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Should Esther Be On ‘ANTM’?

OU’s Diament says no; I say yes

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Esther Petrack.(Starcasm)

My post about the modern Orthodox contestant on America’s Next Top Model has generated a large number of comments, many critical of Esther Petrack’s decision to defer Sabbath observance in favor of participating in the show. Even Nathan Diament, Director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (the nation’s largest Orthodox umbrella organization), got in on the action, sending out several tweets of his own criticizing Tyra Banks for not accommodating Petrack’s religious schedule and Petrack for pledging to forgo “honoring the Sabbath” mere days before Yom Kippur. (In fairness to Petrack, it was probably filmed at least a few months ago; she may have renounced her observance a couple days before Tisha B’Av.)

In an email exchange, Diament expanded his opinion beyond 140 characters. Asked whether the television network The CW should have rearranged its shooting schedule so that Petrack would not be forced to violate the Sabbath, he cited legal protections that may or may not apply. “Federal and state law require employers to attempt to accommodate an employee’s religious needs,” he said, though he acknowledged that reality show contestants may not be considered employees, so “that might make this more of a ‘spirit of the law’ point.” It’s unclear what effort, if any, had been made to accommodate the Jewish calendar during the shoot. (One commenter who claimed a relationship with Petrack noted that she kept kosher throughout. If that’s true, then at least kosher food was provided.) Diament, admitting that he is unfamiliar with ANTM’s schedule, wondered “whether it requires every model to be available to shoot 24/7—or whether there are shifts that could be used to accommodate Ms. Petrack.” I agree, but that’s just because I don’t think modeling is essential enough to require the same kind of hours worked by, say, doctors.

As to whether modeling is even an appropriate pursuit for a Modern Orthodox woman (or whether it is proper for her to appear on a reality show), Diament, qualifying that he is not a religious authority and therefore could not offer a halachic opinion, conceded, “Fashion modeling obviously also presents issues with regard to Tzniut (modesty).” He felt it was an issue for the girl’s individual rabbi. I would think Petrack would be hard-pressed to find an Orthodox rabbinic authority who would say that posing in a barely there bikini with words scrawled all over her body does not violate the restrictions placed on women’s dress and outward appearance in halacha. (But I am also not a rabbi, or even a rabba!)

Finally, Diament observed that both Tyra and Esther missed opportunities to send messages to the viewing public. Banks, for example, has expressed the desire to democratize modeling through her show by inspiring tall and impossibly thin girls from all backgrounds to aspire to a career on the catwalk. “In that spirit alone, the producers should have tried to work out a scheduling accommodation for Ms. Petrack,” he said.

As for how he would’ve advised Esther to handle her interrogation in front of the judging panel, Diament addressed his remarks directly to the contestant. “Before you told Tyra Banks that you would ‘do it,’ that you would work/compete on Shabbat, you articulated before a national TV audience what Shabbat asks of an observant Jew. What a lesson and inspiration for Jews (and others) everywhere it would have been if in reply to Tyra you would have said: ‘I am committed to the Sabbath and to winning this competition and I want to do both.’ It’s not too late, I’d urge, to go back to Tyra and open that discussion again.”

While it certainly would’ve made for a compelling moment of television, I think it is a lot to ask of an 18-year-old. Also, it would’ve smacked of grandstanding if she had merely shown up to say “no” and make a point; and if that had been her plan, then she would’ve been depriving another young girl of the opportunity to appear on the program.

Besides, Esther is not the only one sacrificing something to be on the show. Two of the contestants have children at home, whom I’m sure they miss. Should they be permitted to bring them into the models’ house?

And forgive me for stating the obvious, but life is full of difficult choices. Having been raised observant, I understand Esther’s plight. There were gymnastics competitions I couldn’t enter due to Shabbat, and break-dancing battles I couldn’t attend because they were on Friday nights (that is, until I made an Esther-like pronouncement and decided to go anyway). Though I often hoped that it could be different, I never thought that everyone else’s schedules should be rearranged so that I could have my cake and eat it, too. No one was telling me I couldn’t be an observant Jew. I just learned at a younger age than most that I would sometimes be forced to choose between two mutually exclusive things that were of nearly equal import to me.

I am happy that Petrack didn’t demand that the halachic details of Orthodox Judaism be catered to. And who knows? Maybe she was able to observe much more than we are privy to see. Maybe her housemates turn the light switches on and off for her on Shabbat. And while I appreciate Diament’s position—insisting on the rights and expanding the options for Orthodox Jews and related organizations is literally his job—I don’t think anyone is being wronged in this instance. In the end, all you’ve got is one girl who had to struggle with an adult decision.

Earlier: ‘ANTM’ Contestant To Forego Observance

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So you decided to blow off Shabbat yourself. No wonder you’re so sympathetic to Petrack doing so.

Yes, she’s 18. And maybe we should be blaming her parents for not raising her to have good priorities. But the idea that Judaism is something to sacrifice for the greater good of being a model? That’s so sick.

What Esther Petrack has done is a Chillul Hashem.

Please recap this show for us from a Modern Orthodox perspective!

Honestly, I don’t see how a real working model could be observant. She could model for fun, for, like, catalogs and/or sheitel companies aimed at Modest populations, but there is no way a beginning model signed to a real agency who actually hopes to continue to have a contract/make a living modeling could dictate the terms under which she’d work. I can’t wear that, I’m frum! I can’t work on Shabbat or Yom Tov! I can’t eat the food on a shoot! She’d be let go so fast her head would spin. MODELS ARE CHUM. There are gazillions of willowy hungry 17-year-olds from all over the world, currently roaming the streets of NYC, who’d take her place.

ANTM is a game show, an entertainment. It’s not about the actual modeling business. And to this show, she’s a fascinating, weird, pretty bug under a microscope.

CVBruce says:

Sounds like she pulled a kind of orthodox rumspringa. Often you can’t tell what is important in your life, until you give it up.

I’m disappointed in the show that reasonable accommodations couldn’t be made for Esther or any other contestant with out of the ordinary needs.

Also, it shows that the show is focused on one thing and one thing only, the body of the contestant and not the mental or spiritual development.

What a shame that Esther didn’t have the presence of mind or strength of character to simply say to Tyra: “I believe that fashion would respect one’s faith.” On the other hand, would Tyra have asked a Muslim woman, for instance, to violate her faith in the same way?

I think everyone’s blowing this out of proportion:

1. I know plenty of MOs who compromise certain aspects of observance based on circumstance (eating milchig out or not being completely shomer shabbat while traveling, for example). Esther is not exactly unique as a MO person for compromising her observance under extraordinary circumstances. It doesn’t make her a bad person or a bad Jew. On the other hand, I didn’t think it was particularly “Jewish” to anonymously defame a young girl on a public forum.

2. At this point, we have no idea about Esther’s actual observance, or lack thereof during the show, so we should refrain from making judgments. Only two episodes have been aired and, while Esther did well in both, she had very little screen time. In past seasons of ANTM, there have been instances where contestants have left the show for various reasons, deciding that being a model is “not worth” giving up any number of things. For all we know, in next week’s episode, Esther decides that giving up shabbat is not worth being a model, and she becomes the Hank Greenberg of the fashion world.

3. I bet this is the first time ANTM has generated so much coverage in the Jewish press/blogosphere. This can only be good for the CW’s ratings.

4. “The show is focused on one thing and one thing only, the body of the contestant and not the mental or spiritual development.” Duh. Have you ever SEEN reality TV?

I love “The Hank Greenberg of the fashion world”! Excellent turn of phrase.

And excellent point about Esther’s presence on the show driving press coverage and (perhaps) ratings. Isis, the transgender contestant a couple of seasons ago, also brought new attention to the show.

However much buzz she gets, though, Esther has no chance of winning because of her body type. You heard it here first. I’ll bet cash money — loser makes a donation to tzedakah. WHO’S WITH ME??

As a longtime fan of ANTM (hey, now, we all have our guilty pleasures) I was personally thrilled to finally see a Jewish candidate present herself.While every other season has at least one openly Christian candidate, to my knowledge there has never been another Jew.The reasons for this have already been discussed at length: the values of Judaism conflict with modeling, although I would argue not necessarily with ‘modeling’ itself but with the particular way in which the ANTM producers choose to portray the fashion world.Their intention is to throw the girls through as many emotional loops as possible in order to determine which one has the most skill and stamina.Because the vast majority of the people involved in the media do not understand the real MEANING of the Sabbath, in their eyes this is just one more ‘challenge’ that she will have to overcome, like Kayla’s lesbianism or the other girls’ physical oddities.

As much as I disagree with ANTM’s decision on how to handle the Shabbat problem,the show is a competition to gain a foothold in the modeling world but does not necessarily represent that world itself.It is possible that Esther hopes that winning ANTM would give her enough credit as a model that she COULD then work her career around Halakhic stipulations.

That being said, after watching the first three episodes, I think the producers are missing an opportunity here.Very little attention has been given to Esther at all, and except for a couple offhand comments in yesterday’s episode the issue has not been addressed since casting.ANTM fans know that Banks’ shtick involves trying break the mold of the Cindy Crawford model, ‘proving’ that all kinds of oddball types can work in the industry (even us Jewish girls with..ahem..curvier figures).But in this case we are led to believe that Esther more or less just blends in.We see none of her struggle, and an opportunity to bring a Jewish form of beauty into Banks’ ever-diversifying circle of fashion is sadly missed.

I have to say that my first thought was would Tyra ask a religious moslem girl to remove her hijab and break her rules of modesty in order to compete? or perhaps would she require her to not fast during Ramadan. I think that Tyra showed an incredible amount of intolerance toward Esther an quite frankly religious persons are accommodated daily in the business world in the United States.

Tha being said, Esther has to make her own decisions about her observance. The problem here and among so many of the negative commentors is that the orthodox view of Judaism is the only one they respect. That is also quite intolerant.

Ted Lindsay says:

If an Episcopalian is welcome, may I respectfully thank you all for such thoughtful, serious, informative comments, in the articles and here?

Myself, I assumed ANTM was a vowel-free trqanscribed Hebrew term ( okay, three not four consonants).

Didn’t a number of very senior Clinton aides work through the High Holy Days at a summit overseas? I think Ms Esther’s quotes suggest a more thoughtful, mindful approach than the quotes from those aides.

I am off to start Rabbi Telushin’s Hillel.

Aqualung says:

My thinking is that Tyra picked Esther for the show because she sees herself in her. Tyra attended an all girls Catholic high school when she first started modeling. I sense she had to make some difficult choices as a teenager that put her often at odds with her family as she started her career.

Still kind of shocked that this 18 yo girl’s dream of being a model has stirred so much conversation…ANTM aint exactly “Meet the Press” but so be it. As for folks who complain that Tyra hasn’t accommodated Esther….I dont think that they are preparing these girls to be accomodated as much as to accomodate those who ‘might’ hire them…travel and shoots etc are not limited to Mon-Friday prior to sundown. Further, I’ll step out on a limb here and ask how a nice orthodox maidelach who follows halachah would find it appropriate to find herself strutting her stuff in bra and panties on a catwalk…?? Why even bring up another’s faith (Christian or Muslim)…I think that they self eliminate from such immodest lines of work IF their personal/family’s morals impel them to avoid such things. Let’s try to avoid the odor of hypocrisy, please.

Herbert Charles Beim says:

The central problem is that she identified herself as being orthodox. What she does is her own business, but it becomes public property once she claims to be part of an observant community. If you are going to eat non kosher, the first thing you are required to do is take off your kippa. It’s bad enough you are eating non kosher, but it’s a chilul hashem that anyone might identfy you with the Orthodox comunity.

Marina says:

I am Esther Petrack’s mother and since her level of religious observance has attracted so much attention on the internet, I feel the need to clarify a few points.

The fateful 4 words “I will do it” in answer to a question about working on shabbat, were the result of EDITING. Esther never said, meant that she would give up shabbat for the sake of appearing on a tv show; neither did she do it. They were extracted from a long conversation Esther had about the laws of shabbat and the principles governing them and how she was planning to keep them while on the show. The producers then cut out these 4 words to create a more scandalous storyline. Careful viewers can actually see and hear that the words are edited; and I would have hoped that non careful viewers would also have known because they would have given Esther the benefit of the doubt (kaf zechus)…

I am proud of Esther’s committment to Jewish observance which she carried throughout the show.

Marina- I am sorry that you have been impacted so negatively because of your daughter’s scandelous choices; it’s up to God to decide how the trajecotry of her life path will be impacted by this 18 year old choice.
But the fact is that she did something Noah Feldman worthy- the world sees someone who has forgone her faith for 15 minutes of fame. Maybe the film was edited, but the world does not see or realize that. This statement was as public as it gets. It would be one thing if she jeapordized her religious practices by quietly breaking shabbos in the provacy of your home, but she did it on NATIONAL television!

I have a hard time pitying her. She deserves this rebuke for the bad name she has given the Modern Orthodox community.

היי ריציתי להמליץ לכם על דשא סינטטי – מוצר משובח, שמתוכנן בקפדנות ומיוצר במומחיות רבה על-מנת להיות דומה לחלוטין לדשא טבעי – לא רק במראה, אלא נמצא בתחושה . דשא סינטטי הפרוס בידי אנשי מקצוע נראה כמו דשא טבעי ומרגיש כמו דשא אמיתי לכל דבר; דשא סינטטי נראה כל כך טבעי עד שלפעמים חיות מנסות לאכול אותו! והיתרונות, הו, היתרונות…

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Should Esther Be On ‘ANTM’?

OU’s Diament says no; I say yes

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