This January, Marc Angel from the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals posted his own attempt to reclaim the Jewish notion of modesty from the extremists. Sadly the entire essay, although clearly well meaning, is fatally flawed.
His first argument appeals to the issue of women being sometimes treated as sex objects. He writes:
Non-tseniut behavior signals a person’s desire to be seen as an object of sexual attraction. … Why would people willingly dress or act in a manner as to make themselves into objects?
Perhaps because they aren’t making themselves into objects? Continue reading
In a recent editorial in the Sisterhood, “Why I Cover Up”, Gavriella Lerner explained that modesty to her is an expression of dignity. The extremist view that has women covering up for the sake of men could care less about dignity and therefore it is wrong. In fact it lowers dignity by painting men as creatures that can’t control themseles and women as nothing more than sex objects in the eyes of these uncontrollable men.
The entire argument assumes that dignity is somehow distinct from sexual attraction. But if so, how is it distinct? Earlier in the essay she admits that the same acts that she calls expressions of dignity also serve as breaks on desire. For this reason she won’t wear a bikini.
She never does define dignity. The cloest she gets is this sentence: “Judaism prescribes the dignity with which we are to comport ourselves.”. That’s not a definition, but rather a hand off. Judaism is a vast sea with many philosophies and view points. Where in that sea is the definition of dignity that Judaism prescribes? Is it really reducible to clothes?
Secondly, is being a sex object undignified? If not, then why even worry about a bikini? Wouldn’t it be as insulting to dignity as the segregated buses and separate sides of the street?
If being a sex object is undignified, then isn’t ANY rationale based on male sexual desire also an argument for dignity? Wouldn’t that mean that dignity in large part is really one and the same as one’s sense of what avoids turning on the opposite sex? Should one gender define dignity for the other?
Personally, I think dignity has nothing to do with clothes. Continue reading
Less than a week before eleven months of mourning were complete, Ruth Fogel, who was murdered along with her husband and three kids, was blotted out again. Worse yet this blotting out was done in the name of religon.
A week before the memorial service for the eleven months, Ruth’s father took a picture of her and her family to Machon Meir and asked them to include an announcement of the memorial service in the weekly pamphlet they hand out to synagogues, “B’ahava u’vemuna” (In love and faith). The picture showed her beaming at her husband, her eyes full of joy and shared happiness.
The phamphet made its way to synagogues around the country. Her husband was there in the announcement of the memorial service. Her sons were there. But Ruth was gone and in the place of those joyful eyes was a smudge. When Ruth’s father saw the photo he was very upset.
It is typical of extremist halacha logic to focus on one principle above all others.
Machon Meir apologized, but not for smudging out her face. Rather they regretted publishing the picture at all. Their policy is to never publish the face of women. They say this is necessary because some of the synagogues on their pamphlet distribution list have modesty rules that forbid the publication of women’s pictures.
In fact, they viewed the smudging of her face as a sign of respect. What more could a woman want than modesty? Rabbi Schlomo Aviner explained in a video:
Had she been asked when she was alive – this is what she would have wanted,” he said about Ruti Fogel and her blurred people. “Just because a person a dead doesn’t mean their picture can be taken lightly. (Translation: Ynet).
Except we know she didn’t want to be blurred. We don’t need to guess. Continue reading