Houston, We Have a Problem: Mockery

By: Rivki Silver 

Toes. How offensive can they be? How funny can they be? The online Jewish community had some experience with toes these past couple of weeks through the now infamous Fake Toe Flier. Maybe we should call it the Fake Toe Fiasco. 

In case you missed it (I’m jealous if you did), there was a flier being passed around featuring an image of prosthetic toes with the text: “Attention Bnos Yisrael: do you want to be fashionable and yet still be tzniyusdig? Do you want to look stylish but would never c”v wear open toed shoes? Now available: Prosthetic toes for open toes shoes. Be in style but still be in Hashem’s favor. Slip the high quality durable silicone toes over your own and you’re good to go.” There was a phone number included to make an order with the disclaimer “No texting.” 

The majority of reactions to this were incredulity, disgust, and horror. Some people were laughing at the ridiculousness of it, but mostly the responses I saw were along the lines of: “This can’t be real – is it real?”

By now, we know that it was all a joke, just a piece of satire that happened to go viral. Satire can be very effective, and poking fun at ourselves is good and even necessary. This is one reason why we love comics like the Kichels so much. They gently remind us of our own ridiculousness week after week and do it so well. 

Humor is valued in Judaism. Before Rabbah would teach halacha, he would first say something humorous that would put his students in the right mindset to learn Torah. The Gemara tells of two comics who merited a place in the World to Come because of their use of humor to cheer up depressed people. When we poke fun at ourselves, we remember not to take ourselves too seriously, which can prompt self-reflection and growth. 

But was this flier actually humorous? Did it make people laugh? Or did it cause more distress and concern than chuckles and smiles? 

Self-deprecating humor is one thing, but when we ridicule other people, it’s not funny. It’s upsetting. When humor is used to denigrate, to evoke feelings of hatred or disgust for other Jews, it is an abuse of the power of humor. What good was done here? Did it bring levity and light into the world? Did it prompt people to genuinely reflect on how tznius is represented in their life or community? Did it do anything besides get a few giggles from some people and prompt outrage in many more? 

In an article published in the Times of Israel, the women who created the toe flier claimed that it should have been obvious that it wasn’t real. Well, it obviously wasn’t obvious to a lot of people. If you have to explain the joke, that means it’s not funny. 

In this digital era where we are all connected without being in physical proximity, it’s easy to hear about something happening “over there” by “those people” and immediately slip into judgment. Oh, that’s so crazy, that’s so extreme. Well, I have news for you. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of observance, there’s probably someone out there who thinks you’re taking things too far. 

But there are more questions we need to ask ourselves in the wake of this brouhaha: Why are we so eager to share these things? What are we hoping to accomplish by posting them to our chats? What kind of conversations do we imagine will come from these things? If we find it repellent, why are we so eager to spread it around, to revel in the horror of extremism? To highlight that somewhere, some of our fellow Jews are taking some point of observance too far?

Are there not enough genuine horrors going on in the frum world that we have to invent new scandals? Don’t we already have enough troubles and problems to cry about? 

I am far more bothered by the creation and proliferation of this attempt to be clever than the absurd idea of women covering their toes with prosthetics. When mockery is used, ostensibly, as an attempt to counteract extremism, it runs the risk of having that mockery extend to those who are genuine in their efforts to grow in their observance. And that’s no laughing matter.

13 comments on “Houston, We Have a Problem: Mockery

  1. I guess I’m not horrified by it because I immediately realized they were trolls. I’m sure there are many who feel tricked, including those who told me that it couldn’t be a joke because “real people answer the phone”.
    BTW, I am the only one in my community who won’t wear a Shaitel because I think that wigs themselves are a mockery but the system thinks that I’m fringe for my opinion. For this reason, I get the joke.

  2. So I’m just trying to understand why this was something viewed as bad. I cover my feet and to be honest I didn’t find it offensive or felt made fun of. I honestly viewed it as a funny joke.

  3. I dont agree. If you didnt laugh then its a wakeup call to the realization that we may have bent halacha to far. To me it was funny but it highlighted a real problem in the Jewish frum world. That needs to be addressed the reason it hurt is because it hits a ‘truth nurve’. And thats good. It means your still switched on and things like this can real us back in. Makes us think: is my shaital the same thing, do i wear skin colours to catch out the eye…..

    This idea of catering to all peoples sensitivitys makes no sense. Does every shiur apply to everyone. No, should rabbis who teach with fire and intensity stop because they may affend? No. There are all types that need different things in this world to wake them up. Being sensitive to the point that you cant say anything of content won’t help growth.
    When something is thought prevoking that is the ideal. We need are brains to be on not soothed to a dullness.
    Training people to be over sensitive is not a jewish concept.

  4. It was definitely a mockery of tznius. Looks like many people are BORED! Boredom= Laitzanus is definitely to be AVOIDED!

  5. Anyone hear of Maris Eyin?
    We are not supposed to do anything (even if it’s kosher) that looks like it’s not.
    Wearing toe-look-a-like coverings on your toes WILL make people think that those are real toes. And that’s not kosher.
    Would you ever think of wearing a fitted skin-toned t-shirt with a designed to look like a bra – or worse – body parts? Unfortunately, people (?) have worn those in NYC, and it’s not only gross, but totally the opposite of kedusha.
    It’s time we stand up tall and say “I AM HONORED TO BE CHOSEN BY HASHEM! AND I HONOR HIM, AND MYSELF, BY DRESSING AND ACTING, LIKE THE HOLY PERSON I AM’
    No need to apologize to anyone, and no need to expose your toes – fake or real.
    We are in the aseres yemei teshuva – let’s all really return to Hashem.
    G’mar chasima tova, lshana tova umesuka

  6. I didn’t actually see this flier, but from the way you described it, I don’t think they were trying to mock extreme-ism in halacha. I think it was exactly the opposite- they were trying to point out with a very extreme and ridiculous “mashal”, how maybe somethings that we wear (ie very natural looking sheitals) are maybe ok according to the letter of the law, but are they really in the spirit of the law? since “everyone” wears it we don’t take the time to think for ourselves- is this really ok? is this what Hashem wants from me?

  7. Instead of admonishing the “Mocker” as the author did, perhaps a bit of focus on the real subject of the mockery?

    For some to think that sattire was real, exposes the very sensitivity towards covering hair that is acceptably “overlooked”.
    Yes there is an obsession for some to look like their hair is uncovered.
    Muttar?
    Assur?
    Decide for yourself if your headgear makes you look like a dignified married Jewish women 😉
    But don’t try to silence the messenger.

  8. Whatever you do, never wear red, round vegetables on the tips of your feet, or the tumah in them might cause you to have tomei-toes. (Hmmm, if you wear latkes, would that be pota-toes?…) I do hope no one is offended by these lines, and realize that I’m not making fun, just having fun. Otherwise, I’ll be toest.

  9. While I appreciate your attempt to be sensitive to all of the different jewish communities, I strongly disagree with your opinion.
    Many times humor is used to highlight social issues in a community. The hyper-sexualization of women in the orthodox world has come to a point where little girls are replaced by dolls in advertising. If any individual woman wants to cover more than halacha requires, she is entitled. But to suggest that my toes are not tzniut is horrifying. The ad was trying to see just how far we’ve fallen into extremism.
    There is a difference between offending an individual and criticizing an ideology. The latter is what allows us to discuss ideas and upkeep democracy.

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