The Torch explores gender and religion in the Jewish community. Named for Deborah the Prophetess, "the woman of torches," the blog highlights the passion and fiery leadership of Jewish feminists, while evoking the powerful image of feminists "passing the torch" to a new generation. Disclaimer: All posts are contributed by third party authors. JOFA does not assume responsibility for the facts and opinions presented in them.
I remember where I was sitting. It was a spring day in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was wearing my white button down uniform shirt and my floor length uniform pleated skirt. It was only after I had enrolled in the Bais Yaakov of the Twin Cities (an Orthodox girls’ school) that a rule was added to the uniform dress code that skirts had to be mid-length and not to the floor (chukat hagoyim 101). Fortunately I had been grandfathered in and was not forced to tailor my uniform skirts.
My floor length skirt allowed me the freedom of wearing sweatpants under my skirt during the frigid Minnesota winter. (For those of you who are unaware, a good portion of the movie Fargo was filmed in Minneapolis.) When the snow fell in early fall, it remained on our front lawn until Passover. I was once called into the office about the sweatpants because, on rare occurrence, their bagginess was briefly exposed. I was told that only tights could be worn. I responded, “These are just very thick tights.”
On that spring morning my principal entered our classroom to prepare us for our annual school Lag Baomer (33rd day of the Omer) trip. Most of his words were not engendering excitement; they were clarifying every element of the dress code for the trip from head to toe. Speaking of toes, which obviously could not be exposed, he mentioned how bobby socks would not be permitted. The term “bobby socks” was not recognizable to me. I raised my hand and asked Rabbi X. what they were. He said, “those are the socks that you wear every day that you thought we didn’t know about, but we know about them.” I had no idea that this was a thought or a rule. Apparently, my floor-length skirt had allowed me to wear pants in the winter, and to break an unwritten, unspoken rule, until that day, when bobby socks were no longer permitted.
I did not own knee highs and was not going to have my mother rush out to purchase them that evening. I had two pairs of knee highs from my pre-Bais Yaakov days from my softball team uniform. I wore those for two days. On the last day of the trip, on day three, my friend and I, in solidarity, wore our final pairs of socks, our calves and ankles were exposed. We were both wearing lengthy skirts, so we had hoped that we were in the clear.
It seemed that we were successful until the afternoon when my friend and I boarded a ride at an amusement park. We were trying to enjoy the rare fun times of a rather strict high school. We boarded the ride, having forgotten about our violation of the newfound rule to our dress code. It was a ride that repeatedly turned in circles, similar to the famous tea cup ride. As we pulled the bar over our laps, I saw him. Our principal was standing there with a glare in his eyes looking at us in our eyes and our exposed ankles. The ride, the day, the trip, was ruined. It was uncomfortable to say the least, to be a 14-year-old and have to withstand the staring and glaring for the entire ride. To dread the moments where we were in his view again and again. He didn’t say a word; he repeatedly looked our bodies up and down with a smug look on his face. The trip was over. The entire school, all six of us, entered the van to drive back to Minnesota from Wisconsin. Rabbi X. said this van is not moving until everyone’s ankles are covered. I said, we do not have socks, and I do not want to wear old, dirty socks. He responded, “This van is not moving until everyone’s ankles are covered.”
Bags were moved, zippers flied open, and my friend and I kept our heads down as our classmates offered their extra socks. The commotion had come to a close, and I breathed a sigh of relief as Rabbi X. turned the keys and the engine began purring.
The day after the trip, my friend was called in to Rabbi X’s office. The principal didn’t even bother with me, as I came from a family where women wear pants. I waited to greet her to hear what our Rabbi X. had pulled out this time. In the past he had threatened me with losing my portion in the World To Come (afterlife). My friend said, “You will not believe this. So…he compared my wearing bobby socks to premarital sex. He said it was planned, intentional, and just as bad as premarital sex. It was difficult to keep a straight face.”
Fast forward to 2016: I recently shared on Facebook a sign forbidding women of the Satmar community (a Hasidic sect) from wearing nude colored tights without a visible seam to make it clear that stockings are being worn. Some critiqued me for posting this sign on my Facebook wall, because this is what Satmar communities want. It is very likely that many Satmar women and men embrace this standard and mode of dress. It is also very likely that a decent portion of Satmar women do not; hence the need to post the sign.
While I endured the embarrassment of having my ankles exposed only one time, it was pretty awful. I felt shamed. I was “publicly” outed when Rabbi X. refused to return home while our parents were waiting for us. I would imagine that there are Satmar women who are not happy with the status quo and wish that they could speak up without being ostracized or besmirching their family’s’ reputation. That shame should not be experienced by anyone, no matter the family, religion, community, or country they are born to.
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Pronounced: khah-SID-ik, Origin: Hebrew, a stream within ultra-Orthodox Judaism that grew out of an 18th-century mystical revival movement.
Pronounced: YAH-kove or YAH-ah-kove, Origin: Hebrew, Jacob, one of the Torah’s three patriarchs.