Thursday, October 01, 2015

Misguided Motivation

There is an interesting – if sad  video in Ynet (which can be seen below)about those women in Israel that wear Burkas. Ariela Sternbuch  went undercover (no pun intended) into this world to see what it is all about – and ‘filmed’ it. These women believe that covering up every inch of their bodies – including their faces -in public  is what God demands of them.

I have written about the Burka Women before. Needless to say they are in my view, grossly in error about that. But this is what can happen when modesty in dress is over-emphasized. This is not to say that Tznius in how one dresses isn’t important. It is. No one – men or women - should walk around in a manner that provokes lustful thoughts in others. However, since men are more inclined to have such thoughts via the visual, it is they that should be careful to avoid immodestly dressed women or images of them. To the extent that women can help men in out in that regard by avoiding immodest dress is a value that should not be ignored.

The question is, how far should a woman go to help men out in that regard? Aside from the basic Halachic requirement to cover up those parts of the body that are considered Erva, to my mind it is a function relative to the customs  in the society in which one lives. So that in a country like Iran a Jewish woman should respect the modesty standards of that country – even if it goes beyond our own Halachic requirements.

In a country like Israel or America, modesty standards are far less than what Halacha requires. So that one need only fulfill the basic requirements of Halacha. This does not mean that if someone wishes to dress even more modestly than Halacha requires - that they can’t do so. Of course they can. But where does one draw that line?

To be frank, I’m not sure. But I believe I can say with a high degree of confidence that wearing a Burka is not it. It goes way too far. There is no Halacha – or even a Chumra -  for a woman to cover her face. Nor is there a Halacha that requires a woman to be shapeless and wear what is basically a tent over her body. What that ends up doing is distorting what being modest is all about. Modesty is more than about what one wears. It is about how one behaves in public and in how one deals with their fellow man.

So why the Burkas? The women in this video explain their reasons. They see themselves as temptresses sent here on earth by God for the purpose of undoing that status in the extreme. But listening to them reinforces my belief that they have taken cues from the constant haranguing from a variety of rabbinic leaders that that say - the way that women dress is the cause of all of our problems.

So these women take t all to heart and indeed blame themselves  – as women – for all the problems in the world. There is no extreme that goes too far in the goal of Tznius. A goal that if not fulfilled will cause men to have forbidden lustful thoughts and possibly even immoral acts. They have decided that it is God’s will – indeed it was why they were created – to cover up every inch of their bodies, and avoid being in public as much as possible. In those instances that they must go out – to do so when the likelihood is least that men will be there.

They look at how our Arab cousins dress and say, their level of Tznius is better than ours. It behooves us to be at least as modest in dress as they are. And this is how they raise their children.

By their own admission this is a great sacrifice. It is not being done to achieve greater spirituality – although clearly they feel that by doing this – they are. It is being done because they see this as their mission in life given to them by God.

It is indeed ironic that the very thing that makes a someone an Oved HaShem – doing what God wants – that they are so misguided in what they believe that to be.  As sad as this is, the motivation of these women is far more in line with what Judaism is all about, than it is with those women who seek personal spiritual fulfillment.

Contrast this with – say – those women who feel they can only be fulfilled as a Jew by donning Teffilin, or being called to the Torah – something which God does not require of women. For these women elevating their own spirituality is what they seek to accomplish. The Burka women seek only to fulfill God’s will as they understand it.

But motivation that is misguided is still wrong. Because it leads to behavior that ends up making a mockery of Judaism in the eyes of the world. Not to mention the psychological harm it causes to their children

Thankfully they are a very small group of people. But they are large enough to capture the attention of the media and bring ridicule upon God’s chosen people. And for that reason alone thy need to be re-educated to see just how wrong they are interpreting what a Jewish woman should look like.