Online Tznius Asifa

asifa

Boro Park – Thousands are attending the “Tznius Asifa” in Ateres Chaya. @vosiznies

Some of you might have heard about the recent war on tznius happening in Boro Park.  Apparently, there has been a rash of tragedies befalling the residents of Boro Park (illness, death, crime, poverty, failed business prospects, and the continued delay of Moshiach).  It has been determined that women’s clothing and behavior is to blame.

In the meantime, cases of rabbinic improprieties continue to make headlines, and women continue to be implicated as the cause for the male lack of self-control.  Even if people can get behind the concept of children not being responsible for abuse, if that abuse extends to grown women, the ladies must somehow be at fault with their wily ways.

Someone made a comment regarding one of the recent cases of rabbinic improprieties on Facebook (Hat Tip S.B. – will post full name if she gives permission) – and I thought she brought up some very good points.  I will summarize some of the commenter’s points below and add a few of my own, in order to start the ball rolling for an Online Tznius Asifa.  I am in complete agreement that breaches in tznius have been running rampant, and we need to organize a protest to end the madness and restore order and harmony to our communities.

We, as concerned members of klal yisroel, cannot ignore the alarming decline of tznius standards in our communities.  Our most potent weapon in battle is always achdus, and so the women in our various communities have joined together with the objective of strengthening kedushas yisroel (the holiness of the Jewish people).  With that objective in mind, we propose the following protections against tznius violations –

  1. It has come to our attention in the form of more than one unfortunate case, that women have been violated under the guise of treatment from unlicensed rabbinic therapists.  Women will no longer engage in therapeutic services from unlicensed therapists, even under the advice of their rabbis, and even if the said therapist is their rabbi.  It is simply unethical for any unlicensed and untrained individual to perform such services.
  2. Ladies and gentleman – we are all taught the prohibitions of yichud from the time of adolescence.  Just because a man happens to be your rabbi, that doesn’t lessen the prohibition of yichud.  No rabbi is allowed to be in a closed room with a female congregant unless there are other people in the building who can walk in at any time, the walls are made of glass so that you are both visible to the public, or the door is left slightly ajar.  Rabbinical consultations do not override the laws of yichud.  If you find yourself in a compromising situation with your rabbi, it is your right and responsibility to leave the room.
  3. Husbands – there is no excuse for you to ever put your wife in the compromising position to have to personally bring her undergarments to a rabbi for a shaila.  Nor is there any excuse for her to have to have a phone conversation about her bodily functions or sex life.  This is YOUR responsibility.  As a man, you should be the go between regarding these personal matters to protect your wife’s dignity and to prevent familiarity between your wife and the rabbi.  If you feel embarrassed to address these subjects, think about how your wife must feel!
  4. Ladies – if your husband is out of town, ill, or otherwise unable to take a shaila to the rabbi for you, insist upon having a female companion present.  This can be the rav’s own wife, older daughter, or a friend that you bring along for that purpose.  Shailas of an intimate nature should not be discussed alone with a rabbi, especially in his home if no one else is in the house (even with the front door ajar).
  5. It is imperative that we encourage women scholars to become knowledgeable in hilchos niddah and poskening niddah shailas.  Yoatzot halachot, maharats, whatever name a community chooses to confer upon such learned women – there should be female leadership that bridges laywomen and rabbinic poskim concerning intimate matters of halacha.  In some cases, this feminine leadership will be knowledgeable enough to be the final authority, in other cases, rabbinic opinion must be consulted – but the woman with the question will have this female advocate to either ask a rabbi for her or act as a shomeret. (Hat Tip – Melech Tanan)
  6. Rabbis and women of the community – because of the personal nature of the relationship between rabbonim and their congregants, sometimes an air of familiarity can creep in.  We have seen the tragedies that can happen when rabbis and women overstep the professional boundaries and end up on opposite sides in a courtroom.  For the protection of both women and rabbinic leadership, it is essential to assume a professional demeanor on the part of the rabbi and an equally professional demeanor on the part of the congregant.  Friendly conversation is fine, but flirtatious banter is out of line.  Men sometimes don’t know the difference, so don’t make it hard for them see the distinction.  Be friendly not flirty.
  7. In the name of sisterhood solidarity, we propose that all wedding ceremonies be treated as if they were a chuppat niddah.  It is unconscionable that some of our Jewish brides, on the happiest day of their lives, must be publicly humiliated in front of their wedding guests and rabbinic witnesses by having their state of tumeh or tahor announced.  To prevent such future transgressions in modesty, we are more than willing to put down our own veils, drink from a separate cup of wine, and accept a ring dropped into the palms of our hands, in order that no other bride should suffer embarrassment.
  8. In those communities that still don’t adhere to mandatory reporting laws, and insist on first consulting with rabbonim when charges of abuse are brought to light, women should always have a presence on any beis din (as consultants) or community counsel that deals with with such charges. We need the perspective of wives, mothers, daughters, female professional counselors, and victims to determine the validity and threat level of accusations of abuse.  This important task should not be left solely in the hands of men. (Hat Tip Yerachmiel Lopin).

This is just the beginning of our campaign to take control over our own dignity and tznius.  We have seen that this isn’t merely a matter of hemlines, sleeve lengths, or the kinds of head coverings we wear.  Finally, we are taking seriously the warnings of men, that they cannot control their animal natures.  We must take precautions to protect ourselves. Assuming that men can control themselves has led to tznius violations that have caused untold harm to our communities.  Women can fight these transgressions by believing the words of our gedolim, and guarding ourselves against improper conduct with the holy men in our communities.  We must address the problem of modesty where it originates – with the men.  This will ultimately benefit our entire kehilla.

Feel free to add to the agenda items.
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Veggie Envy

Yesterday I posted a rather tongue-in-cheek Facebook status about some vegetables I cooked for dinner.  When you are an orthodox Jew, a vegetable is never just a vegetable.  The post inspired a lot of great comments, so I thought I would share it here.  I think the main thing that struck me is the feeling of judgement or shame that a frum Jew sometimes feels when they do something that goes against the grain of orthodox society – even down to what produce they choose to eat.  This was also touched upon in my post, Lady Pants, about the sense of superiority some women feel over those modern orthodox ladies who choose to wear slacks – even if those slacks are more tznius than skirts.

In some cases, this smugness is a defense mechanism against a feeling of jealousy that other people are “getting away” with leniencies or privileges not afforded to themselves (whether self-imposed or communally imposed).  For example,  “I wish I didn’t have to cover my hair.  Why is it that she doesn’t cover her hair, yet everyone still considers her to be frum?  It’s not fair!” or “I would love to wear pants like hers, but my conscience/religious sensibilities won’t permit me to do so.  Why does she get away with it?” or  “I would love to indulge in those hot Superpretzels at the amusement park being enjoyed by that frum family, but we don’t hold that way. Why do they think its ok for them to eat pretzels at a snack stand without rabbinic supervision, and now my kids are begging us to buy them?! Thanks a lot!”

In any case, the comments on my Facebook post highlight the many splintered and fractured groups among the orthodox, where one group holds that a certain action or item is fine, and another group holds that the same thing is absolutely forbidden.  Of course, we  judge the other groups based on what is or is not permitted within our own group – which ultimately leads to total harmony and Ahavas Yisroel (love for all Jews).  Maybe not.

Here is the status update –

Bet you never knew I was a rebel! Anyone else love Brussel Sprouts or Cauliflower? I do, and I make them once a week. Asparagus too! Broccoli you ask? My husband put his foot down on that one. Why would fresh roasted vegetables be scandalous? Because of the kashrut war on a host of leafy greens, fruits, and veggies that are deemed to have bug infestation. It is a stamp of orthodoxy to only use frozen Bodek spinach, veggies, and frozen berries – nutrients properly disposed of in the process. In a few years, only Bissli and Paskesz Nutty Chews will be acceptable kosher produce. I refuse to give up my health in the name of kashrut.

The post sparked debate over everything from the ban on brussel sprouts, to the permissibility of broccoli, to the ingestion of insects, to the scam of frozen Bodek (rabbinically checked) frozen vegetables, to the history of checking veggies before our ancestors had bug lights and veggie wash, etc.  Someone even posited that eating fresh broccoli was on the same level of treifness as eating McDonald’s or shrimp.  The bottom line is that we are judged on everything from our clothing to what’s in our shopping carts.  No detail of a person’s life is too minute for scrutiny.

Lady Pants

Yesterday a friend forwarded me an article in the Times of Israel, “My thigh length modest skirt.”  In the article the author, Lottie Kestenbaum, points out how laughable it is that a woman who wears tight short skirts is considered to be more religious than a woman wearing pants –

“I think at this point we just need to laugh at how ridiculous the “modesty” situation in the Modern- Orthodox community (I can’t speak for other communities) is getting. Because I wear tight skirts which ride up several times an hour, I am labeled as more orthodox than the women who are wearing the dare I say it “P” word. Pants. Gasp.”

Of course, the tznius fallacy of the Hot Chani has been discussed in the blogosphere for many years.  A Hot Chani is basically a woman who technically follows the requirements of modest dress, but in reality, her clothing is a sexy cry for attention.  While technically, many women follow the letter of the law when it comes to modest dress, the spirit of the law often falls by the wayside.

The Times of Israel article brings up the debate about Jewish women being allowed to wear pants.  There are two main prohibitions against women wearing pants.  One is the prohibition against beged ish (wearing a man’s clothing – we are not permitted to wear the clothing of the opposite sex – men can’t wear women’s clothing either).  The other problem is the prohibition against the visibility of the gap between a woman’s legs, and pants clearly define the separation of the two legs.

The first objection of beged ish is pretty much a moot point these days, because women’s trousers is an entire industry by itself.  Most men would never buy pants specifically designed for women, because they are too feminine looking.  The second issue of defining the gap between a woman’s legs is only a problem with tight fitting pants.  There are many pants that are wide and don’t clearly define the legs, much like a skirt.  In fact, (Hat Tip Tehila Perles) Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled that wearing trousers is preferable to wearing untznius skirts –

“Rabbi Yosef rules that the wearing of trousers by women is not forbidden on the grounds that women are forbidden to wear men’s clothing. Even though he has reservations about women wearing trousers, he believes that the fashion of mini-skirts is much worse; choosing the lesser of two evils, he instructs a school principal to permit girls, as a temporary measure, to wear trousers (YO 6, Yoreh De’ah 14).”

I decided to look up images of skirt styles that I often see orthodox Jewish women wearing (similar styles to those that I myself have worn) and compare them to images of loose fitting trousers just to see which I would find more modest.

tznius 1Is this more modest….

tznius 2

than this?

tznius 3

Does this follow the spirit of tznius….

tznius 4

any more than these trousers do?

tznius 5

While this look technically makes the grade…

tznius 6

why is it any more modest than these culottes?

tznius 7

These “skirt” the limits of acceptability….

tznius 8

yet these flowy, floor skimming slacks are forbidden.

tznius 9

I see this kind of denim skirt in my neighborhood all the time (or is that in my closet?)….

tznius 10

yet no modern orthodox woman would be caught wearing these slacks to the local kosher supermarket.

tznius 12

A summery look for a modern orthodox lady – maybe a little short but not so much that anyone would say anything….

tznius 11

yet, a few tongues would be clacking if she showed up to a shul barbeque wearing one of these numbers.

It’s interesting to know that we have less of a problem pushing the limits of modesty within the traditional boundaries, rather than adopting new innovations in clothing design that would offer us more options that still conform to the letter of the law.  Even if it boils down to transgressing the laws of tznius with our skirt lengths, tightness, and styles, we still view it as a lesser violation than actually wearing pants.  As I said, I am guilty of wearing some skirt styles similar to the ones I’ve pictured, so I am not judging.  I just think that it’s important to bear in mind that those of us who push the envelope with our own “halachically approved” clothing shouldn’t look down our noses in religious superiority to those women who have taken the leap to wearing trousers.

Romance Interruptus

Upon getting engaged to be married, one of the first anxieties an orthodox bride faces is whether or not she will have a chuppat niddah (either be menstruating or in the seven day time frame following  menstruation) on her wedding day.  The marital relations laws of taharat hamishpacha dictate that a husband and wife must refrain from relations and all forms of physical contact the week of the wife’s period and seven days after, upon which time she submerges herself in a mikvah, and they can resume married life.

If a kallah (bride) cannot go to the mikvah before her wedding day, she and her chosson (groom) cannot engage in marital relations on their wedding night.  Additionally, they must follow all of the harchakot (laws that prevent touching and passing objects during niddah) until the bride is able to submerge in the mikvah.  Additionally, they must observe the same laws of shomer negiah (laws that don’t only prohibit touching, but also being alone together in a room with a closed door) that they had to observe while dating (married couples who already engaged in relations can be alone during times of niddah).

Practically speaking, a couple having a chuppat niddah, have to do a few things differently at the ceremony than when the bride is tahor (not a niddah).  At the bedeken (veiling) ceremony, for example, the groom checks his bride’s face to make sure that he is marrying the right woman.  After seeing that, indeed, the bride is his proper intended wife, he brings down her veil.  This is always a big photo opportunity, as the groom is led into the room where the bride awaits on a fancy throne with her close relatives and bridesmaids, accompanied by music and dancing and escorted by the male guests.  However, in a chuppat niddah, (some rabbis rule that) the groom is not allowed to touch her veil directly and put it down over her face, so she must do it herself.

Under the chuppah, the couple cannot drink from the same cup of wine unless someone else drinks between them, so there either has to be two separate cups, or another person has to take a sip.  The groom cannot put the ring on the bride’s finger, he must drop it into her hand without touching her, and she must put it on her own finger.  Also, the kallah cannot take the ketubah (marriage contract) directly from her new husband’s hands.  After the ceremony, when some couples  hold hands on their way down from the chuppah podium and to the yichud room (where a bride and groom are symbolically left alone in a closed room for the first time), the couple may not hold hands, nor may they be alone in the yichud room together.

Usually, a young child (often a child is engaged for this purpose because they don’t really understand what’s happening to avoid embarrassment) will act as a shomer (guardian) in the yichud room to ensure that the couple is not left alone.  After the wedding, the couple cannot share a bed or be alone until the wife is able to go to the mikvah, however, long that takes.  Sometimes a child or an adult moves into the couple’s apartment until the mikvah night.  Sometimes the couple moves into their parent’s home, so that they are not left alone.  There are various ways that a couple handles this awkward situation.

In any event, having a chuppat niddah is something that every bride tries to avoid at all costs.  After dating and being engaged with no physical contact for an extended amount of time, it is like a slap in the face to have to prolong being together with your husband.  However, the more immediate issue of being humiliated in front of guests and rabbis by publicly acknowledging your state of niddah is enough to make any woman cringe.  As much as kallah teachers try to downplay the shame factor of having a chuppat niddah (although they do counsel women to choose their wedding dates as wisely as possible and usually advise them on seeing doctors to start birth control that might help avoid the situation), for those wedding guests in the know about the halachos, it is pretty impossible to hide what is happening.

Awhile ago I heard a shiur where a story was recounted about a chuppat niddah.  The mesader kidushin (the rabbi who is officiating at the ceremony) was a prominent Yeshiva University rav. He was both officiating and MCing the happenings under the chuppah.  As he announced each stage of the ceremony for the benefit of the participants and the audience, he came to the part about the ring.  At a chuppat niddah, this part of the ceremony is supposed to be done as discreetly as possible so that only those on the podium with the bride and groom will be aware of the change in protocol (this is embarrassing enough in and of itself).

However, at this wedding, the mesader kidushin announced loudly for the the chosson to drop the ring into his kallah’s hand – which effectively let the entire room of guests know that the bride was a niddah.  The bride began sobbing under the chuppah, and some of the male witnesses for the ceremony were embarrassed for her and looked away.  When the mesader kidushin saw the men were not looking at the couple, he called loudly for the men to look at the kallah to ensure she had accepted the ring!  He had no clue the emotional turmoil his announcement had caused.

Women in general are usually private about when they are menstruating.  How much moreso orthodox girls who are taught to be tznius and keep their body parts and bodily functions private?  Upon engagement, suddenly a young woman’s bodily functions and fluids become a subject for semi-public discussion.  First with a kallah teacher, family, and possibly even future in-laws in trying to determine a wedding date that works around her period.  Next with a rabbi to whom shailahs (questions about the laws of niddah) may have to be asked.  Possibly a first time visit to a gynelcologist to have an exam and prescription for birth control to push off a period that might happen too close to the wedding and render the kallah a niddah.  Next adapting to going to the mikvah and interacting with mikvah attendants and seeing other women from the community there because of this ancient menstruant’s purification ritual.

Having to share news about your personal cycle with hundreds of wedding guests just makes the exposure and vulnerability that much greater.  Additionally, the larger exposure of your cycle indicating the activity (or not) of your brand new sex life to a wide audience is almost too much to bear.  Some women say that they feel resentful about their chuppat niddah years after the event.

The only possible equivalent I can think of that a man might relate to is if a groom was standing under the chuppah and suffering from a spontaneous and uncontrollable erection, and the mesader kedushin had to publicly announce that the ceremony had to be halted until the chosson could control the stance in his pants.  While menstruation is a normal and healthy part of a woman’s life, it is also a private part, and not one that needs to be advertised to anyone other than her new husband.

Anyway, why am I rambling on like this?  Oh yes, I was thinking about how the laws of taharat hamishpacha can lead to “romance interruptus,” the most extreme example being foiling a wedding night.  In kallah classes, I can remember hearing about chuppat niddah, and being taught that if it happens to a bride, it is only one night (could be more depending on when she can get to the mikvah) and that “this too shall pass.”  That every bride will go on to have a happy marriage and will hardly remember their stalled initial first days together as husband and wife.

However, that isn’t technically true.  For orthodox couples who follow taharat hamishpacha, special dates on the calendar or planned romantic getaways can’t be relied upon.  Most secular couples plan for romantic birthdays, maybe Valentine’s Day, and certainly romantic anniversary celebrations.  However, for an orthodox couple, romance isn’t always on the agenda for those occasions, depending upon the time of the month.  More than once, I’ve been asked if my husband and I did anything special for a wedding anniversary, when that year the only thing in the cards was to go out for dinner like two old high school buddies reminiscing about the good old days.

I’ve heard about couples who have gone through a great deal of trouble to plan and organize a romantic weekend getaway without the kids, only to have it ruined by an unexpected period or spotting that rendered the wife a niddah right before or during the trip.  Yes, niddah is supposed to be a time for verbal communication between husband and wife, and not physical communication, but in a situation like a ruined romantic getaway, talking is not much comfort.  There’s a time for talking and a time for action.

While it’s hard for me to say whether or not taharat hamishpachat really does keep a marriage fresh and alive compared to a marriage without these laws (since I’ve only experienced a marriage with them), I can say that sometimes the laws do serve to hinder romance rather than enhance it.  This is something I was never taught in kallah classes, nor was it something I ever read in books regarding keeping taharat hamishpacha.

The only discussed exception to the happy consequences of keeping taharat hamishpacha is the situation of chuppat niddah, which is explained as a one time challenge.  Perhaps this is a consequence of the formal training of these laws happening before marriage, and therefore, focusing mainly on the wedding and those early events.  However, a more realistic discussion should also take place about the disappointment that can be caused when anticipated times of romance, throughout a couple’s marriage, are thwarted because of a random state of niddah.

Throwback Thursday – Cultural Differences

These days I seem to be pondering the cultural differences between modern orthodox Judaism and ultra orthodox Judaism.  Yesterday’s post that featured photos of haredi children smoking at a Mea Shearim wedding is one such example of those cultural differences.

However, back in 2007, I was mulling over the cultural differences a baal teshuva faces upon entering the orthodox world.  The social mores and manners between secular society and frum society are different in many ways.  While on the surface, it’s easy to say that orthodox manners are superior, to the uninitiated, sometimes the behavior of the religious can seem downright rude.

For example, as a woman in the secular world, it is common for a man entering a building before you to hold the door open.  Maybe this is a dated analogy, as chivalry seems to be dead everywhere these days.  At the very least, it now extends both ways, and I have been known to hold the door open for the man behind me – especially an older gentleman.

Back to the subject at hand, I can remember visiting a heavily orthodox neighborhood shortly after getting married, and being surprised by all of the doors being shut in my face, as I expectantly paused for the man in front of me to open the door and let me pass through first.   I also remember feeling shocked as I was practically tackled football style by men in religious garb while navigating the busy sidewalks.  These were men who would probably flinch in horror if I extended my hand to them to shake, yet they had no problem with a full body bump.

I suppose the above examples are observations of both cultural differences between the secular and religious worlds, and cultural differences between the modern orthodox and haredi worlds.  Obviously, the behaviors I describe don’t extend to every haredi man, and there are rude people in every community who don’t represent the whole.  However, it does seems to be more common for the modern orthodox men in my community to hold doors open or make way for a lady on a busy street.  In more right wing orthodox groups, that kind of consideration might even be seen as inappropriate (it’s unseemly to walk behind a woman, stare after her, or even acknowledge her in order to step aside).

Below are some of my BT musings as I tried to understand orthodox social codes.

Cultural Differences

As a baalas teshuvah, there are certain behaviors that are standard and appropriate in the frum community that are contrary to the way that I was raised . They aren’t huge things, more like Miss Manners type stuff, but when I was new at living in the orthodox world they stood out. Now, so many years later, I can’t even remember most of the things that made me uncomfortable. I probably have adopted most of the behaviors myself.

Hmmm…trying to remember some – like when you are on a date in a restaurant and people who know you or your date come over not just to say a quick hello, but have a lengthy conversation and perhaps even sit down to join you for an untold amount of time. There could be several such acquaintances and each might take their turn until the meal is basically over and so is your “date.”

I also never got used to the “that’s loshon horah” rebuke to immediately shut someone up. I will admit I haven’t seen it done often, but I remember the first time I was sitting at a shabbos table full of people and someone was recounting a rather innocuous story, and another guest interrupted with the “loshon horah” rebuke. The speaker stopped talking, looked flustered, tried weakly to defend his story as not being loshon horah, and then was silent while other guests chimed in with conversation to fill the silence. I felt mortified for the “rebuked one.” Isn’t embarrassing someone in public also assur? Where I come from, you listen politely, and move on to the next topic whether you believe or agree with the speaker – just common courtesy.

Another thing that annoyed me as a new bride (although I think this is starting to change based on bridal shower invitations I have received lately), was that frum people did not register at stores for gifts. For secular brides, this is one of the first items on the agenda after setting a wedding date – the bridal registry. The thing every bride relishes and the thing every groom hates. I suppose each city has it’s own standard stores that each bride registers at – in my town the basics were Marshall Fields, Crate & Barrel, and Bed, Bath & Beyond. The frum community didn’t have this tradition when I got married – either for registering or buying from a registry list. When I got married, half of my registry was purchased from my relatives and secular friends, the rest was an independent hodgepodge.

Anyway, the reason I am writing this post is because something happened recently that reared my BT sensibilities, which doesn’t happen very often anymore. While most everything that happens in daily frum society is now second nature to me and has been for years, I can still sometimes be surprised by feeling that a certain orthodox cultural norm is counter to what I was raised with as being appropriate. The cultural norm that I speak of, in this case, are sheva brachot.

In recent years, sheva brachot that we have been invited to have been for couples whose weddings we attended. Although one of the purposes of sheva brachot is to have “new faces” to wish the happy couple mazel tov, we haven’t been in that “new faces” category for awhile. Recently, we were invited to sheva brachot in the “new faces” category – and I was surprised by my reaction. My immediate feeling was that if we weren’t close enough to be invited to the wedding, why invite us to sheva brachot? I almost felt like it was rude – kind of like rubbing our faces in the fact that we weren’t invited to the wedding. Then I thought, well, they probably had a small wedding and couldn’t invite everyone. Then I found out that the bride’s family is filthy rich and they actually had a huge wedding!

Anyway, my point is – my disturbance was due to how I was raised. For example – if you weren’t going to invite someone to your wedding – you certainly wouldn’t invite them to the engagement party, bridal shower, bachelorette party, you catch my drift. You would play it low key and try not to rub it into the uninvited’s face. I realize that the couple meant no harm and this is the way things are done in our community. My husband, raised in this community, had no problem with it whatsoever. It’s my BTness coming out.