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Mama Deb
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Mama Deb [userpic]
Preaching to the Converted

jonbaker has a Talmud class tonight. Okay, he has a Talmud class every night, in that he's part of the Daf Yomi, page a day, program, but on Tuesdays he goes to a longer class in Manhattan.

Anyway, since I have the night alone, I thought I'd go to this program on tzniut, modesty.

If it had been a live program, that would have been interesting, especially with the sheitl situation. But it was a video. And they said nothing new, nothing that this audience had never heard before. This audience was mostly from Boro Park. It was, of course, completely female - high school girls in uniform, unmarried older girls, and married women of all ages. (In these communities, unmarried adults are called "girls" and "boys", so a "man" can be younger than a "boy".)

I saw a lot of sheitls - many looking like plastic, but I couldn't really tell. A number had an extra covering, as is common in this community - a little straw hat or a very wide headband. I also saw a lot of ladies wearing snoods and a couple wearing hats. I'd chosen to wear a scarf.

That's not the point, but it's what I saw. The audience was already being rather strict on the laws of modesty - not just the bare law or the tiny bit over that I do in covering my elbows. Most of these ladies were wearing long sleeves and loose tops and thick stockings. Most of these women were living these laws. I live these laws.

This program wasn't to get the women watching to be more tzniut. This was to for them to feel good that they are doing a mitzvah "more important than Shabbat." And that's certainly a good thing. Did it work? I don't know. I found it deadly.

I'm following these laws because these are the laws. On hot humid summer days, I'd rather not wear an overshirt, but fine.

I don't think they make me better as a person. They do enhance my self-esteem, because I'm covering my body not out of shame but because it's something nice not for public consumption. That's official. That's the same feeling I get during my periods of niddah, when I keep myself more or less covered around my husband. It's both the law and his request - he doesn't want to see what he can't touch.

This is a tremendous boost to my ego.

Does it make me a better Jew? Only in that obeying any mitzvah makes one a better Jew. Unlike one of the rebbitzens in tonight's video, I don't think it's more important than Shabbat.

I left early, when the video ended with an ad for a learning program using a book I've already read and, in many cases, disagreed with. It was past 10:15 at that point and I had to take two buses home.


I'm always so torn about this, because one of the problems with modesty being The Test is that if you pass, you're assumed to be Jewish. And by their standards, I'm not. (Jewish dad, christianmumbleatheist mom.) So if I'm going to an Orthodox function and/or or neighborhood, which I do a lot, how do I dress?

My impulse is to dress modestly so as not to offend or embarass my Jewish male friends. (To a point. I am not covering my hair when and if I get married. If they can look at it now, they can look at it then.)

Unfortunately, dressing to Jewish standards of modesty is polite on the one hand but misleading on the other. I want anyone who would concieveably be interested in dating me to know right away that I'm not in the marriageable pool, and I prefer never again to be de-invited to a party because I was mistaken for their kind of Jew.

I once made a poor girl absolutely shriek with dismay because I first lit a cigarette on Shabbat and then put it out. That wouldn't have happened if I'd dressed immodestly, because she would have known right away that I was non-observant, and might well have assumed I was goyish. (Modestly by secular standards but not Jewish ones, I'm not proposing to emulate Little Kim.)

Then again, nor do I want my friends subjected to fishy stares in their own community for hanging out with me, let alone things like having their kashrut or their general allegiance/morals suspected, which could happen if I show up in front of the wrong people with a full complement of knees, breasts, and elbows.

What I usually try to do is walk the line. Wear something which covers but is not in the usual style of the community. Wear something which misses the law but not by so much that people are likely to be offended (collarbone but no cleavage, to the elbow instead of below it). But it bugs me sometimes that I have to think this hard about a law that I don't even keep, and it's because of that Test aspect. These laws gets disproportionate emphasis, well beyond other commandments of similar seriousness, because they get to be the social signifiers of who's in and who's out.