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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Stop the Circus: Why do you make yourselves conspicuous?

And Yaakov said to his sons: “Why do you make yourselves conspicuous?” (Parshat Miketz)

A few readers/posters alerted me to a People's Court story that had taken on a life of its own. There is a saying, seeing is worse than hearing. And, I can't think of anything more true at this point.

I really don't have much to say except how timely the episode aired, during Chanukah, promptly after the reading of Parshat Miketz. In this parsha, Yaakov says to his sons, "Why do you make yourselves conspicuous?" (Lama Titra-u?) Why do you display yourselves? Why do you invite (negative) attention (from Bnei Yishmael and Bnei Esav)? Why do you incite jealousy and ill feelings though shows of "wealth"? Where is your common sense as you gallivant (my best word for what the Sforno describes) about displaying your situation for what it isn't?

I can think of no worse place to make a spectacle of oneself (and one's people by extension) than on ***day time*** television*, during what is being called the Greatest Recession since the Great Depression over a "mid-range" $3000 hairpiece! In the words of Rabbi Eli Mansour, "Yaakob understood what far too few people today understand – that showing off material success, especially in periods of financial instability, invites hostility, not admiration. When a person flaunts his wealth, people around him become resentful – not his adoring admirers."

I don't believe that the public defense of the couple by Rabbi Yair Hoffman is at all helpful to the situation. Such only ensures the circus parade marches on, adding more speculation to the train wreck in process. I am very sorry, but neither he, nor I (. . . and I've actually been trained in conducting audits, gathering documentation, and 3rd party verification) have the capability of performing a proper investigation of the matter. Amateur investigations are not only ill advised, but sure to raise further questions and solidify the spectacle. JUST LET IT DIE and let's roll with the mussar of our Avot and of Chazal to always be beyond reproach and keep a low profile.

(And while I respect the actual mussar of the other Rabbi who commented on the People's Court Wigging Out Story, I think he went way overboard accusing the couple of intentionally going out to rob from the poor, i.e. the laundry mat owners. Jumping to conclusions in either scenario is unprofessional and inappropriate).
*I don't recommend watching daytime television, nor do I watch daytime television. But, as a note of interest tv ads during daytime television generally fall into three categories: 1) ads for job training aimed at the unemployed/underemployed, 2) ads for ambulance chasing lawyers, and 3) ads for medication.


JS said...

This video made me sick. The frum community's response made me sicker. Forgetting about innocence or guilt for a moment, it looks horrible that an arrogant frum couple goes on national TV and sues what appears to be a hard-working immigrant blue color mom and pop cleaners for a ridiculously expensive hairpiece used for "modesty." Say what you want about TV editing, but the couple smugly stated that the cleners don't speak English as if that makes them incompetent and stupid. Or, retorting to the judge that it's "obvious" the wig is ruined. The frum community better wake up to how they interact with the outside world. They have a holier than thou and better than thou attitude that is just embarrassing.

Now turning to guilt/innocence, what I can't get is why so many people are jumping to defend them to our own community. What does Rabbi Hoffman's puff piece do other than convince frum people that this frum couple aren't a bunch of liars and cheats? The couple make frum Jews look terrible on national TV and here we are trying to fix their reputation in the frum community! It's just so backwards.

Anonymous said...

I saw the video and can't believe the chutzpah of the frum couple. It just shows how self important some members of the community are. A point that I made to my wife is that this generation is out of touch with economic reality.

Anonymous said...

I do feel sorry for this couple even though I was horrified by the video. Is it their fault that they were brought up with the attitudes reflected in the video and due to insularity had no clue as to how this would present?

Anonymous said...

I do not feel sorry for the couple, they are grownups. They should have asked for advice from someone mature, responsible, possibly a rav, before doing this. They looked so clever, so smart, so sure of themselves. I doubt they asked advice. I did jump to the conclusion that they were taking advantage of the Hispanic laundry owners, but I was wrong. They went on TV because the money wouldn't come from the laundry owners, but from the TV show. Even so! It still smelled terrible - now it looks like they were trying for a payday from the TV producers! Why are these people so insulated from reality that they have no clue about maras ayin? How it looks?

JS said...

"They went on TV because the money wouldn't come from the laundry owners, but from the TV show."

Sorry, but I don't buy it. They didn't come across as overly concerned about the owners of the dry cleaners. My bet is they figured they could get a bigger pay day from the TV show than from trying to collect from the dry cleaners (even if they "won" in court it might still be difficult to collect payment) and they probably also figured they could pull a fast one on the TV show as opposed to a real judge in small claim's court.

Personally, I don't buy anything Rabbi Hoffman wrote in their defense. Their new story comes a long time after the events. Heidi wrote several comments defending herself on the youtube video posting and not once did she mention any of these defenses and excuses. The whole thing is fishy and it would behoove intelligent people like Rabbi Hoffman to not sully his reputation and people like this.

Anonymous said...

how do you know the poster on youtube was actually Heidi?

JS said...

Do I know it was Heidi 100%? No. But, I do know it was a user using the name heidihud (I'm purposely leaving off part of the user name) who claimed to be Heidi. The user at the time had videos of her son (around 2 years old) with a frum name up on her channel. These videos have since been removed, but the clever googler can see evidence of their removal. Based on that I'd give it at least 90% chance it was her.

Anonymous said...

I have been to our local small claims court several time, and the People's Court judge actually spent more time on this case than is typical, and I was pleasantly surprised that she called the wig maker. In our state dry cleaning loses have a strict limit. I don't know about New York, but I think they went on the show because they thought they could get a better payout from a TV show. By the way, a new criticism that has surfaced is that the judge ruled against them because she is Hispanic and sided with the dry cleaners for this reason. I can't believe that that the couple would be so naive as to expose themselves this way on national YV.

Miami Al said...

Here is what I find extremely RIDICULOUS about the "frum" response.

A) couple apparently looks like shysters on national TV
B) National TV mostly caters to a down-market audience, the last non-Muslim segment of America where anti-semitism is still a problem
C) In the Viral world of the Internet, this explodes

the response is:

A) Fellow Frummies, these people are victims, they did nowrong
B) Their opponents are all anti-semites

This means that:
Drop the Frum-speak, this couple did something stupid and looked bad. They didn't do something evil (probably), just stupid. Rather than this being a learning experience, and people warned not to do dumb stuff like that, we let the negative opinion stand (never defend them with facts in a "goyish environment"), so Frum Jews look TERRIBLE, and defend them in Frum-land, so nobody learns a lesson.

This could be, quite frankly, the WORST possible response.

The best would be:
A) Go on Youtube, etc., and condemn dishonest behavior in the abstract
B) "Defend" them with mitigating facts
C) Go in "Frum" channels and tell people how it looks when you go on national TV in front of poor people about expensive luxury items, so people learn a lesson

There was a show on TLC/DiscoveryHD called trading spaces some years back, where two couples would leave their home, a designer would design a new room on a $1000 budget (kind of cheated to get there, but even paying retail, it was $2500 in materials or so), using the friends/neighbors as the unskilled labor.

One episode involved two VERY wealthy retired families, one was redoing MASSIVE great room (it was pretty obvious that they thought it would be fun, and they were hoping for ideas and were going to re-do, the mansion would look terrible with a $1000 renovation). The couples were totally good sports all around, doing whatever ridiculously labor intensive task that was asked of them, never complaining (and they cut a 48 hour renovation down to a 42 minute show, so ANY complaints would have been easy to edit it and make them look like rich whiners). Still, one of the designers was using pieces from a thrift store (that's how they "cheat" on the budget, a warehouse of thrift store purchases that they can pull out as needed), and asked the couple if they had ever been in a thrift store, and the wife uncomfortably said no...

The couple bent over backwards to look normal, had nothing at stake (unlike a courtroom style show), and were still edited to look like spoiled rich people.

These things are edited to make people look bad. It would behoove people to A) not be overly judgmental (see the blogosphere and Esther on America's top model) of Orthodox Jews put in bad situations, and B) realize that going in one of these venues, you will be edited to look bad, so think 3-4 times about doing so, and C) it will reflect on all Jews/Orthodox Jews, so think 10 times if the matter in question involves being a Jew.

An Orthodox Jew in a fight over a lawnmower on the People's Court reflects on Orthodox Jews, but is incidental to them being Orthodox Jews.

A religious "garment" like this reflects on Orthodox Jews AND Orthodoxy in general.

And they WILL make you look bad. TV Producers LOVE making religious people look bad, intentionally or not, because all their friends/colleagues don't know reasonable religious people, and therefore like making fun of them.

Anonymous said...

Most of the frum responses that I have seen on the internet to condemn them for this. Your problem is with Rabbi Hoffman's response, not the 'frum response'

tesyaa said...

1) I wish I'd never seen this clip; I would rather not think about whether this couple is "guilty" or about what really happened here

2) I don't think there is an epidemic of sheitel fraud.

3) I don't think there is an epidemic of frum Jews wanting to appear on daytime television. The reason everyone is talking about this clip is because it's such a curiosity.

4) I really want to believe the couple didn't knowingly commit fraud, but I wish they took some personal responsibility. I know if it had been my wig, I would ultimately feel responsible for any mistake because I let an expensive item out of my sight. I really doubt I would sue the laundry provider. Accidents sometimes happen that are no one's fault. I hope this is one of those cases.

5) I wish this case would die, but in the era of YouTube, that seems unlikely. According to the DovBear blog, the sheitelmacher Georgie has made a video defending the couple. This is a cautionary tale about what happens once something goes viral.

Modest man said...

More along the lines of frum people 'hiding' their wealth in galus, see the Kil Yakar in Devarim, perek 2 posuk 2 (i.e., if you are in a foreign land and find success, don't show off!). This problem has been around for hundreds of years and we don't learn our lesson.

Though thankfully (with maybe one exception) I don't personally know anybody who would go on TV for a couple of bucks. Though, since I know Rabbi Hoffman, I do know one guy who would go on the internet to defend them.

Ariella said...

I heard about the video and saw links to it, but I really did not care to watch it, so I didn't. By pointing at the exhibition, people keep it going. People who keep spreading the video are the ones who give it "viral" status.

Dovy said...

>Most of the frum responses that I have seen on the internet to condemn them for this. Your problem is with Rabbi Hoffman's response, not the 'frum response'<

I'd agree with that. Most VIN folks seemed to be against them, thankfully.

Eye witness Jews said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Dreadful comment by Eyewitness Jews, Sephardi Lady - can't you delete such malicious people?

On another matter: I viewed Georgie's video on YouTube, and I was struck by how she made a point that poor Heidi had no sheitel to wear and had to wear a scarf (in italics) - so Georgie did the amazing job of creating a beautiful long sheitel for her in 24 hours! I appreciate Georgie's professional pride in her accomplishment. But her feeling that wearing a scarf on your head instead of a sheitel is a terrible misfortune? What is so terrible? This is why people are spending so much money on expensive human hair sheitels. Because they have no idea it's a luxury! They have made it into a necessity. This is why they have no money and need to go on TV.

Orthonomics said...

I can't monitor everything because I'm rarely in real time. Happens I'm working on a project and was able to delete it.

I was also struck by the "emergency " of it all. It was actually insulting to hear she had nothing to wear and had to wear a tichel. I understand that many prefer sheitels, but let's not insult the "other half." :)

Orthonomics said...

should real actually a bit insulting.. .

Anonymous said...

The thrifty can find what they need very quickly at Paula Young's website. Most of that $3000 could have been out to a higher use.

Anonymous said...

That is, "put to a higher use"