Thursday, August 09, 2012

Making a Mockery of Judaism

Every time I see something like this, I smile. I must admit that it is a bit of a derisive smile. I feel a little guilty smiling derisively. After all, isn't it unfair to criticize people for trying to do what they believe is God’s will? I am referring to an article about a pair of glasses that do the exact opposite of what one normally uses glasses for. They blur images instead of clearing them up. From the Associated Press (AP):
It's the latest prescription for extreme ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who shun contact with the opposite sex: Glasses that blur their vision, so they don't have to see women they consider to be immodestly dressed.
In an effort to maintain their strictly devout lifestyle, the ultra-Orthodox have separated the sexes on buses, sidewalks and other public spaces in their neighborhoods. Their interpretation of Jewish law forbids contact between men and women who are not married.
Walls in their neighborhoods feature signs exhorting women to wear closed-necked, long-sleeved blouses and long skirts. Extremists have accosted women they consider to have flouted the code.
Now they're trying to keep them out of clear sight altogether.
The ultra-Orthodox community's unofficial "modesty patrols" are selling glasses with special blur-inducing stickers on their lenses. The glasses provide clear vision for up to a few meters so as not to impede movement, but anything beyond that gets blurry — including women. It's not known how many have been sold.
For men forced to venture outside their insular communities, hoods and shields that block peripheral vision are also being offered.
The glasses are going for the "modest" price of $6.
I understand why they are doing this. Western culture’s idea of modest dress these days is almost non existent. Anything goes. One can find women in all manner of “undress” on a hot summer day. Is it really fair to criticize people who try to avoid seeing images that they believe are forbidden for them to see? Even if they go to such ridiuclous lengths?

Perhaps instead of smiling, I should be emulating them. This particular way of avoiding the sight of an immodestly dressed woman is far better than some of the other tactics they’ve used in the past. Like one fellow in Beitar a few years ago who threw acid at a young teenage girl in a jogging outfit – and similar attacks in Meah Shearim and Bet Shemesh.

In fact I far prefer this to the shouts of ‘whore’ at an 8 year old girl on her way to a religious school who was not dressed as modestly as those shouters thought she should be. Wouldn’t it have been better if they all just put on those glasses? I think so.

But knowing all of this I still smile at stories like this and I have to ask myself, why. I guess it is because I see it as abnormal. I doubt that any Gadol ever had a pair of glasses like this. Why didn't they?

One might be tempted to answer that things are much worse now than they were then. Perhaps they are. But women have always dressed comfortably in the summer. And if they are not religious, that often included exposing lots of flesh even in the good old days where general society had much higher standards of modesty in dress. How could a Gadol like Rav Shlomo Zalman for example walk around without such ‘blurring’ glasses?

But he didn't wear blurring glasses. Because it is a ridiculous and laughable thing to do. We can’t go around doing things that will make people laugh at us, even when the intent is L’Shem Shamayim - provided there are other ways to accomplish the same thing.  If one doesn’t know how to do that, I feel sorry for them.

You don’t want to look at scantily clad woman? Close your eyes for a moment or look the other way. She will pass by rather quickly. Purposely blurring you vision is not only silly, it is dangerous.

One might counter that blurring glasses are the most effective way to avoid such things. This way you won’t even accidentally see it by chance. There again one should look to the Gedolim like R' Shlomo Zalman. He would never have done anything like that. Why not? Because it would have made him look like a fool. He didn’t do it. He didn’t tell anyone else to do it.

I can only guess how this novel idea came about. I have heard rumors that some Charedi Poskim who Paskin Shailos for woman will remove their glasses so they will not have to look at them when they come to ask a Shaila. While this too is a bit extreme, it is not the same thing as buying a pair of glasses that purposely blurs vision. People take off their glasses all the time. It is not considered a ridiculous thing to do. Some “brilliant” entrepreneur must have noticed this and a light bulb went on over his head: “Why not manufacture and sell glasses that actually do the blurring?!”

And the world laughs at our expense!

So now - after thinking about it some more - smiling derisively was actually an appropriate feeling. Acts like this should be derided - or better discouraged – as should any unnecessary act that makes Judaism look foolish.