Haredi women go under the knife
Young ultra-Orthodox woman enhances her breasts before wedding; 60-year-old gets nose job because 'it's accepted now'. Perceptions of plastic, aesthetic surgeries previously regarded as altering God's creation, are slowly changing in haredi community
Something is happening to our woman of valor. She is no longer satisfied with sewing and selling sheets or with making belts for Canaanites. Even compliments from her husband, sitting with the elders, do not lift her spirits anymore.
Today she knows that when she gets up at night and reaches for the spindle – it will not do any good to her facial skin.
Yes, today's woman of valor wants grace and beauty, and during the International Plastics and Aesthetics Surgery Conference held in Jerusalem, the halacha's different approaches towards plastic surgery were discussed, as well as the growing demand for such surgeries amongst the ultra-Orthodox sector.
"Man was created in the image of God, and Judaism puts great emphasis on respecting one's body. This raises the question whether man is allowed to meddle with it," explains Dr. Moshe Fried, one of the only religious plastic surgeons in Israel. "There is a consensus when it comes to health issues that the physician has the authority to heal according to the halacha. Anything having to do with illnesses, traumas, and birth defects – that's not even a question.
"The problem starts when a healthy person sees a doctor and asks him to alter his body for aesthetic reasons. Is a doctor allowed to alter a creature made by God? And is a man permitted to risk his life, go under general anesthesia and then get surgery in order to improve his looks? When we hear the reaction from our patients today, we understand things we didn't understand before – sometimes a person feels he's ugly on the outside, even though others don't see it. He feels he is flawed, and a physical alteration affects his metal status."
Take Prozac, why risk anesthesia?
"Surgery has developed a lot around the world. The levels of sophistication and capabilities have grown; surgeries are becoming less and less dangerous. Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein viewed these surgeries as a danger to the patient, and since the Torah forbids man from putting himself at risk for no reason - they prohibited those who didn't need such surgeries from having them. However, there are some rabbis, including Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who took the fact that medicine is advancing all the time under consideration into account. They also understood that an aesthetic flaw is no less important than any other physical flaw, like a scar from an accident. Today, one can no longer ignore the fact that how a person feels about himself is very significant, because it affects him deeply."
Due to the fact that Judaism is a big fan of inner beauty, it does not give in quickly to the falsehood of beauty, and religious people, who wish to straighten their wrinkles, get an eye lift or get their stomachs tucked, will always search for an inner justification.
"I met with a lot of people who came to me after consulting with a rabbi, who did permit them to go under the knife, even in concealed areas such as breast enhancement, liposuction and stretching the stomach, for different reasons – including the desire to preserve their marriage," said Dr. Fried. "Haredi couples don't know each other physically before their wedding. I had a couple come to me after the husband found out his wife's body wasn't what he thought it was or wanted. He saw she had a wrinkled and non-feminine chest. They requested a breast enhancement and the rabbi allowed it so they could maintain domestic peace.
"Today I see more fully clothed and covered up women, their brimmed hat and payos (Jewish side-curls) wearing husbands by their side, and they ask for improvements. Young women come here requesting a nose job or an ear alteration so they'll have an easier time finding a match. This woman came to me once for a face lift and also requested I perform a nose job. I asked her why would she want to get a nose job at age 60, and she replied that she's always wanted one but when she was young it wasn't accepted, and now she can finally do it."
Chairman of The Israeli Society of Plastic & Aesthetic Surgery Professor Yehuda Ulman said that "family events never legitimize making any significant change to your body among the religious public." But according to him, before a wedding the couple or their relatives see the event as a justified excuse to improve their look.
"A haredi woman came to me once about a month before her wedding and asked for a breast enhancement," said Ulman. "I was very surprised and uncertain whether she should have the surgery a month before the event, but she was very persistent and didn't even hide it from her future husband."
Are there any similarities between religious and haredi surgeries?
"Most of the surgeries have something to do with the family unit, and everything is done in such a way so as to not draw too much attention. There is an understanding today that you can fix the exterior look, and it doesn't contradict the halacha if it's done modestly. In the past, a haredi woman who didn't feel comfortable with herself, would buy a wig worth thousands of shekels but wouldn't dare alter her body. Today they don't look at it as changing their body but rather as improving it, so it has nothing to do with drastically altering what God created, but rather with self improvement. They can make themselves more beautiful and it strengthens their bonds with family and friends.
"Having said that, we must still remember that we're talking about a small percentage of the sector," Ulman stressed, "If there were no haredi patients in the past, then today we have about 2%. The taboo has been removed either way. The haredi public understands that this medicine isn't only intended for sick people, but that it's intended for healthy people too, just like going to see a psychologist."
Dr. Fried summarizes: "We must remember that the ultra-Orthodox society isn't a herd of animals locked behind a gate. The have very similar problems to those of the secular society. Emotionally, we are all human beings and we all want to feel good about our bodies."