A spiritual activist takes on the tznius (modesty) police

10 Oct

Time to get back on my soap box and start blogging again (after a long summer spent relaxing back in the old country).

So in Monsey, about an hour north of New York City, a town with a large population of frum Jews (many of whom are Hasidic, or devoutly Orthodox), it is a fairly common occurrence to see posters adorning lampposts, notice boards, and random walls across town proclaiming that in order for G-d to be/remain in our midst, or to avoid divine retribution,  women have to, for example: –

– Wear looser clothing, so as not to attract the wrong kind of attention;

– Refrain from wearing beautiful, human-hair sheitels (wigs) that could send out the ‘wrong message’ (Orthodox Jewish women have to cover their hair, and many do so with wigs, but some branches of Hasidic Jews proscribe the use of wigs and authorise only cloth hair coverings, such as shpitzels, or snoods);

– Wear skirts of a certain length only (Orthodox Jewish women are prohibited from wearing trousers, and must wear skirts instead, which should extend below the knee).

This last item forms the topic of interest today. Recently, in Monsey, a new ruling was promulgated on posters across town stating that women must wear skirts “that extend exactly four inches below the knee“. Not three inches, not five inches, but four inches. Women who wear skirts either longer or shorter than this length, the proclamation went on to proclaim, are causing the shechinah (G-d’s divine presence) to depart from our midst.

(How the proclaimers know of this direct causal relationship between the length of local women’s skirts and the presence or absence of the shechinah therein remains a source of great mystery to those not in the know.)

In the event, a young, Orthodox Jewish spiritual activist who lives in Monsey – my niece by marriage, Rochel Kind – decided to take on the proclaimers at their own game. She went round town and everywhere she found a poster of said proclamation, stuck up next to it her own carefully formulated response, showing how the directive is quite out of line with the halachot (Jewish laws) governing modesty. Using the appropriate terminology and jargon as well as using reasoning based on the Jewish legal traditions, she responded in kind to the modesty police. Here is her inspired response (glossary of Hebrew terms below):

Related blog posts:

Honey, I’m just popping down to the garage to pick up some cholent

What, didn’t you know Jewish women aren’t allowed to drive?

Muslims and Jews united in…banning women from driving

Reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Nomad’

heads, shoulders, knees and toes


hidur: extra ‘beautification’ of a Jewish law, but not a requirement

halacha / halachos: laws / religious instructions

makor: a textual source from the Talmud or other Jewish legal texts

Gemara: the Talmud

Beis Hamikdash: the Temple in Jerusalem

sinas chinam: baseless hatred / intolerance

ahavas chinam: baseless love / tolerance

Klal Yisroel: the Jewish people

ahavas yisroel: love of fellow Jews

b’kedusha: holy

Hashem: G-d

mechalel Shabbos v’yom tov: breaking the laws of Sabbath and holy festival days.


10 Responses to “A spiritual activist takes on the tznius (modesty) police”

  1. Jean-Yves October 10, 2012 at 17:10 #

    Talmud says that someone (the Man) who speaks about a fault of his neighbour (the Woman), has himself this fault.

  2. Warren Burstein (@WarrenBurstein) October 11, 2012 at 05:49 #

    Could you ask her if she has a photo of the poster she was responding to? Thanks.

    • rebeccainspace October 11, 2012 at 11:29 #

      I was planning on photographing one of the original posters to post together with her response, but unfortunately, there was torrential rain in Monsey over the first days of Sukkot, and they didn’t survive the downpour. (Incidentally, she strategically put up her posters a minute before Sukkot started, so as to prevent anyone who observes the laws of Shabbat/festivals being able to rip them down over Sukkot!)

  3. Abigail Schischa October 11, 2012 at 12:28 #

    I highly approve of her actions!!!Undercover Guerilla warfare woohoo!!!

  4. Alexei Charkham October 11, 2012 at 14:22 #

    A poster arms race will develop, with her putting up the posters, and teams of bochrim (boys) patrolling ripping them off just as Shabbat begins. I sense the germ of the next John Grisham novel…

  5. Disaproving Man In Cleveland October 11, 2012 at 16:22 #

    I highly disaprove of this. Men should be able to say what they want or don’t want women to do without having to deal with this nonsense.
    Also, your actions are even worse because it forces men to have to run around Monsey ripping down these signs–valuable time wasted which could have be spent studying or daavening.

    • rebeccainspace October 11, 2012 at 16:24 #

      This made me chuckle. I hope that was your intention.

      • Aliza Hausman October 11, 2012 at 20:29 #

        I hope that was his intention. This was an awesome blog! 4 inches?!

  6. Valerie October 12, 2012 at 09:17 #

    Good for her!

  7. Rivka David October 16, 2012 at 08:30 #

    Beautifully done, I thought 🙂 Wonder if she got a response?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: