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Monday, November 20, 2006

Putting my nose where it probably doesn't belong

OK, I'm sure I will get nasty comments from people for what I'm about to write... but I just read an incredible article in the Jerusalem Post and I have to share some thoughts.

The article was about a huge meeting that was called by many of the heavy hitters (meaning many of the most influential Rabbis) in the black hat Yeshiva (Haredi) world.  These types of meetings don't occur very often so I was curious to see what pressing issues warranted such a gathering.  Did it address poverty, allocation of resources, education, some of the new Haredi units in the IDF... maybe something related to the current political coalition?

Nope.

It seems that the pressing topic that warranted such an extraordinary gathering was the alarming trend towards shorter skirts and tighter sweaters amongst married women in the Yeshiva world.

I'll pause for a moment while you digest that.

Now that I have your attention, you might be interested to know that the Rabbis chose an interesting conduit through which to convey their concerns.  They didn't ask to meet with the married women themselves.  Oh no... after all, that might lead to, um, mixed dancing!  No, the meeting was exclusively for thousands of married men from the Haredi community.

No wait... it gets better.

According to the article, a paper was distributed at the meeting that read "Each and every father and husband has an obligation to vigilantly ensure that his wife's and daughters' dress is in accordance with the laws of modesty".

I'm sorry, whose responsibility? 

The article then spiraled into absurdity (IMHO) as it began talking about the plans these 'Sages of Chelm' have for curbing the Risqué attire adorning all those married hussies.  One of the best is a proposal to boycott stores that sell clothing deemed to be immodest. 

This, by itself, isn't really so troubling since I believe strongly in the consumer's right to use or withhold his/her buying power in order to get merchants to better serve their needs.  But do these Rabbis really think that it is the lack of available modest fashion and not the informed decisions of the women at work here?  Do they really think the women won't simply go buy their togs elsewhere?  Oh, and if the answer is 'no, they wouldn't dare go against the wishes of the Rabbis', then why don't the rabbis simply issue such an edict directly to the women?

According to the article: 

"In Bnei Brak, a group calling itself "The Guardians of Holiness and Education" has already met with clothes merchants to convince them to start selling more modest merchandise... "

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when that bit of arm-twisting was going on!

The article continues:

"One of the ideas is to provide 'modesty certificates' to those clothing stores that meet our demands," said one of the activists who helped organize the conference in Jerusalem. "Stores without the certificates would be boycotted."

Oy, 'The Mullah's Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval'... coming soon to a burkah store near you!'

My favorite was this little aside:

"The activist admitted that checking all the apparel stores in Bnei Brak was labor intensive but added that he knew several fellow activists who expressed their willingness to help out."

Yeah, I'll bet.  I can already see the men lining up for the arduous task of standing outside the dressing rooms to give the thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the outfits as they emerge.  Way to take one for the team, guys!

I'm sorry... what is this, Iran?    Reading this article, a bunch of questions occurred to me and I'd like to open up the floor to anyone who thinks they can provide serious answers:

Why weren't the women themselves being engaged in discussing this issue with the community leaders?  Is it a foregone conclusion that they make no informed decisions in the way they dress themselves?

I understand that each community has its own 'norms' of what is considered appropriate attire, but isn't that supposed to be something that is the result of a broad and ongoing consensus... or at very least the informed decision of those who live there? 

The men of these communities ostensibly rely completely on their wive's ability to make incredibly important decisions every single day concerning kashrut (dietary laws) and/or nidah (the application of family purity laws/mikveh)... so why is it that these same women, who quite literally hold the very fabric of the Haredi community in their hands, are not deemed capable of making their own fashion decisions.

This kind of meeting suggests to me that some of the Rabbinic leadership in the black-hat community may be in need of some useful things to fill their time. 

Well, I'm nothing if not a giver:

May I suggest that they take their attention off the, admittedly distracting, hemlines and tight sweaters of the community wives... and if they really feel the need to tackle issues related to women... that they take a whack at the pesky Agunah issue that has been languishing on their 'to-do' list for a few decades.

Just my two cents.

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Posted by David Bogner on November 20, 2006 | Permalink

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I hate to make this my first ever post on your blog, but...

You call these Haredi rabbis: "these 'Sages of Chelm'. Someone I've been told is wise once complained that modern discourse has fallen to the level where people "simply want to score easy wins by making the opposing camp appear cruel, stupid and/or insane."

Hmm.

Posted by: Josh | Nov 20, 2006 2:07:52 PM

Of course, I should add that you do go a step farther than ad hominen attack, if not two or three, by cogently pointing out that there are other issues facing the Haredi community that might take precedent over the issue they have chosen to tackle and there might be better ways of tackling this particular problem.

However, IMHO, if you honestly can't conceive of extenuating circumstances under which the Haredi rabbis' position might be tenuously defensible and yours ever so slightly flawed....

Posted by: Josh | Nov 20, 2006 2:14:29 PM

David,

I was invited to the meeting as I have daughters learning in Beis Yaakov seminars, and I attended it.

The point of the meeting was to strengthen the observance of halacha with regards to tznius. This is not a "Hareidi" issue, it is an issue for anyone who considers himself a Torah true Jew.

I recommend that you read Rav Shlomo Aviner's book "Gan Na'ul". Tight fitting clothes are against the laws of modesty.

"Each and every father and husband has an obligation to vigilantly ensure that his wife's and daughters' dress is in accordance with the laws of modesty".

Nothing wrong with that, just the mitzvah of chinuch and tochachah.

Posted by: Cosmic X | Nov 20, 2006 2:21:41 PM

oh, oh.... oh, OH!.... OHOHOHOHOOHOOOOOHHHHH!

Seriously. Do. You. Run. Nothing. by me anymore?

Posted by: zahava | Nov 20, 2006 2:44:08 PM

Thanks Treppenwitz for reminding us that the plight of Agunot is much more serious than that of women's clothing in the haredi world. A scheduled meeting on the issue was unfortunately postponed a couple of weeks ago.
Yes, Josh we know about the laws of tzinius and Treppenwitz is not advocating that women should run around half-naked but the haredi world does not strike me a place full of immodestly dressed women.

Posted by: Isabelle | Nov 20, 2006 2:57:06 PM

You know, this post might not have been so bad if it didn't come right on the heels of "Framing the Argument"...

I do think you're trying (if only a little) to be impartial and sincere, but it doesn't really work. The sarcasm and irreverence choke off any semblance of good will that you might have fostered if you had held to your own standards (as stated in yesterday's post and elsewhere) of discourse.

I'm not going to address the modesty issue right now because you seem to be very clear where you stand on that. Instead, I'm calling you out on the Aguna issue:

If your going to make an accusation, you better have facts to back it up -- Given that we are discussing the Israeli Charedi Rabbinic leadership, please provide statistical data on the percentages of *Israeli-Charedi* marriages that end in with the husband disappearing or refusing to give a Get. For comparison, please provide the numbers on divorces where the husband does grant a Get, as well as situations where the wife refuses the Get.

If you can only come up with the stats on the general Orthodox Jewish population that would also be instructive, but since the general population doesn't care what the "heavy hitters in the black hat Yeshiva world" have to say, it would be more helpful for the purposes of defending your position if you come up with the stats on the Israeli Charedi population.

For the record: I'm not saying that there is no Aguna problem. I'm not saying that nothing can be done about the problem. I'm just asking for numbers. Show the numbers and then we can talk about them.

Posted by: wogo | Nov 20, 2006 3:09:18 PM

The Haredi world is Patriarchal and therefore it was natural (to Haredim) that this meeting was held by and for men.

Posted by: Jewish Israeli Princess (Bat Melech) | Nov 20, 2006 3:40:21 PM

Josh... I'll gladly admit to a mild form of what I spoke about yesterday. But you'd have to admit that in all the stories concerning the Sages of Chelm, they are portrayed as bumbling, not evil or cruel. While I ALWAYS leave open the possibility that my position is flawed, I even went a step further and asked readers to step up and address the key issues that bothered me about the article and the meeting about which it was written. Admit it, that's far from closed minded. Also, you make my point for me when you point out the priority issue. I have a hard time believing that hemlines and sweater tension are the two most pressing issues in world over which these Rabbis preside.

Cosmic X... Did you attend? Your comment suggests you did not, but I'm curious why or why not. Also, you have side-stepped all of the questions I asked and simply restated some of the text with your approval. Can you bring any texts that clearly state that it is the husband and not the woman herself, who is responsible for the way a married woman dresses? Also, I never implied that Tzniut is not important (as you seem to imply). My problem is with the way in which this issue is being addressed and the choice of modesty over other pressing women's issues as requiring urgent action.

Zahava... You were sleeping. [sheepish grin]

Isabelle... It is that cancelled meeting that has me so hot under the collar. This urgent meeting on modesty so close on the heels of cancelling a meeting on agunot that had been three years in the making is a clear statement of where the Rabbi's priorities are.

Wogo... I have not been ignoring your emails... I just haven't had time to give them the attention they deserve. But since you have left a very direct comment I will answer just as directly: 1) Any attempt I may have made to be impartial is simple window dressing. I have made it clear in the past where I stand on the Haredi world and my stance has not softened since then. Thank you for trying to give me the benefit of the doubt, though. 2) You imply that you know where I stand on the modesty issue and I state here and now that you have no idea. My wife and daughter both wear skirts well below the knee, modest sleeved shirts and my wife never leaves the house without her hair covered. But with all that you still don't have the first clue how I feel about tzniut... because everything I have just written is a description of decisions my wife and daughter have made (both of them being Jewish women above the age of 12). 3) You aren't calling anyone out on the agunah (or any other) issue. Not here... not ever. My blog. You don't get to ignore my questions and go off asking a bunch of unrelated ones of your own. Are you really implying with your numbers game that there is no agunah problem... that it is a figment of someone's imagination... a statistical rounding error??? If so, I think the onus is on you to provide numbers to support that assertion. The Chief Rabbinate in this country is from the Haredi world. Therefore Haredi Rabbis in this country are able to make decisions that have binding affect on every Jew in the country, from the most pious Hassid in Mea SHearim to the most hiloni Tel aviv club kid. Don't agree? Just ask anyone who wants to get married in this country. Also, the numbers matter only in the sense that there are a lot of agunot out there and currently the halachic deck is stacked heavily in favor of the husbands. I am sensitive to the fact that there is no quick fix to the agunah problem right now. It isn't like some Rabbi can wave a wand or sign a paper and make it go away but simply refuses to do so. For example, there are serious issues with a prenup solution as it might be considered a form of coercion that would make the subsequent get invalid. But a lot of people spent a three years and a lot of effort to organize a meeting to begin examining the agunah issue within a torah/halacha framework... and for no good reason pressure was brought to bear from within the Haredi world to have the meeting cancelled. That pisses me off. On the one hand, the Chief Rabbinate wants to hold the status within the religious world that supreme court justices hold in the civil legal world. Yet on the other hand they act capriciously and without transparency... making it difficult for even religious Jews (like myself) to respect their wisdom or authority.

Jewish Israeli Princess (Bat Melech)... I know you use the term 'patriarchal' as an insult, but I don't have a problem with it. My problem is that a true patriarch is supposed to be concerned with the welfare of all his children. I see a patriarch that is yelling at his daughter that her skirt is too short while she sits needlessly in prison.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 20, 2006 3:57:16 PM

I'm on David's side on this one---IF there is to be a meeting on standards of tznius in the community, then the women should have an active voice. They need not be AT the same meeting with the men, but there is no reason for the women not to discuss this issue in their own meeting and get back to their rabbinical leaders....in fact, I think it would be more effective than any diktat handed down by rabbinical authority....women are MUCH harder on other women than men could ever be. Peer pressure alone could obviate the need for boycotts.

And then the men would be freed up to address the long-neglected issue of agunot...an issue that is going to spell the death of rabbinical authority in this country if the rabbinical courts continue to chain women to their marriages for years and years....

Posted by: aliyah06 | Nov 20, 2006 4:12:44 PM

I did not use the term 'patriarchal' as an insult, I was mearly pointing out a fact. What made you think it was an insult??

Posted by: Jewish Israeli Princess (Bat Melech) | Nov 20, 2006 4:26:20 PM

Aliyah06... You and I come from a similar socio/political background and it is hard for us to imagine the near-absolute authority these Rabbinical figures have in their communities. I am just now coming to realize this and it angers me all the more that they don't use that authority wisely as frequently as they should.

Jewish Israeli Princess (Bat Melech)... Sorry, my mistake. Not knowing you I made a leap based on sparse information. I stand corrected and apologize for jumping to conclusions.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 20, 2006 4:40:59 PM

David - have you ever gone shopping for clothing in Bnei Brak? I have, more than once, and it sounds unbelievable but it is very difficult to find clothing that is really modest. Yes, they sell skirts which are too short, and yes, they sell sweaters that are too tight. The Rabbis putting pressure on the store owners to bring in appropriate merchandise is exactly the right thing to do.

Second, perhaps you didn't think that it might have been embarrassing to women to hear about this issue in such a direct way. If I were in attendance at such a meeting, I would feel very uncomfortable - even dressed in my loose blouse and long skirt. Embarrassing someone in public is a grave sin. Another point is that you are obviously not from the Charedi world (neither am I) and find it hard to understand them (like a lot of people). This does not mean that you don't have the right to criticize - but it does mean that you have to think it all the way through first.

Posted by: westbankmama | Nov 20, 2006 5:40:38 PM

Westbankmama... There is a principle in economics that I mastered after failing the class only once... it's called supply and demand. It may be that one store isn't responsive to what the women want to buy, but I find it hard to believe that they all are thumbing their nose at the desires of such a captive audience. Of course, you are correct about the possibility of embarrassing the women, which is why I question the propriety of the meeting in the first place. This is a women's issue and should be dealt with by the women. If the Rabbis want to hand out edicts that is their right. But it seems odd that they didn't do that. They called the husbands to the meeting and told them to be the bad guys. I'm really having trouble with this, can you tell? :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 20, 2006 5:51:03 PM

Ok, I can see what my next business is going to be. I am going to open up a chain of "Esther's Secret" stores across Israel.

Can't wait to see how it goes.

Posted by: Jack | Nov 20, 2006 6:08:32 PM

I keep trying to formulate a comment - something about how even my limited exposure to the haredi world totally contradicts the cliched caricature you keep on trotting out, and about how the fact that this is even an issue indicates just how LITTLE absolute control the Rabbis have over their communities (as is obvious to anyone who compares the clothing style of older haredi women with the new style of heavy make-up, glamour wigs, and clothing both colorful and curvaceous, none of which give evidence of the sheep-like obedience you love to set up, and mock).

But I keep getting stuck, clicking my browser's Back button... then the Forward button...

Was this posted by the same fellow who just beat his uffish breast about the need to understand other sides of an issue before posting?

Really?

Wow.
This back-to-back pair of postings strikes new heights of self-righteous hypocrisy.

You allow yourself to put certain groups on an ideological B-list, to dismiss entire communities and opinions without bothering to understand them - after wringing your hands over just such behavior by others, and promising better at this blog.

It's all covered up with self-serving blather about how you "enlightened" folks are "from a similar socio/political background and it is hard for us to imagine the near-absolute authority these Rabbinical figures have in their communities."

Oh, how repressive and oligarchical those primitive Rabbis are!

Not like us. We're all freethinkers - who needn't bestir ourselves to try and understand any opinion not already held by us - because we already KNOW we're right!

Freethinkers, you see...

Well, alright, occassionally we'll post something in the bucolic/romantic vein about the local Arabs, and what a pity it is that we can't all live together - because then we get yummy liberal sympathy points!

- But those smelly herring-eating Rabbis? Hah! We needn't bother trying to parse their viewpoint -

- besides, we're too busy being open-minded....

Feh and double feh.

Posted by: Ben-David | Nov 20, 2006 6:16:59 PM

Agree agree agree. This meeting is indeed a slap in the face vis a vis the Agunot conference that was so unceremoniously cancelled.

And FYI (and FWestBankMama'sI) I've been talking to Charedi friends and family about this issue for a while: There has, indeed, been a noticable swing to the tight of late. But to insinuate, as such a meeting does, that women are not able to take control of the issue themselves is nothing short of ridiculous. (And I'm pretty sure that the leaders of Binyan Shalem, Kolech, or even the Rebbetzen Jungreises of this world, won't actually come out and formally yell "...Er, Hello, Men! We're here, we have brains and further we're aware of our Mitzvot!" to these Big Black Hats discussing their attire any more than they do with regards to Agunot.) And that to me is the most frightening thing. With all this backlash against the progress of popular fashions which is frightening the Charedi community into such Tehran-like behaviour, are observant women going to just take it on the nose, or will they stand up and make their voices heard?

Posted by: PP | Nov 20, 2006 6:22:05 PM

Jack... Er, maybe not the best choice since Esther didn't have too many secrets from achashveros. ;-)

Ben-David... I am not clubbing the haredi community over the head and denying them (or anyone else) the opportunity to respond or correct me. But so far nobody (including you) has stepped up and touched any of the questions I asked in my post. Granted, one or two of them are loaded (I regret the Iran question), but most are my legitimate attempts to understand. Unlike what I wrote, your comment was mocking, condescending and completely without a point (other than to hurt). You had carte-blanche to educate me (and my readers) about all you know about the haredi world that we seem to have missed, and you blew it. You decided the way to go was to try to insult me. I never said yesterday that I would never take anyone to task again... only that I would remain open to another point of view (if not many points of view). My questions should be adequate proof of my willingness to listen. The big problem with your response is that you hit the 'back' button one two few times.

PP... I'm interested to know the answer to your last question as well.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 20, 2006 6:37:18 PM

This post could make me laugh and cry at the same time. Laugh because the irony is once again perfect and cry because the post describes how once again men discuss "How can we make women feel guilty for our own impure thoughts."

Modesty lies in the behaviour not in the length of a skirt.

Posted by: Chris | Nov 20, 2006 7:27:38 PM

True, but it sounded better than 'Vashti's Vices."

Posted by: Jack | Nov 20, 2006 7:28:58 PM

Re: I have not been ignoring your emails...

I assumed you needed a bit more time to digest the emails. I appreciate you letting me know.


Re: Any attempt I may have made to be impartial is simple window dressing. [...] Thank you for trying to give me the benefit of the doubt, though.

I also assumed that you are just pretending to be impartial, but I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt anyway ;-)


Re: You imply that you know where I stand on the modesty issue and I state here and now that you have no idea. [...]

I apologize for not clear. I did not at all mean to say that I know what you think about how long a hem should be or how much hair should be covered. As you correctly pointed out, I have no idea and frankly I don't need to know. That's not relevant to this discussion.

My point was that I have a pretty good idea where you stand with regard to the meeting on modesty and the measures proposed at the meeting. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to find the whole premise of the meeting absurd, and the conclusions drawn to be downright hysterical. Can you see why I'd reluctant to start by addressing your questions directly? Do you really want to hear answers? Or were the questions just more window dressing?


Re: You aren't calling anyone out on the agunah (or any other) issue. Not here... not ever. My blog. [...]

You are absolutely right. I got presumptuous. I'm sorry.


Re: Are you really implying with your numbers game that there is no agunah problem [...]

Not at all. In fact I stated as much -- quite clearly -- in my first comment. I was just trying to make a point about allegations and proof. My point still stands, but you are justified in saying that it is not relevant.

-------

So now let me attempt to address at least part of your original question...

So why did the Rabbis meet with the husbands and not with the women themselves?

Perhaps this meeting was only a small part of a much larger, community-wide push to address modesty issues in the Charedi world. There are all kinds of conferences and symposiums (symposia?) on modesty that take place all the time all over the world. These gatherings are generally for women and by women. Sometimes there is a videotaped address given by one of the Rabbinic leaders (I don't think they ever address these groups in person and I think it makes sense -- it could be an uncomfortable situation for all involved).

There was just such a gathering in Jerusalem a few months ago. It didn't make it to the Jerusalem Post because a) they didn't know about it, and/or b) they didn't think it was newsworthy.

So, why weren't the women invited to *this* meeting? Because they had a meeting last week or last month. And they will probably have another one soon. *This* gathering was an attempt to attack the problem (and it is a problem) from a different angle. Is that so wrong? I don't think so. But if you look at it in a vacuum it does seem kind of strange. So perhaps the question is justified...

But the mocking tone is not.

Posted by: wogo | Nov 20, 2006 7:58:00 PM

i read this article yesterday, and i kind of had the same response... and i didnt

women should def have a say in this meeting, but what haredi rabbi is going to call for a group of thousands of women to meet? i also remember the article mentioning it was mostly lithuanians, as if to pinpoint the only people who would make this case.

i did like the principal who mentioned ""Unlike kosher food, which is governed by clear-cut criteria, modest clothing depends on how it is worn and who wears it," said the principal. "There is an interaction between the body and the piece of clothing."" which is prob the most skipped over case here... clothes can not be kosher just hanging on the rack. whats tznius for one is not for another...

personally i wouldnt mind having a woman in a shop to help me... but i wouldnt want men running around to try to get me to dress in a way i think is almost too tznius

Posted by: sf lisa | Nov 20, 2006 8:00:14 PM

I read your blog all the time..and I had the exact same darn reaction as yourself. BUT MORE SO..because the EXACT SAME RABBI WHO LED THIS OH SO IMPORTANT ISSUE CANCELLED THE AGUNAH conference. This conference I could support had it not come on the heels of the other one's cancellation--by the SAME MAN. A SLAP in the fact to all women.

Posted by: concerned citizen | Nov 20, 2006 8:03:55 PM

But Mr. B, confronting the Agunah issue would entail violating the unwritten rule of sweeping any "shameful" issues under the rug. Inconceivable! Besides, who knows what would happen if members of the opposite gender actually engaged in dialogues about significant issues in the Jewish world? Progress? Never!

Posted by: tnspr569 | Nov 20, 2006 9:17:40 PM

Wow. All this heated debate seems to completely miss the pivotal issue. The whole thing hinges on whether an individual woman in question is really gorgeous.

[ducks and runs out of room]

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Nov 20, 2006 9:25:21 PM

What about the idea that a married woman might dress more provocatively because of her husband's wishes? In this case wouldn't it be the husbands who need to be "lectured" about tzniut? Who knows how many women feel pressured to dress "hotter than Shmueli's wife." Another angle could be that this pressure is internal for the wife to look hotter than the next, and the husband is in a unique position to give her the encouragement to stand up to such pressure. A third is that a husband sees the outfit before it leaves the house. My husband is a good man and he learns Torah, but he isn't well versed in the intricacies of tzniut and fashion. Maybe the rabbis want the husbands to wise up and pay attention. They could serve the same function a girlfriend might in screening potential outfits if they know what to look for. Look at that, 3 possibilities without breaking a sweat! If I could come up with them, then maybe our much maligned rabbis could have as well.

Posted by: yonit | Nov 20, 2006 9:49:05 PM

I wish they would get back to more important issues like banning the blogosphere.

Posted by: psychotoddler | Nov 20, 2006 11:24:46 PM

First, a disclaimer:

a) I am about as far from Charedi as you can imagine. I am also about as far from tzniut as you can imagine (within reason), so I feel no personal stake in the issue. None at all. Hence, two questions:

1) Why is this not an individual family's decision?
2) Well, let's suppose the husbands DON'T mind the trend in fashion shifting. Let's suppose the community understanding of what's tzniut and what's not has shifted. If that is indeed the case, I doubt any amount of lecturing, or even edicts, will turn back the clock. If it's not, if wearing sweaters that are somewhat tighter than what the community is used necessarily such a bad things? Does it mean that women automatically start dressing risque? Probably not. Probably their attire is still relatively modest, just not AS modest as it was before.

I am probably totally wrong on the way I'm looking at this, so don't mind me.

Posted by: Irina | Nov 21, 2006 12:13:32 AM

Recently I saw a poster in Geula listing about a dozen types of clothing that modest women (or women who wish to be considered modest) should stay away from if they value the health of their souls, or their children's marriage matches, or something like that.

Wasn't there a ruling some time ago that women should not walk down the streets of certain Haredi areas while talking on their cellphones because it is considered immodest? It seems to me that the more frightened the rabbis of these communities are of modernity, the more they take it out on women.

It may be about clothing on the surface, but in my opinion it's not nearly as much about clothing as it is about power and control. Something about women today is really scaring this particular rabbi or group of rabbis if he/they could cancel a conference about the agunah issue and schedule one about clothing in almost the same breath.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I believe that it is not really about clothing at all.

Posted by: Rahel | Nov 21, 2006 1:05:00 AM

Actually, I didn't mind that women weren't invited to the conference. I mean, come ON. How many conferences are held just for women on the very topic of tznius? I'm exaggerating, but THOUSANDS. And you know who attends? The women who are already very tznius. Frankly, you couldn't pay me enough to attend those things. Those of us who don't dress in the super-modest fashion know it exactly. We're not oblivious to the attraction of a tight sweater.

The problem is one the Sarah Schneirer herself addressed. How do you help women conform to Torah standards when you simply leave them to their own devices? After high school and seminary, the charedi world basically kicks the Jewish woman out into the Torah world, and says, "Good luck."

Men get constant reinforcement. They go to synagogue. They meet with Rabbis. They have speeches and all sorts of things addressed to massage their ego and tell them that they're fantastic and wonderful for looking inside a Talmud. You are the master of the world. Now go tell your wife what to do.

Perhaps if women were given the same ego-massaging, telling them how wonderful they are and that their only self-worth is NOT how they look, maybe we would make some strides in the path the Rabbaim want to take.

This constant, "You are bad, you are doing wrong with EVERYTHING, we need to police you" is not working out.

Posted by: deemer | Nov 21, 2006 1:06:45 AM

I once had a conversation with a (very frum) friend in college that this post reminded me of.

My friend is extremely concerned about tziut, as are all the girls in her family (she's the 2nd of 5 sisters). Although she and her elder sister are the same height, they could not share clothes, because they were built so differently. Therefore, what was tzius on my friend would have been too tight on her sister.

The reason I bring this up, is that requiring clothing stores to only carry "modest" merchandise only does so much to ensure that the women of Bnei Barak will dress in a tzius fashion. Unless they only sell potato sacks, some of those long-sleeved, high-necked sweaters will still be too tight on some of those ladies.

Men haven't understood women's fashion since the day Chava sewed those first fig leaves together. Having smicha does not alter this.

And, for those who may be inclined to jump down my throat for this, I will add that I'm the long-sleeve, long-skirt wearing type. And my honored father has never needed to tell me where I can go to buy my clothing.

Posted by: Cara | Nov 21, 2006 1:59:32 AM

Trep, I blogged here about what I see as a cultural shift in what’s considered modest. This trend has implications in terms of clothing availability. As Mrs. Balabusta said on one of Shifra’s “Hot Chanie” posts, “I think the new stretchy microfiber fabrics have really complicated things for frum women, because you can be completely covered in them and reveal everything at the same time.” I’ve found myself in the dubious position of having to exchange a blouse that fit, ahem, a bit *too* well for one that was more to my tzniut, but was at least an inch too wide across the shoulders. And I’m not talking about some trendy place that sells only what was designed last week—I’m talking about Land’s End! What’s a gal who doesn’t want to look like a walking potato sack to do? I have no quarrel with not wanting to attract wolf whistles. I just wish it weren’t becoming somewhat more difficult to find clothing that helped me to avoid that sort of thing.

At the same time, I think that Rahel had an exceedingly valid point when she said, “in my opinion it's not nearly as much about clothing as it is about power and control. Something about women today is really scaring this particular rabbi or group of rabbis if he/they could cancel a conference about the agunah issue and schedule one about clothing in almost the same breath.” One of the things about Rabbi Amar’s withdrawal of support for the conference concerning agunot that really freaked me out was the reaction of those who continued to support the conference. I mentioned, in my own post on the subject, that Arutz Sheva had published this quote by Rabbi Blau: “"I resent the notion that rabbis can't stand up to women's groups' pressures. Any solution that would be considered would only be a Halakhic one. It's very sad that people are afraid of discussion." Elsewhere (I can’t remember where), Rabbi Blau was quoted as saying something to the effect that the agunah issue wasn’t about women, it was about justice. Is it just me, or does anyone else find it odd, and sad, that even those seeking solutions to the agunah problem feel that the only way they can help women is to deny categorically that they’re trying to help women?

Posted by: Shira Salamone | Nov 21, 2006 4:44:33 AM

Trep! Man! in your very own words... This is not a religious blog!

Posted by: Rami | Nov 21, 2006 1:41:10 PM

I don't have time to read the comments, so sorry if this is a repeat: but one angle that I doubt the rabbis would ever address but is probably at the core of this discussion is why chareidi women are dressing in such tight clothing? I have a theory that it's a passive way of protesting the chumradik trend in chareidihood in general.

Posted by: Abbi | Nov 21, 2006 2:41:36 PM

Chris... Within reason. There are limits to what can and cannot be considered modest dress.

Jack... Vashti was the original 'Lady Godiva'. You can do better than that! :-)

Wogo... Are you really saying that this was just one of many such meetings and the JP simply picked one that was for men only? I think you would need to point out another meeting on this issue that included such a high-profile group of rabbis before I will buy that. It was not the problem that was being attacked here... It was the women. That is worthy of being mocked.

SF Lisa... When they talk about 'Lithuanians' they are referring to non-Hassidic members of the Haredi world (what I think of as black hat yeshivish). You hit the nail on the head with the idea of a woman to consult on modesty issues. This is, after all, a women's issue.

concerned citizen... The close proximity of the cancelled meeting and the one under discussion here is also what set me off.

tnspr569... I assume that was irony. :-)

Doctor Bean... Exactly! [also ducking and running]

yonit... There is a big difference between a husband's wishes and his responsibility. One is obviously in play... the other is just offensive. If women are feeling pressured then, again, there is no room for talk of men's responsibility to have their wives dress a certain way. Your third try deals with husbands who might be ignorant of the laws of tzniut, but again this implies that it is their mitzvah. It is NOT. If women are dressing a little naughty because they are not clear on the halachic guidelines then it is the women who should be educated... not their husbands.

Psychotoddler... and eliminating more kinds of vegetables (and water) from the frum diet.

Irina... You and I are not part of that community so we probably will never know what the women think about this. But it makes me sad for the future of observant Judaism if these are the people making the decisions for the Israeli Jewish world.

Rahel... I suspect you are right.

Deemer... I had never thought of that. Certainly calling a meeting for the married men and telling them they should order their wives around like children is not going to do anything good for their self-image / self esteem.

Cara... OK, but let's not forget who made those fig leaves necessary. If not for eve this would all be a non-issue and the whole world would look like the beaches in Eilat. ;-)

Shira Salamone... I sorta understand the mindset behind the last point you addressed. There are a lot of forces within the world Jewish community that are bringing pressure to bear on issues completely divorced from confines of halachah. People forget that like civil law, Halachah is supposed to be based on precedent. Rabbis are not keen on breaking from tradition based on pressure from the non-halachic world. they usually have a knee-jerk reaction when this kind of pressure occurs. Most of the successful adaptions/evolutions of halacha to the modern world have come from within the halachic world, not from without.

Rami... And your point is...?

Abbi... Or they simply want to feel attractive. Obviously there must be some balance in how this is accomplished.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 21, 2006 4:16:31 PM

Shira, you would be going down an incorrect path if you critcize R' Blau in the manner you did. He is one of the few Rabbi's who "gets it."
His point was that even if you are unwilling to be pressured by Women's groups, a conference on agunot should not threaten you, as it is a matter of justice above all.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Nov 21, 2006 9:49:06 PM

You have no idea what really went on at that meeting. What you have is preconceived notions about Charedim. You then read an article in the JP -- not exactly a paper known for accurately transmitting (or even being sensitive to) the Charedi viewpoint. And you shoehorned your ideas and selective quotes from the article into a blog post...

As I said in my 2nd comment, the gatherings for women are generally by women. At most there will be a videotaped address by a Rabbi. They take place all the time. There was a rather large gathering in Elul on Tzniut. There are *many* such gatherings all over the world. Why would the JP print stories about them? Do you think they care about the anti-lashon-hara programs and bikur cholim pep-rallys? Do they even know about this stuff? The JP is looking for a scoop. And when 4 prominent Rabbis call for enhanced vigilance with regard to the laws of modesty, *that's* a good one!

I offered you a perfectly reasonable explanation for the format of the gathering (as well as an apology for my bad behavior) and you just shrug it all off. Is that what you call being open to being wrong?

Posted by: wogo | Nov 22, 2006 12:45:38 AM

Did you mean " like the COMMON law the Halachah is based on precedent" ? (Sorry,I have a Pavlovian reflex to the word "precedent" after one too many classes!) : )

Posted by: Irina | Nov 22, 2006 4:02:25 AM

Trep, you assume that the pressure to do something about the agunah problem is coming from the outside. That depends on whether you consider Orthodox activists who happen to be female to be outsiders.

Jordan Hirsch, please understand that I did not, by any means, intend to show disrespect to Rabbi Blau, who's clearly "one of the good guys." On the contrary, I just wished to point out what a difficult position he finds himself in.

Posted by: Shira Salamone | Nov 22, 2006 4:42:18 AM

Jordan, I got the impression that Rabbi Blau felt it necessary to defend his support of efforts to free agunot. That's what freaked me out. No one should ever feel that he or she has to justify him/herself when trying to work for justice. Kol hakavod to Rabbi Blau and others seeking a just solution within halachah to the agunah problem.

Posted by: Shira Salamone | Nov 22, 2006 4:59:50 AM

"so why is it that these same women, who quite literally hold the very fabric of the Haredi community in their hands, are not deemed capable of making their own fashion decisions."

Apparently, they have no reason to frown upon the job the women have been doing with their other "duties". However, the issue of immodest dress among 'charedi' married women- which certainly exists - points to the notion that, perhaps, they are not properly prepared to make these decisions. Note that I say prepared, because tznius is not something that's dictated by black-and-white rules (as are kashrut and niddah). The most important ingredient is an understanding of the principles of tznius.

Perhaps, and I'm just trying to be dan l'kaf z'chut here, were the rabbis chastising the men for not encouraging a sense of tznius?

[excerpted from my own post on the subject at hand:] I'm of the opinion that it certainly is the job of a husband to point out how lack of tznius affects men and the implications of that for both unmarried and married men. It is a discussion that should be held in private. Of course, that means that the hubbie has to be on board. Two things the husbands should beware of:
1. Dictating what wife can/can't wear. "Don't wear this and only wear that" is doomed to failure. The emphasis should strictly be focused on how certain things can create problematic situations. "I wonder if women are aware of how men are affected when they wear....". Note how "you" does not even play a role in the conversation.
2. Complimenting one's wife's appearance most when she is dressed inappropriately is reinforcement in the wrong direction. We call that talking out of both sides of your mouth. The point is to make your wife feel that she looks beautiful especially when she is dressed tastefully and appropriately. Dressing appropriately does not preclude looking good. (Rebbetzin Tehila Jager is such a wonderful example of this. She spoke beautifully once on the topic of tznius for our yeshiva's sisterhood. I wish I remembered some of the points that made such an impact on me then :(.)

I think it's unfortunate that such an important topic is being addressed in that "fundamentalist" way that seems to characterize the approach of some people in leadership positions today. That approach is guaranteed to alienate the people who most need guidance to foster an inner sense of self-worth and modesty so that they begin to appreciate themselves what tznius is all about.

Posted by: Ayelet | Nov 22, 2006 5:44:46 AM

"Rabbis are not keen on breaking from tradition based on pressure from the non-halachic world. they usually have a knee-jerk reaction when this kind of pressure occurs. Most of the successful adaptions/evolutions of halacha to the modern world have come from within the halachic world, not from without."

Since all women are prohibited, by all current Orthodox interpretations of halachah, from being rabbis, judges, and/or witnesses, are any and all attempts *by women themselves* to seek "adaptions/evolutions of halacha to the modern world," seen by the rabbinate as coming from outside of the halachic world by definition?

Posted by: Shira Salamone | Nov 22, 2006 2:44:38 PM

dontcha just love it??? you can't buy a wig from india...the three stooges are running the country...and the haredim are one upping the ayatollah...dontcha just love it...and jack you are a very bad boy...and doctor bean you are always a joy to read...stay safe trepp...oy

Posted by: marallyn | Nov 22, 2006 3:28:08 PM

Rahav

Posted by: Jack | Nov 23, 2006 11:05:53 PM

Still digesting...will come back to this one...

Posted by: mcaryeh | Nov 28, 2006 7:34:36 AM

i would like to make a point, i am a married Hassidik lady, (actually lubavitch but the old world type not modern)i am committed to dress fully Tzinius and to raise and train my 3 daughters (and son) in the same manner. being that my husband privatly watches tons of tv and movies i do feel that i am fighting against a difficult battle. he sees the garbage all the time and may want his wife to dress the same. i am all for a jewish girl married or not to dress beautifully. befitting royalty (the daughter of the king G*D)but why should i have to feel that i am in compition with the people on the street. we ladies get alot of presure from our husbands to loosen up on our religios principals. and maybe that was the point for the meeting, to remind the men what we are all in this world for and its not about dressing like a slut.the ladies have plenty of thier own gatherings and the men do have a position of helping the situation for the better,(maybe not by policeing the stores though!)

Posted by: S Y S | Dec 4, 2006 8:23:51 AM

one more thing, i am a profesional dressmaker and seamstress. i do alot of sewing work for people, small things that make all the difference in the world. a few stiches can close a slit or fix a neck line. most things can be altered to make them kosher. also the clothing industry workes off an average sized model and being that almost noone is averaged size it is hard to find clothes that work well for all the parts of you. my advice to the person who got the looser blouse but then it was to big, is to take it in a little in the places it needs and it will look really nice. Tzinius does not mean we have to walk around with loose heavy clothes on. you just want to protect and gaurd the beautiful gift G*D gave you.and be respected and known for your inner beauty and self not for your body and tight shirt. my advice to thoes ladies trying to keep tznius is to bring your clothes to get altered and you will see a world of a difference in how you see yourself once your
clothes fit properly and look nice.

Posted by: S Y S | Dec 4, 2006 8:36:31 AM

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