Thursday, 12 January 2012

Keep 'Em Seperated

A favorite quote from the beginning of a book that I then just couldn't get into:

Esther was pious but in a peripheral way. She knew the mitzvot, she knew to make Sabbath holy, but she felt there was no real harm in putting her own creative interpretation on the old rules . . . Esther would make love with her husband at night "through the front door" and then, in the daytime, she carried out an affair with the baker . . . [who] would only enter into her 'rear door'.  . .[As] long as there was proper distance between things, everything stayed quietly kosher.

The Family Orchard by Nomi Eve

One of the most fascinating aspects of Orthodox Judaism to me is its infatuation with separation.

Separation of food via the laws of kashruth. Separation of the the work week from a "non-work" day:  Shabbat. Separation of women from men through rules of shomer nagia, tzniut and niddah. From my very rudimentary understanding the separation laws of niddah are further related to Separation of the earthly physical world, from the spiritual world connected with death.

A commentator, G*3, here recently observed that in practice, separation practices can serve to defeat their stated purpose. He wrote:

"walking down the street during the summer I barely notice that women are wearing short sleeves. It’s normal, just part of the background. But seeing an Orthodox woman’s elbows gives me a tiny thrill, because I know that I’m seeing something that I’m not supposed to. The tznius rules themselves are what make elbows sexy. The less stringent the modesty rules of a society, the fewer body parts are erotic in and of themselves."

Does the forbidden fruit become that much more desirable because it is forbidden? Does Judaism (in an Orthodox context) fetishize separation? Without the hyper-focus on separation/exclusion, does Orthodox Judaism become liberal Judaism?

Would love your thoughts.

And, since this song is stuck in my head, enjoy:

This post was brought to you by my daughter's nap.


  1. So first we ask, is dressing modestly a good idea

  2. If it is, then anytime a women is going to dress in a modest fashion she is going to be compared to the usual sites of the outside world. And really, why is OJ being put to the defense here? Laws of modest dress have remained consistent throughout the centuries. Most of the surrounding cultures dressed alike as well. For example, when you look at old drawings of manuscripts or photos of, let's say Italian Jewry (or in my wife's case, Persian women) you see everyone dressed more or less alike. It's that western culture has shifted. And now, its putting the onus on OJ to explain itself.

  3. My answer would be "not necessarily".

    >>>Laws of modest dress have remained consistent throughout the centuries. Most of the surrounding cultures dressed alike as well. For example, when you look at old drawings of manuscripts or photos of, let's say Italian Jewry (or in my wife's case, Persian women) you see everyone dressed more or less alike.

    Please look through web-sites on the history of fashion. Dress has not remained consistent AT ALL. Yes, our grandparents may have worn lots of sack-like shmatas that may have looked similar to Italian/Persian shmatas . . but there have been dramatic changes in fashion over time, and in the 20th century alone. And not all fashion was dictated by modesty, or "unarrousal" of males. Much of woman's fashion was designed to accentuate the body . . corsettes, for example, were not worn for comfort. Hyper focus on decreasing arousal, can be as harmful hyper focus on increasing arousal.

  4. When I said rules of modesty remaining consistent, I meant Jewish rules of modesty (not to be confused necessarily with "separation"), which then you make my point: Western culture is the one that started to shift into "less" (especially in the 20th century) so why is Judaism the one that has to defend itself, as if IT is the one that starting rocking the boat?

    Im talking about photographs from 19th century for examples. Women are not necessarily wearing shmatas (which is actually why I mentioned Italian Jews). They wore the same thing others wore.

  5. HH - We need to backtrack. I really appreciate your comments. Just, a small request re: writing style. Please remember that we are coming at these issues from very different angles. If you meant Jewish rules of modestly - say "Jewish rules of modesty", if when you say "others" you mean "other Jews", say "other Jews".

    ok, so then back to your first question:
    >So first we ask, is dressing modestly a good idea

    Not really sure why should this question should be "first" before the ones I asked. i think it's a bit divergent from the main theme of the post which was Separation in Orthodoxy, and not rules of tznius (which was an illustrative example in the post). But nevertheless . . .

    If by "dressing modestly" you mean dressing in a tznius fashion as defined by the current Orthodox establishment . . . then, as someone who is not frum, my answer is: it's not a good idea for me. Tznius, to me, is rationalized as necessary to prevent male distraction. My decision of what I wear on any given day is not informed by whether or not my attire will be distracting to the men around me. I trust they are capable of managing distractions themselves. And hey, if one day I put on a great dress because that day I WANT to be a distraction - nothing wrong with that either as far as I'm concerned.

    If you mean dressing modestly in a broader sense, i.e.: Is dressing to fit into the society you want to fit into a good idea . . sure. If you want to be accepted by other frum people as as frum, dress frum. If you want to fit in among women in the gym, dress like the other women in the gym. I see culture as another language, and if you want to blend in with native speakers, dress like the native speakers.

    If you mean dressing modestly in a universal sense . . .Then my answer is no, It is not inherently better to dress modestly. First of all, as G*3 said in the original quote, modestly is culturally defined. What is considered modest varies tremendously according to time and place (even within Orthodoxy, as you can see from the controversy in Beit Shemesh). Lady Gaga or Madonna are not considered "modest dressers" by most standards. Is it a good idea for them to dress modestly? In my opinion: of course not! If they did they would not be successful . . .they'd just be another two poor shmos that blend into the scenery like the rest of us.

    1. Personally, I dress tzanua (to the most lenient halachic standards, btw) because I don't want people to notice my body first and foremost. And because I want to determine who does and does not see certain parts of my body. Some lecher on the street doesn't have a right to see so much of me.

    2. As long as you're comfortable, that's what I think matters most. The lechers and their rights don't really factor too much into my morning wardrobe considerations. . .

  6. The reason I brought up the question was due to the G3's comment. I mean, I just find it wrong that because outside culture has changed, Orthodoxy now has to defend itself. Just an extreme example, if women walking around in underwear became the norm, should Judaism be blamed for creating a sense of "forbidden fruit"? IMO, I think its good that there is still a sense of eroticism to a woman's thigh.

    Anyways, I believe in general modesty. I don't think everyone should dress like orthodox Jews. Hillary Clinton doesn't, but I consider her to be a modest woman. 90% of woman I see everyday are modest and they dress to halachic standards. I do believing modesty is better. And if people like Lady Gaga wouldn't be successful, I think the world would be a slightly better place.

  7. Then you are clearly not her target market! :) . . . I'd sooner the world had fewer Beit Shemesh morality police, and more Lady Gagas.

  8. >I'd sooner the world had fewer Beit Shemesh morality police, and more Lady Gagas.

    There is a very happy medium in between Beit Shemesh and Lady Gaga. If you saw any of the protests, both secular and religious zionism were protesting those charedim.

  9. Of course. The reason I don't find Lady Gaga offensive, however, is that she doesn't forcefully impose her views on others.

  10. I'll be the first to agree that those responsible in Beith Shemesh should be tarred and feathered.

  11. I know this is making the rounds, but I thought it was the perfect punctuation for our Charedim/Lady Gaga convo:


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