Sunday, May 05, 2013

Modesty Hotlines

There will be no modesty patrols.  This is the assurance that some rabbis in England have given the public about their new initiative.

At the request of ‘the public’ the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) has set up a hotline for Tznius infractions. For those not familiar with the organization, the UOHC is the religious body that is the Charedi alternative in England to the more mainstream United Synagogue headed by Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

I believe that the ideology of the UOHC is similar to that of the Eida HaCharedis in Israel. The UOHC is also the same body that is headed by a man who was filmed advising a victim of sex abuse to not report it to the authorities because of the issue of Mesirah - and the same body  that another one of its leaders was accused of sexual misconduct with as many as 30 woman who came to him for counseling. 

It’s nice to know that this body is so concerned with Tznius. I’m sure that the Jews of England are quite happy with this upgrade in Kedusha for their community in what has become an increasing 21st century obsession by the right.

(Which is kind of odd considering the fact that the above mentioned leaders are no doubt in the forefront of these matters. I’m sure for example that they insist that their wives and daughters abide by the highest standards of Tznius in the way they dress. I am equally sure that they teach their sons about Shmiras Eynaim (guarding the eyes) - meaning that they go out of their way to avoid even the slightest glance at even a fully clothed woman - dressed in accordance with the highest standards of modesty. A hotline like this will surely enhance their ability to avoid such things.)

I have no problem with a community living by any standards they choose. If this is what the community really wants, God bless them.  As long as they do not infringe upon the rights of those who do not agree with them.

Ahhh… but there’s the rub. If there just happens to be a woman walking through their neighborhood that does not meet their dress code, what happens to her? What sanctions will they employ once they have been contacted on their hotline? What will be their enforcement mechanism? But I digress.

I point out this latest ‘upgrade’ in religious observance to ask the question, where are the hotlines for violations of Chilul HaShem? Where are the hotlines for violations of Mitzvos Bain Adam L’Chavero – interpersonal relationships? Where is the hotline for victims of sex abuse? Or victims of financial fraud? What are the remedies for the victims? Or the sanctions for the perpetrators?

My uneducated and uninformed guess is that there are no such hotlines. The only hotline aside from this Tznius hotline that I can imagine might be for people accused of sex abuse – so as to protect the reputations of the accused, and to prevent the negative repercussions for their families and their community.

They seem only to be interested in matters pertaining to ritual law and have very little concern about serious matters like sex abuse or financial fraud. Nor do they seem to care about how their behavior appears to the rest of the world.

I’m not saying that Tznius in dress is not an important issue. But to increasingly and obsessively focus on only that - while one of the most prominent leaders is strongly believed to be guilty of the very kind of violations that Tznius in dress is supposed to prevent seems contradictory.  A leader who I am sure is one of the biggest proponents of such hotlines.  

They are not only missing the point by over-focusing on this issue, but they subject their community to the very ridicule and disdain they hope to avoid. Their goal in sweeping things under the rug is doing the very opposite of what they intend. Instead of protecting their reputations by cover-ups - when their behavior is discovered –as it almost always will be–  the wide spread and immediate dispersal of their behavior on the internet does the exact opposite. Their intended projection of an image of living a pure and holy life is hardly the way the world really views them

Unfortunately, I don’t expect things to change there. They will probably continue to circle their wagons proclaiming loudly that they live their lives according to the dictates of the Torah Al Taharas HaKodesh (in spiritual purity)  and do not care what the world thinks of them.

The problem is that one of the dictates of the Torah is promoting a positive image of God’s chosen people to the world. Those that lay claim to be the most observant among us are supposed to be the brightest of our lights unto the nations. The Torah talks specifically about how the nations of the world will look up to us as paragons of virtue – a virtue earned by adherence to Torah law. A virtue where Chilul HaShem has no place. 

I am not saying that a modesty hotline is a Chilul HaShem. But - Yatzah Scharo B’Hefsaida. Whatever gain that they think might be made in matters of Tznius will be lost in the ridicule of such extremism from the rest of the civilized world. Not to mention the fact that ignoring matters of financial fraud – and ignoring or  mistreating victims of sex abuse are intrinsically evil things to do.

Until such time that the extremists among us are cured of their obsessions and turn their heads to matters that in my view are much more serious, I’m afraid that the ridicule will continue… as will the very real above-mentioned problems.