Crossposted from my home blog: Finkorswim.com
I read this excellent article on Tablet today. It's a great article for a lot of reasons. For me, the best part of the article is that I agree with almost every word! (Half kidding.) For the purposes of this post I will assume you have also read the article. Click here: Tablet Magazine, read the article and come back when you are done.
The writer, a young woman studying at Stern College, comes from a more insular background than the Yeshiva University environment she now associates with. Her accounts of life in the more insular community are accurate and I myself have experienced many of the same sentiments first hand. I have heard of almost all the rest of them second hand.
The single most important indicator of religious piety has become modesty. If that sounds ironic, it is because it is. Real modesty is to shift the focus from the external to the internal. The obsession with modesty has turned it into the very opposite of modesty. I recently heard that a woman was "off the derech". The proof was that she was seen in pants and only covering most of her hair with a hat. Why is that the deciding factor? And why are we talking about it?
Tznius has also turned into an arms race. The more stringent we can be with our children and communities, the more safe we feel in our observance. I don't need to tell tales or name names, but my observation has been that the standards have increased to less reasonable levels in my own lifetime. Women being blurred out of photos, advertisements telling women to hide on Purim, summer camps for young children with only girls present are expected to have strict dress codes are all recent examples that I have seen of tznius inflation.
The article expresses an almost hesitant appreciation for secular wisdom and art. That is unfortunate but understandable. In the yeshiva world, beauty is found in Judaism and Torah. Searching for beauty and wisdom elsewhere is discouraged and frowned upon. I don't think this is the way of truth. Our great Torah giants from almost all previous generations venerated all wisdom. We should as well.
I hope the article goes viral. I hope everyone reads the article. The insular community should see how it is perceived by those who leave it but remain true to orthodox Judaism. In fact, I wish the YU style community and yeshivish community could somehow bridge the gap and find more common ground. I see YU shifting the right, but almost as if to one-up them, the more insular community has taken its own turn to the right. If the communal standards were less rigid, I think we would find that there is beauty in both ways of life. But it can be hard to see the beauty when it feels to many as if beauty must be repressed and hidden.
Great article Avital. I hope to read more of your writing in the future!