JPost Understanding Tzniut: Modern Controversies in the Jewish Community, written by Yehuda Henkin, former rabbi of the Beit She'an Valley and author of the Bnei Banim compilation of halachic responsa, provides a framework for understanding religious communities' attempts to bundle up, segregate and generally desexualize the public sphere. The book, a series of articles published previously in modern Orthodox journals of Jewish law such as Tradition and Hakirah lacks a single cohesive theme. It even includes chapters that have nothing whatsoever to do with tzniut (roughly translated as modest and chaste behavior and dress), such as one titled "After Gush Katif: May One Oppose Israel's Government?" and "A Memorial Day for European Jewry - Did its Rabbis Err?" But the bulk of the book is a discussion of Jewish legal sources dealing with women's dress codes and the mingling of the sexes and how they are implemented by contemporary halachic authorities. Henkin might get too technical and bogged down by the intricacies of Jewish law for the taste of the general reader. But it is precisely here, amid the legalistic nitty-gritty of the centuries-old halachic discourse among rabbis, where Henkin stages his argument against extreme trends in Orthodoxy. His most central argument against the religious community's obsessive preoccupation with tzniut is habituation. Quoting extensive halachic sources, Henkin shows that sexual arousal is culturally dependent. Centuries ago the rabbis understood that in cultures that condoned the free mingling of the sexes, dress codes and strictures against socializing with the opposite sex could be loosened. "Where women walk around in halter tops or less, a short sleeved blouse is minimally provocative and when pornography is rampant, viewing a woman's face is not titillating." Henkin never explains why this is so. Perhaps it is a type of conditioning. If a man is bombarded with sexuality, he gradually loses his sensitivity. His threshold rises. He becomes numbed. Another possibility is that in cultures where speaking with a woman, shaking her hand, seeing her hair is the norm there is no reason to read into these encounters a sexual connotation. The range of platonic relations between men and women widens. Women's dress or behavior is not given a lascivious interpretation by men. Whatever the reason, rabbis have cited habituation as a justification for permitting a number of practices which some halachic sources prohibit. For instance walking behind a woman, inquiring about a married woman's welfare, mixed seating at weddings and being exposed to women's hair during prayer. For Henkin, habituation is a force for potential leniencies in Judaism. In communities and cultures where men and women mingle freely, certain strictures can be abandoned. He is careful to point out that it is forbidden to introduce the mingling of the sexes in communities where it does not already exist. Rather Halacha can only legitimize an existing practice. But Henkin never fully examines the possibility of how habituation could work in the opposite direction to introduce ever more stringent behavior - a phenomenon that exists today.