My fellow blogger Kelly Youngblood, an occasional commenter here, just wrote this on Christian modesty in terms of women’s dress. Modesty actually includes a lot more than how women dress, but that’s what we’ll focus on for today. I’ll wait for you to read it. Hmm, hmm. La la la. K, are you done? Good.
A number of similarities and contrasts struck me while reading it.
First, one of the main things Kelly laments about Christianity is “there is a broad range of what modesty may mean, and so the admonition to ‘be modest’ is generally unhelpful.” Of course I found this interesting, since Judaism is VERY specific (to the dismay of many) about what modesty means. Specifically, collarbones, elbows, knees, and everything in between, ought to be covered. Nothing that is tight and form-fitting, or screaming for attention.
Next, she mentions that “modesty often tends to be about being covered up, but if that were the
case, then we should just all walk around in bathrobes. I can’t think
of anything more covered up than that.” I have learned in Judaism that women were created with the desire to look beautiful, and that this is a natural and honorable aspect of being a woman. We should and must feel pretty, without being provocative. So, clear one – no bathrobes. Modesty is not just about covering up, it’s about allowing our inner loveliness and refinement to emerge without distractions.
She also discusses that “women are often told to dress modestly in order that they don’t cause
their Christian brothers to sin by causing them to lust after the
women. Men are not warned in the same way…” Interestingly, in Judaism women are warned more, although men certainly are as well, about HOW they look; but men are warned more, although women are as well, about WHAT they look at, and how they look at things. In other words, men are cautioned more about objectifying women, and women are cautioned more not to allow themselves to be objectified. In no way does this remove blame from the other gender – both are warned. Of course, men could be objectified and women could objectify – but typically it goes the other way.
Finally, Kelly brings up the valid ideas that envy/objectification exists everywhere, so really, can you ever stop or avoid it? The answer to that is that each person has to work on his own arena of fault. If you tend to objectify people or be envious of what they show to the world, get a grip. Could it ALSO be their fault, for flaunting? Yup – that’s their arena of fault, not yours.
Thanks, Kelly, for getting me thinking about all these things.
Jew here on the blog, and I thought of my old classmate (that is,
classmate from awhile ago – she’s not old! She’s exactly my age :). Daphne Soclof, who lives right here near me in Cleveland. Daphne was
very gracious about being interviewed, and we met in person for the
you asked if you could interview me in the name of Modern Orthodoxy.
But I feel like I’m a Torah-observant Jew, and that there needs to be
synthesis between the modern world and Torah law. That doesn’t
categorize me as “modern” but as rather, Torah u’mada (Torah synthesized
with science). The balance between the two puts me in the center:
centrist. There are various Hebrew titles, such as “torah u’mada” or
“dati-tziyoni” (Orthodox-Zionist) or “dati-leumi”
(religious/nationalist) that carry different political affiliations as
far as being a Zionist.
Ootob: What is your name?
Ootob: How old are you?
husband is a lawyer by trade but owns a real estate company. I have my
master’s in educational psychology and work at a charter school,
Both of my parents are Holocaust survivors. In order to keep me
sheltered and connected to my heritage, they put me in a Jewish Day
School for my entire education nursery through 12th grade.
They also supported my choice to Study in Israel for a year and continue
on to Yeshiva University’s Stern College for women.
became friends as young children through Bnei Akiva, a dati-Tziyoni
[Orthodox-Zionist] youth organization. We started dating organically at
Camp Stone, an Orthodox-Zionist overnight camp, and we stayed
together ever since. I actually put a note in the kotel when I was 10
wishing for three things: 1, that my grandparents would live forever; 2,
that Mashiach (the Messiah) would come; and 3, that I’d marry Rich. So
I guess he had no choice!
Ootob: Can you describe what your wedding was like?
most fun ever. Hundreds of wild and crazy people! Religious,
spiritual. The most moving part was when we stood under the chuppah and
the entire room sang “im eshkachech yerushalayim” (a song about
remembering that Jerusalem has not yet been rebuilt; traditionally
acknowledged at our moments of greatest joy, such as a wedding). It was
a real mix of communities – because my parents’ friends and family were
not observant, – which made it beautiful.
Ootob: How do you and your husband stay connected while raising a busy large family and with all the community obligations?
all the guests we have over). We’re not the “date night” type but we
do try to sit out on the porch by ourselves and connect.
equal partners in parenting and in our home; the burden of truly
providing economically for our family unfortunately falls on my husband,
although I try to help. The food brought to the Shabbos table is
cooked by me and the Torah brought to the Shabbos table is provided by
him. He drives the kids to school every day and davens (prays) in their
school with them. The appointments, haircuts, etc, are more me.
a parent is my priority and I hope that the education I have helps in
raising my kids as well as personal fulfillment in the workplace.
don’t think there is a particular view. I think you’ll find most women
have a higher education, master’s degrees, PHD’s, etc. Some choose not
to work and some do. I don’t know of any mothers in our (Orthodox Zionist) school who don’t
at least have a bachelor’s degree. Most have gone on for more, though
many choose not to work but instead volunteer their talents in the
an absolute priority for me, as long as it can synthesize with our
Torah values. That’s why I love the day school our kids go to because
the science teacher holds the same religious beliefs that I do and
absolutely teaches science, and is able to field questions in the
religious realm as well. Nothing is omitted or sugar-coated but the
kids are taught to have secular and religious work in conjunction with
look different from the other people at work, but not for the reasons
you might think. My co-workers are either African-American or Orthodox
Jews who are more to the right, so I guess I don’t look exactly like
either group! But we all respect each others’ outfits. And almost all
of us wear head coverings. (Both groups wear a lot of wigs, and I
don’t. I generally wear a scarf or hat.)
I generally wear a hat or a scarf and my hair sticks out. I do own a
wig for special occasions, although I often feel hypocritical wearing
it. I got it because sometimes you just have to blend in. Frankly, the
real pressure came from some specific individuals in the more
right-wing Orthodox community who don’t view my style of head-covering
as legit, so when I attend those types of functions I wear a wig to fit
in. I’m very proud to cover my head as a sign of being married and
never felt uncomfortable doing that in the secular environment.
for the most part it’s not, because I think it bring beauty and
structure to my life. It was a real choice for me. I wasn’t born into
it and therefore I’m passionate about that decision.
laws and guidelines on the beauty of family purity (mikveh) and the way
women are praised and valued as the linchpin of the Jewish home. In other words, being a Jewish wife and mother.
in the shade of gray is challenging because you are constantly choosing
and thinking. It’s never black and white (outside of the 613 laws).
It’s what makes it nice, and it’s what makes it hard.
think it handles it very well, within the guidelines of halacha
(always) but with the ability for women to feel empowered and a part of
the process, sometimes with all-women’s davening on special occasions.
a woman and mother, I always feel valued and important in my role as an
Orthodox Jew, and above all else, I prefer not to have a label, because
I feel that all Jews are part of one large group, and although we all
may practice differently, fundamentally we are all part of the same
religion. Although this interview is about what makes me different, I
want to stress that the things I value about Judaism are the things that
make us all alike. We are one people.
I’d like to introduce you to my new friend, Libby S. Libby is a woman, a mother, and wife. She belongs to the Vizhnitz group of Chassidus [Hasidism]. Libby has agreed to open her private life to all of you, in the hopes of helping me reach my goal on this blog: Jewish unity via mutual respect and education. I am really grateful to her for this, and look forward to having you all learn from her life.
Please note that English is not Libby’s first language. Yiddish is her first language. I have added some translations and clarifications in brackets.
Is feminism Hillary, Olivia, Jamie, or the-Hasidic-woman-in-the-photo?
In recent news, we have Hillary Clinton, a well-known feminist, appearing unadorned and bespectacled in a photo while abroad in Bangladesh. In this interesting piece on the subject, Amy Odell says:
When asked by CNN about the makeup-less photo of her in Bangladesh
making the rounds this week, Hillary confirmed that her appearance is
“just not something I think is important anymore.” Fox News aside, the
world rejoiced over that sentiment. She “does not need to fret about
having the right sort of career-enhancing wardrobe, haircut or makeup,” wrote Robin Givhan for the Daily Beast.
“She could arrive for a diplomatic meeting wearing flip-flops and blue
jeans and no one would doubt her authority.” Styleite’s Jada Wong responded simply with, “Yeah, she rules.”
Personally, I (Ruchi here) think this is awesome. A woman should absolutely be respected for her mind, values, and personal accomplishments. Whether my political views are aligned with Hillary’s is highly irrelevant; my inner self salutes her inner self. If this is feminism, man, I’m a feminist.
…In December of 2010, Hillary memorably tackled the media’s fixation on her clothing choices during a talk in Kyrgyzstan, when an interviewer asked about her favorite clothing designers. She replied, “Would you ever ask a man that question?”
Her comments on CNN yesterday are sure to inspire fans who wish they,
like her, didn’t feel pressured to look a certain way, as all women are.
This line in particular stood out: “I feel so relieved to be at the
stage I’m at in my life right now.”
[Note: if she actually showed up for a diplomatic meeting wearing flip-flops and blue jeans, hmmm, I’m not such a fan. Part of the cool is that she could – but won’t.]
Next in line we have Olivia Palermo, a well-known “socialite.” (My guard is up.) It seems that:
The socialite has become one of the most influential red-carpet
celebrities for style-conscious Orthodox women, who must follow three core rules of modesty in how they dress.
Well, now. I consider myself a style-conscious Orthodox woman, and I’ve never heard of her. But you can’t argue that sleeves on wedding gowns and longer skirt lengths have been made cooler by the likes of Kate Middleton.
Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, is also praised for her ‘ladylike’
clothes, and Ms. Heyman added that celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe, who
often wears layers of vintage, ‘covers up in [a way] that works for the
Are Olivia and Kate feminists, then, for wearing longer, classier clothing that don’t broadcast or objectify them? For not buying into that whole industry? What is their motivation for covering up and creating a new trend?
If feminism means that we cover more to be taken seriously more (both by men and women), man, I’m so in.
Thirdly, we arrive at Jamie Grumet, a 26-year-old model and blogger – I refuse to link anything here – who recently appeared on the highly controversial cover of Time magazine nursing her 3-year-old son. In a tank top and skinny jeans, her pose and facial expression defy you to question her ways, with the accusatory headline “Are You Mom Enough?” splashed across the page.
I’ve seen Jamie hailed by feminist women, for standing up for her attachment ways. I’ve seen her vilified by equally strong-minded women, for selling out, turning moms against each other in a man-run corporation, and branding herself by her body instead of her mind.
Is Jamie a feminist? Was she used? Taken advantage of?
If feminism here means the right to expose yourself publicly, I’m out. Equal footing with men, remember?
Finally, we have these two Hasidic women. They don’t seem to care about modern fashion, nor do they seem impressed or even aware that their pictures are being taken. Are they repressed? Cool, like Hillary, and relieved, to not care? Do they “rule” like she does?
Are they feminists, like Olivia and Kate, for dressing in a way that does not leave them objectified?
Do they have anything at all in common with Jamie, for standing out with their non-conformist ways and proudly bucking the trend?
If feminism here clashes with these women’s choice of dress and lifestyle, whoops, I’m out again. But if it means that just as my pediatrician wears long side burns and a bow tie, and that’s just fine, well, these women are cool. That’s a choice. If it means they are immune to the dictates of a bunch of socialites, nay, don’t even know what they have said to build immunity to, I’m in!
Who, indeed, is a feminist?
Then there’s me. I like to look cute. Sometimes I feel proud of that – I fancy that maybe I am an example that looking “good” and being Orthodox are not mutually exclusive. Other times I feel like a mindless robot. Who says purple is cute this year? Why do I care? Maybe the most liberated women are those that know that following trends is plain old stupid and are man enough (pardon the expression) to live that clarity.
On the third hand, it makes me feel good when I feel that I look good. But who is dictating those feelings? Any girl worth her style-salt knows that your “cute clothes” from five years no longer make you feel cute.
So who’s the feminist now?
Your recent piece responded strongly to media speculation about the “puffiness of your face” and broadened that to include the “assault on our [women’s and girls’] body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification.” Further, you conclude that this is the very antithesis of feminism, and is most disturbingly a patriarchy that includes women as well – as the aggressors.
My heart broke when I read your article. Not because you’re wrong, and not because your piece wasn’t intelligent and articulate, but because there is so much work to do in enlightening the world about the truths you mention.
See, Ashley, in a funny way you and I are in the same business. I’ll sidestep the entertainment industry because, well, I’m not in it, though I did dream of being a famous actress long ago. And also because it so complicates your message. You yourself allude to this:
“I am also aware that inevitably some will comment that because I am a
creative person, I have abdicated my right to a distinction between my
public and private selves, an additional, albeit related, track of
highly distorted thinking that will have to be addressed at another
Distorted, yes. But the entertainment industry is distorted to begin with – it deliberately presents a distorted image of life to entertain and, sometimes, educate.
The business we share is education. You seek to educate the public about body image, misogyny, and feminism. Allow me to share your mission by shedding some Jewish wisdom on the conversation, as you invite us to join it at the end of your moving and passionate piece.
1. The Hebrew word for face (panim) is etymologically linked to the word for internality (p’nim)? That’s because our faces reveal that which is on the insides of our souls. Not our skin tone or flaw scale, but our eyes, our smiles; the body language that speaks so loudly from our faces should others but care to hear the message.
2. Did you know that Jewish Bible tradition teaches that our patriarch (the irony of that title is not lost on me) Abraham was married to our matriarch Sarah for decades before it dawned on him that he was married to a physically beautiful woman? And even then, he only noticed because he was trying to determine if it was safe for them to travel openly through Egypt, a notoriously immoral country, and therefore attempted to see her through the eyes of the natives.
Do you know why, Ashley? Because, the tradition continues: Physical appearance meant nothing to him. Beauty was not just in the eye of the beholder, but for some of those beholders, purely spiritual in nature. This is MY hero. This is MY patriarch.
3. There are laws in Judaism about dissing other people? They’re called the laws of lashon hara – literally, evil speech. In fact, there are volumes, texts, and libraries about this. You can get a law a day via text or phone or email. My kids’ Jewish day schools have ongoing programs and learning sessions about it. There are entire video presentations and educational days about it.
Would you believe it’s one of the worst sins in Judaism ever? Did you know it includes dissing of public figures as well as unknown nobodies; dissing in print, in speech, with body language, or via text? To one person or a whole group? And online dissing is the worst because of the exponential damage. In fact, the Jewish Talmud goes so far as to state that the victim of the dissing earns the merits of all the good deeds that the perpetrator has achieved throughout his life to date.
I don’t know if you’re a religious person, Ashley, but you’ve gotta admit these are really powerful ideas. I’ll end with just one more.
4. Judaism teaches that we are both body and soul. We choose if we’d like to identify more with our bodies or more with our souls. The problem is that the world, as you’ve so articulately observed, chooses body so much more loudly and so much more often than soul. This is sad and unfortunate, but Ashley, I’m here to tell you that we can fight the fight. We can choose soul. The misogyny and the pettiness will never go away, because humans are flawed, but you and I can continue to be souls more than bodies. There’s a fine line between fighting the good fight and getting sucked into the drama.
Me? I’m not playing the game. I try to live and dress according to the Jewish codes of modesty, as do many other co-religious men and women. I limit the media exposure in my life. I strive to learn the Torah regularly to fortify myself with these truths. I seek out spiritual people who are choosing soul over body. I’m definitely far from perfect but that’s the fight worth fighting.
I hope you think so too.
Your fellow female non-misogynist soul,
Okay, it’s not “what to wear.”
But it is related.
Every woman that I know has boundaries around what she will allow herself to wear. Some things are just too low-cut, too tight, too skimpy, or too provocative. At the same time, every woman wants to look and feel pretty, cute, and attractive.
This creates problems. Because wherever you draw your line, chances are there are some clothes that will come awfully close to your boundary on either side – either it makes you look great, but it might be over the line, or it’s within your line, but doesn’t make you look as great as you feel you could look.
Welcome to the world of tzniyus.
The word “tzniyus” (TZNEE-yus), also pronounced “tzniyut” (tznee-OOT), is often mistranslated. It’s a very positive character trait, and is a combination of dignity, privacy, and self-respect. Not oversharing. No TMI. Boundaries. You may hear it translated as “modesty” which is only one aspect of this trait. It applies to men and women in different ways and impacts every facet of reality, including, but not limited to, speech, thought, comportment, dress, and attitude.
When a woman in particular tries to incorporate tzniyus into her dress, she may find herself struggling with what looks good, but not too provocative. This is very tough, because every woman has an individual sense of style, which is a good thing, and because the fashion world around us is so weird and capricious and markets women in incredibly stupid ways.
This is something I think about a lot.
On the one hand, I follow halacha [Jewish law], and it’s my Bible. So tzniyus means skirts only, and covering my knee or longer. It means tops will always cover my collar bone, and it means my arms will be covered till at least the elbow. I’m proud that I dress this way. I am indentifiable as an observant Jew and I feel self-respect towards my body. But there are so many other dragons to slay.
How tight? How bright? How head-turning? What am I trying to communicate about myself? Am I succeeding? I’m not immune to fashion; are you? As the styles change, do my values? Are pointy shoes really weird or do I just think they’re weird because I haven’t seen them enough? Will pop culture change how I view my body image? Is it better to look like everyone else, or is it important or healthy for me to be different?
Do you struggle with this, fellow females? Where are your boundaries? How do you deal?