The classic example of chutzpah, the Yiddish word for brazen gall, is that of a man who, after being convicted for killing both his parents, throws himself on the mercy of the court on the grounds that he’s an orphan. Everyone in every culture in the world has experienced chutzpah, but to my knowledge, only Yiddish nails it so precisely. The beauty of so many Yiddish words is that you don’t have to actually know what they mean to understand them completely when used. Yiddish is one of the most emotionally onomatopoetic languages ever invented.
Another example of chutzpah that rivals even the archetypal parricide is that of the Chassidic Jews in Brooklyn who’ve recently gotten into a snit because “scantily clad” women ride their bicycles on the bike routes along the bike paths on the streets running through the South Williamsburg area:Â
“I have to admit, it’s a major issue, women passing through here in that dress code,” Simon Weisser, a member of Community Board 1 in Williamsburg-Greenpoint, told The Post.
“It bothers me, and it bothers a lot of people.”
The existing, one-way lanes are popular with North Williamsburg hipsters – many who ride in shorts or skirts….
Hasids are forbidden from looking at members of the opposite sex who aren’t fully dressed, said local activist Isaac Abraham….
The issue of dress – or lack of it – wasn’t brought up at the meeting. Weisser and the other Hasids instead complained publicly about bike lanes allegedly causing parking problems and traffic congestion.
Abraham later said another major concern is the safety of children, noting that cyclists “aren’t obeying traffic laws. Green lights and red lights are the same.”
Hasids last month complained about a sexy billboard promoting the teen drama “90210” that could be seen from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and that featured swimwear-clad characters.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. That link is to The New York Post, which is to journalism what Sarah Palin is to foreign policy. But clashes between the Chasidic community and the hipsters who have moved into Williamsburg have been common for years, and not all the articles on this particular article have been quite so salacious. The Jerusalem Post’s article, for instance, shows that although it might not be a simple battle of the chasids vs. the hotties, the tension between conflicting sexual moralities and notions of the proper use of public space is certainly an issue.
I can’t say that I feel too much sympathy for the Chasidic Jews in this case. At the heart of most puritanism is a massive instance of chutzpah: the belief that your own moral insights are so unshakeably true, that everyone else should be held responsible to them. In this specific case, the Chasids also portray their men as so morally frail that the rest of the community needs to treat them almost as children or cripples, so that they can avoid even the slightest temptation or impure thought. That’s an old trick: it starts out pathologizing male sexuality and in a loop-the-loop of logic, winds up repressing female sexuality.
The concern for Chassid men being confronted by naked female legs pedaling through South Williamsburg rings especially hollow to me considering how many Chassidic men show up at New York sex parties and clubs. They’re so common as to be a New York archetype; almost no public party is complete without a scattering of Chassidic men with their locks pinned back watching the action. If they’re so worried about their men succumbing to temptation, that might be one of the things that they want to focus on before getting all het up about shiksas on bicycles.
(X-posted from Sex in the Public Square)