Monday, January 28, 2008

The Wig Store in Flatbush

Updated Below:

For the unaware, there is a wig store across the street from Yeshiva Chaim Berlin in Flatbush. The owner decided to place pictures of women wearing the wigs in his window. Since looking at women can cause impure thoughts, a few of Rav Aharon Schecter's (RAS) talmidim asked the store owner to remove the pictures from the storefront. His response was not too friendly, and RAS sent out a letter to the members of Chaim Berlin's mailing list, asking that people refrain from buying wigs from that store until the owner removes the offending pictures. Here is the text of the letter:

Dovbear is kind enough to provide us with a photo of the actual display:

Having spent almost my entire formative years in Flatbush, I can assure you that these pictures are representative of the attire of the average Flatbush woman. This isn't one store in the middle of Bnei Brak selling pornography; these are very common looks in Flatbush.

So if the students are exposed to this type of look all the time, why call for a boycott of this store? After a day participating in DB's comments, I've come up with three theories:

1) The pictures themselves are assur. The text of RAS' letter implies that they are pritzus (licentiousness) and they therefore must be removed since they are causing the students to have impure thoughts.

The problem with this theory is that Halacha allows women to go around with uncovered faces and many Poskim accept wigs as hair-coverings. As stated earlier, fancy wigs are common fare in Flatbush. So if the very idea of women wearing wigs cannot be assur, why would pictures of wig wearing women be assur?

2) There's nothing wrong with wigs per se, but these pictures do not belong in front of a Yeshiva.

This argument would make sense if the Yeshiva was located in a residential neighborhood away from stores and cafes. But it isn't. Coney Island Ave. is a major thoroughfare and intersects with Ave M, literally a block away. Ave. M is full of stores, restaurants and cafes, all of which are frequented by women with uncovered hair. All types of women walk or drive down the street on which Chaim Berlin is located. So what's different?

Perhaps the problem is that the pictures are always in front of the Yeshiva. Sort of true. From my understanding, they are located in a store on the other side of Coney, which is a 6 lane street (including parking lanes) that is generally very busy. The pictures are not right next door or on the sidewalk right in front of the building. Someone who wants to avoid looking at the pictures can easily do so.

3) The pictures are problematic, but it's the derogatory response to the student's respectful request that must be opposed.

Basically this argument is framed as defending Kavod HaTorah. These are the top students in a century old Yeshiva, and yet the owner dismissed them like school children. But is that true? RAS' only allusion to disrespect was that the owner told them Flatbush isn't Bnei Brak. I don't see how that is disrespectful. Flatbush has its own standards of tzniyus, and is under no obligation to become Bnei Brak.

Even if he said some other unseemly retorts, perhaps boycotting a store for a few comments isn't so prudent. Boycotts should be tools of last resort and not taken lightly. Is it really unreasonable to expect RAS himself to speak to the owner and try to work out a deal before calling for a boycott?

When it comes down to it, the students of Chaim Berlin have the obligation to not look at the pictures if they will generate impure thoughts. It is not the store owner's responsibility to accommodate them. Flatbush really isn't Bnei Brak. Anyone who thinks differently really needs to get out more.

Update: Check out this comment:

"So I went and stood in front of the yeshiva and looked directly across the street, and the wig store is not directly there; it is further down. So I moved to the point where I was directly across from the wig store and the pictures are not clearly visible from across the avenue."

I have never seen the store, but I am aware of the layout of that street, and my intuition is that the pictures are not clearly visible from the Yeshiva. Apparently I was right. But if the pictures are not visible from the Yeshiva, then how are they different than anything on Ave. M? Just tell the students to cross Coney by Ave. M instead of the middle of the street.

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