Sisterhood Blog

Missing Voices of the 'Modesty Crisis'

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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A Los Angeles-based filmmaker and acting teacher named Robin Garbose recent published this essay in Haaretz, explaining why she became Orthodox as an adult. In her piece, Garbose laments that with the current criticism of Haredi values like gender separation, “the baby is being thrown out with the dirty bathwater.”

Garbose writes about why she was attracted to Haredi life; her desire “to transcend this toxic cultural climate” in which images of women are digitally altered to become thinner, more “perfect,” in advertising of all sorts purveying products “in the hope of remedying our gross inadequacies.”

She argues:

I had an opportunity to step into the mysterious and remote world of Haredi Jews. I appreciated that tzniut (Jewish laws of modesty) shifted focus from the body to the person, from objectifying and sexualizing women to valuing inner beauty. Though I didn’t own a long skirt, I saw these ancient concepts as a refreshingly counterculture expression of female dignity.

I don’t understand how Garbose can willfully ignore the plentiful evidence that the obsession with women’s external “modesty” is not about the dignity of women, but rather its perversion: the control of women in every possible form. It even included, not long ago, spray painting out the face of the “woman” on this poster of Adam Sandler dressed in drag for his latest movie.

There are examples that are ridiculous, like the one above, and examples which are deadly serious, like this one. A woman was beaten on January 24 in Beit Shemesh, as she hung posters (none of which contained an image of women) promoting Israel’s national lottery. Her “crime?” Wearing pants.The behavior of her attackers is, of course, morally reprehensible. The shocking lack of response from within the Haredi community, with some notable exceptions is also morally reprehensible.

I understand the appeal of Haredi life, I do. There are some wonderful aspects to Jewish life there. A focus on family and ritual, a warmth and a passion for being fully engaged with Jewish life. But being religious should not require being blind to the toxic aspects of the increasingly relentless focus on what women wear and where they go.


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