Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hareidi Modesty Guidelines and Rabbinic Authority

The Israeli Yated has an article about a new beis din(religious court) set up to safeguard kedushas Yisroel and tsnius(Jewish sanctity and modesty). Although no one knows yet exactly what its role will be, there has already been internet comment, both positive and negative, depending on ones's hashkafic(philosophical) inclinations. The beis din has the support of Israeli gedolim(Torah leaders), and the purpose of this post is certainly not to criticize. Nevertheless, I wish to post some respectful comments which have appeared elesewhere on the internet, including my own, representing different reactions to the Yated piece.

Do you agree with either Reuvein, Shimon, Levi, myself(Baruch), or do you support any other view in between? Slow- to- change Americans would no doubt prefer the interesting approach I quote from a woman blogger, at the very end of this post.


...Why can't the Chareidi segment of our population more strictly govern the manner in which they buy and wear ladies' clothing? I think they can, it doesn't affect me, and I wish them gezundteheit. There will always be people who need strong direction in their lives - people who prefer to live in an authoritarian society, or at least community. They need less toys in their life, their meals are simple, and they're happiest with a sefer, a table and a chair, maybe a cup of coffee too. They enjoy living in a rabbinic-led community. Let's just leave them alone, and let them live and be well.

I agree with "live and let live". But people might be concerned that this will influence the American charedi world. On the other hand, as I said above, that might be unrealistic.

As I said earlier in a post, the real issue is control and fear that women are becoming too "modern." Again, I repeat, when the ban against women studying in various insitutions for higher degrees was announced the Haredi women who were the object of the ban were comptely taken unawares and many were insulted, upset, hurt, and shocked, though as part of the Haredi community they could not speak for the record.

Shimon-- I think you are wrong about this. I don't think the ban on higher degrees had anything to do with controlling women - it is about government interference or perceived government interference in the beis yaakov schools, an old battle that has little to do with women specifically. It also is not really about what they allow women to study - it is what they want in the beis yaakov system itself.

Levi--I made the same point. It true that in the charedi world, women play a less public or prominent role, may not be given a public voice, and rulings such as those being discussed are issued and handed down through men, but I see no concept of a need to control women, neither in general, nor in regards to the educational and modesty directives in particular. When there is a ruling which affects men, they are also expected to comply even if they personally disagree.

Baruch-- Where I differ from you is that while I don't think the gedolim are trying to control women with modesty decrees, I do think they reflect a level of anxiety in the culture that is unhealthy and a change in attitude among the rank and file. I think the anxiety is more general - but yeshivish culture can be quite hard on men who arent going to be the next gedolei hador and some of this reflects displaced tension IMO.

There is also anxiety about the general coarsening of the culture, and in Israel there is also much general tension and anxiety due to the security situation. Many of the tznius decress are explicitly linked to the security situation - "the arabs have the z'chus of tznius" etc - some of the mehadrin buses were made mehadrin after terror attacks to "increase zchusim" etc. I do not think the tznius trends are benign. It is true that these anxieties spill over to male issues too, but right now they are spilling over to women. I think the educational issue is separate.

Shimon--Some see a sinister motive in a hechsher for ladies' clothing. Its about control, power, etc. I just had two Williamsburg Satmar ladies in my[law] office. I told them about the Jerusalem beis din, and it was no big deal for them. Their first response was, We already have it for the girls in school. Quite true, hadn't thought of it. So do my girls, who attend centrist Beis Yaakov schools.

We have an outbreak of pedophilia here and in Israel today, that we never had before, because of the sexually charged environment in which we live. Its in the media, on the Internet, it is in women's clothing, it is everywhere. Respectable corporations are selling porn. Underdressed women are in the workplace, and as a Jewish historian, you know that wasn't so years ago, when women were almost always home. Men are being sexually stimulated today 24/7, and a few men who cannot handle these images are acting out with children. Let the old rabbis and their zealous followers try the beis din, and let's see what happens.


Reuvein--From everything I read I think there was absolutely no consulting with the haredi women effected to see how the ban on certain types of higher education would in practice effect them, and whether any alternatives were possible. I am ready to be corrected.I believe this new Bet Din will be used as an instument of control, not just of guidance and pesak. Time will tell.


Levi-- I am uncomfortable with the uniformity in the charedi world and the way rules are sometimes set down, and I understand your point.

To develop my previous point, the following was from the text of the modesty guidelines in Israel:

"Each and every individual has an obligation to ensure that his wife's and daughters' attire meets accepted standards of modesty, both in terms of covering the body and clothing styles — at all times and in all places. "

Some may see this as "controlling" women, and I could see their point. But my sense of the Israeli Torah world is that there is a healthy balance between women and men's contributions and oversight of each other's spirituality, and any "control" is tempered(those with a sense of humor will point to "hen-pecked" husbands, which is presumably, a universal phenomenon). In a healthy marriage--Israeli/charedi or otherwise--men and women have a respect for each other which tempers the role of each spouse's "oversight".

While I don't see the woman issue as a major factor, I agree that many people, especially Americans, are comfortable with a more individual, slow, and personal approach on various issues. However, as Reuvein wrote, the Israeli community is generally happy with a more uniform and authoritative approach(I agree that, as in the case of Beis Yaakov degrees, there can be exceptions).


I saw this comment some time ago by a woman on another blog, and I think that this approach would be better for some in America:

"Our family's yeshiva... has a very nice program in place that provides the forum needed to address issues, including "delicate" ones. Every so often, one of the rosh yeshivas will call a married guy va'ad. Basically, it's a discussion group where a specific topic is addressed. Guys are encouraged to submit topics which they would like to discuss. It's a great way to provide suggestions in a gentle, non-threatening environment.

The va'ads are also an opportunity for guys to ask questions and get practical ideas for applications of principles set forth. Each guy can share the ideas from the va'ad over dinner with his wife. The key ingredient which I believe makes this sort of forum successful is the smallness of the unit. That is, rather than having an entire community gather in a huge auditorium to listen to speeches, this set-up provides the opportunity for a real give and take, making it all more personal and, therefore, more effective. These kind of discussion groups can be held periodically by shuls or other smaller community groups."

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