Gender

Nonprofit apologizes after calling photos in woman’s cookbook inappropriate

The book is by Chanie Apfelbaum, an author from Crown Heights

May 11, 2023 5:25 PM

Updated: 

Bonei Olam, a Haredi organization that raises money for Jewish couples to access fertility treatments, issued two apologies this week about a cookbook it sent to donors. On Tuesday, it apologized for mailing donors cookbooks that included pictures of the author, Chanie Apfelbaum. Then, on Thursday afternoon, it backtracked and expressed regret for that email.

“It has come to our attention that there are pictures in this book that are not appropriate,” the  initial message reads. “We are so sorry to trouble you, but please take the time to cover these pictures in a permanent way.”

But, after Orthodox activists criticized the email on Instagram, Bonei Olam posted an apology on Instagram to the author of the cookbook and her followers. It is “a beautiful publication that honors the role of Jewish women,” one post said. “We aim to create a safe respectful and inclusive environment and are taking action to ensure that an incident like this does not happen again.”

Totally Kosher author Chanie Apfelbaum. Credit: Lauren Volo

According to Bonei Olam’s website, people who donated $180 got to choose from a list of four gifts, one of which was Apfelbaum’s “Totally Kosher.” Apfelbaum, also known as Busy in Brooklyn on Instagram, was raised in the Chabad Hasidic community in Crown Heights.

The book contains several pictures of Apfelbaum and her children all dressed modestly, with only her face and forearms exposed.

“It is one thing if you want to decide, for whatever reason, that you are going far beyond the bounds of Jewish law and do not want images of Jewish women, holy modest Jewish women in your home,” wrote Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll cofounder/director of Chochmat Nashim, an organization that fights extremism in the Orthodox world, on Instagram.

“But to have the absolute chutzpa to call them inappropriate and to call for them to be permanently covered? That is a new low in what is already a bottomless pit in the cesspool that is fake modesty and misogyny,” Keats Jaskoll added.

Totally Kosher author Chanie Apfelbaum. Credit: Lauren Volo

Adina Sash, a self-described Orthodox Jewish feminist known on Instagram as Flatbush Girl, told Shtetl she thinks it’s harmful to cover images of women without doing the same for men. “When gender becomes the determining factor, we feed into a cultural tolerance for objectifying and sexualizing females, which will inevitably result in gender-related abuse,” she said, citing examples such as get refusals and inequality in the workplace.

“The female body becomes unnecessarily charged with sexual innuendos,” Sash said.

Hershel Herskowitz, an Orthodox Jewish Lakewood resident, also criticized Bonei Olam’s initial email. “The erasure of all women from magazines should be something that Jewish men should be embarrassed about,” Herskowitz wrote in a Twitter DM. “Is that what they think of us? That we lack any self control and would be enticed by seeing a Jewish woman in an ad for infertility or a cookbook?”

Bonei Olam was founded in 1999 by Rabbi Schlomo Bochner, a Bobover Hasid who said his wife Chani urged him to found the organization to help couples access fertility treatments.

The organization has pictures of women on its Instagram page, and videos on its website featuring mothers who benefited from its services.

Pictures of Apfelbaum have been featured on the websites of some Haredi institutions, including Masbia, the food kitchen, and COLlive, the Chabad news site.

“Totally Kosher” from Penguin Random House is Apfelbaum’s second cookbook. Her first, “Millennial Kosher,” was published by ArtScroll, a publisher focused on Jewish books and Judaica, which rarely publishes photos of living women.

“This idea of not printing women’s faces is a new-age concept within certain insular communities that distorts Torah values. It didn’t exist years ago,” Apfelbaum told Hadassah magazine. “Having women featured in print should be the same as having men in print—a non-issue.”

Shtetl reached out to Apfelbaum for her opinion on the furor, but she had not responded by time of publication.

Most Haredi newspapers and magazines are known not to publish any images showing women, even if their bodies are not pictured, in order to protect women’s modesty.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described ArtScroll's policy on publishing pictures of women. ArtScroll occasionally publishes pictures of women. Shtetl apologizes for this error.

Lauren Hakimi is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, New York Jewish Week, WNYC/Gothamist and more. She graduated from CUNY Hunter College with degrees in history and English literature. Hailing from an Iranian Jewish community on Long Island, she looks forward to shining a light on stories that matter to the Jewish community. Follow her on Twitter @lauren_hakimi.