New York City’s half-baked inquisition.Feb 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 20 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
In recent years, the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg has acquired a reputation as one of America’s most progressive hipster outposts. In addition to the waves of Manhattan refugees who have relocated here, the area gets no shortage of visitors. Most of the visitors, however, don’t venture down Lee Avenue—main street for the Satmar Hasidic Jewish enclave.
At first glance, it appears as if nothing has changed on Lee Avenue in at least 50 years. According to Allan Nadler, the director of the program in Jewish studies at Drew University, “no other post-Holocaust community has more faithfully and effectively preserved its old religious and cultural traditions and folkways, to say nothing of the Yiddish language.” Certainly, it’s hard to miss the ubiquitous black hats and distinctively modest attire of the Orthodox Jews strolling by. It’s a drastic contrast to the sartorially outrageous trendsters nearby.
Differing opinions about what you think is appropriate to wear might seem an unlikely source of legal trouble, but in contemporary New York, no one is left unscathed by the left-wing municipal bureaucracy. Herman San-ders’s father founded Sander’s Kosher Bakery on Lee Avenue in 1959. San-ders hadn’t even heard of the New York City Commission on Human Rights prior to being accused by it of violating the city’s discrimination laws and threatened with thousands of dollars in fines. Sander’s Kosher Bakery is one of seven Hasidic businesses in Williamsburg accused by the city of religious and gender discrimination. Their alleged crime? Posting a dress code in their storefront windows.
The offending signs read “Dress Code For Store. No Shorts, No Barefoot, No Sleeveless, No Low Cut Neckline” with the message repeated in Spanish. According to Sanders, he doesn’t even know who put the sign there—a not implausible suggestion considering storefront windows up and down the street serve as informal community bulletin boards and are populated with flyers. But as an observ-ant Jew who values modesty, Sanders admits he doesn’t disagree with the message, either.
“It didn’t offend me. And I don’t think it would offend the customers,” he told me. It was only after the New York Post wrote a characteristically cheeky item about the signs—“Brooklyn has lost its right to bare arms”—that the city’s human rights commission came calling. Specifically, the stores were accused of violating Section 8-107(4)(1) of the Administrative Code of New York, which disallows stores from denying service to customers based on “actual or perceived age, race, creed, color, national origin, gender, disability, marital status, partnership status, sexual orientation or alienage or citizenship status.”
There’s one major problem with the city’s claim that the stores violated New York’s antidiscrimination law. Since the signs first appeared in July 2012, the New York human rights commission has produced a flurry of documents and held administrative hearings about the matter. Not once has the commission presented evidence or complaints that anyone was denied service as a result of the signs. Sanders insists every customer was served. “[The signs] didn’t help, actually. People still came in with shorts,” he shrugs.
Moreover, the human rights commission has never claimed that there’s anything wrong with private establishments imposing a dress code. The Four Seasons and courtrooms in New York enforce similar dress codes. The human rights commission’s stated objection to these particular dress code signs was an affront to logic and religious freedom. Last summer, the commission argued before an administrative judge that the dress code signs in the Williamsburg stores may be similar to dress codes at establishments elsewhere in the city. But because the signs were in Hasidic stores, they should be viewed as an attempt to force Orthodox Jewish beliefs on others. In other words, the commission argued that dress codes are permissible as a matter of taste or decorum, but not acceptable if they are an expression of religious conviction.
The administrative judge dismissed this line of reasoning from the commission out-of-hand, but gave the agency another chance to make its case. The judge essentially told the commission that the only way to prove the signs were discriminatory was to demonstrate that they were an attempt to use “code words” to keep those outside the tight-knit Jewish community from patronizing the stores. So the city returned to the drawing board, and ordered up a survey designed to show that the broader Brooklyn community found the signs offensive and discriminatory.
Who is Jacob, and what does he mean? Mar 18, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 26 • By DAVID WOLPE
Jacob dreams of ladders. A romantic reading of his story would see the ladder as a metaphor of ascent. This child who begins as a deceiver ends surrounded by his children, and is brought back home to Israel for burial. A preacher would tie it up (as many have) with a nice didactic bow.
What is the meaning, and intent, of Hebrew Scripture?Jan 28, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 19 • By JUDAH BELLIN
Yoram Hazony is frustrated. A scholar at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, he has sought to bring Judaism in conversation with Western thought. The West, he believes, has not returned the favor.
A grand old man of letters meets the literature of Judaism. Nov 26, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 11 • By DAVID WOLPE
Many years ago, Will Herberg spoke of “cut-flower ethics.” He argued that, once unmoored from the religious soil that nurtured them, ethical principles would endure for a while, but would ultimately wither. To assume otherwise is to mistakenly dismiss the catalyzing effect that the idea of God has had on ethical motivation throughout
A document dump for ten centuries of Jewish historyOct 8, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 04 • By SUSANNE KLINGENSTEIN
When Alice fell through her Oxford rabbit hole in 1865, she landed in a world in which the hidden elements of her imagination took on an oppressive materiality.
12:19 PM, May 24, 2012 • By HOWARD SLUGH
On May 7, 2012, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the largest organization of rabbis in the United States, approved a resolution recognizing that the Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation that mandates employers provide access to contraceptives, abortifacient drugs, and sterilizations forces many employers to “violate the injunctions of their religion.” The RCA, which represents more than 1,000 Orthodox rabbis, urged the Obama administration to amend the regulation to protect the religious liberties of all employers.
1:14 PM, Sep 1, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
On his nightly television show recently, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell said that Texas governor Rick Perry is not suitable to be president of the United States because of his connection to one man — Pastor John Hagee of San Antonio, Texas.
Is there a place for religion on the comics page?4:58 PM, Nov 14, 2010 • By MICHAEL TAUBE
On June 5, 2009, The Washington Post posed the following question in a readers’ poll: “Do you think expressions of faith -- and not just satiric references to religion -- belong on the comics page?” Of the 257 participants, 70 percent answered “YES - the funnies are all about personal expression,” while 29 percent replied “NO - I believe in the separation of church and comics.” Should this be considered a surprising result?
The former candidate for vice president tweaks Obama.10:26 AM, Mar 30, 2010 • By DANIEL HALPER
Sarah Palin put out a statement last night marking the beginning of Passover:
Tonight Jewish families all over the world will gather to celebrate Passover, the story of Exodus and the freedom of the Jewish people from bondage. This holiday reminds us of the sacrifices that are still being made for freedom – the U.S. troops who are away from their families so that we can be with ours, and the Israeli people, who struggle for peace with their neighbors even as they face the threat of war.
12:00 AM, Feb 26, 2010 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
THE WEEKLY STANDARD is happy to welcome a new kid on the magazine block--especially because he (she?) is smart, engaging and attractive. So we welcome the Jewish Review of Books--a new print and web publication for serious readers with Jewish interests, in which writers and scholars praise, criticize and analyze new (and some old) books and ideas about religion, literature, culture, and politics.
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