Williamsburg fliers push stores to remove non-Jewish women cashiers

Anonymous broadsheets demands male-only cashiers to protect yeshiva boys from “profanity”

Credit: Amy Sara Clark

Apr 9, 2023 9:17 AM


A photo circulating on social media showing a Yiddish poster in Williamsburg has generated controversy. Purportedly signed by 26 principals of chasidic boys’ yeshivas, the flier warns shopkeepers that if they continue to employ non-Jewish women, they will do all they can to prevent their students from shopping at their stores.

“One of the most difficult problems plaguing our town is that shops — where our young boys are sent regularly for purchasing daily needs — have dared to break custom and use non-Jewish women to serve their customers,” reads the flier, which was translated into English by Shtetl.

Pointing to a recently issued opinion by the Central Rabbinical Congress supporting their stance, the notice continues:  “it is self-evident that we cannot and may not allow our students to enter stores that are not to our sages’ liking.” If stores continue to employ non-Jewish women, “then we will not sit idly by as the sacred is profaned. We will not allow storekeepers to put our ‘holy flock’ at risk by supporting them and patronizing their shops.” The Central Rabbinical Congress did not return multiple phone calls from Shtetl.

This push to insulate stores from the outside world for the sake of yeshiva teens is not new. Last year, according to a photo posted on Facebook, a flier went even further, praising three stores -- Hatzlacha, The Corner and Lee Garden Supermarket -- for having complied with the demand to not employ any woman, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, as cashiers. The poster thanks the shopkeepers for their compliance: “So as not to [spiritually] endanger our children and boys with forbidden sights when they come to make purchases.” And it encouraged other local supermarkets to follow suit.

The most recent poster adopted a harsher and more demanding tone. “As school principals, we bear particular responsibility to attend to this, and to prevent our dearest young boys from having even the most minimal connection to the profanity of the street.”

However, it is not clear whether these fliers are legitimate or fakes. Officials from several yeshivas listed on this year’s notice told Shtetl that they and their schools’ principals knew nothing of these posters and that the principals certainly did not give permission for their names to be put on them.

Berl Halberstam, the secretary at Yeshiva Ketana of Satmar, one of the yeshivas listed on the flier, said that the principal was out of town for Pesach, but he was “one hundred percent sure” that the principal did not give permission for his name to be on that letter. He added that he’s never heard of anyone who has been asked to sign the notice or anyone who believed that non-Jewish women shouldn't have interactions with male customers.

“It’s false.” he said. “There are false posters going up all the time.”

Jacob Davidson, secretary at a different Satmar Yeshiva Ketana also listed on the flier, said that the principal wasn't available but that he didn’t know of him being asked to sign the poster. He said he hadn't heard about them either.

Asked if he thought the poster was fake, he said “something like that.”

Davidson said that he didn’t think many people would take the poster seriously and noted that he saw another poster, which he assumed was satirical, joking that perhaps men shouldn’t be hired at stores because they might come into contact with female shoppers.

Managers from stores praised on last year’s poster for only employing male cashiers rejected the praise, insisting that they never removed any non-Jewish female employees.

During visits to Hatzlacha and Lee Garden Supermarket, there were only men working at the cash registers. A floral booth at Hatzlacha was staffed by non-Jewish women but they said the business is owned by a separate company that rented the space. No female workers were visible at all at the much smaller Lee Garden Supermarket.

Credit: Amy Sara Clark

Professor Dainy Bernstein, a visiting lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh who grew up in Hasidic Borough Park and specializes in Haredi Children’s Literature, explained the role of these posters in the Hasidic and Litvish world.

“They are widely used in Hasidic communities, including Satmar, because it's an easy and effective way of getting messages out when internet, radio, and TV are not allowed. There are print newspapers and magazines in the community in both English and Yiddish, and these decrees or announcements are often printed in those as well. But to ensure that everyone in the community hears about them, posting them in public is most effective,” Bernstein said in an email interview.

Shulem Deen, who grew up Hasidic and is author of the memoir “All Who Go Do Not Return” said the posters are “ sort of an all-purpose medium, a way to get people’s attention.” A good portion of the posters, he added, stem from anger. “It's more the equivalent of twitter, it's an outrage forum,” a place to channel “impulsive knee-jerk” reactions.

Everyone Shtetl interviewed said that unsanctioned and fake broadsheets are extremely common, noting that since you can post them anonymously, there’s nothing stopping you from spreading falsehoods.

The question remains: Are the two posters really fake, created by a small group that used the principals’ names without consent? Or are they genuine, and everyone who spoke with Shtetl denied knowledge of the posters because they are potentially engaging in illegal discrimination against Jewish and non-Jewish women?

For the named stores it could be perilous if the posters turn out to be real.

"So they're saying that these non-Jewish women are going to corrupt the young yeshiva boys?” said New York Law School Professor Art Leonard. “I can't see that as a valid defense to a discrimination claim, and under the law they can be subject to a court order to reinstate the employees.”