Stop Skimping

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21bEllul “Tsunami of porn” is the colorful phrase the Shmuley Boteach coined to describe the skimpy clothing and other phenomena that characterize much of modern behavior.

See his Jerusalem Post Sept.2 oped “Why women dress skimpily in the cold,” After exposing the problem of attire, or lack thereof, he writes:

And the most astonishing thing as all this takes place is the deafening silence. I do not know of a single important female voice decrying the tsunami of porn and the denigration of women in our time.

Well, there has been a voice, and that voice is speaking again.

Author Wendy Shalit has recently published another bestseller on modesty. The new one, titled Girls Gone Mild (a play on the sad phenomenon of “girls gone wild”) not only decries the degeneration of social norms today but offers alternative role models of young women who, as described in the book’s subtitle, “Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It’s Not Bad to be Good.” Although she herself is a young, haredi mother, she promotes modesty as a virtue that need not necessarily be religiously based. As a non-religious co-ed many years ago she undertook academic research on the topic of modesty. The trail led her to the Orthodox communities in NY and Lakewood, and then to Neve Yerushalayim seminary in Jerusalem.
Take a look at the book’s Web site www.girlsgonemild.com. That website will give you links to several radio interviews (National Public Radio), articles (e.g. Newsweek and her rejoinder to Newsweek) and reviews of her newly published book.

Some Cross-currents readers may remember the Cross-currents discussion Feb.16, 2005 of the brou-ha-ha Wendy caused when she was invited by the New York Times Book Review to write a critique of contemporary Jewish writers. She pointed out that many who claim they are “insiders” to traditional Judaism are really outsiders, and the voice of the real insiders needs to be given more attention.

In order to give a balanced view, you can read a critical view of Wendy and the modesty movement in the LA Times article titled the “False Modesty Movement”

Then judge for yourself by reading the book. And take a look at the material on its website and you’ll hear the voices of young women who are empowered, dress and act modestly, uphold virtue as a virtue and swim against the tide of porn… in old-fashioned, one-piece bathing suits.

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She is on the board of the Charedi College of Jerusalem. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survved the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She s available to lecture in Israel and in the US.

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31 Responses

  1. Evan M. Gadol says:

    While I am in strong support of women dressing modestly, I find I must agree with Dr. Hall about his statements regarding modesty and sexual assualt. What we all must remember is that sex crimes generally aren’t about sex; sex can be purchased easily enough, and it isn’t terribly difficult to go to a night club in some major city and go home with some girl. Sexual assualt is something that comes from a desire for power, and it isn’t uncommon that an already modest and unassuming girl can spark a desire for greater control in such a person. It is rare that I hear about outwardly confident and “liberated” women being assaulted, largely because of the education they recieve. They are more likely to have been taught about dangerous situations in which they could be raped. I think we should teach our girls how to avoid such situations and how to modest young women.

    As far as Bais Ya’akov and the “frum” world being guilty of this, I had several female friends who went to Bais Ya’akov, and physical beauty is also strongly emphasized. One particular friend of mine was talking about shidduch in that particular type of Orthodox world (I am Sephardic and have less familiarity with that type of Orthodoxy) and she mentioned that if the mother isn’t still a size 2 that a lot of times the girl will be passed over. While I approve of modest dress, to me the point of dressing modestly is to de-emphasize the importance of physical beauty and remind us that internal and spiritual beauty is enduring and what we should be seeking.

    While I strongly approve of educating women in matters of Torah and Halakhah, my fear (based on the observations of my female friends) is that finding a husband is still more important than studying the Law for the sake of the Law and of God. Having a properly “frum” girl who knows her stuff is a pre-requesite for marriage. I personally care a great deal more for her intention for learning, not just that she has learned.

  2. Ori says:

    HILLEL: If I were a woman attempting to function normally in today’s Sodomite degenerate society, I would do my best to conceal my physical attributes with the most modest clothing I could find.

    Ori: Yet the evidence is that many women, including capable ones (my boss, the professor dovid wrote about in comment 20, etc.) do that. Why do you think that is?

  3. chaim wolfson says:

    “By “frum” I meant Orthodox. By “guilty of this” I was referring to the fact that in some of our girls’ schools and our contemporary writings, women’s intellectual development is downgraded. My argument was that people who are proud of their intellectual accomplishments don’t feel even the internal need to look outwardly alluring. (I’m not saying that we should throw every Beit Yaakov student into a gemara shiur or push them to apply to Ivy League colleges. But every Jew, male and female, should be encouraged to develop intellectually and we should make the point clear that it is not non-tzniut to learn. No Torah hashgafah values ignorance!)” (Comment by Charles B. Hall — September 10, 2007 @ 4:23 pm)

    Dr. Hall, I agree that there are “tznuis” issues in the Orthodox community (of course, a non-Jew would have absolutely no idea what we’re complaining about!). If I understand your argument correctly, though, it would seem that the problem is not so much with frum women as with frum men’s perception of woman. The solution would not be to encourage women to take pride in their intellectual development but to encourage men to value women for their intellect. Also, why would this be a problem in the MO world, where I’m sure you’d agree that women are encouraged to develop their intellect (and many do attend Gemara shiurim and Ivy League universities)?

    Personally, I think the problem is that many people lack an appreciation of what is an “ikar” (of primary importance) and what is a “tafel” (of secondary importance). Too many people focus on “chitzonius” (external qualities) rather than on “pnimius” (internal qualities). If women would sense that men value solid “hashkafos” and spiritual attainments over looks, they would be less inclined to dress in a manner that calls attention to themselves.

  4. HILLEL says:

    TO CHARLES AND ORI:

    Another VERY IMPORTANT POINT is that the definition of what constitutes “inappropriate conduct” between men and women has changed dramatically.

    today, it is routine for men to cohabit with “dates” that they have just met and that they barely know–in fact, in some quarters, this is the expected behavior. The Navy has redesigned its ships to accomodate a 10% rate of pregnancy among its Navy women.

    Advertising today and routine radio programming discuss topics that would have been absolutely verboten years ago.

    So, today, “sexual assault” takes on a very narrow definition–actual physical violence. The other, softer pressures that are placed upon women are redefined as “consensual.”

    The many “sexual harrassment” scandals that have rocked Wall Street and Corporate America, even including the “Sexual Harrasser-in Chief” Bill Clinton, are only the tip of the iceberg on what is really going on below the surface.

    If I were a woman attempting to function normally in today’s Sodomite degenerate society, I would do my best to conceal my physical attributes with the most modest clothing I could find.

    A woman needs to be attractive to her husband, and nobody else–period!

  5. Mark says:

    Charles writes,

    “By “guilty of this” I was referring to the fact that in some of our girls’ schools and our contemporary writings, women’s intellectual development is downgraded.”

    Thank you for your explanation. However, I’m still not sure who you’re referring to here to be honest. To the best of my knowledge in the Chareidi world the push has been in the opposite direction. They focus more n academics in the Beis Yaakovs than ever before and there’s alot of complaining about that. Almost every girl attends seminary in EY nowadays, which is a marked difference from years past. Perhaps you’re referring to something else. I’m confused.

  6. tzippi says:

    Re 24: I’m not sure if it’s intellectualism our (girls’) schools are lacking. In many Bais Yaakovs, the girls are learning on a very high, intense level, not just the memorization and rote, but in-depth. What may well be missing is the hashkafa – both fundamentals in faith that is good for our kids to be learning, and overall feeling of why learning and living Jewishly is so crucial.

  7. Ori Pomerantz says:

    HILLEL, I didn’t explain myself correctly above. I merely meant to argue that Charles B. Hall’s statement “Ok, most women who are scantily dressed are not sexually assaulted.” is in all likelihood true.

    I did not try to argue that modesty isn’t a good thing for other reasons – merely that the danger argument is not very strong. Personal dignity is another matter, one that I do not consider myself qualified to comment on (I think it’s subjective).

    Personally, I dislike feeling attracted to women who aren’t Teresa. It distracts me, and makes me feel like I’m being unfaithful to my wife. Yet I don’t think I have a right to expect the women I work with to accommodate me in the way they dress. The problem is mine to deal with.

  8. Charles B. Hall says:

    Hillel makes a good point:

    “Official statistics only record those cases that have been reported.”

    A well-designed survey does a better job of estimating actual rates of crime. The US government has been doing such surveys for a long time:

    http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance/tables/viortrdtab.htm

    While they do not report state-by-state statistics (and indeed it is probably difficult for a national survey to do so in small states), it does show that sexual assault rates have declined by over 80% since the 1970s. I don’t think that the rate of alluring dress has declined by anything close to that amount, if indeed it has at all.

    “Nobody would argue that a woman who walks alone at night in central park is more likely to be raped than one who is walking a big, mean dog or who carries a weapons.”

    That same government survey reported that about 70% of female sexual assault victims were assaulted by someone they knew — “an intimate, other relative, a friend or an acquaintance”.

    “Unfortunately, much of the world values women only for their ability to catch a man—and the frum world is not innocent in this.”

    “I’m curious what you mean by this? What evidence do you see that suggests that the frum world is guilty of this? [Also please define “Frum” – Mo, Chareidi?]”

    By “frum” I meant Orthodox. By “guilty of this” I was referring to the fact that in some of our girls’ schools and our contemporary writings, women’s intellectual development is downgraded. My argument was that people who are proud of their intellectual accomplishments don’t feel even the internal need to look outwardly alluring. (I’m not saying that we should throw every Beit Yaakov student into a gemara shiur or push them to apply to Ivy League colleges. But every Jew, male and female, should be encouraged to develop intellectually and we should make the point clear that it is not non-tzniut to learn. No Torah hashgafah values ignorance!)

  9. HILLEL says:

    ORI:

    O.K., let’s get back to basics.

    A man or woman who has self respect and a sense of dignity will wear clothing that conceals the physical body that he has in common with the animal world.

    A person who takes off his clothing is giving us all a message that he sees no great difference between him(her)self and a horse!

  10. Ori Pomerantz says:

    HILLEL, I think that either you’re exaggerating, or your definition of “scantily dressed” is very strict and you definition of “sexually assaulted” very loose. I’m pretty sure women would stop dressing immodestly if it were that dangerous.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that being scantily dressed is a good thing. Most people who don’t wear seat belts don’t get into accidents. Most babies who sleep on their tummies do not get SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). We still wear seat belts and put our babies to sleep on their backs.

  11. HILLEL says:

    To Charles Hall:
    You wrote:
    “Ok, most women who are scantily dressed are not sexually assaulted.”

    Official statistics only record those cases that have been reported. There are numerous cases that are not reported–for obvious reasons.

    Just use a little common sense!

  12. dovid says:

    “I”ve never seen a female medical school professor dress in an alluring manner.”

    But I have seen a female accounting professor (married with a newly born baby), dress in an alluring manner.

  13. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Given that men have free will, there are two factors involved in the statistics:

    1. The chance that a particular man will become a potential rapist.
    2. The chance that a potential rapist will choose a particular woman.

    The state statistics Charles B. Hall cites are mostly affected by #1. Alaska probably has more rapes because of the difficulty in law enforcement with such a low population density.

    We can argue whether the overall level of modesty affects this factor, but the individual contribution of each woman is negligible either way.

    #2 is more likely to be affected by a woman’s personal behavior. Nobody would argue that a woman who walks alone at night in central park is more likely to be raped than one who is walking a big, mean dog or who carries a weapons.

    The level of modesty may also have an effect here. Would Moshe Anas be more likely to rape a woman who is dressed modestly, or one that shows a lot of skin? I have a naive assumption, but I’d be interested in seeing research.

  14. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    “We’re talking statistical proabilities here.”

    Ok, most women who are scantily dressed are not sexually assaulted.

    Looking at the rates of sexual assaults in the US, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut have three of the four lowest rates among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Is there really significantly more alluring dress among women around here? Compared to Alaska, which has by far the higest rates? Furthermore, the rates have dropped substatntially in the US since the early 1990s. Did women in the general population really start dressing more modestly starting in 1993? This may be worthy of further study, but I would hesitate to say that this is empirical proof of HaShem’s ways in this matter. There is perfectly adequate support for modesty in our tradition without appealing either to fear or to statistics.

  15. Mark says:

    Charles Hall,

    “Unfortunately, much of the world values women only for their ability to catch a man—and the frum world is not innocent in this.”

    I’m curious what you mean by this? What evidence do you see that suggests that the frum world is guilty of this? [Also please define “Frum” – Mo, Chareidi?]

    Thank you in advance

  16. HILLEL says:

    To Charles B. Hall:

    I’m suprised at your comment:
    “While I certainly don’t support women (or men) dressing in alluring manners, plenty of modestly dressed women have been attacked on dates or while walking down the street.”

    We’re talking statistical proabilities here. Your exceptions prove the rule!

  17. Ori Pomerantz says:

    I read some research that violent criminals can usually stop people who are trained to fight. Maybe in addition to modesty, we should teach our children some kind of martial art so they’ll be safer.

  18. Charles B. Hall says:

    “demand to be treated as men’s intellectual equal while dressed in a way that suggests otherwise”

    I”ve never seen a female medical school professor dress in an alluring manner. Women who are valued for their brains don’t need to. Unfortunately, much of the world values women only for their ability to catch a man — and the frum world is not innocent in this.

    “influenced by what they see around them”

    When a major circulation newspaper in New York City can put full color photographs of scantily clad women — or even totally naked people in suggestive positions — on their front page and not get a peep on protest as a result, we can see how far we have slid. Was it exempt from criticism because it supports conservative political causes?

    “immodest dress will attract violence in the worst case”

    While I certainly don’t support women (or men) dressing in alluring manners, plenty of modestly dressed women have been attacked on dates or while walking down the street.

  19. HILLEL says:

    WISDOM FROM THE TALMUD

    The Talmud tells us that someone who exposes him(her)self to danger will attract danger. It is a law of cause and effect.

    It is no justification of violent and criminal behavior to observe that immodest dress will attract violence in the worst case, and bring sin and tragedy on the Jewish People in the best case.

    In all cases, the immodest person will be punished, in this world or the next.

  20. Tzurah says:

    An interesting mashal about immodest dress I heard once:
    A woman dressing immodestly who gets unwanted male attention (from ogling to rape) can be compared to a guy who gets mugged while walking alone in Central Park at night.

    The guy can be admonished for putting himself in such a dagerous situation. However, his irresponsibility does not diminish the crime of the mugger, and the criminal should not get any leniencies based on his victim’s irresponsibility.

    “But Judge, he was *asking* to be mugged.”

  21. Calev says:

    Ariella took the words out of my mouth. Ream’s argument is really a muddle, a tired attempt to equate an increase in women’s rights with a decrease in their morals. A woman’s skimpy clothing in no way excuses a man from sexual violence, but we cannot be surprised if men’s behaviour is in some way influenced by what they see around them. Increasingly what they do see is women determined to show as much flesh as won’t get them arrested, drinking to excess (in the UK, a big question mark now hangs over many reported cases of rape because in some of them the ‘victim’ was so drunk that she couldn’t really remember what had happened), and behaving in a generally uncouth, and sometimes violent, way.

    Ream argues “I suppose I’d feel better about the modesty movement if it had its parallel in the world of men.” Well, in Judaism it does. Modesty of dress and behaviour are also incumbent on men. It would be a shame if we lost sight of that.

  22. Ariella says:

    From the LAT article:

    No one would argue that the right to say no to sex isn’t a good thing. And surely we can agree that talking to girls about the value of their bodies, and their selves, is a welcome cultural shift. But when Shalit argues that “many of the problems we hear about today — sexual harassment, date rape . . . are connected to our culture’s attack on modesty,” she is making a dangerous leap.

    It’s not a lack of female modesty but a sense of male entitlement that leads to sexual violence. And the idea that we women can change men’s behavior by changing our clothes is not only disconcerting, it has been debunked. As millions of women know all too well, no one ever avoided a rape by wearing a longer skirt.

    Ms. Ream’s argument rejecting the assertation that modesty can prevent date rape and sexual harassment is a bit too skimpy (pardon the pun) to be taken seriously. If it is true that the cause of date rape and sexual harassment is male entitlement, then the cause of that entitlement is, in part, female behavior that seems to suggest that such entitlement will at least be tolerated if not outright condoned. It’s hard to argue that a male sense of entitlement is the root of all evil when it comes to male-female relations when women not only send inappropriate visual cues to men, but oftentimes confirm such cues with immodest activities with men.

    When women come to work or go on a date with virtually everything “on display” and then tell men “look but don’t touch” it’s not all that surprising that some men cross the line. Of course that does not absolve the man who commits date rape, not in the slightest. But such a woman cannot claim to be 100% innocent either. If your clothing (or lack there of) say “YES!” but your mouth says “no” you’re sending mixed signals that are bound to attract men with little self control and few if any redeeming values.

  23. Ariella says:

    You know, I suspect that modesty will make a come back. At least I hope it will. Smart young women must realize that it is utterly ridiculous, not to mention hypocritical, to demand to be treated as men’s intellectual equal while dressed in a way that suggests otherwise. Maybe I’m crazy, but I see tznius as the ultimate feminist manifesto.

  24. sima ir kodesh says:

    Is Wendy Shalit related to our kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit?

  25. SephardiLady says:

    I finally picked up a copy of Ms. Shalit’s first book and was thoroughly impressed. I would highly recommend this book for those interested in a survey on modesty that does not focus on measurements and halachic stringencies. I second Steve Brizel’s recommendation as well as his comment that follows. I walked away from this read with a fresh appreciation for modesty, and one which did not feel like an attack on my sneakers, tichel, snood, line of work, etc.

  26. Toby Katz says:

    Shlomo Zalman Jessel’s warning is well-taken, and I should have mentioned what he did — that Wendy Shalitt’s books are not intended for Bais Yakov girls, but for secular girls and women who are immersed in today’s coarse Western culture. Caveat lector.

  27. Steve Brizel says:

    S Z Jessel-If you think that either a BT or someone who is FFB but who might spend her Shabbos afternoon reading a contemporary romance novel wouuld be taken aback by the descriptions in Ms. Shalit’s book, IMO, that reflects at best a state of naivete.

  28. Shlomo Zalman Jessel says:

    Yes, Wendy’s newest book is superb, but I should caution readers that it is intended for a secular audience. It is assumed that the reader knows all about sex in all its variations, and there are a lot of quotations with graphic content.

  29. Toby Katz says:

    Wendy Shalitt wrote her first book, *A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue*, before she even became religious — when she was a very young, single woman — just a girl, really. When I read the book — a truly great and inspiring book! — I just knew that she was going to be religious some day. I totally loved her book and recommended it to many people. (I confess that I also envied her beautiful prose style and the fact that she was already a published writer at such a young age!) A couple of years later when I was visiting Israel and learned that she was spending the year at a seminary for young women, I was not surprised.

    Because her book argued so powerfully and so eloquently against immodesty in dress and manner, and because she was so young, there were those who denigrated her and said, “She must be ugly, she can’t get a date, that’s why she writes this sour-grapes stuff.”

    But that summer in Israel I had the pleasure of meeting the young writer, and found that she was actually beautiful both inside and out. I confess that I worried for her — what swain, however wonderful, could possibly measure up to her high and refined standards?

    Baruch Hashem she found her zivug and is now a young mother — and Baruch Hashem she is still putting her G-d-given talents to use. I hope that her new book will be influential and will help millions of young women, Jewish and non-Jewish, rediscover the natural womanly dignity of which so many have been robbed.

    BTW the cover of Wendy Shalitt’s first book is itself immodest — showing a medieval nude with a prominent fig leaf — and I asked her about it when we met. She told me that as a young writer she had no control over what the publisher did with her book, and of course she would far rather have had a different cover. That book went on to become a NY Times best seller, so I assume she now has enough clout to choose a cover she likes. I wish her every hatzlacha and bracha with her new book and hope it sells even more copies than her first book.

    PS Everyone should buy her first book as well as her new book, and do what I did with the first one — make your own cover.

  30. Steve Brizel says:

    I highly reccomend Ms. Shalit’s first book as well as this book as excellent books for anyone looking for a contemporary rationale on Tznius for both men and women.

  31. HILLEL says:

    I guess it takes a Baal-TeShuVa to recognize our failings.

    Some of our own women are so busy imitating the latest Paris fashions that they completly miss the point of what it is to be an “Am SeGula!”