Sisterhood Blog

What Banning Facebook Is Really About

By Elana Sztokman

  • Print
  • Share Share

Facebook is forbidden among Chabad teenage girls, as The Sisterhood told you — and as the Forward reports here. This reflects a blatant double standard, the report points out, because the movement has widely embraced technology to spread its message, but refuses to allow its own youth to use these tools.

But Chabad’s double standard in its relationship to secular society is only one part of the problem. It seems to me that the story of girls being forbidden from using Facebook and other internet tools is less about Chabad’s missionary stance and more about their view of women and girls. After all, it is only girls whose school is handing out $100 fines and having mothers’ monitor their computer use.

Moreover, the practice of banning girls from the computer largely revolves around one concept: modesty. The Facebook ban is just the latest in a long string of insidious practices in the Orthodox community — not just Chabad, to be sure — aimed at restricting women’s and girls’ freedom. These practices are promoted under the term tzniut, or “modesty,” but really are nothing more than classic misogyny.

In different Orthodox communities, public pronouncements about modesty by rabbinic leaders over the past decade have included: forbidding women from wearing high heels that make noise, forbidding women from talking on cellphones in public, forcing women to wear overcoats on top of their clothes when they go to weddings, even in summer, forbidding women from wearing the color red and forbidding women from blogging. The list goes on. One Orthodox community established a “kashrut department” for supervising clothing stores to check the length of the skirts and sleeves of the merchandise. This practice was justified by a group called “The Committee for the Sanctity of the Camp,” to combat what they called “damaging our camp’s modesty” due to women and girls “breaching” conventions.

“Modesty” has begun to supersede kashrut as the identifying mark of Orthodoxy. A group of rabbis recently announced that kashruth certificates for summer hotels should include the extent of a resort’s “modesty” — that is, how women are dressed around the hotel. “The Gedolei Yisrael feel that regarding mehadrin kashrus certification for hotels, the issues of kashrus and tznius mustn’t be addressed separately….Mehadrin kashrus for hotels and resorts ….must include tznius standards to prevent stumbling blocks for frum [observant] visitors.”

Yet none of this has anything to do with “modesty,” or even about Jewish law. Forbiding women’s use of cellphones or girls’ use of Facebook is not about religiousness or Torah. These are rules made by men who believe that women’s silence and invisibility will make their lives somehow easier or better.

It is worth remembering what “modesty” actually is. The Talmudic interpretation of Bilaam’s unwitting blessing of the Israelites in the desert with the famous passage, “How fair are your tents O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel,” argues that this verse is a tribute to the “modesty” of the Israelites, who positioned their tents with the doors facing away from each other, allowing each family their privacy. “R. Johanan said: This verse….indicates that [Bilaam] saw that the doors of their tents did not exactly face one another, whereupon he exclaimed: Worthy are these that the Divine presence should rest upon them!” It’s an injunction to control your own behavior, not to watch how the other is dressed.

True “modesty,” considered an expression of the Divine presence, is about relationship with the other — as in taking care not to impose one’s gaze on another Jew through his or her private window or door. It is about humility, such as that credited to Moses, a type of submissiveness in which one rejects an artificial sense of self-importance and fully accepts the notion that all people are equal creatures of God.

Yet, the concept of “modesty” as it is often promulgated has lost its essential meaning and been crudely manipulated and misused. What once referred to a spiritual demeanor, an internal, personal quest for growth, a framework for building kind and compassionate relationships among people has evolved into something else entirely. Today, when rabbis talk about tzniut, there is only one issue they have in mind: women’s bodies. And that is just not Torah.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Orthodoxy, Facebook, Chabad Lubavitch, Chabad, Ultra-Orthodoxy

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.