"The concept of “modesty” as it is often promulgated has lost its essential meaning and been crudely twisted, manipulated and misused. What once referred to a spiritual demeanor, an internal, personal quest for growth, a framework for building kind and compassionate relationships among people in which no one person claims a high and mighty stance among her or his peers, has evolved into something else entirely. Today, when rabbis talk about modesty or “tzniut”, there is only one issue they have in mind: women’s bodies.
"The misuse of this vital concept is not only unhealthy for women, who have become the objects of an almost obsessive religious gaze, but it is also terribly harmful to the religious Jewish community. The gaze on the female body has deprived the religious world of the discourse around the true meaning of modesty, a profound spiritual loss which threatens the very essence of religious practice.
"Instead of talking about modesty as spirituality and character, we end up hearing about the lengths of women’s skirts and sleeves. All around the Orthodox Jewish world, religiousness has become synonymous with women’s dress. The length of the skirt, sleeve or neckline is used like a measuring stick of religious identity – the more skin is covered, the more “religious” the girls (and their surrounding communities) are believed to be. In fact, it is taken quite literally in some cases: one Jewish community recently came out with an actual “Tzniut Ruler”, to be used by girls measuring their skirts around their knees…."
Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman is a feminist thought-leader, anthropologist, and writer whose research and ideas help shape a vision for a compassionate society. She has published five books on gender in society, and today helps women amplify their own voices and find their power through Lioness Booksand Media. She coaches women through the writing process, edits, and ghost-writes women's books, and publishes women's writing through Lioness. She also speaks and consults with groups and organizations around the world on gender issues and women's experiences in the world. Would you like to schedule a chat? Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org