Dear Ms. Kohn, As a Reconstructionist feminist Jew living in the 21st Century, I find myself surprised to share at least partially in the views on modesty articulated in your recent e-mail! I really don’t feel comfortable revealing the innermost details of my life to total strangers, and if ever I DO decide to try for Big Brother, Survivor or any other reality show, I will be acutely conscious of the need to build a wall between my private self and my public persona.
Having said that, my reason for refusing to dress like Jennifer Lopez on Oscar night is based on a large number of factors: 1. Professional considerations (I work in a psychiatric hospital, not Hollywood), 2. My right to not be viewed as a sexual being by anyone who I am not romantically involved with. Even my 20-year-old son views women who show too much skin in real life as being inappropriate, and there are some *very interesting* adjectives that he’s used. I wouldn’t want my next boyfriend to only see one part of me, whether it’s my brain or my body. By not giving everything away at one glance, I am maximizing my chances in this area. 3. My aversion to wearing clothes that “wear me” and require constant tugging, maneuvering, etc. If I am to be comfortable with my body, this means not having to worry about taking too long strides, tripping in high heels, or trying to climb into an SUV in a mini-skirt.
So while I do not take modesty to the extent of my more frum sisters, I am learning that we have more in common with each other than I had originally thought. Sincerely, R.
Dear Rebbetzin Kohn, Thank you for this interesting subject. I think man has started to emulate nature. Back to nature is “in”, probably because of rebelling societie`s stringent rules in the past. In nature there is hardly an animal to wear clothes. This approach somehow also takes away individuality by reducing one`s awareness only to the body. The differences among people are mostly located in one`s soul with very individual duties. Animals live mostly by their instinct and that`s what people probably want as well, not being held responsible for their actions. I.
Dear Mrs. Kohn, My opinion in response to your question is as follows: Modern psychology teaches us that we are not responsible for our “problems”, and therefor these such problems can be blamed on someone else. (Parents, for example.) If society is not held responsible for their actions,then a person can do whatever they wish. We have freedoms, and an insatiable desire to be noticed. This leaves two categories of people. The ones who wish to stand out, and the ones who wish to blend in. The loss of modesty can be seen in both extremes. In order to blend in, you need to wear the latest fashions, which can be very revealing. And those who need attention have to add the extra factor of the outrageous to the equasion. In Judaism we unfortunately know this situation as assimilation. In the secular world the saying is, “anything goes”, provided you are not seen as a “religious fanatic.” Personally, I could not believe that former President Clinton did not get impeached, and the message that sent to our nation. Society at large will try to mimic the role models. Sincerely, R.
Mrs. Kohn, Thank you so much for the wonderful essay on modesty. I am a single 33 year-old woman, in the process of converting to Judaism. Today, I returned to college to finish the last year of a bachelors degree I began 15 years ago.
Wow – was I appalled by the manner of (un-)dress of probably 95% of the female student population! (Granted I live and Florida, and it’s already rather warm here). I was embarrassed for so many of the girls, and although I have never put myself in the position in which they are, I can guarantee that over half of them are dressing and behaving in this manner due to low self-esteem. As you said, society and media dictate that this is “the way” to be – that this is normal. Let me just say, for anyone and everyone, WHAT SOCIETY SAYS IS NORMAL IS NOT ALWAYS RIGHT!
Those of us that choose to wear long pants & skirts, and shirts that are NOT low cut and have sleeves (and backs) to them…we are considered the “strange” ones. And for many years, I was very self-conscious of my modesty. I never wanted to wear shorts in public, while all of my friends did, and encouraged me to do the same.
Not until I found Judaism, did I finally feel comfortable in my skin, and in my (modest) clothes. Of course, this wasn’t totally about religion, but Judaism did give my the “OK” to be the way that I am – it confirmed my belief that I really wasn’t crazy while the rest of the world was sane – it made me see the reasons why I believed in modesty, and elaborated on the beauty of it / how modesty and mystery play such a vital role in life.
Well, I’ve got to go for now. Again, I want to say THANK YOU for this wonderfully enlightening & encouraging piece. I’ll be printing this and sharing with some friends (maybe even posting on some bulletin boards at school). E.
Subject: Women in Judaism – MODESTY: THE LAST TABOO
I think that much of it is because of our society. Look at music, how people dress, the kinds of things that are in movies, on TV and the Internet.
But I feel that it is also important that we don’t place full blame on others. We must each try to do our share in being modest in dress, speech, and actions. We must do our part, and then maybe we can be role models for other people. P.
To: [email protected] I’m 15 years old and go to a non Jewish girls school, therefore I have to deal with this almost every day. A lot of them wear the latest fashions which sometimes are not very modest at all. Most of the time they only do it to show off to the people around them.
As in the case of “Big Brother”, people for some weird reason found it highly addictive and interesting. I saw some of the “after programmes” where they interviewed the contestants, and many of them said they were only doing it because they wanted fame and fortune, and thought it was the only way to gain it. Some of them used it to launch a singing career, and all were unsuccessful. Even the people who didn’t win earned a lot of money by selling their stories to the newspapers.
As a teenager in the modern world, I have discovered it is actually more the men who put pressures on the women to wear the immodest clothing, they probably wouldn’t do it otherwise. I personally don’t, even though once or twice I have had a few boys of my age (not Jewish) asking me why I don’t wear what they’d probably like me to, and I say its because of my religious beliefs, but at the same time I would feel insecure exposing myself in that way anyway. E.
To: [email protected]
Modesty should include a curtailment of ego trips and bragging, and not just concentrate on sexual modesty. I have seen way too many cases of women, especially supervisors, bragging constantly about their accomplishments … Unfortunately, women who quietly go about their work in a smooth, professional manner, without all this fanfare, usually get passed over for promotions when the promotion comes from a woman supervisor. Women supervisors are also very much impressed by bragging and displays of ego, as well as malicious gossip masquerading under the guise of keeping the supervisor informed. Male supervisors, I have noticed, are impressed by efficiency without the carrying on.
I have also seen a number of women in social situations, as well as work-related, practically beat people over the head with displays of what they think is their superior intelligence or education, mistakenly making the assumption that somebody quiet who is not showing off her brains, must not have any. More often than not, the truly intelligent woman has the good manners and discretion not to call public attention to the braggart’s deficiencies.
Modesty — it’s not just a sexual thing — so let’s not forget the rest of the picture. C.
To: [email protected]
Very good question. Part of the reason modesty, once valued, has been transformed into a hangup in American society is (due to) America’s economical structure. Here (unlike in the socialist country I grew up in) there is a clear designation of ownership on each physical object, building, area. Even what we call “public property” still belongs to someone – a collection of people. In the former USSR for example because of more vague economic definitions, there were things that were unthinkable to put ownership on: like land, air, and basically all of natural G-d’s creation.
Here in America even air and land formally ‘belong’ to someone. So are our bodies looked upon also, as ‘belonging’ to us. When here someone pays you a compliment about your appearance, you say “thank you”. As if it’s to your credit that you were created thin, or with beautiful hair or eyes, etc. In other countries (USSR) this response is inappropriate, because you can’t accept praise for something that you have ultimately no control over and do not possess. Recognition that there are things that do not fully belong to you or to anybody with a body and address, is key to modesty. Your body is not yours to maim, tattoo, take full credit for (unless you’ve improved it by exercise, and even then, the exercise had good effect only because you were created naturally receptive to it), or flaunt. Modesty is recognition of the fact that even material and physical is something that we share ownership of with the Creator.
To: [email protected]
…Young girls in ancient societies were protected from ogling eyes by modesty. Societies intrinsically knew young girls were not able to handle outright objectification of them by “ogling”. In Western society we do very little to protect our young children’s psyches. In fact in Western society we are extremely self-abusive. We work long hours to our own detriment, we poison our own air that we breathe, our water that we drink and our minds with awful, horrific, desensitizing education. Is it any wonder that the healing, nurturing aspect of our society, namely women, is expected to work harder, longer and treated with such disrespect? The very work that women do for children is ignored and certainly undervalued…
Basically we are a society that worships money and any means to get it. Women were never included in that money culture so we were absolutely considered not even worthy of a voice. It is changing, but the appalling development now is that we are training young women to be “macho” like boys and be able to beat up opponents and be tough, strong, and angry. Adolescent females are being arrested in record numbers now, and our women are not respected as women in their own right unless they emulate men. If society is going to change, we have to change how we educate our children. Our society is based on aggressive competition for money goals. If survival is important, we as women have to create structures that are inclusive and team based, rather than individually oriented, which just creates isolation and bullies. We have to take responsibility for ourselves as people and not let a corrupt society lead us into a life of degradation and humiliation.
Women in Judaism, Copyright (c) 2000 by Mrs. Leah Kohn and ProjectGenesis, Inc.