helpless as any peasant woman living in the backwoods of central Africa. And she believes that this is good for her.”

These frum women have made choices about how they wish to live their lives, but since they’re not choosing what you’d have them choose, they’re crazy! What is so hard to grasp about the concept of choice and free will, and that this is how some people happily live their lives?! There is so much joy and love in the great majority of Orthodox and Hassidic families. These women don’t feel oppressed.

I find it completely off-base and insulting how this hateful, diatribe-ridden woman insists on calling those who are Shomer Shabbat foolish, outdated, and crazy, and that it’s stupid to have long, detailed rabbinical arguments about what exactly constitutes work. And btw, turning on a light isn’t forbidden due to being classified as work; it’s because the modern interpretation forbade it due to being seen as striking a fire, which is forbidden on the Sabbath.

These rules and regulations do not exist to make your life miserable or to cause feelings of guilt, but to make every aspect of your life holy and closer to God. When you don’t use electricity, drive in a car, spend money, etc., on Shabbat, you’re making the day special and different. You don’t agree with it? Fine. But don’t attempt to tell other people they’re wrong and crazy for holding Shabbat apart from all other days as a day of perfect rest. [I should probably take my own decade-old advice, since I’ve fallen embarrassingly far from the Shomeret Shabbat state I was once so proud of!]

This woman provides a direct (and yet again extremely insulting!) quote from herself, saying the Orthodox aren’t happy and secure, and that it’s just “a myth and a smokescreen they like to erect” and that a woman “may say what she is told to say, but she has long ago given up her own identity and her own individuality and her own ability to understand what she wants. She’s simply a robot repeating what she has been told. And she’s bringing up a generation of children in total ignorance of the real world.” Excuse me, but I am a feminist, and I see something beautiful in being more traditionally observant and in dressing modestly! I feel these things out of my heart, not because any rabbi told me to feel this way!

It’s really suspect how this woman consistently puts the names of holidays and certain Hebrew terms in quotes, and refers to holidays by decidedly non-Jewish names. When was the last time you heard a Jew refer to Shavuot as the Feast of Weeks, or Sukkot as the Festival of Tabernacles? She also describes her mother’s funeral in the epilogue, and keeps referring to the minister presiding over the affair. What is a minister doing officiating at an Orthodox Jewish funeral?! Did you mean to say “rabbi”?!

She refers to how she still sees “the undertones of craziness.” Obviously these things aren’t crazy to the people observing them, like a woman wearing a sheitel and long sleeves and skirts. And what’s it to you if a woman chooses to pray in the hall instead of in the shul? God will hear your prayers no matter where you daven or in what language you speak.

Well, this woman also admits to being intermarried and having broken all the rules after she left Orthodoxy. I just think it’s sad she could have such a bad personal experience and then proceed to throw away Kashrut, Shabbat, holidays, the importance of intramarrying, family purity, dressing modestly, etc. Once you get rid of such major things, what’s left to keep you Jewish? Is there not something very comforting about living your life according to the Jewish year and being naturally attuned to each and every holiday? Why would you want to get rid of that love, warmth, and sense of security and meaning in your life?

Here’s another fun quote which totally denigrates women who are both modern and traditional at the same time. “Some modern women like to say they can balance their careers, their professions, their involvement in the world of today with the demands of their religion. I admire them. But I think it’s the road to feminist schizophrenia.” What a load of horse bollocks. There are plenty of fully observant women out there in “real” jobs who manage to be Shomer Shabbat, sometimes shomer negiyah, dressing modestly, etc.

This is yet another quote which proves she’s not dealing with a full deck. “The Scrolls of the Law, which are read during synagogue services, contain only the Torah.” Hello! Those scrolls are the Torah! She also refers to the Hebrew Bible as the T’nack. I have never seen it spelt this way ever. It’s always been either Tanach or Tanakh. Then she goes on to say “From a woman’s perspective, Orthodox Judaism is based on the same laws of exclusion and discrimination which the Hasidim follow.” They simply dictate certain roles for the sexes, and the halacha is really a hell of a lot fairer to women than you give it credit for. Like Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Go on and eat your pork and shellfish, drive on Shabbat, turn the lights on and off, refuse to observe taharat hamishpacha, don’t dress modestly, and continue to deliberately dismiss and trivialise those for whom keeping kosher, including during Pesach, is a vitally important part of their lives. If choice is so important to you, then why can’t you accept that some people are bound to choose to live a more traditional life than you personally would like to?