Nothing says haredi Judaism like thousands of men packed in a room talking about what women need to do, does it?

A huge, married-men-only conference on modesty was held a week-plus ago to discuss the necessity of buckling down on dress codes for women and girls. As far as the article indicates, male modesty and/or a more broadly defined modesty as humility and care for the other (see Rambam’s Hilchot Deot Ch. 5) were not discussed.

Ynet reports that one of the speakers said, for example,

“One of our generations biggest obstacles is tight clothing… each and every one of us must stand guard and make sure his wife and daughters’ clothing are modest, both in how much they cover the body and how they are worn.”…

The details of what that might mean were, not surprisingly, enumerated. (Note the injunction against too-long wigs.) This list, below, makes me want to remind everybody that we were all (“male and female”) created b’tzelem Elokim, and that our female tzelemim in their naked state were pretty OK for God in Eden. Which is not to say that I think that we should walk around nekkid now, and I do believe that there are more and less appropriate ways of dressing in various contexts, but I do take exception to the implication that the shape in which I was created is a source of shame and that I should walk around making sure that the “form of my body” is hidden at all times.

Shirts, skirts, sweaters and the like should be loose enough that the form of the body is not seen….

Shirts should be at least 10 centimeters longer than the edge of the waistline on the skirt, in such a way that they would cover the skin in any movement. The collar should be appropriately closed. Sleeves should cover the elbows at any movement. Any fabrics that cling to the body such as spandex, tricot, and the like are prohibited.

Skirts should began at the waist and end at the middle of the leg, and as mentioned, should be loose and not of clinging fabric. Wigs must not be too long or in models that have been prohibited.

The one woman that they quoted used the tagline of the recent modesty handbook Oz Hadar Velevusha (which is replete with debates about the permissibility of patterned tights and the like) –“Just as the Torah is most important to men, so is modesty for women.”

I have never understood this. Torah isn’t important for women? Even if this was intended to mean “Torah study,” it still sounds awful. Men get God’s 613 commandments and a book describing the covenant between God and Israel, and women get implored to make sure shirts are at least 10 centimeteres longer than their waistlines?

(Rabbi Yehudah Henkin observes, “This ideology prohibits a woman from standing out—and from being outstanding. She must not act in a play, paint a mural, play an instrument or otherwise demonstrate special skills in front of men, lest she attract attention and her movements excite them.”)

Interestingly, Tamar, the woman quoted, also used some incorrect history when implying that feminism, in its way, has caused some of this problem:

“That is to say, there was a time when there were less influences. The haredi world was much less opened. Today the world has evolved; many women are educated and work outside the home, and study in places they didn’t used to, like computers or interior design”.

She’s probably right that women’s education and increased work opportunities have created somewhat of a crisis, as more women today encounter more of non-haredi culture. However: Jewish women have worked outside of the home for centuries, in many different cultures. The question of what to do about the cultural meetings that resulted have been addressed in many different places in many different ways. One of them is here and now, I suppose.

In any case. Full story here. An article from JOFA on modesty issues, here.

(X-posted to JewSchool.)

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