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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘tznius’

London’s New Modesty Hotlines

Monday, May 6th, 2013

There will be no modesty patrols. This is the assurance that some rabbis in England have given the public about their new initiative.

At the request of ‘the public’ the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) has set up a hotline for tznius (modesty) infractions.

From the Jewish Chronicle:

Strictly Orthodox rabbis in London have set up a hotline to report any breaches of decency among the ranks of the community.

Notices have gone up in synagogues in Yiddish and English advertising a mobile number on behalf of the new Va’ad L’Toihar Hamachneh, Committee for the Purity of the Camp.

Locals can report any “suspicious” person or place which they believe has “breached the walls” of modesty and holiness.

A spokesman for the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations said that the committee was not a UOHC initiative as such, but had been launched by a number of its rabbis in response to “public demand.”

For those not familiar with the organization, the UOHC is the religious body that is the Haredi alternative in England to the more mainstream United Synagogue headed by Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

I believe that the ideology of the UOHC is similar to that of the Eida HaCharedis in Israel. The UOHC is also the same body that is headed by a man who was filmed advising a victim of sex abuse to not report it to the authorities because of the issue of Mesirah – and the same body that another one of its leaders was accused of sexual misconduct with as many as 30 woman who came to him for counseling.

It’s nice to know that this body is so concerned with tznius. I’m sure that the Jews of England are quite happy with this upgrade in kedusha (holiness) for their community in what has become an increasing 21st century obsession by the right.

(Which is kind of odd considering the fact that the above mentioned leaders are no doubt in the forefront of these matters. I’m sure, for example, that they insist that their wives and daughters abide by the highest standards of tznius in the way they dress. I am equally sure that they teach their sons about shmiras eynaim (guarding the eyes) – meaning that they go out of their way to avoid even the slightest glance at even a fully clothed woman – dressed in accordance with the highest standards of modesty. A hotline like this will surely enhance their ability to avoid such things.)

I have no problem with a community living by any standards they choose. If this is what the community really wants, God bless them. As long as they do not infringe upon the rights of those who do not agree with them.

Ahhh… but there’s the rub. If there just happens to be a woman walking through their neighborhood that does not meet their dress code, what happens to her? What sanctions will they employ once they have been contacted on their hotline? What will be their enforcement mechanism? But I digress.

I point out this latest “upgrade” in religious observance to ask the question, where are the hotlines for violations of hilul HaShem (desecration of God’s name)? Where are the hotlines for violations of mitzvos bain adam l’havero – the laws of interpersonal relationships? Where is the hotline for victims of sex abuse? Or victims of financial fraud? What are the remedies for the victims? Or the sanctions for the perpetrators?

My uneducated and uninformed guess is that there are no such hotlines. The only hotline aside from this tznius hotline that I can imagine might be for people accused of sex abuse – so as to protect the reputations of the accused and to prevent the negative repercussions for their families and their community.

They seem only to be interested in matters pertaining to ritual law and have very little concern about serious matters like sex abuse or financial fraud. Nor do they seem to care about how their behavior appears to the rest of the world.

I’m not saying that tznius in dress is not an important issue. But to increasingly and obsessively focus on only that – while one of the most prominent leaders is strongly believed to be guilty of the very kind of violations that tznius in dress is supposed to prevent seems contradictory. A leader who I am sure is one of the biggest proponents of such hotlines.

They are not only missing the point by over-focusing on this issue, but they subject their community to the very ridicule and disdain they hope to avoid. Their goal in sweeping things under the rug is doing the very opposite of what they intend. Instead of protecting their reputations by cover-ups – when their behavior is discovered –as it almost always will be– the widespread and immediate dispersal of their behavior on the internet does the exact opposite. Their intended projection of an image of living a pure and holy life is hardly the way the world really views them.

Unfortunately, I don’t expect things to change there. They will probably continue to circle their wagons proclaiming loudly that they live their lives according to the dictates of the Torah al taharas hakodesh (Torah in spiritual purity) and do not care what the world thinks of them.

The problem is that one of the dictates of the Torah is promoting a positive image of God’s chosen people to the world. Those that lay claim to be the most observant among us are supposed to be the brightest of our lights unto the nations. The Torah talks specifically about how the nations of the world will look up to us as paragons of virtue – a virtue earned by adherence to Torah law. A virtue where chilul HaShem has no place.

I am not saying that a modesty hotline is a hilul HaShem. But – yatzah scharo b’hefsaida – whatever gain that they think might be made in matters of tznius will be lost in the ridicule of such extremism from the rest of the civilized world. Not to mention the fact that ignoring matters of financial fraud – and ignoring or mistreating victims of sex abuse are intrinsically evil things to do.

Until such time that the extremists among us are cured of their obsessions and turn their heads to matters that in my view are much more serious, I’m afraid that the ridicule will continue… as will the very real above-mentioned problems.

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Photoshopping Women Out of the Holocaust

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Today is Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. My parents were both Holocaust survivors. If my father were alive today he would be 109 years old. My mother would be 99. My two brothers who were in the early teens when they were freed from their bunkers are today in their mid 80s.

The fact is that the survivor population is aging. Many survivors are now gone having lived to ripe old ages. Some have retained their faith and some have not. Most have renewed their lives; had families and seen much nachas from the children, grandchildren and great grand-children. They have seen the birth of a Jewish State, a rebirth of Judaism, and an unprecedented growth of Torah observance.

But the memory of what happened to them and their loved ones who did not survive stays with them. How can it not? We need to recognize that. This was once again pointed out by Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel who this morning was interviewed on CBS’s Sunday morning news show in a Holocaust memorial segment.

When he was asked to describe his experiences, he said it is not possible. He said that there were no words in any language that could describe the pure evil of what Nazi Germany did. The Nazis managed to perpetrate acts that were so evil that they were beyond human description. How, he asked, does one describe what it’s like to stand naked in a line on your way to be murdered (along with everyone else in that line) in a gas chamber disguised as a shower?

I think he is right. Yes, there are genocides taking place in the word even to this day in some uncivilized societies. But never like the systematic and scientific murder machine that was Nazi Germany. They saw murdering Jews as an ideal to be worshipped. Hitler considered it his “sacred” duty to annihilate the Jewish people.

I know that the religious right objects to observing a memorial to the Holocaust during the month of Nissan in the Jewish calendar. We are not allowed to eulogize the dead during this month. But this has never stopped even the most right wing rabbis from doing so at a funeral that takes place during Nissan. They simply say something like – since we may not make Hespedim (eulogies) during Nissan they will just say a few words of praise about him – and then dive right into an elaborate eulogy.

But I understand their objection to making an official day of remembrance during this month. I wish it were not on that day but at a date where eulogies are permitted. But it isn’t. Unfortunately their anti-Zionist rhetoric has spilled into Holocaust Remembrance day even if they have not said anything specific publicly about it. A lot of disrespect of that day persists – some of it public. And that is a Hilul HaShem.

It is also disrespectful to edit out women from photos from that era as was recently done. While I don’t approve of the practice of editing out pictures of tzanua (modestly dressed) women under any circumstances, I understand that there are some members of the right wing – mostly Hasidim – who feel that any picture of a woman is not appropriate for men to look at.

Much as I disagree with them, they are entitled to their opinion. But there are times when it should be inappropriate even for them. Such as the time the Secretary of State was photo-shopped out of a widely distributed “iconic” picture of the President and members of his administration watching the “Navy Seal Team’ assassination of Bin Laden as it was happening.

However, when it comes to tampering with Holocaust images it should cross every line of human decency. There is no way to justify that. The picture in question has blurred out the images of women in a famous photo. How in heaven’s name can anyone claim that viewing the women in that picture is in any way inappropriate?!

It is an insult to them memories of all 6 million Jews to decide that because a victim in such a photo is a woman it should be somehow blurred out of it. The reason for eliminating photos of women is so that there won’t even be the remotest chance of their eliciting an improper though on the part of a man. In this photo? Are they kidding?!

This is what happens when you stop thinking and see everything in linear fashion. They say that a photo of a woman is always a possible source of indecent thoughts in men. No difference here. If they don’t hadn’t shown this picture at all, that would have been one thing. But they obviously felt it was important enough to publish it as part of their message. But the message they sent was not one of the horrors of the Holocaust. It was how ridiculously far their views about showing a woman in a photo goes.

I truly do not understand how anyone can be an adherent of a movement that thinks like this, no matter how warm and fuzzy it otherwise is.

I am not one to make a religion of the Holocaust. Unfortunately there are some people who do. The Jewish people are not defined by the Holocaust. We are defined by God’s mandate for us as expressed through written and oral Torah law. Even so, God forbid that we minimize what happened by using it to promote various agendas (as have animal rights activists)… or dishonor survivors by ignoring Holocaust Remembrance Day entirely – in some cases even thumbing our noses at it… or by injecting the most extreme interpretation of modesty for women into it.

Here is my message to these people: get a clue. The Holocaust was not about your agenda. It was not about tznius. Do not dishonor the memory of the victims or mock the sensitivity of the survivors by using the Holocaust for your own purpose or injecting your unreasonable tznius standards by photo-shopping women out of Holocaust pictures.

And to those who in other ways dishonor Holocaust Remembrance Day… Stop it! All you end up doing is dishonoring yourselves and bring mockery upon the Torah!

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The ‘Tznius Chase’: Is This Photo Immodest?

Monday, January 28th, 2013

The extremes of tznius among Haredim was illustrated last week by the picture accompanying this post.

One may ask, what could possibly be wrong with a picture of a group of Haredim bundled up for winter surrounding a snowman. Well this is not just any picture. It is a picture of Beitar’s mayor, Meir Rubenstein and his family. For those who don’t know, Beitar is a very Haredi city. This picture should indicate just how Haredi it is. The mayor and his family look pretty Haredi.

The publisher of this picture was summed to a religious court for publishing this picture in his weekly ad-paper.

What in heaven’s name – one might ask – is wrong with this picture? Obviously those of you who cannot figure it out – are not sensitive enough to know just how sexually arousing it is. (Interesting that the term used in the Behadrey Haredim caption is ‘aroused’.)

Look carefully. There is a picture of a woman’s face in the background. All you see is a face of a woman whose hair is completely covered and whose fully clothed body is blocked by the people standing next to her.

This would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Even though Beitar is Haredi – I do not believe it is comprised of extremists. And yet this picture was considered so provocative that that its publisher was summoned to a Beis Din. I’m not sure the publisher even realized there was a woman in the picture. That’s how obscure her image is.

The incident is really emblematic of a much larger issue. What this says is just how ridiculous issues of tznius have become in the world of right wing Haredism and how far the ‘tznius race’ is taking us.

Ordinarily it wouldn’t bother me that much that the most right wing segment of Judaism wants to reduce tznius to such ridiculous extremes. Live and let live I always say. But Haredim do not live in a vacuum. Beitar is a municipality. People visit it and know about. Their citizens interact with the rest of society in their jobs and in every day life. Beitar citizens are not isolated. People know about Beitar. They are not Neturei Karta or even Eida HaCharedis people necessarily. They are more or less mainstream – albeit on the extreme right of it.

In matters of tznius these days, there is a competition among groups of Haredim. So that even moderate Haredim might latch on to something like this. And once moderate Haredim accept such strictures, it becomes the standard for everyone except the extreme left of Modern Orthodoxy. While Centrist Orthodoxy and most moderate Haredim are not there yet. It may only be a matter of time before the tznius chase catches up with them.

If you think there is no race like that going on, you would be wrong. There is. No where is this more evident these days than at Orthodox weddings. Or even banquets. Seating at weddings and banquets are increasingly sex segregated. Single or married men and women are seated at different tables at opposite ends of a banquet hall – separated by a Mechitza. A Mechitza for weddings might be understandable – even if the seating is mixed. Watching women dance may be problematic in some cases. But banquets do not have any women dancing at all. And yet Mechitzos are increasingly becoming the standard.
The reason for this in my view is the tznius chase. Which is a subset of the Frumkeit race- also known as the move to the right. When one segment sees another segment move to the right they will tend to follow suit so as not to be outdone by those who claim to be more religious.

What happened with seating arrangements is now happening with pictures. Haredi publications are increasingly not carrying any pictures of women. Witness Hamodia, The Yated, Mishpacha, and Ami. ArtScroll still does. But I wonder how long it will take before they too join the tznius chase.

The phenomenon of moving to the right seems to be more about image these days than it is about substance.

Black hats is another example that illustrates this point. When I was in Telshe back in the sixties, the only time high school students wore black fedoras was on Shabbos. No one wore one during the week. Not even for Tefillah B’Tzibur.

Yes, we had to wear caps for that. But it could be any kind of cap, including baseball caps. Which most of us wore in those days. Try that today in a right wing Haredi Yeshiva. Or even in a moderate Haredi Yeshiva.

They will call ‘wearing black hats’ growing in Yiddsihkeit. “We have grown spiritually” – they will say – “since the ‘dark days’ of the sixties.” Spiritually? Really? Black hats? It reminds me of what a recent guest poster said about this issue. When he asked a Rebbe in his Yeshiva why black hats were so important, he was told that we do what the Chafetz Chaim did. He wore a black hat and so must we. We are supposed to emulate the behavior of our Gedolim.

Of course pictures of the Chafetz Chaim even in his old age show nothing of the sort. He wore a cap.

I call it growing in “Frumkiet” not gowing in Yiddishkeit. Frumkiet emphasizes the hitzonius (exterior facade) much more than the penimius (individual character). Frumkeit is not Judaism.

This appears to be the case in Beitar. That they called the publisher of that picture on the carpet because of the “tznius” violation in that picture says it all.

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Tznius Squads: Can This Really be Judaism?

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

I’m sorry. I just can’t believe this is Yiddishkeit. No matter how tolerant I try to be, I can’t believe that customs (like those described in a Forward article) found among Chasidic sects like Satmar and Ger have even the remotest connection to Judaism. I simply do not believe that this is how God wants His people to behave.

I know that I have preached tolerance and acceptance of all Jews. I still do. And I still believe in Achdus in the sense of respecting the Hashkafos and customs of others. The above-mentioned Chasidic sects have every right to believe as they wish.But when those beliefs translate into actions that are harmful – like their Vaad HaTznius (modesty squads) or the events that have taken place with respect to the Weberman trial, then I don’t believe for a minute that they have anything to do with Judaism. I sometimes wonder if even the majority of the people in these Chasidic communities really believe in them in their heart of hearts.

These were the thoughts that came rushing into my head once again as I read the Forward article. The bullying and strong-arm tactics of Williamsburg’s Tznius squads were described at theWeberman trial. Not only is that an abhorrent misuse of power and a mistaken perception of what modesty in Judaism is all about, I think it actually degrades an individual’s humanity to insist on such extremes.

I still find it shocking that something like a Tznius squad exists and operates with impunity. What I do not find shocking is the fact that the people who are on these ‘squads’ are what my father used to call Leidik-Geyers – people who have nothing to do with their time. Of which they have a plenty since Williamsburg has plenty of residents that do not work. But… what kind of people constitute the Tznius squad is a side issue.

I’m sorry. This is not Judaism. It doesn’t matter that the Tznius squad is sourced in the Rambam as the writer of the Forward article explains. The Rambam was describing another scenario and I doubt that any extension of his ideas would have included the establishment of a Tznius Squad.
There is another thing described in that article has to be the most ridiculous nonsense I can imagine. It is the idea that a husband and wife are not buried together in their cemeteries. There is actually a separation of the sexes in the grave. I kid you not.

I mean… what are they afraid will happen? Do they think this will lead to the 2 corpses sleeping together? And even if they did, they were married for Pete’s sake! And no one would see them anyway because… they’re buried! How far can they take these Tznius concepts before even their own people start laughing at them?

How in heaven’s named can anyone ever really buy into this practice? And yet it seems that hundreds of thousands of people do. I cannot for the life of me figure out why. Are such customs worth the ridicule they bring upon Orthodox Jewry from the rest of the world?

I know, I know… I just said a moment ago that I accept their Hashkafos as legitimate even if I don’t agree with them. I do. I accept for example their stated reasons for opposing the State of Israel. I accept their heightened sense of modesty. And I applaud all the good works they are famous for. What I do not accept is the harmful behavior of some of them; those among them who insist on imposing their will upon others; and upon further reflection – questionable customs that would bring ridicule upon us.

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Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/tznius-squads-can-this-really-be-judaism/2012/12/30/

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