Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Yet Another Tznius Letter... Making Promises for God to Keep

Remember when a Lakewood lady received a note telling her that her skirt did not cover her nees [sic] in back?

Well, it seems that yet another anonymous missive has been sent in Lakewood, and this time, the person who sent it must be pretending to be God. The Lakewood Scoop has published a letter* mailed to a childless couple in Lakewood. The letter reads (any typos are mine):

I am writing you because I realize what great parents you would be.

I promise you that if you accept upon yourself to wear much longer skirts and to always dress in loose (even baggy) clothing whether pregnant or not, Hashem will bless you both with children.

Dear husband, it is your obligation to compliment your wife on how beautiful she looks this way. As it is truly beautiful to keep her real beauty just for you personally.

You will both be blessed by Hashem.

Let's put aside for the moment the fact that the person is incredibly insensitive to send such a thing to a childless couple. Let's also put aside for the moment that if the recipient is living in Lakewood, they are probably already observant of the laws of tznius (albeit perhaps not to the letter writer's standards). Let's also put aside the fact that the letter writer is obviously a busy body, assuming that s/he knows what is right not only for her to wear but also for what he has to compliment her on. Let's even assume that the letter writer had the best of intentions in mind when sending the letter -- that s/he meant it l'shem shamayim (for the sake of Heaven) and truly didn't mean to cause any harm.

Even with all that, I am *still* deeply disturbed by this letter. This person has actually gone ahead and abrogated to himself the ability to promise something in God's name! How the hell does he know what God has in mind for this couple? Who gave him/her license to pedal such theodicic claptrap? Does s/he think s/he can order God around to provide her with a child if she starts wearing longer skirts and he compliments her on it? Who gave this person the right to do such a thing?

You know, it's not often you see the prohibition of a false prophet being transgressed these days, but I think that this letter actually comes close to that line in spirit.

Lastly, I've always wondered about the value of a promise made anonymously from whom you can't collect and to whom you can't turn to for recompense when the promise does not come true. If the writer had guts, s/he identify him/herself** so that the couple can demand recompense if the promise fails to come through.

The Wolf

* I have no idea of the veracity of the story. I'm assuming it's true, but make your own judgments.


** Yes, I'm well aware of the irony of an anonymous writer stating that. But I don't go around making promises that I can't fulfill - and I don't drag God into it either.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's hard to believe this is a true story . . . even in Lakewood.

Critically Observant Jew said...

Nosy people with too much to say exist everywhere. It's just some pretend they're Hashem. Some don't, but their nosiness and comments are equally shocking. For example upon hearing about a chassidish couple who have been married for 10 years and only now are expecting a child, a woman I know remarked "Have they been trying to conceive?"

G*3 said...

Where did this obsession with tznius come from? To judge by pictures, Jewish women a hundred years ago had no such obsession.

The comments are, as always, incredible. I can only hope that the more outragous ones are fake.

Anonymous said...

This kind of stuff makes me want to walk down the middle of the main street in Lakewood in a bikini.

-suitepotato- said...

Was Eve dressed? If so, why would G-d make something so detestable to Himself that He'd immediately cover it up and find that better looking? If not, was G-d a pervert or did He have some better standing to withstand the sight of a naked woman? If we are made in His image, and we find a naked woman attractive, why would G-d not find his own work making her attractive?

We don't have clothing standards for the sake of G-d but ourselves. Our reasons might have great functional aspects, such as that humans aren't highly evolved enough (oh, I said it) to control themselves with enough certainty to behave well so we cover up to lessen provocation, but we're not doing this for G-d and it's a shame to lie to ourselves.

Sure tangentially it helps G-d by keeping society a little less provoked in the nethers and more using the gray matter, but it's not the chief motivation in all this concern.

ProfK said...

When we were first married we were friendly with a couple married about 7 years with no children. Hey, I'm no angel, and yes I wondered what was wrong, but I would have bitten my tongue out twice rather than ask and possibly give pain to this couple. Two years later the husband died from testicular cancer that spread. Had they received such a letter I'm sure the pain might have been unbearable.

When you aren't privy to the details, keep your snoopy nose out and don't offer advice.

Happy said...

"Where did this obsession with tznius come from?"

I've wondered the same. One possible factor I have come up with is Islam. UOJ's don't like to be "outfrummed" by other religions. I'm sure you've heard a UOJ scoff at Christians for praying only once a week. Muslims, OTOH, pray more than us...so UOJ's comfort themselves by saying that Mohammed got that from Yom Kippur. Baal Habos claims that the cherem d'rabbeinu gershon against polygamy had its roots in not wanting to be less holy than the Christians who only had one wife. Nowadays, that Muslims are so much 'better' at tznius than us, were trying to close the gap. Wonderful. One hopes we don't emulate fundamentalist Muslims in everything they do...

Bob Miller said...

Tznius is a more pressing concern these days because the general population around us (unfortunately including many Jews) dresses in an anti-tznius fashion.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the focus on Tznius is because in many ways it's easier and more concrete than other areas. Telling women to wear a longer skirt or putting on a longer skirt is easier than, for example, always being nicer to people, remembering to bite your tongue and not gossip, practicing the highest ethical standards in business, etc. It's easy for men because its something they tell woman to do, and in a way it makes women feel like they have some control - i.e. if I keep every strand of my hair covered at all times, I can keep my family safe.

000646 said...

The obssesion with tznius comes from an extreme feeling of guilt that many frum men get from having ANY kind of enjoyment from looking or thinking about ANY woman or from being attracted to ANY woman in any way shape or form.
This is a result of it having been drilled into their heads from when they are 10 years old that any form of looking at woman, or having any sort of attraction to any woman you are not married to is an evil on par with murder and you will burn in hell for them.

Of course being that frum men are humans when they see a pretty woman they find her attractive this they beleive is a horrible evil sin and they find it easier to live with themselves if they just blame the woman for looking attractive then accept the blame for this horrible evil they feel they have done (I know its messed up but thats the facts)

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

Perhaps it's because a lifetime in the Beis Medrash doesn't translate into a cmplex understanding of Judaism.
Simplistic minds will seek out simplistic answers.

Shadesof said...

"The obssesion with tznius comes from an extreme feeling of guilt that many frum men get from having ANY kind of enjoyment from looking or thinking about ANY woman or from being attracted to ANY woman in any way shape or form."

I don't think that can be proven.

I think the increase in tzniyus comes because some frum women indeed are dressing inappropriately. Also, people attribute misfortunes to a lack of tznyius.

I do agree that the frum community needs to be sure that it's raising healthy children.

At the same time that we are putting so much energy into controlling male desires by means of tzniyus, perhaps we should make a corresponding effort to make sure that our children have an opportunity to ask all questions and can develop a healthy attitude towards sexuality.

G*3 said...

> Tznius is a more pressing concern these days because the general population around us (unfortunately including many Jews) dresses in an anti-tznius fashion.

“these days?” As opposed to when? Anceint Greece, where the Olympic athlestes competed nude? Ancient Rome, where both men and women used public restrooms (minus the room) that consisted of nothing more than a bench with a hole in it over a canal with running water in the market? The courts of medieval Europe, where it was once fashionable for noblewomen to wear dresses cut below their breasts? The shared family beds that most people had for most of history, where children could learn the facts of life first hand by observing their parents?

Or compared to the short-lived, highly repressive standards of Victorian England, which for some reason many people assume was the norm for all of history before it.
(Probably partly due to Victorians re-writing history books to conform to their notions of decency.)

> and in a way it makes women feel like they have some control - i.e. if I keep every strand of my hair covered at all times, I can keep my family safe.

Interesting theory, and has a disturbing corollary with anorexia.

> having any sort of attraction to any woman you are not married to is an evil on par with murder

Worse than murder. Worse than murdering someone on Yom Kippur while eating a cheeseburger.

> perhaps we should make a corresponding effort to make sure that our children have an opportunity to ask all questions and can develop a healthy attitude towards sexuality.

We most certainly should, but don’t expect the yeshivas and bais yaakovs to be adding sex ed to their curriculums anytime soon.

Shadesof said...

"We most certainly should, but don’t expect the yeshivas and bais yaakovs to be adding sex ed to their curriculums anytime soon."

See YU's Tzelem program, linked below:

"Modern Orthodox youth who attend yeshiva day schools and high schools, are living within the modern world and are exposed to television and the media’s perspective on sexuality. Often there is no Jewish response, from within yeshivot, to provide a Jewish approach to sexuality and relationships, and children are left with the impression that Judaism has either nothing to say about the subject, or, that it only has negative things to say. Additionally, even in the absence of a highly sexualized modern culture, the total void of any systematic education which addresses such a fundamental part of personal development within a Jewish context is problematic. Children and teenagers in yeshiva day schools require more information, guidance, direct conversation and opportunities to ask questions about issues of intimacy and Judaism that are so often on their minds"

http://www.yu.edu/cjf/page.aspx?id=18096

Also, see this article("Jewish Sexual Education & The Lack Thereof
"):

http://media.www.yuobserver.com/media/storage/paper989/news/2008/12/30/Features/Jewish.Sexual.Education.The.Lack.Thereof-3581369.shtml

Anonymous said...

Sadly ironic that the same "cheder learning" that led the imbecile to write the insensitive letter and the moronic editor to publish it will lead them both to not "be goreis" your excellent post!

(use of yeshivish for their benefit- I am confident they have internet in the closet!)
Yossi Ginzberg

G*3 said...

> See YU's Tzelem program, linked below

Good to see, but you know that most people who are regulars on the Lakewood site don't really consider YU frum.

Honestly Frum said...

If I ever got a letter like this I would turn it over to the Police and FBI becuase these people are terrorists.

BrooklynWolf said...

Honestly,

While the letter is insensitive and in bad taste, there is nothing threatening about it. You'd have a hard time making the case of "threating," let alone terrorist.

Let's not overexaggerate.

The Wolf

SephardiLady said...

So many of the gedolim of the past were never blessed with children. I know some couples who suffered/are suffering from infertility who are machmir on matters of tzniut.

Hashem has a plan for everyone, and playing Gd in this matter is very distasteful.

Ariella said...

Notice the fundamental assumption that it is the woman's fault if the couple is childless. The biological cause may actually be on the husband's side. As for the proposed solution, if that's all there is to it, Chana would not have had to pour our her heart in prayer and promise her son to Hashem's service after years of childlessness. Sarah would not have suggested Avraham marry Hagar, and Rachel would not not have pushed her own maid on Yaakov. People like the author of this letter should go back to basics, beginning with TaNaCh.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

"and abrogated to himself the ability to promise something in God's name!"

that's 'arrogate'. (My heart goes out to you, Wolf. I've often confused it with 'aggregate' myself.)

Responding to G*3:
You have not brought any evidence that the Jewish community of those times were directly "exposed" to those non-Jewish norms on a daily basis. To disprove the theory that today's situation is worse, you need to provide that crucial element.

G*3 said...

> You have not brought any evidence that the Jewish community of those times were directly "exposed" to those non-Jewish norms on a daily basis. To disprove the theory that today's situation is worse, you need to provide that crucial element.

Right. Because the Jewish community has always existed in a hermetically sealed cocoon, protected from the evil influences of the goyim.

There has been a Jewish community in Rome since before the churban bayis sheini. Does that help?

But really, if want proof of tznius standards, look at paintings and engravings done way back when. There are plenty of extant illuminated manuscripts (haggados, meggilos, etc.) from the middle ages and printed versions from the last four hundred years that clearly show Jewish women with low necklines and exposed elbows. You can even find some of them online.

The “moral crises” of revealing clothing decried by pundits in the 60s and 70s (the age of the mini skirt) and by the frum world today is largely a product of the Victorian era and its prudish notions of appropriateness. This was a culture where exposed ankles were as titillating as exposed breasts and a true lady wore a hoop skirt that kept any gentleman accompanying her at arms length.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

"There has been a Jewish community in Rome since before the churban bayis sheini. Does that help?"

Nope. Ever heard of "a Jewish ghetto"?

"Right. Because the Jewish community has always existed in a hermetically sealed cocoon, protected from the evil influences of the goyim."

The sarcasm isn't warranted.
I suppose you would never distinguish between pre-and post-emancipation periods in Jewish history because "the Jewish community always existed in non-Jewish lands and they were never hermetically sealed cocoons"...
I guess you really never heard of the Jewish ghetto! Amazing!

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

"But really, if want proof of tznius standards, look at paintings and engravings done way back when. There are plenty of extant illuminated manuscripts (haggados, meggilos, etc.) from the middle ages and printed versions from the last four hundred years that clearly show Jewish women with low necklines and exposed elbows. You can even find some of them online."

This is proof of the tznius standards of the PUBLISHERS and nothing more.
Just ask Wendy Shalit. She was appalled by the publisher's choice of cover art for her book on modesty.
http://www.amazon.com/Return-Modesty-Discovering-Lost-Virtue/dp/0684863170

As you can see (or maybe shouldn't see), this does not reflect the dress code of live people (even the authors of their own book).

G*3 said...

> I suppose you would never distinguish between pre-and post-emancipation periods in Jewish history

The difference is the extent to which Jews were able to participate in society, and Jews were more influenced by the general society as they tried to become a part of it. But we’re talking about whether or not “the Jewish community of those times were directly "exposed" to those non-Jewish norms on a daily basis.” Even in the days of the ghettos and shtetles Jews had regular contact with the rest of the population.

> I guess you really never heard of the Jewish ghetto! Amazing!

The ghettos were not the holy bastions of Judaism you imagine them to be. Jews lived in the ghettos because they had to, both because the government forced them to and for their own protection. Not because they were trying to keep themselves from the rest of the world. Don’t believe it? Look how quickly Jews left the ghettos once they were able to.

> This is proof of the tznius standards of the PUBLISHERS and nothing more.

Granted, we can’t know if these were accurate portrayals based on the pictures alone. But these were religious materials produced by religious artists for religious publishers. Also, why would they include pictures that their target customers would find offensive? That’s bad for business.

> Just ask Wendy Shalit. She was appalled by the publisher's choice of cover art for her book on modesty.

Obviously the publisher doesn’t share her values. The publisher used a cover that will sell books. This is not at all analogous to a religious publisher producing haggados for use by his co-religionists.

Think about this. Would Artscroll produce a haggadah showing women crossing the yam suf in contemporary dress, including pants, short sleeves, and low necklines? They wouldn’t because 1) it runs counter to their values and 2) their target audience is far more likely to ban the haggadah than they are to buy it. Yet there are haggados that show women in contemporary medieval or renaissance Jewish clothing (including distinctive Jewish badges or hats) with low necklines that were published by religious publishers for religious customers. What does that tell you?

Lvnsm27 said...

I heard the same thing about family purity, that if a couple keeps the mitzvah of family purity, then their home will have blessing -

On the one hand, we shouldn't expect that if we do a certain thing, we will deffinately have what we want. That could lead to disappointment if we don't receive what we're asking.
However, mitzvos bring blessing and holiness to the home in general.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

"Jews lived in the ghettos because they had to, both because the government forced them to and for their own protection. Not because they were trying to keep themselves from the rest of the world."

I never made such a claim. But de facto, the physical separation created social separation which prevented assimilation.
So the very existence of the ghetto throughout Europe--regardless of its intended purpose-- is evidence against your assumption of influence on Jewish modesty norms. The burden of proof remains squarely upon you.


"produced by religious artists for religious publishers.

I dispute this. Do you have proof?

Maybe the manuscripts were submitted by the pious rabbis but the rest of the publication process--including the illustrations--was out of his control (just like Shalit's book)?

Not all printing presses which published religious books in the middle ages were owned by pious religious Jews!

G*3 said...

> Not all printing presses which published religious books in the middle ages were owned by pious religious Jews!

Of course. The famous Gutenberg Bible, a religous book, was certainly not published by a religious Jew. But that's probably not what you meant.

Are you suggesting that there were Jewish religious books published by secular Jews? Because there was no such thing as a secular Jew in the middle ages.

Here, take a look at this.
http://holyhyrax.blogspot.com/2008/04/venetian-haggadah-and-modern.html

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

"Are you suggesting that there were Jewish religious books published by secular Jews?"

No. Non-Jews and Maskillim are also candidates that you cannot eliminate.

"Because there was no such thing as a secular Jew in the middle ages."

I see you see Jewish publishing history in black-and-white.
Note I included the "pious" qualifier in my statement.
So the burden of proof still rests squarely upon you to show that the artists/publishers of said illustrations were representative of normal Jewish society.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

Follow-up comment:
"The famous Gutenberg Bible, a religous book, was certainly not published by a religious Jew. But that's probably not what you meant."

That's close. I meant this person:

See here and especially what I bolded below:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Bomberg

"Daniel Bomberg (died 1549) was an early printer of Hebrew language books. Christian, born in Antwerp, he was primarily active in Venice between 1516 and 1549.

He produced the editio princeps of the Mikraot Gedolot, the Rabbinic Bible, consisting of the Hebrew text plus rabbinical commentaries, between 1516 and 1517, and the first and oldest complete set of the Talmud, between 1520 and 1523, a well-preserved copy of which is contained in the Valmadonna Trust Library.

Bomberg found a ready audience among the Jews of Italy, whose numbers had been swelled by exiles from Spain and Portugal. Bomberg's presses eventually produced some 230 Hebrew books, and his innovations in Hebrew typography set the standard for later printers."

Please have the good graces to admit a mistaken assumption about Jewish book publishers in the middle-ages.

G*3 said...

Intersting, that seforim popular among Jews were originally printed by Christians.

All right, some Jewish books were published by people who wouldn't have shared their values. There's still an awful lot of art depicting Jewish women dressed in a way that would be considered untznious by today's standards.

I suppose it is possible that they were produced by the "Modern Orthodox" equivlants of the period, but its unlikely that all of it was from non-Jews.

I wonder if in a thousand years from now two other people will have this same discussion, one citing photographs from MO communities and the other insisting that only chareidim were "normative."

And that's what it is about the insistance that all Jews have always held the way we do today that bugs me. Jews have never been monolithic, and there never was a Golden Age when everyone kept halachah to ultra-Orthodox standards. Not tznius or anything else.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

but its unlikely that all of it was from non-Jews.

Why?
More baseless assumptions.

"...when everyone kept halachah to ultra-Orthodox standards. Not tznius or anything else."

Excuse me, I thought we were discussing "norms".
Where did this straw man about "everyone" come from?

G*3 said...

You seem to assume that the norm historically in Jewish communities was tznius standards similar to what the mid-to-right hold of now. Further, you seem to assume that this was the norm everywhere that there were religious Jews. You then require me to conclusivly prove that this isn't so.

Enough.

Prove that it was.

Prove that all of the pictures and paitnings of Jews in contemporary period dress were produced by non-Jews.

Or we could make the reasonable assumption that there were different norms in different places at different times, and the claim that our current period is terrible compared to the past is at best a comparison with a very select sample.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

Trying to shift the burden won't work to save face.
You are tacitly admitting that your assumptions are not based on any real knowledge and they are simply based on what you believe is "reasonable".

Thanks. That's all I want.