Yeshiva World is reporting that there were two meetings in Lakewood this past week concering the current state of tznius in the Lakewood (and, presumably, the greater Jewish world). Among the speakers were such luminaries as R. Mattisyahu Solomon, R. Shmuel Kamenetzky, R. Malkiel Kotler and R. Ephraim Wachsman. There are links to the audio on the YWN site, but, for whatever reason, I have not been able to get the links to work properly. As such, I don't know directly what was said, but can only go by second hand reports. However, it seems that at least one person broached the idea of setting up a Va'ad Hatznius in Lakewood.
Now, let me state up front that I don't live in Lakewood, so I don't have a particular dog in this fight, so to speak. However, the whole notion of setting up such a council here in the United States is troubling to say the least. Nonetheless, let's say for the sake of argument that this is something that is actually going to happen. I think, however, that there are several important questions that must be addressed in public before setting up such a Va'ad.
Among them are the following:
1. Who will be on the Va'ad Hatznius. Specifically, it's fine and well for R. Solomon, R. Kotler et al to call for the formation of them, but are they going to be involved in a day-to-day basis? Or is the leadership of this going to fall into the hands of lay-people? The reason I ask is that while I might trust R. Solomon with decisions on how to handle recalcitrant people, I'm also certain we all know people who would go beyond the bounds of what we consider normal in dealing with people. Considering that this type of an organization is one that, by its very nature, would attract those who seek to simply control other people's lives, what controls are going to be in place to make sure that it's led and operated by people who are *truly* acting l'shem shamayim and not simply on a power trip?
2. What powers, specifically, will the Va'ad have? Will they have the ability to expel people's kids from school? Refuse them entrance into the shul? Demand that they sell their homes and move out of the neighborhood? Slash their tires? In short, what is the prescribed method for dealing with people who cannot/will not dress in a tznius fashion in the neighborhood? What are the grounds for appeal (if any). What does it take to get back into the good graces of the Va'ad?
3. Will there be a mechanism in place to deal with people who take things too far. If one person throws acid at someone whom they deem to be dressed in an untznius fashion will there be a mechanism for punishing that person and making sure they don't do it again? In short, how do you prevent vigilante action by rogue members (or rogue former members) of the Va'ad?
4. Will there be a mechanism for the community's voice to be heard? It's all fine and well to say "it's up to the gedolim..." but I don't think that will fly well - even in Lakewood. If people start becoming concerned with the way the Va'ad is operating (for whatever reason), will they have a voice in rectifying the problem, or will they be shut out and subject to a "if you don't like it, move" attitude?
5. How do you prevent people from spying on one another to turn in people whom they have a grudge against? If I have an argument with my neighbor, I don't want to have to worry about the Va'ad showing up the next day because he claims that he saw something not tznius (real or fabricated). In other words, how do you substantiate claims, who has the right to make a claim and under what circumstances can claims be made?
6. Whose standards of tznius will be used? For some women, walking around with bare feet is not a problem. For others, feet must always be covered. In some groups, a married woman must always wear a sheitel... others hold a sheitel is, in itself, untznius. In some communities, the color red is verbotten, in others it is not (unless it is intentionally loud). In other words, whose standards are going to be used? Will it automatically be the most machmir standard? And what if someone doesn't want to adhere to that standard, but to a standard which is halachically acceptable, but not up to the "community standards?"
7. What expectations of privacy can a person have? In the YWN thread, one poster tells of an incident in his own personal private back yard where someone commented that his wife was not tznius enough in her own private backyard. Is that private enough? Can a woman walk around bareheaded in her own backyard if she has a reasonable expectation of privacy there (i.e. that no one will come in and see her?). What about in one's home? Or do I have to worry that the Va'ad will take action against me if my wife dares to take off her sheitel in her own home amongst her family? In short, in what places/circumstances will a claim be automatically disregarded?
These are only some of the questions that I think must be fully answered. Unfortuantely, I don't think that it is possible to run such an organization here in the United States. I think that there is too much potential for abuse in such an organization. As always, I think that the best way to advance the cause of tznius is to show the beauty of the mitzvah and not to ostracize people.