Sunday, July 25, 2010

Concerning Modesty Zealots In Crown Heights






On COL Live, a Crown Heights web site, a guest columnist wrote a column about young men who go on the streets and yell at women who are not dressed modestly. Many people have noticed that hemlines are creeping upward all too frequently. More skin is uncovered among people who are orthodox Jews not only in Crown Heights but elsewhere as well. There is much to be said for having a code of modest attire. Modest attire can be a tool to elevate social and intimate relationships. What we do and wear does affect the community. The attitude in Crown Heights and in other orthodox communities differs in this regard from the societal mainstream.

Despite this, there is a way to approach someone who is not dressed properly in the streets of our community. There are rules that should be followed. Here are a few.

1) If you are angry, or you don't like the person you are criticising, it is better to say nothing. Shaming someone in public is a far greater sin than an errant hemline.

2) Men should speak to men and women to women about modesty, if they are in the proper frame of mind to do so.

3) Even if you are able to project concern for the person you are speaking to, be sensitive to their frame of mind. This could be a visitor, who might actually be increasing their observance of Judaism. They might be hurt and offended by a lack of recognition that they are increasing their observance. Also, there are people who were born to religious families that need understanding and encouragement. Don't save all of your sweet words for outsiders. People in Crown Heights need encouragement as well.

4) Some people are crazy about fashion. Other people couldn't care less about it. There are people who are very fond of nice clothes who are 100% religious and have integrated their fashion sense with their religious values. A guy who is crazy about baseball can speak to a baseball fan who wants to go watch the World Series on Yom Kippur. Someone who hates baseball would have a much harder time relating to a person who wants to be at the stadium on the night of Kol Nidre.

5) There are immodestly attired people who do wonderful things in life. They might be very giving of their time. They might learn well and give it over well. Modesty might be the one issue they struggle with. Be honest with yourself. What issue do you struggle with? Look at the people whose attire disturbs you and try to identify the mitzvah or mitzvos that they excel at. Show your appreciation of those areas in which they excel. I know of a person who did not dress like a religious Jew. Because this person mingled at the edge of society, she was able to help someone who had overdosed on drugs. I envy the portion she has in the world to come. You never know when you are walking past greatness.

6) Care about other things besides modesty. If someone is despondent about their job or their family life, how do you think it looks if you only want to lecture them about cutting their beard or lengthening their hemline? Look at the whole picture. If you care about what is important to someone else, maybe they will listen to your concerns as well.

7) Be a friend. You stand a much better chance of influencing a person if they feel that you care. Friends are a far greater influence than strangers. For years, various people lectured me about minyan attendance. One person got me to Sunday minyan on the strength of a personal friendship and a listening ear. That leaves 5 other weekdays for me to join a minyan. What can I tell you? I'm a work in progress.

8) Don't sink into gossip. If someone is telling a story about someone who is "off the derech", it should pain them to speak of such a thing. When I hear a tone of gloating and relishing every detail of a "losing religion" story, I tell people like that to buy a television. Because if you are not involved in helping people, it is better to watch a soap opera than to turn the pain of a neighbour into a custom made soap opera.

9) Physical, psychological or sexual abuse might have pushed a person who dresses improperly towards their way of dress. There used to be a TV show back in the 60's. At the beginning of every show they would say, "There are 8 million stories in the naked city. Here is one of them." Give people the benefit of the doubt. They might be experiencing trials in life.

10) Be glad that people who dress inappropriately feel connected enough to Judaism to remain in an orthodox neighborhood. There are plenty of places they could go where no one would notice them at all.


From what I read on COL Live, it seems that one guy is going around screaming at immodestly dressed women. Fortunately, we have not become a community of such people. Although the screamer may be an unbalanced individual, but sometimes such people are tuned in to an imbalance in the society around them. We need to care about the entire individual and not only what is most visible. We need to appreciate the goodness in each other that might not be readily visible. The guy who screams at women who aren't dressed right is not the heavenly guardian he thinks he is. But he is a warning to the rest of us not to lash out in anger and hatred.

The laws of modesty should be viewed as an extension of Ahavas Yisrael, of love for a fellow Jew and of respect for other people in general. It should be taught this way and appreciated this way. Because words spoken from the heart enter the heart. And modesty doesn't just apply to clothing. It applies to material wealth and to Torah learning and observance. You can show off an awesome physique, a bank account or Torah learning. these are forms of immodesty as well

One day I was at the news stand. Some guy tells me, "Why are you wasting time with Jewish newspapers?" Learn Gemara! His words were glib words, spoken to someone who struggles with his learning. I was irritated and insulted. I assure you he did not move me to open a Gemara. Modesty applies to a lot more than clothing. If we look at ourselves honestly, we are all struggling with it.

When we went out of Egypt, we were given the task of taming the land. The Hebrew name for Egypt, "Mitzrayim" is equated to "metzarim", which translates as "limitations". In truth, we are all struggling with our limitations. Some of our struggles are more visible than others. We are all in this together. And let us not forget that. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great article!!