Religion & Beliefs

We Don’t Have to Take our Clothes Off… To Have a Good Time

Today I want to talk a little bit about modesty, which is a traditional Jewish issue that seems particularly incongruous in our world today. But in fact, it's that incongruity that makes it especially interesting to me. The contrarian in … Read More

By / January 30, 2007

Today I want to talk a little bit about modesty, which is a traditional Jewish issue that seems particularly incongruous in our world today.

But in fact, it's that incongruity that makes it especially interesting to me. The contrarian in me finds it pleasing that observant Jews stand in opposition to this big naked slutty world I no longer even notice most of the time.

Why be modest?

God wanted us to enjoy an existence in which our physicality wouldn't stand in the way of defining ourselves internally. God therefore gave the first man and woman a great gift: the inborn ability to see each other in their totality. With this perfect vision, man and woman saw each other's outer self and inner self as one inseparable unit. When man looked at woman, he simultaneously saw her mind, heart, and spirit. At the same moment that woman appreciated man's appearance, she appreciated who he really was.

Which makes a lot of sense in a "yeah, that's how we should all be" kind of way, but I'm not sure that's how it plays out. And it doesn't make much sense out of why there's a whole world of fashion surrounding Jewish modesty. A veritable industry (however unappealing).

In any case, it's not a Jewish choice I take issue with on a feminist level, since it's not like observant Jewish men are out there running around in speedos or anything. But I find myself thinking about the Amish and the Mennonites. Doctrinal differences aside, the superficial divide between the Amish and the Mennonites is that the former wear startlingly odd clothes that set them apart from the rest of us, and the latter are just a little dorky. A Mennonite girl in a longish skirt and Walmart T-shirt is unlikely to attract the same kind of notice as her iron-clad Amish counterpart.

Which makes me wonder whether modesty serves the purpose of concealing the surface/body, or simply separating Jews from others in an obvious way. Or both…

This is a nice little site on the subject.