Brenda Turtle's car accident would not be news if it the haredi reaction to it had not been so typically haredi, and if the New York Post's reaction had not been so typical of New York City's sleaziest tabloid.
Above: Brenda Turtle
Brenda Turtle, a 23-year-old ex-Satmar Brooklynite who is active in the OTD community, had a serious car accident last week.
The accident was well-publicized inside the OTD community.
Turtle, whose birth name is Rosenberg (no relation to me), is notorious in the haredi community for posting near-nude selfies with her wrapped in tallits and other religious paraphernalia. In one especially notorious photo, she wrapped tefillin from her left foot up to her thigh. She was dressed in shorts and t-shirt.
Turtle's car accident would not be news if it the haredi reaction to it had not been so typically haredi, and if the New York Post's coverage had not been so typical of New York City's sleaziest tabloid.
Haredim reportedly spoke of Divine retribution against Turtle for embarrassing the community and for causing many haredim to sin by looking at her near-nude photos (and, one can assume, 'acting' on them). But the point was that Turtle's accident showed that God was as unhappy with Turtle as haredi rabbis are, and it showed that she won't be able to continue her wanton ways unscathed.
Of course, when haredi yeshiva students or rabbis have car accidents and are injured, haredim don't presume the accidents are Divine retribution for the injured’s misdeeds. Instead, they cry out for God's mercy and healing, and ascribe the accidents to unknown reasons, to some crime or evil committed by the non-Jewish driver of the other car and allowed to happen due to lack of modesty by women of the community or some other similar laxity like talking during prayers.
Theodicy – ascribing a specific Divine reason of a natural occurrence – is tricky that way. When people perceived as good by haredim are injured, the reason for the injury has be one of these laxities committed by other haredim, most often by haredi women. God would never hurt an innocent haredi for no reason, after all, and women's perceived lack of modesty is always an easy target because women are essentially powerless in many haredi communities anyway.
But when a Brenda Turtle is injured, no hoops must be jumped through. Suddenly God, who was absent during the Crusades and the pogroms and the Holocaust, has leapt to the fore to defend his honor against the sultry 23-year-old vixen who has sullied it with her licentious selfies.
The New York Post's coverage is heavy with words like "saucy," "bombshell" and "stunner" and with several of Turtle's pictures.
Without those pictures, would there have been a Post story?
Almost certainly not.
Near-nudity, especially kinky near-nudity, sells tabloids. Explaining haredi theodicy does not.
I hope Turtle heals.
But I also hope she matures.
There's a big space between being Satmar and being a semi-nude anti-haredi provocateur. She can find a place in that space and occupy it without returning to any form of Orthodoxy (or for that matter, to any form of religious Judaism).
The issue with Satmar isn't that it does not allow its women to pose semi-nude or that it forces its women to wear layers of clothing, shave their heads, cover those bald heads with terrible wigs and hats, and live repressed lives.
The issue with Satmar is that its schools fail to give their students any real secular education.
The issue is that these kids can't be doctors or lawyers or scientists, because most can't even do simple algebra, write one proper English-language sentence, or properly explain how science of any kind works. They don't know history or civics. Many are only semi-literate in English with a depressing number completely illiterate.
Satmar schools also fail to teach Jewish history and many of the graduates of these schools are almost completely ignorant of that and other subjects you'd think they should have been taught – but they weren't, and Satmar graduates are often poorly educated in normal Orthodox subjects, as well.
This culture of ignorance produces people who follow their leaders out of cult-like devotion.
It also produces a large number of people who break the law in order to survive.
That Brenda Turtle would have been a married, bald-headed, mother of two or three children, garbed in heavy woolen clothes and docile if she hadn't fled?
That's news – but only in relation to the ignorance and oppression she and many other Satmar hasidim fled from.
The actual news story is that repression and that enforced ignorance achieved by operating a school system that violates New York State law and the human rights of its students.
And that school system can do this because the state and the city have completely refused to enforce the law against it.
That's the real story. That's what the Post should be writing about and what the Times and other media should be investigating.
Thousands of hasidic kids are being denied their basic right to an education in Williamsburg, Kiryas Joel, Borough Park, Crown Heights, and in other hasidic communities throughout the state.
That's the story. That's the crime.
[Hat Tip: D.O.]