Culture, Religion, Sex & Gender

A Modest Proposal

Nothing says haredi Judaism like thousands of men packed in a room talking about what women need to do, does it?
A huge, married-men-only conference on modesty was held a week-plus ago to discuss the necessity of buckling down on dress codes for women and girls. As far as the article indicates, male modesty and/or a more broadly defined modesty as humility and care for the other (see Rambam’s Hilchot Deot Ch. 5) were not discussed.
Ynet reports that one of the speakers said, for example,

“One of our generations biggest obstacles is tight clothing… each and every one of us must stand guard and make sure his wife and daughters’ clothing are modest, both in how much they cover the body and how they are worn.”…

The details of what that might mean were, not surprisingly, enumerated. (Note the injunction against too-long wigs.) This list, below, makes me want to remind everybody that we were all (“male and female”) created b’tzelem Elokim, and that our female tzelemim in their naked state were pretty OK for God in Eden. Which is not to say that I think that we should walk around nekkid now, and I do believe that there are more and less appropriate ways of dressing in various contexts, but I do take exception to the implication that the shape in which I was created is a source of shame and that I should walk around making sure that the “form of my body” is hidden at all times.

Shirts, skirts, sweaters and the like should be loose enough that the form of the body is not seen….
Shirts should be at least 10 centimeters longer than the edge of the waistline on the skirt, in such a way that they would cover the skin in any movement. The collar should be appropriately closed. Sleeves should cover the elbows at any movement. Any fabrics that cling to the body such as spandex, tricot, and the like are prohibited.
Skirts should began at the waist and end at the middle of the leg, and as mentioned, should be loose and not of clinging fabric. Wigs must not be too long or in models that have been prohibited.

The one woman that they quoted used the tagline of the recent modesty handbook Oz Hadar Velevusha (which is replete with debates about the permissibility of patterned tights and the like) –“Just as the Torah is most important to men, so is modesty for women.”
I have never understood this. Torah isn’t important for women? Even if this was intended to mean “Torah study,” it still sounds awful. Men get God’s 613 commandments and a book describing the covenant between God and Israel, and women get implored to make sure shirts are at least 10 centimeteres longer than their waistlines?
(Rabbi Yehudah Henkin observes, “This ideology prohibits a woman from standing out—and from being outstanding. She must not act in a play, paint a mural, play an instrument or otherwise demonstrate special skills in front of men, lest she attract attention and her movements excite them.”)
Interestingly, Tamar, the woman quoted, also used some incorrect history when implying that feminism, in its way, has caused some of this problem:

“That is to say, there was a time when there were less influences. The haredi world was much less opened. Today the world has evolved; many women are educated and work outside the home, and study in places they didn’t used to, like computers or interior design”.

She’s probably right that women’s education and increased work opportunities have created somewhat of a crisis, as more women today encounter more of non-haredi culture. However: Jewish women have worked outside of the home for centuries, in many different cultures. The question of what to do about the cultural meetings that resulted have been addressed in many different places in many different ways. One of them is here and now, I suppose.
In any case. Full story here. An article from JOFA on modesty issues, here.
(X-posted to Jerusalem Syndrome)

17 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal

  1. when i was in Neve I asked, why the hell does an elbow turn a guy on? what do they care? the rabbi answered me – are you a man? then why should it make sense to you what turns us on?
    so i kind of understand them

  2. also, men naturally objectify women no matter what religion they are so those rules are made to protect the women – at least they’re honest about the power women have over men just by showing a little skin
    there’s a pirkei avot about a beautiful woman who lacks modesty is like a pg with a gold hoop in its snout… like, whatever, it’s the difference of priorities.
    if the woman wants to be objectified and sees it as the source of her power, then ok, but it means that she worships herself over G-d, like, ‘Yeeeh im soooo sexy and it gets me somewhere, what do I care if it tweaks some guy’s head?”‘
    But meanwhile, what she has is only cause G-d gave it to her, and honestly ten yrs later when she’s all saggy what is she?
    and if people want to bitch about how it’s putting down women and how charedim are all blah blah blah, hey, at least they’re honest about the nature of the male gender and they want to be better people…and yeh, the onus of that is on the women to care more about G-d and other people than shaking their booty all around to show what hot stuff they are.
    but like, i understand girls who don’t care too, if they got it, and it gets em somewhere, use it, why not? If I wasn’t religious and i was drop dead gorgeous for sure I would – if most men in the world are dumb enough to fall for it all the time makes them suckers that deserve to be manipulated hahaha

  3. This is old news folks. This took place weeks ago. Not to mention it took place while the conference on how women could get a get was canned because the honest rabbi’s of the right didn’t want to answer how to empower women, only wanted to be honest about how the objectify them.
    If we were to be honest about this we could easily see that this conference on modesty is just a religious excuse to talk about sex.

  4. Because they are the “Keepers of the Flame,” the haredim are only trying to remain true to the original Judaism as practiced by the ancients Israelites. That’s why they dress in those long black kapotes and those black fur hats, just like our ancestors did in the land of Ancient Israel (black is of course the perfect color to wear in the deserts of the Middle East since it absorbes the heat, so you can shvitz more – and suffer more – and in that way you can become closer to G-d). And the haredim also know that it is imperative that the women of the tribe must be dressed modestly, in heavy, loose-fitting clothes with closed collars, long sleeves, shaven heads and wigs that are not too long and not too stylish, just like their ancestresses in the land of ancient Israel.

  5. hahahaha i love when men tell me what’s best for me and my spirituality.
    I need someone older and wiser telling me what to dooooooooo. you are 17 going on 18, i’ll depend on you!

  6. i totally agree. leave the women’s issues up to well, the women talk about. i bet they wouldn’t like if they’re wives all got together and decided how wide the brim of their hats should be. No sirree.
    BTW, is it wierd that when I see a cute young woman my age dressed tznius it’s like super attractive? Does that defeat the purpose?

  7. nah. i once got into a massive bike accident on ocean parkway cause i was checking out hasidic dudes.
    i definitely fetishized outwardly expressed religiousity at some point, perhaps as a projection of my own not-so-secret desire to frum out. it’s exciting to see someone who likes like you imagine yourself. or as you imagine your future happiness. i say go for it. just not on your bike.

  8. 1. I went to a co-ed orthodox high school
    2. i spent most of my pubescence looking looking at girls in long skits 9 hours a day, five days a week.
    3. one thing leads to another, and i continue to be turned on by long skirts. i cant help it. modesty is hella sexy to this donkey.

  9. That a group of men sit around detailing women’s clothing, so we will not be sexually objectified, tells me that there is nothing but pornographic fantasies going on in their heads.
    Good grief. Anything about another human being can be a turn-on. For me, the eyes have it (after all, they are the windows of the soul). On a couple of occasions, I’ve looked into a man’s eyes and gone into a free fall.
    Does this mean we should go around blinding people??
    Still, when I hear this misogynist shit, I always think of the eyewitness testimony during Joan of Arc’s trial. A few of her soldiers testified that they saw her naked, on more than one occasion, and, although she was quite beautiful, lust never entered their heads (top or bottom).
    And, that is how a mensch sees a woman; as a human being, first, and foremost…

  10. PS Methinks ‘Tamar’ would do well by studying both Tamara’s story in Torah, and a bit about Tzipporah. It might rinse out the brainwashing she’s had.
    Though my Hebrew is still pretty awful, from my own studies, I have come to realize that the origin of misogyny comes from the inability of anyone to properly translate ‘adam.’ Whenever I see ‘man’ in Torah, I generally can figure out whether the Hebrew text will be ‘ish,’ or ‘adam.’
    If it’s simple for an ignoramus — in language skills, that is — why is it so difficult for the literalists in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, to get a grasp on reality?
    Oh, wait. It’s because they ARE literalists, and can only ‘think’ in tightly constructed ways.

  11. “BTW, is it wierd that when I see a cute young woman my age dressed tznius it’s like super attractive? Does that defeat the purpose?”
    I have this feeling as well. It certainly questions the purpose if it doesn’t defeat it.

  12. Oy. What have they done to Judaism? These people have become a parody of themselves. Pontificating in front of a roomful of the choir about… women in tight shirts. Real issue, or justification for habitually staring at teen-aged girls’ chests in the name of research? Discuss.
    Here’s the lead-up article to the one referenced:,7340,L-3329074,00.html
    At least the rabbis at this little pep rally had rachmanes on the unmarried men & sent them out of the room. If they’d been allowed to stay, they’d probably never want to get married. If I’d been a young guy in that room, I’d have run off screaming, for sure.
    Remember- the rabbis have seen the enemy and it is… lycra shirts. As one explained, “…the blouses have become too tight. Many girls can be seen on the streets with the shape of their bras and breasts showing.” Really, what’s he doing looking, anyway? Shouldn’t he be learning in kollel or something?

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