Our Embarrassing Relatives

March 12, 2018

I have never heard of these women and I’ve barely heard of their mother.

Apparently, the four Oshry sisters are social media stars. (Yes, that’s a thing.) The four sisters – Claudia, Jackie, Margo and Olivia – run Instagram meme and food accounts under the names @GirlWithNoJob, @JackieOProblems, @HungoverAndHungry_ and @OliviaOshry with a cumulative 2.8 million followers. Additionally, Jackie and Claudia host a YouTube show called The Morning Breath. (More specifically, they hosted such a show until the flap that I’m about to describe.)

In an exposé, The Daily Beast revealed some reportedly anti-Muslim tweets. (I say “reportedly” because the only examples I’ve actually seen are a few tweets in which Claudia says that President Obama is a Muslim. They’re ill-advised, and surely not intended as complimentary, but I think they qualify as “dumb” more than they do “Islamophobic.”) Nevertheless, that wasn’t the most devastating part of the exposé; social media stars have bounced back from worse than a handful of stupid, and even hateful, tweets. The real damage was the revelation that the Oshry sisters’ mother is activist and author Pamela Geller, whose oeuvre certainly qualifies as anti-Muslim.

Geller is perhaps best known for spearheading opposition to the building of a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center and for sponsoring an antagonistic “Draw Muhammad” cartoon contest in 2015. (You may recall that two suspects opened fire on the ill-conceived event and were killed by police.) Geller has been banned from entering England on the basis that her presence is not “conducive to the public good.” The Anti-Defamation League has stated that her “anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric … violates basic human decency.”

The Oshry sisters have a relationship with their mother but they have kept her out of their public lives and social media. For example, Geller does not appear in any public photos from Claudia’s wedding, nor is she in an episode of Say Yes to the Dress featuring Claudia.

The sisters have publicly apologized for their own missteps, saying they are not “anti-Muslim or anti-anyone” and that they “do not condone discrimination or racist beliefs of any kind.” They have also distanced themselves from Geller’s opinions, saying that their “views are separate from” those of their mother and that they “make (their) own choices based on (their) personal beliefs.”

For sure, if the Oshry sisters have said stupid, arguably hateful things on social media, the onus is on them to apologize and to make amends. The online world can then decide, based on the immensity of the offense and the sincerity of the contrition, whether to re-embrace them or to banish them to whatever Internet purgatory MySpace and Friendster were sent. But they shouldn’t be made into pariahs because of who their mother is. That is literally the definition of an area in which a person has no control.

Personally, I think this is an area in which the Jewish community is all too often guilty, especially when it comes to dating. “I would never let my child date someone whose parents aren’t frum” (you know, like Avraham), “or who has a child who’s ‘off the derech’” (like Yitzchak). We are told in great detail how Eliezer sought a wife for Yitzchak and how Rivka was the perfect girl, despite the fact that her father was Besuel and her brother was Lavan – neither one a paragon of virtue. (Speaking of Lavan, how could anyone ever date Levi, Binyamin or Yehuda – do you know who their grandfather is?)

That children should not be punished for their parents’ crimes – nor vice versa – is a basic Torah principle. Deuteronomy 24:16 tells us, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. (Rather,) every person shall (only) be put to death because of his own sin.”

We have a seeming contradiction in the form of Numbers 14:18, which tells us that God “revisits the sins of the parents on their children, even to the third and fourth generations,” a statement that flies in the face of everything else we know on the subject. Happily, Rashi on that verse comes to the rescue, citing the Talmudic explanation for that discrepancy: God only counts the sins of the parents towards the children when they persist in those sins (Yoma 86a). So, yes, if the Oshry sisters are indeed haters, then their hater mother might be relevant but, barring that, it should be a non-starter.

[Lest my example reflect poorly on God’s attribute of mercy, let it be noted that, while God might punish those who persist in their fathers’ sins for three or four generations, He also promises to reward those who love Him for 1,000 generations – see Exodus 20:5, and Deuteronomy 5:10 and 7:9.]

I’m willing to venture that we all have relatives who make us less than proud. Whether it’s hiring, housing, dating or social media, we should only be judged by our own words and actions, and not by those of others over whom we have no control, regardless of the capricious nature of our births. As Angela Morabito wrote in the Washington Examiner regarding the Oshry sisters, “No one owes the world an explanation of their embarrassing relatives.”



The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.