Esther Petrack and the Complexity of Modern Orthodoxy – A Response

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A few days ago, Rabbi Ben Greenberg of the Harvard Hillel stated the full story of Esther Petrack and her stance on Shabbat with regards to the show “America’s Next Top Model.” He said that Esther Petrack didn’t say outright that she would violate Shabbat. Rather, she explained in detail things she would be willing to do and not do on Shabbat. The editors of the program then took one of her “yes” answers, and that became the distorted answer.

Personally, I don’t know what on earth a Frum woman, titles aside, was doing on that show. What was she trying to accomplish? She was operating in an arena full of Goyim, and therefore they had the upper hand. They were making her life difficult with regards to Shabbat, but in a way she sort of put herself into that spot by going on the show in the first place.

Esther Petrack
This shift from Modern Orthodoxy to appease the Goyim is nothing new. For example, in the 1700’s Moses Mendellsohn, an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi, would debate with his non-Jewish philosopher friends, but not without first taking his own bottle of wine with him in order to avoid consuming “Yayin Nesech,” or uncooked wine that was handled by a Goy. He too represented Modern Orthodox ideals, breaking out of the Ghetto and struggling to “fully embrace the messiness of life with all of its manifold and complicated interests.” The result? Once his children saw that he was struggling, and that Judaism was nothing more than a burden, and that becoming a Christian was only one step away to being fully accepted in German social circles, all but two became baptized. With Moses Mendellsohn’s grandkids, all except one converted to Christianity.

Judaism is what one makes of it. It can either be a pleasure or it can be a burden. Keep in mind that sighing in front of your kids “Oy, Zai Shver Zol Zayn A Yid” (It’s very hard to be a Jew) will leave them with the impression that, if it was hard for their parents to keep, then they won’t want to take on such a burden. We all want the easy way out – that’s human nature.

Now, shifting back to Esther Petrack, when Rabbi Greenberg ends his post with “It is not an easy life but most human endeavors worth doing have never been easy,” While I agree that  most human endeavors worth doing are never easy, not every human endeavor that’s not easy is worth doing. In other words, we each have a certain amount of energy to spend. That energy for most women should be focused on things like, seeking a life partner, having children, teaching them Torah values, Shalom Bayit, etc. If the woman chooses to go out and work, which is understandable in many cases with Frum women, then she should take up a profession that allows her to work in an atmosphere where she’s modestly dressed, not where she’s topless minus a couple of things covering her nipples. I know that the Shulchan Aruch covers every topic under the sun EXCEPT for Tznius dress (rendering that topic a subjective one on a case by case basis), but common sense needs to kick in somewhere.

People cannot just technically follow a text and try to find “ways out.” Hashem didn’t create robots, He created people with souls. Even if something isn’t stated outright, in many cases, the “spirit of the moment” is the defining factor.

But these are just my thoughts on this matter. Who’s with me?