Featured News Posts

Recent News

Oops We Wore it Again: Imitation as the Finest Form of Fashion?

“Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.”

– Pablo Picasso

An artist knows that at  the very  moment he completes a sculpture, a painting,  a song, or a poem and lets it out into the vast abyss we call the world, his work is  immediately subject to criticism, approbation, and of course imitation. But when Monet released Water Lilies, I doubt the following is the type of reproduction he had in mind. Googling “Monet dress” led me to discover I had more in common with Gayle King, Diana Argon and a few other celebrities than expected. Turns out we all sported my graduation dress, the en plein air “Revisited Impressionist Dress” by Tracy Reese which was once available at Anthropologie for the relatively affordable price of $298.

Now that I’ve exhausted the attempt to establish what is fashion/beauty in my previous post I can speculatively say, this artistic frock seems to qualify, certainly passing Hume’s test of time. What other dress can be worn with dashing élan by me, a young orthodox Jewess, a 16 year old movie star, a 26 year old silver screen icon, and a news anchor on the cusp of the big 6-0? But as usual, the obvious question on all the editors’ glossed and augmented lips is –WHO WORE IT BEST?

Let’s approach this chronologically; this is fashion we’re talking about and despite the constant kerfuffle  it is supposed to be an orderly, beautiful discipline. June 4th 2012, I walk into the auditorium wearing the dress.  Black Steve Madden platforms— an extra six inches never hurt anyone—as well as the edge of a black JCrew studded belt provide the perfect foil to the ultra-feminine print and darting. And the well-chosen modest addition– say, a white long-sleeved undershirt— made the ensemble all the more seductive.

Next on June 18 of that same year, Caroline Sunshine stayed true to her name illuminating the faces of fans and photographers at the premiere of Brave. The 16 year old kept the look chic pairing the busy garden number with nude pumps and a complimenting pink minaudière, channeling the focus where it should be. Usually au natural makeup and hair in addition to simple accessories equates to BORING, but Sunshine made a smart choice as the dress is a chef-d’oeuvre in and of itself.

The very next day a Glee-full Dianna Argon stole the show at a Coach party in New York City adding high fashion to the high Line. Diana sported the dress with a black belt featuring a filigree buckle, blue and black ombre Coach Legacy sunglasses, a Coach Legacy Clutch, and glittering Miu Miu  Sandals, landing her a spot on oodles of best dressed lists. Has she forgotten that less is more?! That the wise Coco once said “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off”? The dress’s grassy digital embankment, and painted girly garden print are already verging on an eye sore— the over accessorizing and filigreed belt do not do the fin de siecle Impressionists any justice.

As you all have eyes and a growing fashion sense from reading my posts, I’ll let you be the judge of the last two contenders; nonetheless, I must interject one point—boy does that bright print look great in contrast to Gayle King’s dark complexion, 10 points to the Oprah camp!

Entre Moigayleyoung and restless

Since this whole gap year thing has made me adopt an I think therefore I philosophize modus operandi I must ask – Is all this imitation eating away at the vehicle of individual expression known as fashion? Is the fifth times the charm when it comes to this sartorial masterpiece?

Being the good Semgirl that I am, I first turned towards the Bible for clarification. After a good scratch on the head and mental “control f” of all the midrashim, agadot, sugyot,mishnayot, and halachot I’ve encountered, “imitation” received a bright yellow highlight in a most unexpected context: God.

Imitatio Dei, man’s obligation to imitate God is a central doctrine stemming from the biblical account of the creation of man in the image of God, acknowledging a resemblance between man and his Creator. Yet man is to imitate God, not impersonate Him (Gen. 3:5). Biblical sources for the injunction, call man to walk this way: in the command to be holy as God is holy and to walk in God’s way (Lev. 19:2; Deut. 10:12, 11:22, 26:17). Man is to be God-like in his deeds, but not aspire to be God, differentiating the biblical notion from the pagan attempts to achieve apotheosis or absorption in the deity. Man is to imitate God in resting on Shabbat (Ex. 20:10–11); loving the little monster stranger (Deut. 10:18–19); and in other ethical moves. Surprisingly I’m not the only one mulling over the faux facet. In rabbinic literature Ḥama bar Ḥanina, expounds on the verse, “after the Lord your God you shall walk” (Deut. 13:5): “How can man walk after God? Is He not a consuming fire? What is meant is that man ought to walk after [imitate] the attributes of God. Just as the Lord clothes the naked, so you shall clothe the naked. Just as He visits the sick, so you shall visit the sick. Just as the Lord comforted the bereaved, so you shall also comfort the bereaved; just as He buried the dead, so you shall bury the dead” (Sotah: 14a).

Among medieval Jewish philosophers, Maimonides dealt most extensively with man’s copy rights when dealing with the ultimate Creator. The Spanish polymath enumerates “emulating God in His beneficent and righteous ways to the best of one’s ability” as part of the sacred commandments (Sefer ha-Mitzvot, positive commandment 8). For Maimonides the commandment intertwines with his famed fetish for the middle way. In his Guide of the Perplexed, the philosopher stresses that the acquisition of academic knowledge, especially that of God, should be the goal of human life, but in the final chapter of the Guide he holds that such knowledge leads to the imitation of God:”Having acquired this knowledge he will then be determined always to seek loving kindness, justice, and righteousness and thus to imitate the ways of God” (Guide, 3:54).

In contrast to paganism, Judaism propounds copying not counterfeit: we should walk in the way of God, not strive to be God. Similarly in fashion, counterfeit is certainly unacceptable, illegal, and a highly punishable crime, but the borrowing of ideas, concepts, techniques, is sine que non for fashion. By its very definition, the French for fashion –mode—is mathematically understood as “the value that appears most often in a set of data”. Essentially fashion favors frequency over function, ubiquity over uniqueness.

Musicians, filmmakers, painters, and even Lady Gaga are legally protected against copying, under the premise that leaving work up for grabs, translates into ‘au revoir innovation’. But despite the recent retail rivalries like the red sole lawsuit between shoe king Christian Louboutin and the father of le smoking suit YSL, to the shock of many, copyright laws barely protect the fashion field. Yes, some couturiers have lost sales to knockoffs, but design replication has not been a serious menace to the survival of the chicest. Au contraire, much of the development and ingenuity of the industry hinges upon imitation.

Why the exception oh fashion gods? Well, it seems to be a corollary of what an English playwright picked up on back when women still frolicked in farthingales. As Shakespeare said, “the fashion wears out more apparel than the man.” Meaning, most of us go shopping not to satisfy a need, but to quench the thirst of staying au currant, a la mode, and away from societal jeers.

Sans patent fetters (no not the patent leather kind), companies can modify a design as they please and join the bandwagon of a projected profit reaping style. Mix it all together and what do you get? The industry’s holy doctrine: the trend. Imitation produces trends and trends sell fashion. Each summer-spring, winter-fall, Ready-to – Wear, Couture ,Cruise or however many ways you can divide time and styles to maximize production, design houses “get inspired” by each other(I’m taking to you Dior, we notice how you seemed to forget in your advertisements and products that you’re not Chanel). Chanel summed up the cycle echoing Hume’s on aesthetics as follows, “fashion fades; style is eternal.” Trends become “hot”, “not”, then a relic of seasons past until they’re revived with the kiss of a handsome editor or somehow lucky enough to earn the coveted title “vintage.” We all know this circle of clothes, this wheel of fashion, but we often turn a blind smoky eye to the fuel behind this fire— the freedom to fake.

Despite a recent punch to some designers thanks to the recession, overall since World War II the American fashion industry enjoys solid progress; clothing businesses accrue over $300 billion a year, employing millions. Undoubtedly some designers suffer losses from copying, but increased copyright ‘protection’ would bring prices up, the creative cycle down and ultimately lead to the torpid ungainly death of the industry we all love to hate, hate to love, but fund anyways— fashion.

Beauty and the Beastly: All in the Eye of the IPhone holder?

I usually roll my eyes when often encountering those in the religious Jewish world who deride fashion, associating the industry with the many perils for the soul such as pig, non-Disney films, stocking-less female legs, and radio hits. To those same people I also share an algorithm buttressed by the writing upon this wall:

Graffiti across Bnei Brak reads “Fashion = Pritzus/promiscuity”

“One who teaches his daughter Torah, teaches her Tiflus (promiscuity)”explains Rabbi Eliezer in the Talmud (Sotah, 20).

Thus Torah = Tiflus

and Tiflus = Pritzus

Therefore, Torah =Pritzus.

If according to the photo, Fashion = Pritzus

Thus by transitive property Fashion = Torah. Right?

Then recently, a collection came along challenging my entrenched confidence in the industry, making room for validation of the tenuous aversion towards fashion. I’ve seen models hit the runway topless, flashing some but check, but never in fully in the nude. So thank Pam Hogg, for sending models out at the latest London Fashion week in a striking palette of white, noire, and burgundy, sculptural hats, and birthday suits complete with glittery materials you must have stolen from my childhood art box. Did you forget something Ms. Hogg? The accoutrements are set but the pièce de résistance appears to have been left outside with the bouncer.

Most models were nude. I’m talking really nude, more than Lena Dunham in a “Girls” episode.

Hogg’s collection begs even me, one who lives, breathes, eats, and excrements fashion, one who puts Coco Chanel up there with likes of Gandhi and Mother Theresa , to ask – Is this really fashion? If runway styles are to be translated into commercial stores for the forthcoming seasons, is Kim suggesting we let it all out leaving nothing but our hair to the imagination this winter?What happened to leaving something to the imagination?

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for using clothing as a tool for attraction. If that weren’t the case, we’d all be strutting around in burlap basmati bags, but to the dismay of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, we don’t. Clothing is game of concealing to reveal, proving that demure is by no means drab, modesty’s got mojo and that covering up is far sexier than leaving flesh out on display.

Tznious (modesty queens)

Tnizous(modesty) queens M&K Olsen

If it’s all already off – are we not robbed from the romance of the chase, the hunt, the whole fun of life?

Checking every nook and cranny for leavened bread on the heels of Passover has also been a great time to check up on old friends. While I have been back in the States for spring break one of those old friends was an Israeli ex- boyfriend of mine. Upon hearing that he wanted to see me, I was suddenly conscious of such delight,and at the same time such dread, that my senses failed me and I could not remember what I wanted to remember.He was not the same as he used to be, nor as he had been on Facebook chats; he seemed quite different. He seemed more mature, manly, but that could have just been the new found scruff adorning his tan face.”It’s been long time” he said, and with desperate determination he pressed his hand against my cold one. We chatted about his college life: the football team, classes, his fraternity, and I went on about Israel, religion, and whether I had become a “yeshiva girl” as he put it. It didn’t take long for me to realize where his eyes aimed the whole time like a deadly unmanned drone ready to fire —my lips. After forty minutes of whispering in my ear, tugging at my jacket, and playing with my hair I had to oust him from my warm Mercury Sable. “Well it was actually really fun, I liked de chase” he said in response to his futile efforts, shutting the door and throwing one last unctuous wink at me. Israelis…

The merits of clothing are analogous to the merits of good writing—style, structure, modesty, poise, elegance, endurance— not to mention getting it right sometimes. Literature is not praised when ideas are laid out there for you on a $27,600 Tiffany silver platter. A great poem excites by what lies between the lines, and behind the stanzas then the actually words themselves. Since the days of the Oral Torah, Hermeneutics has been established to unveil the treasures beyond the ink on paper; after all, if an author said all that was on his mind clearly, would we even bother reading his work? A life of only Spark Notes, Cliff Notes and X for Dummies seems like no life worth living.

Notably, the present Jewish holiday—Passover –revolves around this very concept (no not through the hidden Afikomen). In the Haggada we read that God made a covenant with Abraham promising his progeny would be afflicted by a four hundred year exile before returning to the promised land with great swag bags;  a sign of God’s affection for Abraham. How could four hundred years of bloodbaths (Rashi ,Shemot 2:23), celibacy (Sotah, 12a) and backbreaking labor be anything but a divine comedy? The Chasidic Work Sfat Emet expounds that we exist and by extension the reason the world exists is to reach a revelation of God.  If He were revealed, our existence would be futile. Hence, the world was created as a garb to prevent us from “seeing” Him, providing an opportunity to work towards revealing Him, to experiencing Him, to brush shoulders with the divine. In order to gain the capacity to find the divine in every situation in which He is concealed, God enacted exile. In fact, the very word exile – galut – contains the same root as the word for revelation –  hitgalut . Exile thus leads inexorably to redemption, simply another nom de plume for revelation. Accordingly, the world really is one big game of dress up, and it is our task to strip reality of its many attires.

Perhaps Pam’s creations are just an extension of the phenomenon occurring outside the tents, a trickling down of what Suzy Menkes dubbed “The Circus of Fashion”: the recent over democratization of fashion and outburst of pathological media- thirsty ‘fashionistas’. Hogg’s extreme outré quality seems to detract from any possible aesthetic point,  but maybe I shouldn’t be so critical of her works; fashion for fashion’s sake should be the purest form of fashion, just as learning Torah Lishma (for its own sake) is regarded by most as the most exalted type of study.

Who am I to place judgment on this collection? I do not work for Vogue, have a brand sponsored blog, prance around in more labels found in a Barneys or bask in fame for being well… me! Is fashion in the hands of the editor writing on it, the masses wearing it, or the brand producing it? Is a jacket pleasing because it meets certain criteria, because bryanboy.com says it’s in, or because Kate Middleton wore it while grocery shopping last week?

Mayhap Pam Hogg winter ’13 should not be classified as fashion but pornographic art. Must we even draw lines (even over those nipples)? Why is there all this fuss over visual arts, when the sober amongst us all recognize The Iliad, The Canterbury Tales, Hamlet, Brothers Karamazov, Paradise Lost, and Gossip Girl as significant works of literature?

These quandaries boil down to one question: Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder, or is that just one of those ameliorating axioms like love conquers all?

Eye for an eye: since when are all eyes created equal?

Eye for an eye: since when are all eyes created equal?

To properly engage in this debate, picture a time where we could sit around smoking cigars, sipping espresso and pour over aesthetics like Proposition Eight, or Gun Laws. Today irrespective of the cigars, such a conversation could not exist as beauty has been relegated to the world of subjective; welcome to age of concordance. Once topics under the microscope for professional discussions and a central task for architects, painters and sculptors, the questions I raised have now been swept under the Persian carpet. Postmodernist have been pontificating that beauty, unlike science, can hardly subscribe to the exactitudes of rational inspection and is critically dependent on moods, hence lacking an objective calculation of what is beautiful. To truly appreciate beauty, according to postmodernists, assumed certainty in science must be flouted in favor of a trust in the fact that something is not automatically beautiful in all cultures and races. Forced objective standards of beauty, they claim infringe upon human nature, denying liberty to freely express values. Consequently, we should exercise our right as individuals rather than submitting to the aged, mustached, wool sports jacket clad “connoisseur”.

Bold and the beautiful?

Bold and the beautiful?

naked

Thus, delving into the philosophical question of beauty requires you to take of your converse, slip on your finest top hat and imagine we are dining in Madame Geoffrin’s Parisian salon, or 27 Rue de Fleurus with good old Gertrude.

Locke, Galileo, Descartes, and Boyle, were all fascinated with nuances between “primary” and “secondary” qualities. Primary, objective properties like shape, size and motion exist regardless of any minds at hand to perceive them. To these thinkers, it seemed objects would not have secondary qualities — colors, sounds, smells and tastes— sans minds to see, hear, smell and taste them. No minds, no secondary qualities. Thus secondary properties are subjective: in the nose, tongue, eye, and ear of the beholder.

Nevertheless, even secondary qualities entail a grade of objectivity. Though absent in the absence of minds, the minds that do exist usually agree upon them in proper conditions. But what about the fact that I like Serge Gainsbourg and you don’t; most people with working noses since 1919 like Chanel N5 but my ex-boyfriend detested the scent?  Where does beauty fit in?  Are aesthetics an objective, mind- independent quality?

Largely in the history of aesthetics, at least in the West dated far back to Plato, beauty has been defined by few individuals thought to actually hold taste. They promoted an objective criterion in measuring beauty as opposed to a definition based on personality, disposition, and sentiment. For years, Classical beauty was haute, not and ‘in’ again— remember the Renaissance? Classically, beauty consists of arranging integral parts into a coherent whole, according to ratio, congruence, symmetry, and similar concepts. The great coco herself said that “Fashion is architecture.  It is a matter of proportions. “Take Polykleitos Canon as Classical beauty par excellence.

In a typically Aristotelian pluralist design, Aquinas propounds “there are three requirements for beauty. Firstly, integrity or perfection—for if something is impaired it is ugly. Then there is due proportion or consonance. And also clarity: whence things that are brightly colored are called beautiful” (Summa Theologica I, 39, 8). Essentially a nice J.Crew outfit embodies Aquinas beauty at its finest.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-IS2G9FxONIM/T0yBhYOX54I/AAAAAAAABHw/hu_JTR11aKU/s1600/JCSP12MARCH028_029_v1_m56577569830817308.jpg

Now the Canon and other leftovers of classical beauty sit in historical museums across Europe, like what harem pants of 2010 should be doing in the back closets instead of on religious Israeli women in the West bank . So where did the objective mode of beauty go wrong? Why oppose absolute formulas to constructing a window, a door and relating rooms to halls that went unchallenged for eras?

By the 1757 Hume shatters established philosophical thought  stating:

“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others “(Of the Standard of Taste , 136).

Similarly, Kant presents at least as ardently in The Critique of Judgment:

“The judgment of taste is therefore not a judgment of cognition, and is consequently not logical but aesthetical, by which we understand that whose determining ground can be no other than subjective. Every reference of representations, even that of sensations, may be objective, save only the reference to the feeling of pleasure and pain, by which nothing in the object is signified, but through which there is a feeling in the subject as it is affected by the representation”(section 1).

That’s nice and all, but  if beauty is pure subjectivity —if anything anyone hails as beautiful is beautiful — the word seems stripped of meaning or that the only fact communicated by labeling something beautiful is a personal stamp of approval. Additionally, though individuals can evidently differ in specific discernments, it is also evident that judgments converge to a remarkable degree: for a person to deny that a perfect rose, dramatic sunset, or Grace Kelly are beautiful is by far perverse. Perhaps aesthetic taste is similar to food taste—those who don’t appreciate what is widely regarded as beautiful simply have an unrefined aesthetic sense or are missing some ‘beauty buds’.

Dancing the sun away in caesarea

Dancing the sun away in Caesarea

To Hume and Kant something important was lost when beauty treatment was merely a subjective state. They witnessed debates arising over the beauty works of art and literature, and that in such discussions, reasons were identified and convincing. They also observed, that if beauty is completely qualified by individual experiencers, it ceases to be a paramount value, or even recognizable as an interpersonal value at all.

Hume’s Of the Standard of Taste and Kant’s Critique of Judgment attempt to find answers through an “antinomy of taste”. Although proverbially subjective: de gustibus non disputandum est (about taste there is no disputing), some individuals are believed to possess good taste or tastelessness. Through different means, both philosophers treat judgments of beauty neither as purely subjective nor precisely objective but, inter-subjective or as having a social and cultural aspect, or as conceptually involving an inter-subjective claim to legitimacy.

History and condition of the observer as he makes the judgment of taste, is the focus of Hume’s interpretation. “Strong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice, can alone entitle critics to this valuable character; and the joint verdict of such, wherever they are to found, is the true standard of taste and beauty” (Of the Standard of Taste, I.XXIII.24). Hume further contends that verdicts of critics who possess those qualities tend to coincide, reaching unanimity in the long run which accounts for the enduring veneration of the works of Dante, Homer, and Christian Dior. The test of time, as assessed by best discerners, functions as the closest we have to an objective standard.

Kant similarly admits that exclaiming “très belle” has more content than “this pleasures me”. Something might please for reasons entirely eccentric to myself: I might enjoy Indian inspired Marchesa’s Spring 2013 collection because of my eastern roots or because it reminds me of my mother’s Indian bangles that never leave her hand, or because I watched Bollywood films as a kid while others enjoyed Bambie (which I still have yet to see), but most likely all three. Kant however, doesn’t give two cents about my childhood film habits: “no one begrudges me such experiences, but no one thinks that they might constitute a claim that they should have a similar experience of the thing in question” (Critique of Judgment, section 7).

In contrast, the first of Kant’s four key distinguishing features of true aesthetic judgments is disinterest. Beauty is irrespective of eccentricities; we take pleasure in something because we judge it beautiful, rather than judging it beautiful because it pleases. Aesthetic judgment remains independent of the normal human desires—economic, sexual, and political. Pure beauty is purely subjective, purely aesthetic, divorced from anydidactic, moral or utilitarian function, similar to the 19th century, ”l’art pour l’art”(art for art’s sake).Walking through a museum and admiring a Picasso because it would make me a pretty penny at auction, or because the prestige it will bring by hanging in my foyer is not an aesthetic experience (which is why the more modern Walter Benjamin claims art for art sake is dead.Benjamin divides the cult value of the artwork from its exhibition value. Technological reproduction, he argues, makes the cult value of art ebb in favor of its exhibition value, thus the way Kant and others characterize art is no longer valid. Art is no longer autonomous. Thus art for art’s sake, a realm in which specific social interests have no part is what god is to Nietzsche—dead.)

The Third Earl of Shaftesbury’s discourse The Moralist, précises  aesthetic disinterest in terms of a natural landscape:

“Looking at a beautiful valley primarily as a valuable real estate opportunity, you are not seeing it for its own sake, and cannot fully experience its beauty. If you are looking at a lovely woman and considering her as a possible sexual conquest, you are not able to experience her beauty in the fullest or purest sense; you are distracted from the form as represented in your experience.” (The Moralist,222)

Shaftsbury’s definition disqualifies Pam Hogg’s collection, as without apologetics there is clearly an over sexualized agenda behind her collection. When beholding her collection— the fashion, the art, the accessories are not appreciated, but the shock of the overexposed human body. Although a subjective experience, there are objective criteria it must meet, and Pam Hogg’s collection clearly doesn’t meet neither Kant’s nor the Earl’s criteria of disinterest.

The idea in particular that free beauty is completely separated from practical use and that the experiencer is not concerned with the actual existence of the object leads Kant to his second feature: free beauty is found in the form, and aesthetics are to be appreciated as a purposeless purpose. An object’s purpose is the concept according to which it was made; an object is purposive if it appears to have such a purpose; if, in other words, it appears to have been made or designed. To illustrate, a poem’s content can change according to each generation, but its form can be appreciated transgenerationally. Kant’s proclivity evokes Aristotle’s preference of plot over character, as plot is closer to form in purity and eternal elegance, making it aesthetic.

Lastly, such judgments are both universal and necessary. Since in reaching an authentic judgment of taste one not responding to idiosyncracies in oneself, Kant asserts that one will conclude that anyone similarly situated should have the same experience: therefore, one will presume that there ought to be nothing to distinguish one person’s judgment from another’s (COJ,section 8). Consequently, built into judgments of taste is a ‘universalization’ somewhat parallel to the universalization Kant connects with ethical judgments.

So if objective beauty offends our human nature as the postmodernists suggest, we may be lured into looking back further than western history to the ancient Hebrews where art was used to sway souls. Though learning Torah and performing precepts may lay at heart of the force gathering the faithful, it’s hard to deny that the beauty of a temple was crucial for summoning thousands of followers. Maimonides in The Guide for the Perplexed (III:45) explains that most people are moved by aesthetic considerations, which is why the Sanctuary was designed to inspire veneration; why the priestly robes were so intricate; why light burned incessantly; why Levitical choir jammed away; and why incense seared to cover the stench of slaughtered animals. Visible symbols such as tzitzit and tefillin can also be placed in this category. In fact, the sages enumerate upon a mitzvah within a mitzvah, hiddur mitzvah – “beautifying the command” ­ – ensuring that all articles used for performing a command are as pleasing to the eye as possible. Behind outward symbols of faith and temples lies the implicit attempt to support a way of life that appeals to the religious, the kind of beauty that provokes them. It is no coincidence that The Hebrew word for art – omanut– is semantically related to –emunah—faith. True art speaks to the experiencer disclosing the ultimate artistry of the Creator, adding marvel to faith. After all, Exodus 31:3, describes Bezalel, the appointed architect of the wilderness Tabernacle as being endowed with “a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge.” If the architects of the Jewish temple, Notre Dame, or Dome of the Rock have succeeded in seducing millions of followers worldwide, in inducing tears, does this not say something about our idea of beauty? Judaism deems it godliness, but whatever you call it, there is an underlying aesthetic language because there are certain qualities all mankind feels the need to value.

In lieu of making an effort to consciously notice minutest details of a beautiful matter, aesthetic relativism opens man to laziness, for everything is beautiful if I tweet, blog, pintrest, or instagram it so to me and my followers. As a result I am likely to overrate my aesthetic sensibility, assuming that my uneducated eyes assure possession of beauty at a 5g rate, without a moment of meditation. All too often we are too inclined to think that we are the masters of our own senses which require no training whatsoever. We should not fear the fact that experts may write, hear, see and dress better than us, to confess that their perception of shades, beats, and syntax is far better than ours. Experts can guide minds to pick up signs which initially evade cognizance, thus cultivating our aesthetic receptivity, congeal and magnify it, granting us access to certain aesthetic surfaces hitherto untouched.

In conclusion according to Kant aesthetics earn the novel title of “subjective universality”: a personal experience occurring in an individual’s mind, which unbiased persons will all value as beautiful. As humans are social creatures, I can only understand beauty as something connecting myself to other peoples, a collective human experience of appreciation, delight, and awe.

Unfortunately for Pam, her 2013 winter collection doesn’t fall under this definition of beauty. Far from “disinterested” – the Brit has a clear arrière-pensée; there is no denying that Pam intends to shock her viewers out of their printed Prada pants and into the bedroom. Additionally the only collective feeling towards Pam’s collection is “Isn’t something missing?”. I think we can all universally agree— this collection is foul.

True beauty can stand the test of time, not because canonization by stuffy old British men, but because pure aesthetics have universally applicable messages for the human experience. In years to come, I highly doubt Pam’s looks will be studied at Parsons, The Royal Academy, The Sorbonne or even by maturing teenage boys. We need to draw line or else there is nothing to talk about and we dilute beauty to a relic of what once was; to keep the integrity of Fashion we must set standards and keep  Pam Hogg’s collection out of them.

So please Pam, next time you want to send hot young bodies prancing around naked to make a statement, please don’t do it in the name of fashion; it’s collections like yours that give the industry a bad rep. Sorry but I’m going with the Rabbis on this one, Pam Hogg Winter 2013 is not fashion: rather, the clothing – or lack of thereof— belongs somewhere in the Pritzus department.

Out of Control or Instyle?

Has technology created monsters or an industry by the people for the people? Take a look at the mini-doc featuring Tim Blanks on the Fashion phenomenon brewing in the past decade.

What do you think about the ever growing burst of bloggers: coco or coocoo?

Just Say No To Knowing; Confessions of a Sober Sem Girl on Purim

Judaism is a faith of stifling precepts, or what Nietzsche likes to call “I will’s” bête noire— the “great dragon… a scale-covered beast; and on every scale glittereth golden, ‘Thou shalt!’”(Thus Spoke Zarathustra / The Three Metamorphoses). But once a year even the most curmudgeonly yeshiva boy rejoices as Jews are commanded to do what most religions interdict: sit back, let go and get blotto.

According to the incendiary Talmud:

“A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he no longer knows the difference between ‘cursed Haman’ and ‘blessed Mordekai’ (Megila 7b).”

This enigmatic onus has been stumping rabbis, startling Semgirls, and hexing minors since before Karl Lagerfeld donned his signature snowy locks (believe it or not, his hair isn’t one of the seven pre-worldly creations delineated by the Talmud on pesachim 54). With his triangular hat, pointy dark beard and slanting eyebrows Haman stands in stark contrast to every robe-bearing, white-haired Mordekhai at any Purim soiree. Does this mean the Sages (Chazal) are actually demanding intellectual nullification to the point of losing the capacity to discern between nefarious Haman and virtuous Mordekai? If an intoxicated person is dismissed from mitzvoth, how are Chazal obligating a state of un-obligation? Jewish thinkers and Chassidic ones in particular, have been endeavoring to become au fait with the law which has evolved into the highlight of celebrating Jews eluding persecution by Persia— drinking wine until one is utterly smashed.

Purim has always had a special spot in the inner chambers of my heart far beyond Paris, across from Sex and the City, tightly flanked by Chanel and Emanuel Levinas. As a Persian American Jew growing up among Ashkenazim, each holiday meant being inculcated in unfamiliar eastern European traditions. But there was that one time a year where Persian pride kicked in (though it was also that time of year where kids called me “Shrek” in accordance with the Talmud’s claim that queen Esther was green as myrtle(Megila13)). Beyond tadig, Purim is Iranian Jewry’s one recognized contribution bestowed upon Judaism. We have my ancestors to thank for intrepid Esther, righteous Mordekai, trilateral baked goodness, Mishloch Manot, the epic Megilah, and my personal favorite: dressing up as whoever you secretly want to be year-round.

To my surprise, none of these jocund subjects where the omphalos of Purim this year at Seminary in the Holy Land. Rather, the only topic emerging from my friends’ Torah-tinted lips was concern over what normally forbidden substance would soon be entering their unadulterated mouths for the very first time.

“Are you going to drink?” “Do you want to get drunk?” “Have you drunk before?” “I don’t want to lose control!” “In America, I would never get drunk with my teacher, just at house parties or bars!” “In America, our synagogues look down upon drinking.” Such were the proclamations reverberating throughout the Beit Midrash in the month leading up to the big day.

On Purim, Dosiot (religious girls) from all corners of the country –and settlements— flock to the hills of Migdal Oz for a notorious Purim fête. No one was really sure what would transpire, but we knew it had something to do with alcohol, dancing till the wee hours of the morning, bonding with strangers, and “spirituality”, all topped off by a little vomit of course.

“Drunkenness is like pregnancy,” our  teacher from Tekoa explicated as she rubbed her burgeoning belly and then asked the Americans if we understood her Hebrew (mind you the same instructor brought us a bottle of  girly Golan Moscato to our inaugural lesson back in August). While I gawked at her towering Idan Raichel- esque religious head covering, paired with a contrasting buttery mahogany leather jacket, she continued: “In these months I often wake up thinking it’s all a dream, I just had too much to drink. I rejoice in the thought that the vomiting, cravings, insomnia, mood-swings, pain, and constant wondering if I just peed myself will fade soon, but then I look down at my belly and realize I have many more months to go.” She went on to expound upon her most cathartic moments of inebriation on Purim; how she danced with girls she hardly interacted with beforehand, confessed to friends, burst into tears and made an unconscious habit of calling her current husband, then boyfriend, begging him to just satisfy God’s will and make the big move already.

Finally the big night had arrived. High- tempo Jewish music thumps. Aromatic sweat and vomit dance through chains of young woman whirling in circles as if on a childhood merry-go-round. Cheap chocolate liquor my friend received in her boss’s mishloach manot burns through my throat, making me question if it’s really worth it. Social mores are shattered as current and former students alike run to pour their hearts out to the normally feared head of the institution. I notice an older woman in the corner clad in a long Indian tunic swinging her body to the music with her eyes shut, only to realize it was my Gmara teacher, head of the advanced Talmud class. To the left, my morning chavruta is so alight with alcohol she struggles to open her eyes; luckily a good friends is right behind her prepared for the worst.

A good Persian –Israeli friend runs up to me and begins to jump, gazing at me with googly eyes. “Eliora, your breath smells, you have smell in your mouth.” she says. I breath into my hand, double check with a friend—the only odor we detect oozes from the bodies of those around us baptized in sweat and alchohol.

The lights shine brighter as the earth rocks closer to the sun, and now the singer is playing faster familiar tunes, and the sea of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter declines minute by minute, swapped for worried glances, and wads of girls on the prowl for more alcohol, making sure they will have enough to drink.

Ring around the rosy seems to be the dance move of choice. Every shoulder shimmy, hip twist, hand undulation, leg kick or body twirl I offer is met with a look screaming the sardonic Israeli expression ‘did you fall from the sky?’.

While on my way to get roaring drunk from utter embarrassment, a momentary lull hits; “Purify, purify our souls to serve you truthfully!” the crowd moans in unison. Tears rush down florid faces, fists clench toward the sky, bodies embrace and I am  just standing there trying to make sense of it all while exchanging a laugh with one of my few sober friends. This one call looks like the catchall cry for each of my peers’ existence.

Oneging at Migdal Oz

The nature of the entire brouhaha eludes me. Is this really what serving god “truthfully” looks like? The holiday appeared as one big hoax. Everyone is playing the part of the “religious drunkard” screaming to god having a “spiritual revelation”. Do these girls really know what they are saying? Are these sacred songs internalized, or just how these girls express their elated states based on which melodies are blasting through the speakers? If Lil Wayne’s Lollipop was playing would they be singing along with the same gusto? Were they having a spiritual high, or just basking in the delight of alcohol? Nonetheless, who is to say mere drunkenness delegitimizes a religious experience?

Further in Jerusalem, festivities continued the following night for Shushan Purim, drawing me closer towards some form of answers.

By day Mahane Yehuda bustles with vendors selling everything from zatar and zuchinni to kefyahs and kippas. The animated atmosphere thickens with the scent of fresh falafel and songs of hundreds of haggling merchants. By night the Shuk becomes a “hipster” haven littered with hole in the wall pubs (the commune-run 5th of May is a favorite) and ravenous cats. Yet Purim was different from all other nights: more packed then any Friday pre- Shabbat hustle, the Shuk made an Alexander Wang sample sale look like Galliano’s studio post the Fuhrer faux pas.

The bar is in full swing and hovering rounds of cocktails pervade narrow alleyways, until the air breaths with prattle and giggles, and blasé innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and fervent meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.

Men and girls on cargo boxes, counters, and on the flooded floor sway emphatically to Riff Cohen’s A Paris, like moths fluttering toward a lamp among the whisperings and the beer and the stars. Dressed up in a metallic Glenda the Good Witch-esque 15 shekel frock from the Dizengoff flea and adorned by Chanel SS ’13 inspired make up, I sashay through the horde with two suitemates rather buoyantly among swirls and eddies of people we don’t know — though here and there is a face I recognize or just think I do, as most Jews, especially the scruffy nouveau hipster ones all seem to look alike.

Who wore it best?

Who wore it best?

“Eliora! Eliora! Eliii- hora! Persian princess! Eh, Eh. Salaam!” a voice roared. I turn around to find Stacy, a Bal Teshuva from DC and her quartet of twenty something yuppies. After fifteen minutes of Instagram snapping, shimming, and making fun of Naftali Bennet they insist on a cap-full of Arak (mind you the drinking age is 18 in Israel).That would be my only drink on Shushan Purim.

Unlike Migdal Oz, everyone is in costume.Mid-twirl with a dark bearded stranger I realize there is something written on the silly metal lid attached to my partners head. It reads “Kipat Barzel”, literally “Iron Cap” but commonly referred to as “Iron Dome”, the Israeli air defense system which proved indispensable in the recent mini war/Operation Pillar of Defense – by far the finest costume of the night.Looking around at bumbling bodies, the apparition of characters creates an intoxicated, soothing confusion; My Purim experience had just begun.

iron dome

After staring a 50 shekel fee straight in the eye for some time, my inner Persian gets the best of me, and we decide to skip out on “Boogie Night” at the Gerad Bacher Center, a dance party with several rooms playing music from various genres, a “must” for the Israeli Purim experience according to native friends.

While wondering around Bezalel, an unfamiliar Balkan Beat box song drifts through the streets of profuse laughter tipped off by the jovial word. The entrancing hums lead us to a dark apartment building spilling with pirates, black swan male ballerinas, and Aladdins. We enter after bargaining for a reduced fee of 17 nis. There was dancing now in an apartment where old Hebrew books replaced wallpaper; young men pushing young girls backward in eternal ungainly circles, superior couples holding each other meanderingly, fashionably,— and a good number of single guys and gals dance with ferocity independently. By three a.m. the merriment increases. A celebrated DJ blasts what seems to be Israeli electro, techno and trance(if there is a real difference between the three) while a man  covered in Christmas lights, shovel in hand moves in perfect synchronization with each beat; he is conducting the entire show.

Vacuous torrents of laughter tangled with joie de vivre rise toward the Jerusalem sky. A pair of religious men, who turned out to be Chilonim (secular Jews) approach for a dance. One is clearly dressed up as a Hasid; the others’ faction in his large kippah, faded blue t-shirt, tzitzit and cargo pants remains nebulous. He flashes his water canister.

“Ah… a settler!” I guessed.

He looks like a neighbor down the road from Tekoa, or even someone from the adjacent Kibbutz Migdal Oz.

Everything is not as it seems

The moon lurches higher as I float in the sounds and movements of my weight coupled with the figures of those around me. Every shoulder shake, hip twist, hand undulation, and body roll is reciprocated or challenged with a grander move.

Spaces between bodies vanish as music fills the gaps between the masked figures. My body and the melody unite creating fluid movements dripping from some entrenched sensation which rarely escapes.

I am enjoying myself now. I allow my body to take control, immerse in the music, revel with rousing strangers and the scene changes before my eyes into something rudimentary, substantial, and profound.

There, under the strobe lights, next to the topless men and behind the pirate, a meaning of that enigmatic mitzvah hit.

“Know in order not to know”, rang through my elated head like a catchy Taylor Swift chart topper. Earlier in the year my enceinte Tekoen teacher shared a fundamental R. Nachman principle – the goal of knowledge is that we are not to know. I realized, dismissing differentiation between “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordekhai” is just that.

Knowledge and lack of knowledge are “pursuit” and “hindrance”. A person engages in pursuit in order to attain – money, a goal, or knowledge. A hindrance prevents attainment whether it is money, some yearned for goal, or lack of knowledge which prevent knowledge. Novel as always, R. Nachman professed that pursuit and hindrance are one, thus essentially the pursuer is he who hinders. As a result, the goal of knowledge is not to know, just as the goal of love is that we are not to love, or more precisely, not to recognize love.

Born two years after R. Nachman, Kant kindled parallel sparks in the world of ideas, setting the Zeitgeist. According to the German philosopher, man encounters the world of phenomena, but never the essence of the world itself. Phenomena may expound upon the essence, yet it constitutes an everlasting barrier between man and the thing itself, and so too between man and himself. Attempts to realize love will, therefore, miss the mark, and move it from the potential state of “essence” to the secondary state of “phenomenon,” and from that moment the phenomenon will whiz past the essence. Every action, speech, and often thought too, reduces some abstract will or idea which in and of itself is infinite, and even as we discuss it relegate the idea to a pillory of definitions, words, and actions. As reified love is more diminished than unrealized love, the ultimate objective of love lies not in realization, for every bit of knowledge and every definition involves a diminution of an infinite and abstract idea.

Discriminating between Haman and Mordekai belongs to the world of knowledge – the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Knowledge makes way for distinction, but distinction results from the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge, from reduction of the infinite which is void of distinctions and limits. Various Hasidic thought propounds that the Torah and all her precepts would be unnecessary had man not sinned (Shagar, Chance and Providence). With this in mind, the obligation of un-obligation on Purim became like the handbags of Spring 2013: transparent. The Sages seem to call on man to negate post sin distinction and revert to a primordial, pre- sin state where “bad” or “good” are nonexistent, as man understands that perfection, completion, and truth encompass the good, the bad and even the kitschy. A pretty modern idea for a bunch of Rabbi’s sitting in Babylon between the third and fifth century.

Hermes,Prada,Chanel,Valentino

Epochs later, a similar impulse colored the works of Western Romantic authors like Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, and Coleridge ,dissatisfied with the dualistic Weltanschauung of the eighteenth century: Sehnsucht, the yearning towards the absolute, the aspiration to oneness, wholeness and organic unity— the dream of perfection(Gérard, English Romantic Poetry ).

According to this Judaic understanding of understanding, Kant correctly avers that from our world of knowledge, the world of Yesh (Being), encountering the Ein, the essence, and the infinite will remain as inaccessible as the ideal sized Ralph Lauren model. As “possessors of knowledge,” man can only relate to the world of phenomena that grew out of the Yesh.

Over this point, R. Nachman comes to undercut Kant’s nihilism. Indeed, emerging from the world of Yesh and its vessels, the infinite and the essence itself remains untouchable. From the perspective of “good and evil,” only the world of phenomena can be caressed. On the other hand with the Breslov approach, within the wobbly framework of this world the possibility exists to reach the Ein and grace that coveted spot sans knowledge.

“Know in order not to know.”

Concealed within the abdication of knowledge, lies the possibility to jump over the abyss between the Ein and the Yesh, and brush shoulders with the infinite. Waiving definitions and devotion to “hindrance,” is sine qua non for reaching the primeval “pursuer,” the ultimate goal of knowledge. Though to a certain extent R. Nachman agrees with Kant’s assertion that the essence is hidden and the phenomenon is false, in contrast to Kant, a Nachmanian sees waiving knowledge as a way to flout the phenomenon and share a rendezvous with the essence.

The transition from a purely good world to a world that distinguishes between good and evil, characterizes the shift from the Ein (infinite, essence) to the Yesh (being). Knowledge permits judging and classification, but in the world of Ein, sans knowledge, distinction between good and evil disappears like feather hair extensions after 2011.

Therefore, one is obligated to drink until he no longer knows the difference between “cursed Galliano” and “blessed Lagerfeld,” for there one transcends knowledge, and there it is inappropriate to say, “cursed Galliano,” for there all is entirely good.

R. Nachman demands one to disregard the world of phenomena, waive knowledge, waive judgment, waive understanding, waive distinctions, and reflect upon the Ein within us. Reflect upon the essence, and bless it: “Blessed Galliano”!

Moving beyond distinction, beyond knowledge to free oneself from the fret of everyday life—that’s what I experienced spinning to Infected Mushroom on Betzalel and not circling drunk girls in the West Bank. When the author of Ecclesiastes wrote “better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof,” he must have had Shushan Purim in mind. (Ecclesiastes 7:8) In the throttling throngs at seminary I was surfeited by the “knowing”. The constant concern over drinking enough, having a good time, and connecting to God hindered attainment of the goal. That first night I was surrounded by a world of worry, a world of distinction.

Blurring boundaries gives man the ability that Kant never considered– the ability to disregard the world of phenomena and sneak a peek at the essence. I’ll admit waiving knowledge is a bit frightening, just as it is a bit unnerving to put on a mask and lose appearances (especially when we’ve spent so many hours, and even more money perfecting it). Who am I, I asked looking in the mirror to find my Purim mask (intense eye makeup to be exact). From the moment my visage is hidden, I can no longer provide a simple answer. From the moment I don a mask, an elaborate costume, or a designer frock, I lose the world of phenomena, and in the words of Rav Kook, who adopted the Kantian stance regarding man’s looking at himself, I have lost that which surrounds the “epicenter of knowledge.” There is no smile, no mouth, no beauty mark, no pimple or face, —just a mask with a stupid smile, void of knowledge.

A pivotal chapter in Shemot unveils the necessity to conceal and the power of the façade. After Moses descends Mount Sinai with the second tablets Aaron and the people are initially afraid of him and his new aquired beams of light. From then on Moses must wear a mask, except when speaking to God and when recapping what he hears to the people (Shemot 34).

At this frightening moment, void of knowledge and full of inebriation, I can do nothing but reflect into the center of knowing, to the Ein only revealed when all duds, no matter how designer (including Chanel) are off. At this moment, there is no cursed and blessed, no “hot” and “not”, no “in” and “out”, no profane and holy, no impure and pure –simply blessed silence.

Purim is to fast-fashion, as retirement is to Karl Lagerfeld: anathema. Purim begs the consumer to look at the world, with a deep and penetrating look divested from the world of phenomena, masks, labels, and trends.

Who knew an inch of intoxication, a bit of blessing and a dash of dancing could do a semgirl so much good?

Petals on a wet, black bough

Petals on a wet, black bough

Monet stole my camera

 
 

Let My People Learn: Finding a Woman’s Place in Translation

Weekday mornings from 8:30 a.m. to 12:45.p.m.,and again in the evenings from 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.,I indulge in what some members of the tribe label an ever-so-guilty pleasure. With the turn of each page, lechery rises as enigmatic Aramaic engrosses me. Each morpheme leaves much to the imagination, and a hunger for more. A work off the Index Librorum Prohibitorum?  Foreign erotica? No — just Talmud.

“Teaching your daughter Torah is teaching her Tiflus (promiscuity)”(Babylonian Talmud,Sotah:20).” Let the words of Torah be burnt and not given to women!” promulgates Rabbi Eliezer in the Talmud itself (Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 3:16).

Despite such an ominous prohibition directly from Judaism’s sacred legal canon which arguably outstrips even the Bible in authority, I am dedicating this academic year to Torah disquisition in Israel.

In a famous passage recited thrice daily in the Shema prayer, the Torah adjures to“ teach [the commandments] to your children” (Deuteronomy 11:19). From this verse,the Sages derive the obligation to both learn and teach Torah (Kiddushin 29b). They further extol Torah study as the greatest of commandments (Peah 1:1), while the Bible also prescribes Torah study day in and day out (Joshua 1:8).Reasoning that since women are not commanded to teach, accordingly they are not commanded to learn, the Sages interpreted that passage in Deuteronomy to exclude women from the formal commandment, at least in its most comprehensive form(Kiddushin 29b).Thankfully, being the maverick that he was, Maimonides held that that the whole prohibition referred only to the Talmud, the five books of the bible conversely, are permissible (“Yad” Talmud Torah, i. 13).

Last month, my seminary dedicated an entire day to elucidating the elephant in the beit midrash (house of study): Are women actually allowed to learn G’marah/Talmud? Even here, within one of the leading institutions of women’s Torah study on the planet, we still question if learning the very material to which we dedicate well over four hours a day is halachikally (according to Jewish law)permissible.

Coming from an American Modern Orthodox day school, females parsing G’marah never fell afoul of credos.Opponents seemed to be remote extremists; controversy, an isolated phenomenon.  Nevertheless, I soon realized that the vast majority of my Israeli peers had never opened a Talmud before entering the terror-targeted gates of Migdal Oz. In Israeli state religious schools, boys begin studying Talmud by the fifth grade, while girls must settle for subordinate Mishnah studies. Turns out, institutionalized G’marah curricula for Jewish women in most parts of the world remains as recherché as a diamond filigreed crocodile Birkin Bag.

“I want a wife, not a chavruta (learning partner),” is a resounding shibboleth rolling off many sabra lips to be flung at my Israeli friends.“Many religious Jewish men refuse to date a girl from Migdal Oz, or any girl who studies Talmud.It is intimidatingly unfeminine,” confessed Eilanit, my G’marah chavruta from Givat Shmuel, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Ironically, in arguably the Middle East’s most progressive country, Eilanit unwillingly reduces her marriage prospects when expanding her knowledge.Is this a tremendous sacrifice for learning some books, or a de minimis price for joining the cross-generational philosophical,ontological and judicial conversation on everything from oxen violence and demeaning omens to bedroom tips and divine providence?

Each page of Talmud plumbs the depths of deliberations in an uncompromising search for truth of behavior and thought. No matter how mundane, we can carry out, or refrain from an action to elevate the self.The Talmud therefore represents much more than a mere compilation of ancient wisdom and weltanschauungs.These pages carry the power to transform one’s life from the common to the cosmic, connecting its student to the past while simultaneously sculpting her future.

Like Chanel’s sylvan German Romantic Spring 2013 presentation at the Grand Palais, the world of the Talmudic Sages (Chazal) seems remote and exclusive.Nonetheless, it brands every decision an observant Jew makes, from the way she ties the knot, down to the way she ties her shoes.Talmudic interpretations of the Bible lay the foundation for Judaism by underpinning halacha, thus establishing the foundation of our entire religious corporality.Can I possibly comprehend myself as an observant Jew, if authorities bar me from even a tenuous peek into that world?Only via Talmud can I step into the past and endeavor to enter Chazal’s mindset—inching towards a fuller understanding of life as a halachic woman.

IMG_3503

Chanel Spring 2013 through my eyes

chanel 2013

Yet these intellectual fetters are nothing new.Men have been and continue to systematically deny girls in the developing world access to even a basic education.Young women from the United Nations Foundation’s focus countries of Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Liberia, are hit particularly hard by this reality and as a Senior Advisor for Girl Up, a campaign of the UNF, I have been working to empower my sisters in those target countries by raising awareness and funds for their cause.Nevertheless, I am still startled to find such chauvinism alive and well in my very own community.In a settlement 9537.5 kilometers from home, it suddenly struck me that I had more in common with Tigist of Ethiopia than I expected.She might live in the slums of Merkato while I live in a West Bank Kibbutz, nonetheless, we are both surrounded by authorities endangering our basic right to knowledge.

We all know the now-axiomatic justifications for educating women. I have consistently based my campaigns to promote gender-equality in learning on a few mantras, now forever ingrained in my mind by veterans of the global girl-power community of advocates:

1. Investing in girls is smart economics, their rescue giving the most bang for the international development buck.Consider the virtuous potential upward spiral: An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by up to 20 percent.  An extra year of secondary school adds as much as 25 percent. Girls who stay in school for seven or more years typically marry four years later, having two fewer children than their counterparts who “drop out.” Fewer dependents per worker allows for greater economic growth (Policy Research Working Paper Series 5753, The World Bank).  Additionally, the World Food Program found that when girls and women earn income, they reinvest an astounding 90 percent of those earning back into their families. For men, that figure contrastingly remains less than 40 percent.

2. Educated females give birth to a healthy population. Basic education helps girls understand essential health, nutrition, and family planning, entrusting them with new choices and the power to make informed decisions about their bodies.  Direct outcomes include better reproductive and family health, resulting in economic growth for her family and her society, as well as lower rates of child mortality and malnutrition.  Most notably, this basic education helps fight the burgeoning of HIV and AIDS.

Despite the numerous earnest arguments that educated girls have fewer children, raise healthier ones, earn more money, spend it more wisely, and empower countries, the most fundamental justification to educate a girl continues to be skirted.She should be educated for the same reason a Jewish woman should be allowed to delve into Talmud: simply because we women are equal to men.

On discussing female education within the developing world, Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir Aggrey famously said, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” With no disrespect to the Ghanian scholar, let us look at this more fundamentally.When you educate a girl—you educate a girl.This is how we should regard the fact.Although a compelling justification and a compelling rationale, we should not view the role education plays in the life of women merely in the context of national benefits, as this has turned into a mainstream buy-in based on hackneyed gender norms.Why must I tie my empowerment to how useful my womb is to my country?According to the logic of those common arguments we should then ask if the country fails, is the female population to blame? Thus, girls should be educated for prima facie, we too are human beings.

Philosophical innuendos should be superfluous when propounding the education of womankind. Will society only educate a woman because of raison d’état?  Or must we educate womankind for the same reason we educate mankind?When engaging in obfuscation oversimplifications, and understatements, society imperils equality—the very cause for which we are fighting.

Women should be encouraged to reach their highest potential, not simply for their nation or religion, but more fundamentally, for their own sakes.Without a formal education women have spontaneously lit paths to development.After all, Gabrielle Bonheur Chane ldid so without a degree. Many women are developing their respective nations both with and without formal educations. Therefore, learning is learning for its own sake (lishma); the nation is the nation for its own sake, and women are women, for our own sakes.

Ultimately, if society educates a man or a woman, it educates an individual. As all individuals are important, why should we force anyone to watch the show by peeking through the tent?  There are no Anna Wintours or Grace Coddingtons when it comes to knowledge—everyone deserves to sit front row.

Would it kill them to smile?

While women in the western world began receiving a greater general education, a number of Jewish schools for girls developed, particularly in 19th-century German communities.Leaders were convinced that the knowledge necessary for a women to maintain religious commitment was greater than ever before.In earlier years, women’s Torah education offered a basic curriculum stressing practical halachic knowledge and other morally edifying studies.This alone was a concession to the changing times.

Fearing that women would leave the religious fold, the Chafetz Chaim rendered his now infamous ruling that women should only learn Scripture and ethics. Fortunately, men slightly mitigated this intense ban on learning, if only for selfish reasons. Fathers did not want half the population, the part raising their children, to go off the derech (lit. ”off the path”) and drag the rest of the family unit with them.

Given that a woman is human just like man,shouldn’t she be granted full access to all Judaic learning? Since a man can learn for simply for himself, shouldn’t a woman too be able to learn not just for others, but for herself? Additionally, does she not deserve to be included because of her fecund contributions to Torah scholarship? In fact, a woman’s distinct sensitivities are shedding new lights on the text, revealing hitherto hidden spiritual valences still awaiting full discovery.

Thankfully, in a growing number of coteries today, the archaic restrictions on the scope of women’s Torah learning have begun to melt. Recent years have seen the inclusion of Talmud and other subjects that men had previously considered exclusively their turf. Women are rightfully beginning to have the opportunity to study Torah on a high level, not only in practical preparation for a family life or a career in teaching, but as Torah lishma, learning for its own sake, which many believe to be the highest form of Torah study.Likewise, women in the developing world should also be able to engage in learning lishma.

Years of cogitation on this issue recently culminated in a surprisingly personal event.  Growing up, whenever I helped my grandmother or blushed an exceptional flush of color, she would put down her wooden knitting needles, pull me in for a kiss and tell me I was just like my aunt “Shahlah,”the only one of my mother’s siblings who remained in Tehran after the revolution.To mini-me, Shalah  was a mythical figure belonging to the bible:a cross between the Persian queen Esther, who saved her entire people, and Rachel, who sacrificed personal happiness with her true love for her sister’s dignity.Ironically, I finally had the opportunity to meet my famed Iranian auntie and her two daughters when a wedding here in Israel brought them over (via Turkey, of course).

Unfortunately, it was not exactly the meeting I had pictured as child. Beyond genes, we didn’t share much.Now in their twenties, neither of my cousins has stepped foot on a college campus. Instead, each attends a simple art class twice a week: one learns embroidery, the other, drawing.I uncomfortably searched for topics of conversation, but beyond how the family is doing, we didn’t have much to schmooze about.When I mentioned how some friends in seminary omit a certain passage in prayer, I discovered my family did not even know the basic fact that most Jews are either Ashkenazi (German / Eastern European) or Sfardi (Spanish / Middle Eastern),resulting in distinct customs.The generational fall-out, and opportunity costs of female educational barriers were both staring me teasingly in the eye, whispering calls  of action in my benighted ears.

At least their situation is an improvement. For fear of being forcibly married off to local radical ruling Muslims and economic realities, our grandmother was removed from school by age eleven, married at 14, and became a mother herself by 16. Needless to say, I am eternally grateful my mother was able to break free of her Middle Eastern shackles to build a better life for herself and future family in the United States.  My families past pushes me to embolden my similarly fortunate colleagues, classmates, and chavrutas to join in our duty to use our own education in order to help our global sisters likewise get their over-worked hands on their intellectual birthrights.

But why just take my word for it?  Who is to say we are even equal?  To get to the bottom of this conundrum, I turned to our source: Creation.Surprisingly enough, The Book of Genesis enumerates two distinct, but nevertheless complementary, accounts of humankind’s origin.

“And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27).”

“And the Lord G-d built the side that He had taken from man into a woman, and He brought her to man. And man said, ‘This time, it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.  This one shall be called ishah (woman) because this one was taken from ish (man)’.  Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:22-24).”

Now I know this must be flabbergasting, but luckily ancient Rabbinic literature, known as Midrash Aggadah, with the help of Chagall, paint a picture resolving the duplicitous narrative. Together these accounts illustrate the complete rise of humanity.Rabbinic commentary explains that man was originally created with two faces, then afterwards G-d divided him. Fortunately, the second variation explains explicitly how this nearly incomprehensible division played out:  woman emerged from man’s rib — not from his head, his hands, or his feet, but from his side.  Now how’s that for equality?

Enough from me, what is the ancient text telling you about how women should be viewed today? Email/comment/tweet/ (enter social media here) away…

Sem Girl Wears: An insider’s look into the Long Year of Short Skirts

Meet your average seminary girl. Indigenous to Teaneck or New York, the sem girl migrates to Israel for a year in pursuit of edification, spirituality, Torah, conspicuous consumption, a husband and Aroma iced coffee. She can be found on Ben Yehuda Street or Emek Rifayim eating, asking for directions, catching up with camp friends, dodging the light rail, shopping, and did I mention eating? But not all Sem girls are created equal. While some breeds will focus on learning Chumash, Navi, or Hilchot Nashim, others will be perfecting the art of  getting ripped-off in  Mahane Yehuda, making a spectacle at karaoke, and going out for the perfect birthday dinner (then there are those audacious enough to open a Gemarah). While some girls will only sport the Hard Tail pencil skirt, others will settle for its more economical but déclassé Forever 21 counterpart.

When deciding to dedicate a year to learning in the Holy Land, I realized could not give up on my blog Coocooforcoco: thus, A Sem Girl Wears was born. In addition analyzing the great texts of the Ramabam and Solveitchick, this year I will be studying the enigmatic seminary girl in her natural habitat, through the lens of one of the most powerful forms of self-expression: fashion.

first sem girlsem girl 2

Santayana, Socialists and the Siege

Denevue, Bardot, Depardieu. As a diagnosed Francophile, these names arouse images of big blonde hair, New Wave cinema, and amorous scenes of The Last Metro.Yet recently, these former sex symbols have been making headlines in rather unexpected territory.

This week, France’s most renowned male lead, Gérard Depardieu, announced he will be relocating to Belgium.There he will be joining the likes of Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH and France’s richest man, in the recent flight of affluent French to less tax-laden nations.The larger-than-life star’s grand move comes at a notably sentient time. The country currently entangles herself in a brouhaha over the Socialist government’s new tax policies, particularly the controversial 75% rate for earners of at least €1 million.

Following a grandiose open letter to Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault abdicating his Franco citizenship, Depardieu accrued public support from both Bardot and Denevue. In the second round, the French PM headed attacks on Depardieu, calling his move “pathetic,” while French actor Philippe Torreton followed his lead, censuring Depardieu for thinking solely of himself and money.
Conversely, in her correspondence headlined “Monsieur Torreton…” published in the left-wing Liberation, Catherine Deneuve lashes out against Depardieu’s treatment. Bringing out the big guns, she quotes none other than Voltaire: “I don’t agree with his ideas, but I will fight to the death so that he may be able to express them.”

Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve can’t resist each other in Truffaut’s The Last Metro(1980)

Deneuve thinks twice twenty years later in Potiche (2010)

Deneuve thinks twice twenty years later in Potiche (2010)

The Socialist Party’s new policies are not only draining the established enterprises from the republic, but are also stopping up up-and-coming companies dead in their tracks. A new survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris recently revealed that France’s allure as a business partner has plummeted in the eyes of the French divisions of US companies.

Staying true to a long standing Franco tradition, the youth are revolting. Young entrepreneurs and leaders of tech start-ups under the alias “pigeons” — French argot for “suckers” — began a rough social media battle against the new President’s plan to nearly double taxes on capital gains to some 60%. With the face of a piqued birds as their Facebook logo, the “pigeons” warned the tax quota would smother creativity and guillotine the start-ups, forcing them to also flee France and become “an example of hostility to entrepreneurism in Europe and in the world.”  “From oppression – freedom will be born” and “Let’s coo together” are just some of their sardonic tweets.

This past Monday, I observed the fast of Asara B’Tevet (the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet). While reading the latest on this monetary matter via France24, my thoughts on the day, the past, and what is currently fomenting in France all entwined like the gossamer knits of Rodarte’s cobweb collection for Fall 2009.rodarte-fall2009

The 10th of Tevet is a sort of double jeopardy, a two-for-one deal. We commemorate two atrocious phenomena on both ends of the chronological spectrum on the very same day. The first befell us over 2,000 years ago on of the 10th of Tevet, while the second remains the most recent tragedy to strike the Jewish people. In order to curtail the myriad of fasts, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel also turned the 10th of Tevet into a “Day of General Mourning” for those murdered in the Holocaust whose yortzeits (dates of death) remain mysteries.

Of all fast days appearing in the Bible, Asara B’tevet clearly emerges as the weakest in terms of awareness of the Temple’s devastation.  Others include the 9th of Av for the burning of the Temple, the Fast of Gedaliah for the last embers of Jewish sovereignty in Israel, and the 17th of Tammuz for five incidents – most notably the Roman breach of Jerusalem leading to the Second Temple’s obliteration.

Yet on the 10th of Tevet, Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who controlled the Near East in 588 BCE, merely barricaded Jerusalem. Meanwhile, life went on. Destruction was a gaunt Ralph Lauren model at the far end of the runway –a picayune sense of devastation compared to other days of gastronomic abstention (Kings II; 25). Contrasting in both timing and scope, the contemporary carnage of the Holocaust remains the most colossal calamity in Jewish history (and boy do we have a long history of suffering, and an even longer history of kvetching). Thus, when examining the Holocaust, some remonstrate that the wound still remains too fresh and that the phenomenon stands beyond comparison. Nevertheless, while all lessons learned from the Holocaust present as problematic, apathy would be ad absurdum.

With the Adhan (Islamic call to prayer) of the neighboring Arab village reverberating through the shiur covering the fast’s scriptural sources in Zechariah, Ezekiel, and the Talmud, I waited for the much anticipated “so what”?  What exactly do these two seemingly dissimilar events share, besides a date of carping and collywobbles for observant Jews?

Dreaming of Mahane Yehuda Delectables

Perhaps both caliginous events shed light on the window of reflection. Long after the destruction, we must now realize the sparks of those flames consuming Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av were already flickering on the 10th of Tevet; sharpen our awareness of the past, and, most importantly, take note of new branches burgeoning from the roots. As we examine the past, we learn not only to focus on the final hammer blow, the sensational headline itself, but also to take note of the process – even in its seemingly innocuous infancy. This message resonates louder with the Holocaust. Unlike the Temple, the Shoah has been shrouded in the Sturm und Drang of modern history, creating a seemingly Sisyphean task of answering: Where did such an atrocity sprout from?

In response to this question, many historians have thrown in their Hermès scarves. The strong dichotomy between the culture of the German nation and her actions seems enigmatic. On the flip side, in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer seeks to uncover the underpinnings, positing that German history logically proceeded from Martin Luther to Adolf Hitler, and that the Führer’s ascension to power was an expression of German national character, not zeitgeisty totalitarianism internationally en vogue during the 1930s. Shirer summarized his perspective by pointing out that “the course of German history… made blind obedience to temporal rulers the highest virtue of Germanic man, and put a premium on servility.” Around twenty years ex post facto, Shirer reaches a conclusion that with a discerning eye could have been reached while the tragedy was still unfolding.

In hind sight, one can lucidly identify ominous warning signs: the music of Wagner, the dominance of the Bismarck, and the teachings of Nietzsche. All may be obvious now, but all were unfortunately overlooked in their time. Lebensraum (“living space”), the genocidal expansion policy adopted by the Nazi party, was nothing new. The term itself coined by Friedrich Ratzel in 1901 was actually based on the German people’s aggressive eastern expansion throughout the Middle Ages termed Ostsiedlung.

I cannot blame those who listened to The Flying Dutchman or agreed with Beyond Good and Evil.  Nevertheless, now we must be cognizant that such a robbery of humanity is indeed possible. Before the Holocaust, such destruction was unfathomable. The buds went unnoticed as no one knew such a tree existed. However, as the post-Shoah generation, history behooves us to refine the awareness connecting siege and destruction. Heightened sensitivity simply out of the fear of a second Holocaust, or even hate in general is not enough. Instead, we must hone our awareness since if such inhumanity emerged from just a spark, how pernicious must be the sparks themselves?

So here’s the common denominator– refining the cognizance of progressions. Refining discernment of what lies in front of our very eyes to understand the horror extreme power, nationalism, indifference, and militarism will ignite.

Rabbi Soloveitchik, the unchallenged leader of modern Orthodox Judaism in the United States, expounded on tshuva (repentance) en route to sin, in contrast to repentance from sin. There lies the raison d’être of Asara B’ Tevet. Even those concepts accepted for seeming “eh, not too bad”, are the concepts that require most inspection. Through the chovah (obligation) of contrition on this day, we see in “real-time” what would appear on “playback”.

Finally, the ancient siege, the Holocaust, and the contemporary French monetary mambo all coalesced in my famished mind. The Depardieu affair is about much more than simple citizenship and French nostalgia—it parades the failure to acknowledge a country’s own long standing aversion toward capitalism and the profit-making rich, as well as steps the current policy makers are taking to promote an entrepreneurial brain drain. Earlier this year Hollande defined France’s “main enemy” as the “world of finance,” resonating back through the epochs, even pre- 1685, when Louis XIV seized the possessions of the country’s 1 million Protestants. France’s best financiers, the protestant financial leaders, either fled or died, initiating a commercial dearth.

So whether you’re under a Babylonian siege, living in Nazi Germany, or alive amid Hollande’s France…Wake Up! Understand the past, and read the signs of new developments right before your very eyes. Be proactive, not reactive. Take action before policies encircle you, and your new Birkin bag will be taxed right out of your freshly French manicured fingers.

Confessions of a Fashion Intern Part Deux : Comment Te Dire Adieu?

The Farewell letter — a pain in the tuchus to write, an even greater pain to read.

We’ve all had our inboxes invaded cyclically by missives that merely get the job done. These letters cordially thank coworkers and supervisors, adumbrate upcoming plans (or the lack of), and invite us to all keep in touch. Nonetheless, once in a cobalt Chanel 2.55, we are graced with a gem that does a bit more.

With this in mind, at the end of my whirlwind of a tenure at Zac Posen, in lieu of a trite Bon Voyage, I felt compelled to share a few lessons learned, littered with inside jokes (so just laugh when something seems out of place).

Zac's confidant Coco Rocha makes quite the exit at the Spring/Summer 2013 show

Staying true to my promise to give you the “inside scoop” on what happens behind the seams, while maintaining unwavering professionalism, here are some considerations every intern should take to heart (for the one who still has hers intact).

1.Play hard (Work hard): Not many people like sitting at a desk, but if you sing a little opera, and hide some vodka in the freezer; you can easily get the job done – while still being able to roister at the Turtle Bay.

2.Life is better with an accent: Who does not love French-accent-Fridays, R getting on his inner sugar momma, and M’s charming southern accent?

3.Forgive and forget , always see the best in people: I probably should not remind you all, but I was the intern who by only her second day on the job, left her wallet, complete with the ZP credit card, in the taxi – after being booted out by the driver (fortuitously, all was returned the same night). Nevertheless, you looked beyond this early gaffe and continued to present me with riveting assignments.

4. Hydration is key: Be it Diet Dr. Pepper, green tea, or a medium iced coffee with half-and-half and two Splendas, find your signature drink that will help you get through the styling appointments, clothing pulls, painting projects, and plethora of interns.

Zac's love Tina Turner

5. Finally, fashion fades — only friends remain: In life one must build two great items: a multifarious wardrobe and genuine relationships. Effective networking is sine que non for success.

Zac with his loyal ladies Coco Rocha,Karolina Kurkova and Naomi Cambell

For those of us who can’t even muster up the standard email, here’s an alternative way to say goodbye by the beloved Francoise Hardy.

Breaking the Rules at Carolina Herrera Fall 2012

Growing up, I was taught a few basic rules: always say “please” and “thank you,” look twice before crossing the street, and never wear navy and black ensemble. Boy, was my mom wrong–about the last convention at least.

At the opening of Carolina Herrera’s new collection, navy and black entranced a celeb filled audience,making us wonder what else our mothers lied about. Herrera nailed it in a striking exhibition of imperial elegance subdued by dusk color.

Herrera’s collection begins with an uncharacteristically dark rhapsody of looks in shades of deep indigo with black accents, and finishes dramatically with pigment explosions, brush-stroke prints, and voluminous ball gowns complemented by the models’ bouffant coiffure. Luxurious knits with fur and feather details smudge the line between traditional day- and evening wear, as a fine example of modern flexibility. While crop tops are not usually associated with Carolina Herrera, she thoroughly updates her signature ladylike aesthetic by pairing this tricky piece with a ball skirt.

Overall, a sweet and savory feast for the eyes I am sure Renée Zellweger, Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington,Kirsten Gillibrand, Joe Zee, Brad Goreski, and Nina Garcia, down in the front row were savoring as well.

I’m coo coo for: The entire Nordic princess meets Audrey Hepburn look the collection evokes, embodied in chic pencil and A-line skirts mixed with fur and feather accents. By far one of my favorite collections of the entire season.

All photos by Eliora Katz.

 Renée Zellweger a long-time Carolina aficionado.

Oh, Anna!

Son Jung Wan Fall 2012

Against the milieu of a snow-white Saturday, Son Jung Wan’s “oriental winter garden” was simply parfait. Flowing grays and creams harmonized with strong cyan, oriental prints, leather, and metallic.

Wan’s garden was blooming with lots of contrasts for shades and fabrics.

What makes me coo coo: The effortless mix of fabrics and textures. Wan dresses up a knit trouser with a satin vibrant top or rich fur with scintillating sequins. It’s the perfect storm!

Torrey DeVitto of The Vampire Diaries and model Carol Alt were both at the show. I had a blast chatting with Matthew Settle of Gossip Girl whom I met last season at Perry Ellis. I also enjoyed meeting his beautiful costar, actress Kelly Rutherford.

Carol Alt (From 2nd L) Model Carol Alt, actor Matthew Settle, and actress Kelly Rutherford attend the Son Jung Wan Fall 2012 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Studio at Lincoln Center on February 11, 2012 in New York City.

Miss Jay and I

Check out my exclusive interview with Miss Jay for some tips on what’s in and out for the upcoming season!