You know, friends, I feel there was something I would have liked to have spoke about last week, but totally forgot about: tzniut. I know I've spoken about this topic over here until the point that "my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth" but, as with most matters in life, new events call for new perspectives.
There has recently been some talk about a new book on tzniut that has appeared on the book shelves. I browsed through the book I thought was the one spoken about (although it happened to have been a different book they were discussing) to get an idea about what had caused the hubbub. I didn't see anything particularly objectionable about the book, but it did seem to reinforce an opinion that I had heard about not long before, regarding how much of the area below the neck it is proper for a girl to have revealed. The opinion I had recently heard was that if a girl is wearing a button-down shirt/blouse, it is better to have the top button closed. My opinion on the matter before this had simply been that it is a queer way to carry oneself about, and that the matter had been sufficiently discussed on Seinfeld. The book contended though, that since, unlike the limbs of a woman, a higher level of stringency is placed on the torso (and directly under the neck is part of the torso) it must be covered.
I had once seen in a similar book an opinion that said that since "The Song of Solomon" considers the neck of a woman a beautiful thing, it can be inferred that it should be covered. It therefore suggested girls wear high collars to cover their necks. What I have always found disturbing about this area of "Ashkenazi halacha" is that it's entirely hypocritical. For example if they were so very concerned about the covering of the neck, what more thorough way to accomplish that than a neck-covering H'ijab? And as I've stated numerous times here, their whole approach to the subject is antithetical: According to their rulings it is permitted for a woman to to don a skirt that covers only the top part of her legs (and knees) as long as the lower half is covered by stockings. Yet it's well known that stockings themselves on a woman are considered a thing of attraction, and even getting a glimpse of the stockings on the lower leg of a woman was considered semi-erotic in the past. According to those standards, women such as the wife of the last "Rebbe" of Lubavitch was very sorely lacking in her fulfilment of Jewish laws of modesty. I mean, who said I want to see an old woman's lower legs?
I know this too is something I've ranted on in the past, but there is a well known custom among the Hasidic Jews of south-eastern Europe to not only cover their hair with a wig, but to have a kerchief at least partly covering the hair. Many women who follow that custom today seem as if all they have covering their hair is a kerchief that seems to be covering only a small portion of the hair. How does it help to have Jewish women look like Gypsies? I don't see the touch of modesty in such an outlandish fashion.
But it is well known that this is but the smallest example of the confusion prevalent among the Jews of Eastern Europe. It has always been clear to me that those on the other side of their religious spectrum were more correct, such as the Settler-girls (in Judea and Samaria) who wear pants beneath their skirts. Surely that is the most modest way of going about things.
But what of those on the extreme left? It is their argument that what is considered "modest" changes tremendously with the prevailing fashions. While I do agree wholeheartedly with that opinion, can it be said that if the people of the world all become nudist it would be correct for us to follow suit, since now those parts of the body do not inspire erotic thought? I do not feel so. There must be a middle ground. As far as the current situation of Western dress, I have always felt that it is perfectly possible to be modest while wearing jeans and a tee shirt. While perhaps not entirely ideal, as long as the important parts of the upper arms and legs are not visible, there wouldn't be much of a problem aside for the fact that the shape of the legs is evident. But then again, that is just another example of the hypocrisy of the Ashkenazi tzniut idea. They bring for an example the fact that the 'hip area' (no, not Tribeca!) should not give off it's shape through the clothing, which is one of the reasons they strongly encourage wearing skirts. Yet that logic would necessitate women to wear free-flowing tops cover the lower-back. Instead they wear skirts in which the shape of the hip area is evident, and have no free-flowing torso-garment covering it. I feel that that is perhaps one of the greatest breaches of the concept of modesty in dress. I mean, here are women criticizing the Muslim girls for wearing pants, when they themselves have the shape of their hip area evident. At least the Muslim girls generally have a 'top' that camouflages the shape of that area.
I know this sounds petty, and is a bit representative of the fact that I'm looking at girls to much, but I do still feel it's important to bring up, and that it's clear that the current Ultra-Orthodox understanding of tzniut is just silly.
[This post, by the way, is merely recording a few minutes of thought I had last week, while standing in the vicinity of religious Jews.]