How praiseworthy it is that Rabbi Yair Hoffman takes the time on a weekly basis to help enhance the spiritual development of Klal Yisrael through his articles. That being said, I was very disturbed by last week’s article targeting women’s tzniyus (“The Gym and the Carpool”), and in my conversations with other women I find that I am not alone.
I am not here to disagree with Rabbi Hoffman’s assertions that frum women are perhaps pushing the envelope with what they otherwise never would have worn in public a decade ago. But what is bothersome is that in his article he leaves out a whole population that is also pushing the tzniyus envelope: Men.
All of the prohibitions Rabbi Hoffman cites—“the general prohibition to appear in immodest attire,” “do not walk in their [gentile] ways,” and “do not place a stumbling block”—could easily all be applied to the recent overwhelming trend of men wearing tight pants that leave little to the imagination. Yet no rabbanim are blaming world catastrophes on men’s tzniyus or seem to be raising the issue publicly. The lack of conversation speaks to the continual scapegoating of women as “bringing down the team,” when in reality, there are tzniyus issues on both sides of the mechitzah.
It’s time to be equal opportunity in gender focus.
Missing The Bigger Picture
Thank you for your wonderful publication and for keeping the Five Towns community up to date on relevant topics. I pick up a copy of your paper every week, and read through it on Shabbos. I count on the Five Towns Jewish Times to keep me informed about what’s going on around town. However, as a member of this community, I feel a personal responsibility to point something out.
In today’s day and age, the so-called frum world is missing the bigger picture. We are so focused on the little details, that we miss the general idea of what it means to be a frum Jew. I would like to explain what I mean by using two articles recently published in the Five Towns Jewish Times as an example.
The first one is about not being allowed to use the Rainbow Loom on Shabbos. I am not attempting to argue the halachos; I don’t know if it’s allowed or not, but that is not really my point. My point is as follows:
We live in an age of technology, whether we like it or not. Our i‑accessories are an integral part of our lives. Today’s generations feels the constant pull to instantly communicate, via text or e‑mail, or by posting pictures on Instagram, Tweeting, checking Facebook, and many other ways. While I agree that it’s nice to have a break from all this on Shabbos, it is hard for children (and adults, myself included!) to put away their iPods, iPads, iPhones, etc. It can lead to a lot of resentment in our children. I fear this generation is at risk of dreading this part of Shabbos so much, that it may lead them off the derech.
Wouldn’t it be more pertinent for a publication such as yours, which reaches so many readers in our community and others, to print an article focusing on ways to add enjoyment to our Shabbos?
I feel we are missing the greater picture! Shabbos is supposed to be for family time, a break from work and everyday lives, time to be together without distractions or stress. We should be encouraging parents to sit down on the floor and play with their children, for families to eat their meals together, discuss the parashah and talk about their week, for a general sense of family enjoyment. Take a walk together, go to the park, take an interest in your children’s daily lives. Build memories for your children to associate with Shabbos, so that when they have families of their own, they will want to instill the same values in their own children. By printing the Rainbow Loom article, we are focusing on the wrong aspect. Don’t focus on what we cannot do, but rather let’s try to focus on encouraging families to spend enjoyable time together.
There is another example I would like to reference, the article this past week about wearing leggings under skirts. Firstly, if this was intended to be mussar about tzniyus, it should really come from a woman. It’s offensive to hear a man saying things like “the shape and form of the thigh” and such. But my main point is, tzniyus is not only about the clothes we wear. Tzniyus is also about the way we act. We should encourage the readers not to draw attention to themselves by the way they act. A small example of this would be not screaming in the streets, not acting rude, not pushing in grocery aisles, not talking on your phone while at a checkout counter. A greater example would be not to call attention to ourselves by appearing in newspapers on a regular basis because of crimes we are committing. In general, to stop with the crazy amount of chillul Hashem in the news lately. We, as Orthodox Jews, need to make a bigger effort to stop drawing attention to ourselves. And it has nothing to do with gym clothes.
As the editor, you have a responsibility to your readers. And I, as your reader, have a responsibility to you. Can we work together to produce articles which encourage the community to focus on real issues?
Are Men The Victims?
It hardly seems “tzniyus” to me to discuss, in a public forum (see “The Gym and the Carpool” by Rabbi Yair Hoffman), the shapeliness of women’s legs and the threat of the tantalizing pencil skirt. This reaffirms my long-held belief that discussions of tzniyus are very often not really about what they claim. Is it just the thrill of being able to openly discuss risqué topics, if only under the pretext of Jewish Law. Or does the public condemnation of women following a certain fashion trend raise less-innocuous issues of dominance and control? Modesty is an overarching concept, meant to softly color the way we think, speak, and act. That discussions of modesty have become hyperfocused on women’s bodies and hypercritical of women’s dress is a deeply unnerving development.
Many of us are familiar with the popular refrain about not putting a stumbling block before a blind person. Many of us are also familiar with the way this verse is used to explain why women shouldn’t dress in a manner that might draw male attention. Yet do we ever really stop and explore the corollary beliefs that go along with this interpretation? We are promoting the idea that women’s bodies are dangerous to men. That a woman dropping her child off at school while wearing a skirt over her gym clothes is somehow a threat to the piety of religious men. That she is to blame for the sin of her femininity. Do we also consider how this view demeans and infantilizes men? Are we OK with promoting the idea that men are victims of “immodestly dressed” women, that they lack control and are (because of her!) somehow less to blame for their own lascivious thoughts or deeds?
On a darker note, if we accept that she is the stumbling block and he is the victim, then don’t we also accept that a man is within his rights to try and protect himself? Shouldn’t a man be able to control his environment as best he can? Isn’t he then justified in telling a woman what she can and can’t wear, what she can and can’t do, what she can and can’t say? This behavior is no longer seen as controlling of women but as self-protective for men.
Modesty in thought, deed, and appearance is an important value for men and women. The preoccupation with women’s bodies and dress, however, does not reflect the esteemed place that women hold in our society. There are certain ideas that have insidiously made their way into our collective thought process. There comes a time when these ideas need to be brought to light and reexamined to determine if they best serve our community.
A Call For Help
I wish to bring to the attention of your readers the urgent medical situation of Fallon Mirsky. Some years ago, Fallon came down with a series of illnesses, and she has become progressively weaker.
Fallon’s medical bills are not entirely covered by insurance, and she has ancillary expenses (such as travel to out-of-state hospitals for her and her father) that are not covered at all. She is now facing major surgery, and she does not know how it will be paid for.
If your readers can find it in their hearts to help Fallon, donations (not tax-deductible) can be made at gofundme.com/fallonmirsky. Fallon writes often on the side, and her deteriorating condition can be observed from the increasingly desperate tone of her posts.
Kindly pray for Fallon as well; her Hebrew name is Frollick Esther bas Marta Gittel.
All of us are very disturbed by Israel’s release of terrorist monsters. Our hearts ache for all those families who have lost loved ones to these murderers. The Israeli government, despite their views to the contrary, is telling the world that Jewish blood is cheap. These actions have a terrible demoralizing effect on the Israeli army. Soldiers are asking, What is the point of putting our lives in danger in arresting these monsters, if the Israeli government is going to release them in a few years? As parents of an Israeli soldier whose unit is tasked with arresting murderers, we ask the question as well. We need to be mispallel and beseech the Ribbono shel Olam to impart to our Israeli leaders the focus and clarity to make the right decisions for Klal Yisrael.
This Hoshanna Rabbah, I drove my son back to his army base in the northern Shomron after spending a few wonderful days together over Sukkos. As we were approaching his base, his commander phoned him and said that he had to be on duty in 30 minutes. His job was to keep watch at a roadblock (machsom) to check cars and passengers that were passing through and make sure they weren’t carrying weapons or explosives.
We were allowed to go inside the base. It was small and isolated. I passed a sukkah that had three long rows of cots inside. From there, I went into his dirah (barracks). Inside were four bunk beds, each with a two-inch-thick foam rubber mattress. (The foam rubber in your esrog box was thicker than the mattress.) He immediately began changing out of his dress uniform and into his combat uniform. At that moment, reality hit me. My son was preparing for potentially fatal encounters with the enemy.
This scene has been playing in my mind over and over again. I watch as Uri checks his gear. A fellow soldier gives him extra magazine clips for his assault rifle. Each magazine clip is packed with 32 bullets. He packs his helmet. I fill his canteen. He checks the pockets of his tactical vest and removes items that are considered muktzeh. He shuts his cell phone and places the items in his locker. I give him a berachah and watch as he walks away.
His shift will take him well into the night, when it is already Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah. He will be wearing a bulletproof vest and holding a rifle in his hand, while at the same time I will be wearing a suit and dancing with a sefer Torah. I carry my grandson over my shoulders during hakafos, but my thoughts are elsewhere. My son is one of thousands of soldiers who are being mekayem the mitzvah of protecting their fellow Jews—with their lives, if necessary.
My son calls us on motzaei yom tov and tells us that on Simchat Torah night, shortly after his shift ended, three Molotov cocktails were thrown into the machsom. The terrorists apparently thought there were soldiers inside, since the lights had been left on. We speak to our son shortly after we come back to New York, and he tells us that his unit was called to investigate a rock-throwing incident. They arrived on the scene and noticed a roadside bomb, which miraculously did not explode on impact. They quickly called the bomb squad to detonate the bomb. Several days later, our son tells us that during roadside checks two long knives were found in a car . . . Modim anachnu lach Hashem Elokeinu al nisecha sheb’chol yom imanu . . . . He says these incidents are such regular occurrences throughout the country that they are no longer deemed newsworthy.
Our soldiers are putting themselves in jeopardy in order to protect the lives of their fellow Jews. On behalf of all those parents whose children are serving in Tzahal, we would like to thank all of you who are saying Tehillim for our chayalim. We would like to thank all those batei k’neisios who make a “Mishabeirach” for chayalei Tzahal. If your shul doesn’t say the mishabeirach for Tzahal before Musaf (or any other time), then why not start to say it after Aleinu? Why not say it on your own? Isn’t it appropriate to show appreciation to those boys who are helping keep the streets of Eretz Yisrael safe? Please include tefillos for chayalim in some manner and show that we do care. What better way to express hakaras ha’tov for what they are doing for you and the members of your family living and studying in Eretz Yisrael, than to daven for their safety!
Ezra and Millie Fried