Rabbi Dov Linzer on Modesty
Rabbi Dov Linzer has an op-ed in today’s New York Times about modesty.
The Talmud, the foundation of Jewish law, acknowledges that men can be sexually aroused by women and is indeed concerned with sexual thoughts and activity outside of marriage. But it does not tell women that men’s sexual urges are their responsibility. Rather, both the Talmud and the later codes of Jewish law make that demand of men.
Two news reports from one of Israel’s biggest enemies (see here if you didn’t get the reference) show how this hyper-modesty has infected the national-religious public. The first is about the displeasure of some rabbis from Hesder yeshivas and their students about female instructors in the army. Recently, a paratrooper refused to jump with a female instructor because there might be inappropriate physical contact. While the article only mentions this case, the army is clearly worried about this issue. The son of a close friend recently completed a tank commander’s course. At some point during the course the female instructor fell down. He went over to help her get up, and after she saw his kippah she was afraid that she’d get in trouble if he helped her up. She told him that they are instructed to avoid all types of physical contact with religious soldiers. Whether she understood the protocol correctly is not so relevant, it’s that the army is worried enough about the issue that female instructors are being given guidelines about it. Our friend’s son promptly told her that she had nothing to worry about, and proceeded to help her get up.
The second (Hebrew) is about how the weekly parashah pamphlet from Machon Meir published a notice about the upcoming end of the mourning period for the Fogel family, the family whose parents were murdered by terrorists last year along with some of their children. The pamphlet has a policy of not publishing pictures of women, so the face of Ruti Fogel, the mother, was blocked out. According to this article, Ruti Fogel’s father also works for Machon Meir.
Machon Meir responded and said:
העלון ‘באהבה ואמונה’ הוא עלון תורני המופץ ונקרא בתוך בתי הכנסת. בשל כך מדיניות העלון היא לא לפרסם תמונות נשים בו. פרסום המודעה באופן זה נגרם בשל טעות אנוש ובלא כל כוונה לפגוע חלילה. המכון התנצל בפני המשפחה על כך וההתנצלות התקבלה בהבנה מלאה
The pamphlet “Be-Ahava ve-Emunah (In Love and Faith)” is a Torah pamphlet that is distributed and read inside of synagogues. As a result of this, the pamphlet’s policy is not to publicize in it pictures of women. The publication of the announcement in such a manner was caused by a human error without, God forbid, any intention to cause harm. The institute apologized to the family and the apology was accepted with complete understanding.
If seeing a picture of a woman’s face in synagogue is so problematic, I can only wonder what they think about women being present in a synagogue that doesn’t have them behind a meḥitzah that is similar to the separation fence.