Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dis-armed (or arms “dissed”): Clothing controversies

“dis” (current[?] American slang): verb—to disrespect; noun: an act of disrespect.

It started out as an innocent gripe by OrthoMom about her pre-teen daughter's request for pantyhose to wear at an Orthodox day summer camp that requires girls to cover their legs completely. OM’s original complaint seems to have been that it was a waste of money: “Apparently, the tween set likes to wear sheer nude pantyhose. Which my daughter didn't bring enough of. Which I now have to send up to camp - so she can get one wearing out of each pair. “ Over 100 comments later . . .

A number of the commenters asserted that parents who didn’t insist that their daughters be dressed extremely modestly from a very young age were not providing them with a proper chinuch (education/upbringing). I found this very distressing.

Please excuse me if this sounds a bit disrespectful, but I’m waiting patiently for someone to explain to me exactly what’s so obscene about:

1. a girl’s or woman’s leg below the knee;

2. a girl’s or woman’s upper arm below the shoulder (making a sleeve that covers the entire shoulder, but not the rest of the upper arm, not modest enough);

3. females in pants (I’m referring to pants designed for females, as opposed to jeans purchased from the Men’s Department, which would raise the “beged ish" ["garment of a man"] issue—halachah/Jewish religious law prohibits the wearing of the opposite sex's clothing.)

What's wrong with a short-sleeved shirt? Why should a woman, in some Orthodox communities, be considered immodestly dressed if her sleeves don't at least reach—stricter folks say her sleeves must cover—her elbows? What's so indecent about a female's upper arm? With all the women who don't hesitate to expose significant portions of their, um, chests, the chareidim/fervently Orthodox have nothing more, um, pointed to worry about than a woman's elbows?


Blogger Alex in Miami said...

The thing to keep in mind, that I remind my parents, is that when we in the Orthodox worlds see differences, and they appear major within the world, it's MUCH more minor than it appears.

While in a neighborhood the Chaddish, Letvish, Sephardim, and MO Jews may have separate synagogues or minyans within them if not, and separate schools if available, there is a decent amount of overlap.

The kids will play in the park together, people will eat in the same restaurants (usually, sometimes the Sephardim and Ashkenazim have different supervision groups), shop at the same markets, etc.

So while we may dress differently, doesn't mean we don't get along. I have friends on the right and left of me, and we all eat in each other's homes... if people have a problem eating in the homes of people on the left, it's normally not Kashrut, it's that disproportionately their mothers never taught them how to cook, and the foot is inedible... :) So those weeks you have a big Seudah Shlishit instead of a small one... :)

Now where things get ugly is often amongst the BTs in the communities, because early in the BT process, one accidentally adopts a holier than thou attitude, which usually goes away as you become more educated.

I haven't seen examples of people that won't eat in the house of someone whose wife doesn't cover their hair... not saying it doesn't exist, but as a rule, if the family is Shomer Shabbat, one assumes Kosher, and it goes from there.

I think that the clothing controversy is one of the unfortunate things that just blows up because it's so obvious. Many mitzvot are FAR more specific than Tnizut, which ropes in a few laws and a BUNCH of customs into one word, but it's obvious. Outside of marrying a gentile, or publicly desecrating Shabbat, there are few things more obvious than style of clothing, so a lot of things are assumed.

I've known plenty of "black hat" types to compulsively lie, engage in all sorts of dishonest dealings, etc., but more of them are wonderful people... some however, decide that the only want to do things is there way...

We are friends with one couple, both "increasingly observant," her parents are liberal MO, his became observant in his teen years... he has Smeicha from YU, you goes all out Chareidi style dress... he's much more educated than she is, so you have the funny situation where she likes to lecture my wife on "being confused" which gets her an icy stare, while he finds our attempts to dance along the Halachic line amusing... largely because we're intelligent and know where to find it.

We can be friends, our kids can play together, and we can eat at each others homes, daven together, etc., while being "worlds apart" in Hashkafa... despite the fact that to the outside world, we're all frummies whose wives "cover their hair."

Some people adopt a custom and run with it. My wife has a fall for "secular" events where she doesn't want her hair visible covered, hats for going to MO synagogue stuff, and the scarves she normally wears on her head. Some see that as confusing, she and I see it as being respectful of community standards and halacha.

Showing up at a job interview with your hair wrapped in a bandana would be a bit unusual, but in other areas its fine.

But when the weather is in the 90s, she'll wear a tank top to take the kids to the park, which ironically only gets her a hard time from the tank top wearers that don't cover their hair.

To each there own, there are many legitimate halachic paths. However, I think that the comments in the blog went out of line... the mom is complaining about her kids fashion requests, while the comments turned it into an attack on tzinut camp rules... Send your kids to a camp that has rules, you expect to follow them. Don't like the rules, don't send them to camp there.

Fri Jul 20, 01:52:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Alex, it's quite possible that my impression of the difference of opinions expressed in the comments to OrthoMom's post is out of proportion to the importance of those differences of opinion.

Sun Jul 22, 02:25:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

On the other hand, that doesn't quite answer the answer of why some segments of the Orthodox world consider a woman's upper arm obscene. Why do some frum folk think that only a woman who "dis-arms" herself is dressed in a modest manner?

Sun Jul 22, 08:35:00 AM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Concerning modesty, I have found the book by Rabbi Falk, "Modesty" to be very useful. However one must have a laid back attitude and not rush to judge this book to find it helpful. Why so? Well, allow me a moment to comment: many find the tone of the book to be very gevuradik (strong) and mussardik (rebuking) but if one sits back and relaxes one can learn the basic common sense to his approach (even if they don't agree with it). Basically anything a woman does to draw *unnecessary* attention to her self or provocative body parts has the potential to being immodest.
Lines have to be drawn somewhere, and he discusses in extreme and lengthy detail exactly where and why and how each line is drawn, both figuratively and even literally! Therefore much of the book is useful to a professional dress designer (Rabbi Falk really has a great eye for fashion detail, and I actually enjoyed his vituperative rhetoric about the scurrilous underlying motives of certain types of designers) Remember this book,in fact, is written for someone who actually does want to be modest in the spiritual sense (ie. it is not a kiruv book.. besides kiruv books can sometimes be a waste of time, and a circumspect person is able to read all kinds of things, get the straight information, and decide separately what their own opinion is.

(Same ideas of modesty goes for a man, but the book is directed toward women, although
there are sections of the book for men)

A Burka could, in a sense, be immodest since it makes a very strong and public political statement. Rabbi Falk, despite his earnest (or strident) tone is actually pointing out the foundation of moderation within the context of halacha. He also explains some basic outlook: that men and women are in a collaborative effort to make a modest and kiddusha environment, so the idea that it is purely a man's issue to avoid looking at something he finds provocative is missing the point of this effort. Anyway, I found much of interest in this book and now understand why the frum world is *not* pushing towards things like burkas, because it runs
counter the whole underlying purpose of modesty for both men and women.

He urges the view that clothing is to make a woman look "nice" and "graceful" (bechint) and to "camouflage" but *not* cover (ie. NO BURKAS). And it is possible that even if all the conventionally recognized body parts are covered it still might be highly immodest if designed to draw attention (now honestly, we have all seen that, referred to as "sexy tznius" on the streets.)

So I learned the old fashioned philosophy of "pretty clothes", which are to distract and divert attention through adornment, while allowing the woman to look nice (again: one can see the underlying philosophy of moderation here)

I think that if you walk around Boro Park (Brooklyn) you will get a good picture of the particular type of "modesty" he is talking about.

He also explains a bit about the difference between the Ashkenaz and Sephardic approach, and recommends that one follow the approach of the local community even if they grew up in a different tradition. I enjoyed learning about underlying reasons for these different approaches. (It is in these sections that one can find out the different views on being barefoot/sandals in hot climates,etc)

Now the laws of Tzniut apply to men and women, and are fairly uniform, but this is an area of particular focus for women. My impression is that this book is widely known in the frum (ie english speaking Charedi) world and frequently is considered a bit, ahem, "forceful"
and "challenging", to put it mildly. Even so I think *anyone* interested in seeing this issue from 360-degree perspective ought to get acquainted with the book, and please do have *fun* reading it.

Once someone understands all the halachic and spiritual and cultural issues involved in "modesty" in both dress and behavior, then they will be able to get a better grip on the current social trend of the right wing drift in the orthodox Torah world. I hope somewhere there has been good research on this phenomena. But none of that research will be of benefit if someone doesn't understand the motivating halachic side of the issue (there are other things going on too, but i think one has to separate all those strands)

Well, I hope I have offered something useful, and not bored anyone too much. thank you.

Wed Jul 25, 01:15:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Anon., you said, "I think that if you walk around Boro Park (Brooklyn) you will get a good picture of the particular type of "modesty" he is talking about." Thanks for the suggestion, but, if the standard that Rabbi Falk discusses is readily seen in Boro Park, I suspect that Rabbi Falk's interpretation would be rather to the right of what I would find reasonable. From what I've seen of the Orthodox community, there seems to be a wide range of opinions as to what constitutes modest dress for women, from short sleeves, pants, and uncovered hair to long sleeves, skirts only, and completely covered hair. The nice thing about "Hide and Seek: Jewish Women and Hair Covering" (reviewed in a previous post of mine) is that the editor presents not only the views of the various contributors--themselves all married women--re married women covering their hair, but also, in the final (?) chapter, halachic justifications for the entire range of views, from full covering to no covering at all (to which her approach seems to be, "That's not my opinion, but it is a legitimate opinion.") That's the kind of book that would interest me. A book that presents mainly the Chareidi/fervently Orthodox perspective is, perhaps, not the best introduction to the subject of modesty for an egalitarian Conservative Jew.

Thu Jul 26, 05:46:00 PM 2007  

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