Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is it a 2-way Street?

To recap for those have trouble understanding Israelis who speak at 300 miles an hour: 2 secular journalists dress up as Chasidim and try to rent an apartment in a secular neighborhood. Here are some things that happen:
  • One of the landlords tells them a price for the rent which is almost double what is posted online, and is very evasive when they try to get him to admit that he raised the rent on them because they're Charedi.
  • Another woman shows them her apartment, gets very evasive and says she's just the tenant. She tells them she'll speak to the landlord and get back to them, but she never does. They later found out that the woman didn't call them back because they were Charedi.
  • Most of the other landlords were not as direct, but seemed generally skeptical about their interest in the apartments, wondering why they would be interested in living in a secular neighborhood, in an apartment with a single sink, etc. 
  • One of the journalists takes a half hour bus ride on a bus full of Chilonim, and several people choose to stand rather than sit next to him. 
I have mixed feelings about this, but I just wanted to throw it out there.  Are Chilonim just as hostile to Charedim as Charedim are to Chilonim?  Obviously they don't attack innocent girls, but neither do most Charedim.  Do Chilonim have a legitimate reason to exclude Charedim from their neighborhoods? 

Monday, January 9, 2012

What is Tznius Really All About?

With all this talk of what tznius is not about, I thought I should take a shot at explaining what tznius actually is all about.  And I figure I should start with the problem I have with the Charedi attitude toward tznius, in the way they educate girls.  Tznius in most Bais Yakov schools is just a bunch of extreme rules that the teachers over-emphasize at the cost of actually teaching girls what tznius is really all about.  It's about skirt lengths and thick stockings, and about getting yelled at for not complying with what they claim are the halachic requirements of tznius, when they are really just chumras. 
So what is tznius really about?  I think what tznius is really all about is focusing on the internal aspects of a person, not on the external aspects.  The purpose of women dressing modestly is so that when you see the woman, you are not distracted by her appearance, but instead can focus on her internal qualities.  This I believe is the meaning of the statement "kol kvuda bas melech pnima," that the honor of a woman is in her ability to draw attention to her internal qualities, not her outer appearance. 
So what is the result of Bais Yakov schools teaching that tznius is all about these stupid rules and nothing else?  Just have a look around Flatbush and the 5 Towns, veha-mayvin yavin (no pun intended).  And if you are not so fortunate, I will fill you in.  Basically, many women follow the rules, but still manage to dress extremely provocatively.  This is of course the result of being taught that tznius is just a bunch of rules.
So how do you teach girls what tznius is really all about?  Maybe teachers can be role models themselves of how to act tznius.  Maybe they could focus on the internal qualities of their students, instead of their skirt lengths. 

Response to Rabbi Israel's Article on Tznius

In this article,, Rabbi Israel basically argues that: 1) the halachic restrictions on contact between the genders is sufficient and no additional restrictions are necessary; 2) that the Charedi tendency to add additional restrictions results from their seeing women solely as sex objects, and thus necessitating a complete removal of women from the public sphere; and 3) that halacha does not restrict the mixing of the genders.  I agree fully with Rabbi Israel on the first point, and I partially with him on the second and third points, but with some qualification.
First, it is inaccurate to say that halacha does not restrict the mixing of genders, as there are certain situations where it is prohibited.  Of course there's the obvious restriction of separating men and women for davening.  But it's also explicit in the gemarah and Rambam that during yom tov celebrations the genders were separated.  This separation was due to the joy of the occasion, which might cause frivolity, which might lead to inappropriate contact with the opposite gender.  In addition, Rav Moshe Feinstein writes in Igros Moshe that it is absolutely assur for Jewish day schools to be coed starting in middle school.  He also recommends separating genders even from first grade, so that kids of the opposite gender will not retain their relationships once they become teens.  When coed youth groups were started, teshuvos were written by the Sridei Aish and Tzitz Eliezer to justify the practice, ostensibly because social interaction among teens was generally considered inappropriate. 
However, nowhere is there mention of separating genders on buses, in the workplace, or in any other public sphere, where the concern is simply not wanting to see or be in close proximity with a woman.  That is where Charedim take it too far.
Rabbi Israel also suggests that it is a Charedi thing for men to look at women only from a sexual perspective.  I think that Charedim are not much different than the rest of Western society in this respect.  The difference is that the rest of Western society has no problem with viewing women this way, and those that do have a problem with it don’t care enough to try to fix it.  The Charedim see it as a problem, but take extreme measures to remedy it.  Instead I suggest, and I think Rabbi Israel concurs, that halacha contains the correct balance between permissiveness and restriction.
Now as far as Rabbi Israel's contention that the halachos restricting the mixing of genders are sufficient, I fully agree with him on this point.  Looking at Shulchan Aruch Even Ha'ezer Siman 21, you will find that if you follow the restrictions listed, you will be more than adequately protected from any possible aveirah.
The question is in situations where halacha is not absolutely clear, for example when it comes to seating at weddings.  I have mixed feelings about separate seating at weddings.  While I happen to find it very annoying when I have to attend a separate seating wedding when our only connection to the chosson and kalla is on my wife's side, I also understand why you would want separate seating.  Firstly, if men are seated on the women's side, they will likely watch the women dance.  Secondly, the potential frivolty associated with a wedding seems to resemble that of a yom tov celebration and might warrant separate seating for that reason as well.  Of course the real reason some people make their weddings separate is just to show everyone how frum they are, even though they themselves find separate seating annoying.  I had separate seating at my wedding just to show how frum I was, and now that I am married I realize how annoying separate seating is. 
Luckily, I have grown out of that stage in my life, but I have also discovered something else that Charedim in Israel might try following:  keep all of halacha, no more and no less, bein adam leMakom and bein adam lechavero, master all of that, and then start thinking about taking on chumras. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovitch Says What Desperately Needed to be Said

Stop blaming the media and start blaming ourselves, says Rav Edelstein.  The secular media incitement is a message from Hashem that we should stop with sinas chinam.  Thank you Rav Edelstein for standing and taking the lead on this issue.  As it says in Pirkei Avos 2:5, bemakom she-ain anashim, hishtadel lih'yos ish.  You, Rav Edelstein, are the ish when there is nobody else being an ish.  Read his full speech here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Krula Rebbe visits Kew Gardens Hills

The Kew Gardens Hills community will have the zechus this Shabbos of welcoming the Krula Rebbe.  The Krula Rebbe, also known as the Cruel Rebbe, is known for his charifus in giving mussar to those who seek advice from him.  He will be available for personal meetings on Motzai Shabbos.  Meet with the Krula Rebbe at your own risk.