First, Midrash Manicures. Next, The Mall.
11/30/2012 - 13:09
Helen Chernikoff
The author's 7th-grade English teacher confiscated her nail polish, and the teacher was right. Getty Images
The author's 7th-grade English teacher confiscated her nail polish, and the teacher was right. Getty Images

'Tis the season of holiday gift guides. We do one ourselves here at the JW.

But this blog post is going to ask you dafke to not buy something: the Jewish nail decals known as “Midrash Manicures” that are wrongly marketed to young girls. 

Midrash Manicures started as a blog that featured the detailed nail art Conservative movement Rabbi Yael Buechler  would create for herself. Each nail, for example, might tell part of a weekly Torah portion, with the middle finger showing rain pouring down on Noah's ark, and the pointer finger showing a rainbow.

Now, if you're an adult looking to buy a gag gift for another adult, go ahead. There's something kind of fun and kitschy in juxtaposing Scripture's majesty with the frivolity of a manicure, if you're sophisticated enough to get joke.

The problem with these things is that they're not supposed to be a novelty item.

Rabbi Buechler has positioned them first as an educational and spiritual vehicle, one that is also appropriate as a gift.

She has used the decals and the process of creating a parsha-themed manicure to teach Bible to young girls in synagogues, schools and summer camps.

According to her website, she has even teamed up with Shalom Sesame, the Jewish adaptation of Sesame Street, which targets a younger group. Of course, beauty salons have become a popular venue for birthday parties for girls as young as 5.

There are better parties, better presents and better teaching tools, for that matter. Creative and quirky teaching methods, such as those that mix text study with art or performance, are all to the good. And even some educators who have misgivings about Buechler's methods acknowledge their appeal to girls.

That doesn't offset the larger problem they pose.

Young girls are already bombarded with the harmful message that they should aspire to an idea of beauty and dress that is unrealistic, time-consuming and expensive. It is the rare girl who isn't susceptible to these powerful forces, and they can have an impact belied by their seeming harmlessness.

Often, the result is that girls squander the energy that should have gone into the truly holy pursuits of educating and discovering themselves on such shallow activities as excessive grooming and shopping. At the very least, much of the time spent this way is time wasted. A bitul Torah, or waste of time that could be spent studying Torah, even.  

What girls need is someone – a mother, an aunt, a rabbi – who takes pleasure in her appearance, and at the same time makes it clear that taking care of herself is just one aspect of female life, and not the most important one.

Polluting a girl's intellectual and spiritual life with make-up – and putting adult sanction on it – sends exactly the wrong message.

helenatjewishweek@gmail.com; @thesimplechild

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