Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"She *is* being a role model."

That was my old friend's response when I told her about the complaint I expressed in, and the comments I got to, my Khaki pants and kashrut post. Modestly-dressed Orthodox women who don't cover every last strand of hair, whose sleeves don't reach their wrists, and whose collars don't cover their collar bones, are role models for a more open perspective on what constitutes tzniut/modesty in dress. You don't have to dress like a Satmar Chassid to be tzanua/modest.


Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

I'm sorry, but she has to pick her battles. Either be a role model for a new model of tzniut, or be a role model to show that a traditional woman can be a rabbi. You can't be a model of both - each disproves the other.

Tue Jul 13, 03:26:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

The point is precisely that she's Modern, not "traditional," Orthodox, and that's why she thinks it's appropriate for a woman to be an Orthodox rabbi. A Satmar woman would find such a role inappropriate, not to mention downright assur (forbidden), for a female. Rabba Hurwitz dresses in a manner that's entirely appropriate for the segment of the Orthodox community most likely to accept a woman in a rabbinical role. She's a role model for the *Modern* Orthodox community, not for the Yeshivish and/or Chassidic communities, who wouldn't accept her no matter how modestly she dressed.

Tue Jul 13, 04:04:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Miami Al said...


But that's not how the MO World works. As a rule, very few people know the letter of the law and act on it. Most people pick and choose things based on what they see around him. For better or worse, MO Jews expect their Rabbinate (and their wives) to dress to the letter of the stricter opinions. They may go to the beach in a bikini, but they expect the Rebbetzen to be covered at all times.

I don't disagree with her style of dress, but if the Rabbi were wandering around town in shorts, we'd be kind of shocked. Same situation with Rabba Hurwitz.

Tue Jul 13, 05:27:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

So the Orthodox community has that approach in common with the Conservative Jewish world--they expect their rabbis and rebbitzens to be the token "real" Jews? :)

Tue Jul 13, 05:30:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Miami Al said...


Well, in the MO world, there are plenty of REAL Jews. But even those on the less observant side of the fence expect their leadership to be beyond reproach. In fairness, there is some basis in Halacha for this.

One who acts on behalf of the community is expected to be meticulous in their observance.

Tue Jul 13, 09:43:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous jdub said...


I'm about as MO as you can get. I agree with Larry and Miami Al. My daughters wear shorts (long shorts) and pants. My wife (no longer) covers her hair (her choice, not mine). I fully expect our rabbi, and any teacher/leader in our community to be exemplars of observance and dress, even if we are not.

Our rabbi said "you should put your rabbinic leaders on a pedestal, and it is the rabbi's job to pull you up there with him."

And it's not an issue of "real jews". I am a real Jew, I am shomer shabbat, kosher, we observe taharat ha'mishpacha, etc. I just don't dress "like a rabbi." If she expects to be a role model, she would have to accept that and be a step more machmir in dress than the community.

Wed Jul 14, 07:50:00 AM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

First and foremost let me say that I hope my apparently-dubious attempt at humor was not misunderstood--the "'real' Jew" remark was meant as a joke. I apologize for any offense that I may have caused.

As to the matter of Rabba Hurwitz's manner of dress, it seems unlikely than any of us is going to have his/her mind changed by any other of us. It would appear that we're simply going to have to agree to disagree.

Wed Jul 14, 11:34:00 AM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Miami Al, if what you say is true--that the willingness of the larger Orthodox community to accept Rabba Hurwitz's authority depends at least partially on her clothing not causing people to question her commitment to Torah--that's sad. Covered elbows should not trump kashrut, nor should completely-covered hair be perceived as the only proof of halachic observance. The levush should not be more important than the law.

Wed Jul 14, 06:20:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Miami Al said...


But you're missing a key distinction, the rest is assumed. The clothing "signals" observant Jew.

It's not a trump card. It's not like we say, well, Tzniut and Kashrut are equal, pick one. We ASSUME a Torah observant Jew for the Rabbinate.

Also, a Torah Scholar that shows up in a unclean shirt is to be put to death for bringing shame to the Torah (accepting that this would wipe out the RW Rabbinate if put into practice). A normal Jewish guy, presumed to be working in manual labor in the time of the Gemara, would have a dirty shirt. However, the town scholar, who isn't doing so, needs to always be immaculate.

The feminine equivalent is that while the letter of Tzniut permits leniency in attire, a female Torah scholar needs to be immaculately dressed, which in this case means covered.

Wed Jul 14, 06:28:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous jdub said...

Further to Al's point: The rabbinic leadership in my community, including principals at schools, always wear a jacket and tie on shabbat. I dress neatly and appropriately, but never do (I'm not a manual laborer, but I wear suits all week long, so shabbat I dress differently). I would be shocked if my rabbi came to shul without a tie. I would be shocked if he walked around town in shorts.

A second part you are missing is that trailblazers are held to a different standard. Think Jackie Robinson: What would have happened if he threw a punch when someone called him the "N" word? Fighting happened in baseball all the time, but Jackie didn't fight. He was held to a different standard.

Even my quite MO friends who think Sara Hurwitz is a good thing for MO (I do not) wish she dressed "frummer" because it would make it easier for her to be accepted. She hurts herself and the cause by the way she dresses.

Note also that even MO folks don't like their rabbinic leaders to do the halachic minimum. Covering one's hair in the manner she does is the halachic minimum. We expect our leaders to be better than that.

In a few generations, it probably won't matter, but if she's trying to be a trailblazer, she's going to limit herself if she doesn't hold herself to a higher standard.

Thu Jul 15, 07:24:00 AM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

It's sad and petty, that we hold our leaders to higher standards than the standards to which we hold ourselves, but, given human nature, it may be inevitable. :(

Thu Jul 15, 10:28:00 AM 2010  
Anonymous jdub said...

I disagree. It's neither sad nor petty.

You are looking at this from the perspective of a conservative Jew, used to, as you put it, having the rabbi be "the real Jew". Whether tongue in cheek or not, that is the truth of non-orthodox Judaism. The rabbi "does" shabbat, not the community.

Here, we're talking about image. I may dress like a slob in my personal life, but I am not a talmid chacham. A talmid chacham should dress with respect to the Torah he has/is learning. So too a community rabbi (not always the same as a talmid chacham, although we've been blessed with one who is).

If Sara Hurwitz wants to project an image that she respects the Torah that she is supposed to be embodying, she needs to realize that she can't or shouldn't take advantage of leniencies in the halacha, at least not publicly.

And if not, she can drop the title, and go back to doing what she did before she and Avi Weiss decided to make a big fuss.

Thu Jul 15, 02:31:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"You are looking at this from the perspective of a conservative Jew, used to, as you put it, having the rabbi be "the real Jew". Whether tongue in cheek or not, that is the truth of non-orthodox Judaism. The rabbi "does" shabbat, not the community."

JDub, that's probably true for the majority of Conservative Jews.

As to the rest, I would hope that Rabbah Hurwitz retains a title of some kind, be it Rabbah, Maharat, Community Scholar, or whatever is deemed appropriate for a woman of her learning.

Thu Jul 15, 04:53:00 PM 2010  
Blogger The Reform Baal Teshuvah said...

I'm very confused.

I didn't think Halachic standards were "leniencies." Either you are complying or not. I thought "Leniencies" were things like the doctor with the critically ill patient can drive to the hospital on Shabbat, or the diabetic can eat on Yom Kippur - a place where the Halacha is set aside to save life, etc.

I do not understand how conforming to Halacha by covering hair as it demands is considered poor form.

The Torah commands us to stray neither to the right or to the left, and adjures us not to add or subtract from the law.

Given that as a benchmark, drifting l'chumrah would seem no less of a transgression than drifting l'kulah.

And I'm sorry, the teacher who would not serve the cut fruit? She needs to be educated, not appeased.

Thu Jul 15, 10:23:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous jdub said...

Reform BT:

Halachic observance is a spectrum. Allowing some of your hair to show is halachic, but it is considered a leniency. Wearing a sheitel and a hat, as satmar women do, is a chumra. Covering all of your hair is somewhere in between.

A doctor driving to the hospital is not a leniency, but rather an exception based on pikuach nefesh (saving lives). It is not a leniency that your average joe can rely on (unless, of course, they are driving someone to the hospital who is in emergent need of the hospital).

If you read most of the t'shuvot about hair covering, they essentially say "Ideally, they would cover everything, but we can see why they might allow a tefach (or two tefachim) to show." Some communities, such as the Mod Orth one, have latched on to the non-ideal situation, and quote it with gusto. Again, that's fine and my wife certainly did so when she covered her hair, but the leaders of the community should not be publicly using such leniencies.

Fri Jul 16, 07:53:00 AM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

JDub, thanks for clarifying what's considered a kula (leniency), a chumra (stringency), and what's considered to be in the middle. One of the real eye-openers for me as a blogger has been discovering that there's a much greater spectrum of halachic observance among Orthodox Jews than I had thought. Before I started reading blogs, I wasn't entirely aware of how true the old joke "Two Jews, three opinions" was. :)

Fri Jul 16, 01:10:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"And I'm sorry, the teacher who would not serve the cut fruit? She needs to be educated, not appeased."

Good luck with that, Reform BT. Just because there *is* a spectrum of halachic observance doesn't mean that everyone agrees that there *should* be one. :(

Fri Jul 16, 01:15:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Miami Al said...

Reform BT,

The woman has multiple children and works in a pre-school classroom. If I were going to focus on educating her, the halachah of cold cut fruit wouldn't be ANYWHERE on the top of my list...

The poorer Jews tend to be RW and latch onto meaninglessness that "seems frummy."

The poor people using the same day care as we were using for one child apparently mostly pay by week, we save 30% by paying monthly.

Uneducated people make bad decisions. This one was over cut fruit, I'm pretty sure that you could pick up 20 in 15 minutes with her. That said, if my friend wore a Shaitel, no question would have been asked.

Sometimes, we deal with what is, not what should be.

Sat Jul 17, 09:57:00 PM 2010  

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