Her marriage to the Hamptons’ celebrity-embracing Rabbi Marc Schneier may be a thing of the past, but Tobi Rubinstein Schneier has set her own course by becoming a leading fashion designer – and a newly ordained “rabbi” to boot.
Rubinstein Schneier was forced to endure the public humiliation engendered by her husband, who – despite his status as a charismatic Orthodox spiritual leader capable of attracting upper-class unaffiliated Jews such as Hollywood producer extraordinaire Stephen Spielberg to his synagogue – was exposed two years ago for being unfaithful to his fourth wife with an attractive female congregant. “I can’t tell you I didn’t go through hell. But I came out the other side, and redefined myself,” she told the New York Post.
Taking the fashion world by storm, Rubinstein Schneier has a new cable television reality show about to debut on NBC Nonstop. “The House of Faith N’ Fashion,” which she refers to as a “trunk show with brains,” chronicles her excursions to designers’ showrooms and shops. Once the show completes its first season, its ambitious host would like to inaugurate her own House of Faith N’ Fashion clothing line. “I’d like to start it off as a luxury line that would go into a Saks, Bergdorf or Neiman’s,” Rubinstein Schneier notes enthusiastically, “yet I do see myself on a shopping network like people I admire, including Rachel Zoe.”
The fearless entrepreneur expects that her budding clothing line will mix a high-fashion sensibility with the common touch. “I can wear a YSL jacket with a $20 pair of jeans,” she says by way of example. In spite of her Orthodox affiliation – and relatives who are Bobover Chassidim living in Brooklyn’s heavily religious Boro\ Park area – Rubinstein Schneier seems to have born with a deep-seated love of fashion. She has designed outfits for the Nicole Miller children’s line and Crunch Fitness apparel, to name only two of her fashion world achievements. “I live in two worlds — fashion and religious. But I would never just want to be in one, and it doesn’t have to be either/or,” she states unabashedly.
Apparently, the world of high-class couture was not enough to fulfill her destiny, so the jilted “rebbetzin” decided to emulate her ex-husband by studying for the rabbinate herself. Her efforts recently paid off when she received “ordination” from the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute Rabbinical School, which claims to “train liberal Jewish clergy for the modern world.”
Rubinstein Schneier explained that she was inspired to join the rabbinate because she didn’t want to have a limited and entrenched reputation as the fourth wife of Rabbi Marc Schneier who had to divorce him due to a cheating scandal. “I wasn’t going to live my life like that,” the 54-year-old declared. “I enrolled in seminary and decided to become a rabbi. I survived it the way I wanted to survive it … I was no longer the wife of a rabbi — so I became the rabbi!” The new “rabbi” immediately put her title into action, officiating at a wedding of her friends this summer.
Rubinstein Schneier definitely implements her Orthodox beliefs on her own terms. She is the only married woman in her family who has never worn a wig, and she freely wears pants, an item of clothing generally shunned by fervently Orthodox females. “For me, being Orthodox is about having a moral compass, not covering up an immoral compass,” she says. “I feel free as a bird these days. I don’t have to answer to anyone anymore — except to myself and G-d.”
The clothing designer / spiritual leader felt that she needed an outlet outside of her observant upbringing, so she attended the Fashion Institute of Technology before marrying at age twenty. Though three more marriages were eventually to follow, Rubinstein Schneier never allowed herself to feel constrained by her personal circumstances. In 2002, she started the men’s hip-hop clothing line “Chedda,” a word that is street slang for “money.”
“It only lasted two seasons. It was ahead of its time, my most glorious failure,” she muses. “It was like crashing the glass ceiling — for a Jewish woman with my background, it was a big deal at the time.”
As the wife of the high-profile Hamptons rabbi, Rubinstein Schneier was able to experience the thrill of meeting and hanging out with members of royalty, foreign ambassadors and entertainment moguls all around the world. She connected with Russell Simmons, her husband’s partner in a coalition for inter-ethnic understanding, at the Hip-Hop Inaugural Ball, and she raised eyebrows by gifting her husband with grandiose birthday presents – including a 400-pound endangered Asian lion that the couple donated to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.
However, the good times associated with her four-year marriage came to a sudden halt in 2010 when her husband’s infidelity came to light, and her peers in the upscale community began to look askance at her. “Either you’re in or you’re out. The Hamptons is very much like a high school lunch room,” Rubinstein Schneier says. “If you’re smart, you can float from one clique to another and have a very good season. But you can fall from grace in a New York minute.”
As her marriage came apart, so did her friendships. “One week in synagogue, people are fighting to sit next to you … and the next week, you’re gone; it’s a horrible feeling,” she bemoans. “I can count on one hand how many people got in touch with me afterwards to see how I was.”
While the now-apart couple did not have any children together, Rubinstein Schneier has an 18-year-old daughter, Lola, from her second marriage.
Nole Marin, a stylist and friend of Rubinstein Schneier who appears on “America’s Next Top Model,” is a big fan of hers. “I’ve never seen a rabbi look like that,” Marin gushes. “She’s the most stylish rabbi I know. Even without being a rabbi, she’s one of the most stylish women I know.”
The indefatigable designing businesswoman and spiritual leader is equally inspired by fashion and religion. “No one thinks there’s any faith or spirituality in fashion, but G-d was actually the original designer,’’ she says. ‘‘He made the most ornate garments ever given — the costume of the high priest and all the jewelry — the most elaborate outfit possible. So I believe clothes can be godly.”