Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Bleeding for Tznius?

I’m sorry. But if the story is in any way true - then with all due respect to Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein I have to seriously question his latest Psak. I do so even though I am an ignoramus in Torah knowledge compared to him.

According to an article in Ynet, he was asked by a women’s seminary whether it would be permissible for a female student to cut up her legs for Tznius purposes. Shockingly he answered in the affirmative.

The young woman in question has caught some grief from her parents about wearing her skirts too long. The skirt length they require of her apparently does not comply with the modesty guidelines of Halacha. Her idea of how to circumvent her parents edict was to cut her legs so that she could tell them that she wanted to wear long skirts in order to cover up those wounds.

Instead of forbidding the young woman from doing any such thing the seminary decided to ask a Shaila to Rav Zilberstein about whether she was permitted to do this. Rav Zilberstein not only permitted it, but praised her for offering to sacrifice herself in this way:

Rabbi Zilberstein's reply came shortly after, with an unequivocal answer: "She is allowed to inflict wounds on her legs in order to dress modestly and evade sin."

In his reply, the rabbi commended the student's initiative, saying "the blood from the self-inflicted wound will atone for the people of Israel," adding that the coordinator should allow the student to commit the act.

How can a Posek tell a woman who is intent on growing in her observance that a proper thing to do is to cut her legs to the point of bleeding… and then add that her blood will atone for the sins of Klal Yisroel?


Making matters worse - it is abnormal for people to want to injure themselves for any reason. Self inflicted wounds are a symptom of an underlying mental disorder. Some clinically depressed people are in such emotional pain that they will inflict painful wounds upon themselves in order to distract themselves from the pain they feel. That a woman seeks to be more religious by inflicting a wound upon herself certainly raises a red flag for me.

I realize that dressing modestly is important. But this cannot the solution. Aside from the possibility that Rav Zilberstein is feeding someone’s depression there is also the issue of alienating this young woman’s parents as well as any other secular Jew from observant Judaism forever.

Does he think her parents won’t somehow find out the truth? Especially now that the story has hit the media? Does he think that they will not resent the Torah even more after finding out the real reason she has lengthened her skirts? Does he think this will enhance observance in Klal Yisroel?

I think it will do the opposite.

This is really perplexing. I have in the past been made aware of many of Rav Zilberstein’s Teshuvos and do not recall any of them being irrational. But this one defies explanation.