Class 39 - Modesty: The Last Taboo - Student Responses-I
MODESTY: THE LAST TABOO - Student Responses-I
By Mrs Leah Kohn
Dear Ms. Kohn, As a Reconstructionist feminist Jew living in the 21st
Century, I find myself surprised to share at least partially in the views
on modesty articulated in your recent e-mail! I really don't feel
comfortable revealing the innermost details of my life to total strangers,
and if ever I DO decide to try for Big Brother, Survivor or any other
reality show, I will be acutely conscious of the need to build a wall
between my private self and my public persona.
Having said that, my reason for refusing to dress like Jennifer Lopez on
Oscar night is based on a large number of factors: 1. Professional
considerations (I work in a psychiatric hospital, not Hollywood), 2. My
right to not be viewed as a sexual being by anyone who I am not
romantically involved with. Even my 20-year-old son views women who show
too much skin in real life as being inappropriate, and there are some *very
interesting* adjectives that he's used. I wouldn't want my next boyfriend
to only see one part of me, whether it's my brain or my body. By not giving
everything away at one glance, I am maximizing my chances in this area.
3. My aversion to wearing clothes that "wear me" and require constant
tugging, maneuvering, etc. If I am to be comfortable with my body, this
means not having to worry about taking too long strides, tripping in high
heels, or trying to climb into an SUV in a mini-skirt.
So while I do not take modesty to the extent of my more frum sisters, I am
learning that we have more in common with each other than I had originally
Dear Rebbetzin Kohn,
Thank you for this interesting subject.
I think man has started to emulate nature. Back to nature is "in", probably
because of rebelling societie`s stringent rules in the past. In nature there
is hardly an animal to wear clothes. This approach somehow also takes away
individuality by reducing one`s awareness only to the body. The differences
among people are mostly located in one`s soul with very individual duties.
Animals live mostly by their instinct and that`s what people probably want
as well, not being held responsible for their actions.
Dear Mrs. Kohn,
My opinion in response to your question is as follows: Modern psychology
teaches us that we are not responsible for our "problems", and therefor
these such problems can be blamed on someone else. (Parents, for example.)
If society is not held responsible for their actions,then a person can do
whatever they wish. We have freedoms, and an insatiable desire to be
noticed. This leaves two categories of people. The ones who wish to stand
out, and the ones who wish to blend in. The loss of modesty can be seen in
both extremes. In order to blend in, you need to wear the latest fashions,
which can be very revealing. And those who need attention have to add the
extra factor of the outrageous to the equasion. In Judaism we unfortunately
know this situation as assimilation. In the secular world the saying is,
"anything goes", provided you are not seen as a "religious fanatic."
Personally, I could not believe that former President Clinton did not get
impeached, and the message that sent to our nation. Society at large will
try to mimic the role models.
Thank you so much for the wonderful essay on modesty. I am a single 33
year-old woman, in the process of converting to Judaism. Today, I returned
to college to finish the last year of a bachelors degree I began 15 years
Wow - was I appalled by the manner of (un-)dress of probably 95% of the
female student population! (Granted I live and Florida, and it's already
rather warm here). I was embarrassed for so many of the girls, and although
I have never put myself in the position in which they are, I can guarantee
that over half of them are dressing and behaving in this manner due to low
self-esteem. As you said, society and media dictate that this is "the way"
to be - that this is normal. Let me just say, for anyone and everyone, WHAT
SOCIETY SAYS IS NORMAL IS NOT ALWAYS RIGHT!
Those of us that choose to wear long pants & skirts, and shirts that are NOT
low cut and have sleeves (and backs) to them...we are considered the
"strange" ones. And for many years, I was very self-conscious of my
modesty. I never wanted to wear shorts in public, while all of my friends
did, and encouraged me to do the same.
Not until I found Judaism, did I finally feel comfortable in my skin, and in
my (modest) clothes. Of course, this wasn't totally about religion, but
Judaism did give my the "OK" to be the way that I am - it confirmed my
belief that I really wasn't crazy while the rest of the world was sane - it
made me see the reasons why I believed in modesty, and elaborated on the
beauty of it / how modesty and mystery play such a vital role in life.
Well, I've got to go for now. Again, I want to say THANK YOU for this
wonderfully enlightening & encouraging piece. I'll be printing this and
sharing with some friends (maybe even posting on some bulletin boards at
Subject: Women in Judaism - MODESTY: THE LAST TABOO
I think that much of it is because of our society. Look at music, how people
dress, the kinds of things that are in movies, on TV and the Internet.
But I feel that it is also important that we don't place full blame on
others. We must each try to do our share in being modest in dress, speech,
and actions. We must do our part, and then maybe we can be role models for
I'm 15 years old and go to a non Jewish girls school, therefore I have to deal
with this almost every day. A lot of them wear the latest fashions which
sometimes are not very modest at all. Most of the time they only do it to show
off to the people around them.
As in the case of "Big Brother", people for some weird reason found it
highly addictive and interesting. I saw some of the "after programmes"
where they interviewed the contestants, and many of them said they were
only doing it because they wanted fame and fortune, and thought it was the
only way to gain it. Some of them used it to launch a singing career, and
all were unsuccessful. Even the people who didn't win earned a lot of money
by selling their stories to the newspapers.
As a teenager in the modern world, I have discovered it is actually more
the men who put pressures on the women to wear the immodest clothing, they
probably wouldn't do it otherwise. I personally don't, even though once or
twice I have had a few boys of my age (not Jewish) asking me why I don't
wear what they'd probably like me to, and I say its because of my religious
beliefs, but at the same time I would feel insecure exposing myself in that
Modesty should include a curtailment of ego trips and bragging, and not just
concentrate on sexual modesty. I have seen way too many cases of women,
especially supervisors, bragging constantly about their accomplishments
... Unfortunately, women who quietly go
about their work in a smooth, professional manner, without all this fanfare,
usually get passed over for promotions when the promotion comes from a woman
supervisor. Women supervisors are also very much impressed by bragging and
displays of ego, as well as malicious gossip masquerading under the guise of
keeping the supervisor informed. Male supervisors, I have noticed, are
impressed by efficiency without the carrying on.
I have also seen a number of women in social situations, as well as
work-related, practically beat people over the head with displays of what
they think is their superior intelligence or education, mistakenly making
the assumption that somebody quiet who is not showing off her brains, must
not have any. More often than not, the truly intelligent woman has the good
manners and discretion not to call public attention to the braggart's
Modesty -- it's not just a sexual thing -- so let's not forget the rest of
Very good question.
Part of the reason modesty, once valued, has been transformed into a hangup
in American society is (due to) America's economical structure. Here
(unlike in the socialist country I grew up in) there is a clear designation
of ownership on each physical object, building, area. Even what we call
"public property" still belongs to someone - a collection of people. In the
former USSR for example because of more vague economic definitions, there
were things that were unthinkable to put ownership on: like land, air, and
basically all of natural G-d's creation.
Here in America even air and land formally 'belong' to someone. So are our
bodies looked upon also, as 'belonging' to us. When here someone pays
you a compliment about your appearance, you say "thank you". As if it's to
your credit that you were created thin, or with beautiful hair or eyes, etc.
In other countries (USSR) this response is inappropriate, because you can't
accept praise for something that you have ultimately no control over and do
not possess. Recognition that there are things that do not fully belong to
you or to anybody with a body and address, is key to modesty. Your body is
not yours to maim, tattoo, take full credit for (unless you've improved it
by exercise, and even then, the exercise had good effect only because you
were created naturally receptive to it), or flaunt. Modesty is recognition
of the fact that even material and physical is something that we share
ownership of with the Creator.
...Young girls in ancient societies were protected from ogling eyes by
modesty. Societies intrinsically knew young girls were not able to handle
outright objectification of them by "ogling". In Western society we do very
little to protect our young children's psyches. In fact in Western society we
are extremely self-abusive. We work long hours to our own detriment, we
poison our own air that we breathe, our water that we drink and our minds
with awful, horrific, desensitizing education. Is it any wonder that the
healing, nurturing aspect of our society, namely women, is expected to work
harder, longer and treated with such disrespect? The very work that women do
for children is ignored and certainly undervalued...
Basically we are a society that worships money and any means to get it. Women
were never included in that money culture so we were absolutely considered
not even worthy of a voice. It is changing, but the appalling development now
is that we are training young women to be "macho" like boys and be able to
beat up opponents and be tough, strong, and angry. Adolescent females are
being arrested in record numbers now, and our women are not respected as
women in their own right unless they emulate men. If society is going to
change, we have to change how we educate our children. Our society is based
on aggressive competition for money goals. If survival is important, we as
women have to create structures that are inclusive and team based, rather
than individually oriented, which just creates isolation and bullies. We have
to take responsibility for ourselves as people and not let a corrupt society
lead us into a life of degradation and humiliation.
Women in Judaism, Copyright (c) 2000 by Mrs. Leah Kohn and ProjectGenesis, Inc.