Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Rav Aviner's Modesty Guidelines cause Controversy

JPost  The publication by leading national-religious figure Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of a set of principles for modest dress for women last weekend evoked considerable consternation within the community.

Aviner, dean of the Ateret Yerushalayim Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem and the rabbi of the Beit El settlement, issued a list of directives for modest dress in his regular column in the weekly Shabbat pamphlet “B’Ahavah U’ve’Emunah” (“With Love and Faith”), which many saw as inappropriate and overly strict.

“Clothing should cover the entire body, it should not be transparent, it should not be tight, and it should be quiet and reserved,” the rabbi wrote.

The rabbi also issued directives regarding the color of clothing to be worn, saying that women should refrain from wearing anything red, body-colored, orange, bold shades of yellow or green, gold, silver or anything shiny.

Arms should be covered to at least below the elbow, but the sleeves should not be baggy because any movement of the arm will expose the area above the elbow, but “how much better and pleasant is it” to cover the arm up to the hands, Aviner noted.

The rabbi’s directives continue to discuss skirt length, 10cm. below the knee, stocking thickness, shoe type and color and other issues of modest attire.


  1. The complainers are from the crowd that yells anytime a Rabbi says that their mini-skirts are halachicly assur.

  2. Last week, I saw a frum lady with a shaitel and a skirt that stopped above her knees eating lunch with her husband.

    1. Recipients and PublicityJanuary 3, 2013 at 12:21 PM

      "betzalel said...Last week, I saw a frum lady with a shaitel and a skirt that stopped above her knees eating lunch with her husband.

      Why were you looking at her? Are you a pervert or a peeping tom who gets vicarious pleasure from looking at other men's wives?

    2. RaP please stop with the personal attacks. Betzalel's comment doesn't justify your criticism

    3. Recipients and PublicityJanuary 4, 2013 at 10:16 AM

      Daas Torah said...RaP please stop with the personal attacks. Betzalel's comment doesn't justify your criticism"

      Honestly I don't get your criticism, since betzalel said..."Last week, I saw a frum lady with a shaitel and a skirt that stopped above her knees eating lunch with her husband."

      He says himself that he was looking at her, otherwise how could he have seen her? and it is logical and fair to ask if this is his habit? of looking and seeing what married or single ladies are wearing, and what it says about him?

      What business was it for him to check out that anonymous lady and report about what she was wearing as if she was committing some sort of "crime"?

      Frum men are taught and told NOT to look and stare at other women, period, and in that way they won't have to worry what the women around them are wearing.

      There are seven billion people on planet earth, that means that just over half are females and many of them do not meet tznius requirements.

      Thus the best policy is to just ignore them and get on with life. Who is now going to become the "tznius police" of half of the human race? This has become a disease in the frum world of "tznius squads" vigilantes acting as the agents of Charedi and Chasidic leaders who know they cannot police the world on their own, so like like in the mafia they have goons and gangs enforce their edicts while the top honchos spend their days in "prayer & study" as if they are "holier than thou saints" while their emissaries are running around checking out what women are wearing and doing in Orwellian totalitarian style and even hurting women when they feel like. You of all people should know this. When the true Mashiach comes and the Sanhedrin will be re-establsihed we will go by "kefia dadit" but until such time, we are living in open free democracies that allow people to dress as they wish, that is why the frum have the freedom to dress like chen'yoks and the frei and goyim have the freedom to dress as much or as little as they want. And somewhere in between you will find many shades of Charedi and Orthodox men and women, who do not appreciate secret vigilantes monitoring them and enforcing a dress code as if they were in elementary school or cheder.

    4. RaP your defense of your comments is even more bizarre then the original comment. There are plenty of example in our literature where gedolim noticed how woman were dressed and commented on it.

      For example in Berachos (20a)the gemora praises the mesiras nefesh of previous generations and gives as an example " R. Adda b. Ahaba who saw a heathen woman wearing a red head-dress9 in the street, and thinking that she was an Israelite woman, he rose and tore it from her." If you had been writing the gemora would you would have said "how disgusting R Adda b Ahaba was looking at woman and he noticed what she was wearing?!"

      Or Sukka(52a):Abaye heard a certain man saying to a woman, ‘Let us arise betimes and go on our way’. ‘I will’, said Abaye, ‘follow them in order to keep them away from transgression’ and he followed them for three parasangs across the meadows. When they parted company he heard them say, ‘Our company is pleasant, the way is long’. ‘If it were I’, said Abaye, ‘I could not have restrained myself’, and so went and leaned in deep anguish against a doorpost, when a certain old man came up to him and taught him: The greater the man, the greater his Evil Inclination.

      The clear prohibition is to stare at women for the sake of enjoyment. Rav Moshe Feinstein has a teshuva permitting a man to walk down the street even though he might see women. I assume you would disagree and say of course you can't go somewhere you might see woman.

      Similarly Rav Moshe permits men to sit next to woman on a bus and indicates that there is something wrong with the man if he has a problem of hirhur from this.

      Bottom line RaP your "psak" is not in line with that of the conduct and teachings of gedolim and tzadikim. If you personally wish to adopt a standard of never seeing women - that is your perogative. But to condemn someone else because he noticed women - there is no basis for such chumros.

    5. Yam Shel Shlomo (Kesubos 2:3): R’ Yosse [Kesubos 17a] asserts, “It is permitted to stare intently at the face of the bride for the first 7 days in order that she become beloved to her husband” - but that is not the halacha. And even the first day of marriage it is prohibited so he should instead stare at her clothing or jewelry but not at her face at all. In contrast all of this is absolutely prohibited for other married women. It seems that this is only in reference to staring in a manner that it is prohibited to stare at a rainbow which is in a manner of examination and staring – but simply in a manner of glancing it is permitted. Glancing is also permitted in regard to all married women. Even though from the Rosh (2.3) it appears that even glancing at her face is prohibited but that doesn’t make sense because then no one would be able to know whether a particular woman was single or married that they could testify concerning her. It is specifically talmidei chachomim that Bava Basra 168a say normally do not pay attention to a woman’s appearance. This implies that glancing is permitted even for a talmid chachom, while the average person generally pays attention even to recognize a woman. And the gemora there concludes that when a talmid chachom pays attention to the appearance of a woman he is fully aware of what she looks like. Thus this indicates that looking at a woman is not prohibited but it is only the minhag not to. Therefore we can conclude that there is no actual prohibition at looking at women but there is for staring and carefully examining her image. Staring would also be prohibited even to examining her clothing as we see in Avoda Zara (20b). This is also the view of the Ramban, It is prohibited to stare at the beauty of a woman – even at her little finger with the intent to derive pleasure... This seems to be in agreement with what I explained. Nevertheless one who can be cautious and to add restrictions and safeguards and he is pious and it is known that he is not doing it for pride and to show off – he is called a holy man and he is blessed.

    6. I'm with Daas Torah on this one: Betzalel looked at her because he has eyes. He didn't mention it was lustful or whatever.

      I think Tzinus is a decent concept but not administered well. Yeah, don't wear mini-skirts or show excessive cleavage but what's wrong with some public expression? If I'm attracted to a woman, I'm likely attracted to her regardless of what she wears anyway.

      It also seems that the concept of tzinus is also used to justify unhealthy degrees of intellectual and societal isolation as in "oh you can't watch TV or interact with secular society because they're women wear jeans" when those are valuable sources of knowledge.

      By the way, I'm new to the frumm blogosphere. I just lived near a frumm community and was frustrated at their society

  3. This is relevant to something I've written about in the past.
    The reason there is a crisis of direction in the Religious Zionist community is because there is no underlying Religious Zionist hashkafah when it comes to things not related to Zionism.
    Rav Aviner is essentially Chareidi in his outlook except when it comes the Zionism. There he is a student of HaRavs Kook, ztk"l. (For that matter, so were HaRavs Kook)
    On the other end you have Shirah Chadashah which is one step away from right-wing Conservatism but which is equally Religious Zionist.
    So this teshuvah should not surprise anyone.

  4. Change is difficult for anyone in any kehilla.

    Change must be accompained by Chinuch, openness of discussion and text based studies for young ladies, Mothers and Savtas. To ingrain new hadracha in any Mitzvah takes time for its evolution. Is this happening? Are the mechanchos in the school teaching and explaining the hilchos tzinus and their upgraded status over the last few years? Are other Chashuva Rabbanim in the RZ world in agreement?

    MIGHTY, crisis are dominant in all KEHILLOS that range from 'light to hard core'. This is not a RZ problem only. Check out the infighting between Degel/Netzach/Tov/Satmar/Shas/Breslav re: Election issues and how to navigate.

  5. He said nothing wrong.
    Can you point out what is so Controversial??

  6. Did even the most pious women of any Jewish community 100 years ago cover up this much? In any event, I'm sure kindgardeners weren't required to wear bullet proof tights back then. But that's what it's come to today. And that's the tip of the iceberg.

    Where is it written that halacha (or dat yehudit) can, or should, become increasingly stringent with time, with no stopping point? Isn't there a mechanism, and a need, to reverse the trend and abandon some of the chumros that have accumulated with time?

    1. "yeshaya",
      1. Why might you think to deny "even the most pious women of any Jewish community 100 years ago cover up this much"? Have your checked this out or just assumed it? How many communities and locales have you investigated concerning these traditions?
      2. Your phrasing "I'm sure kindgardeners weren't required to wear bullet proof tights back then." clearly shows you have an emotional issue here.
      3. Please show specific sources where you see normative halacha has "become increasingly stringent with time, with no stopping point". Have you studied the sources leading up to and including shulchan aruch and the commentaries? (Do you even know where they appear? The presentation of your attack on these halachos comes across as from an emotional perspective, not a scholarly one.)
      4. What is your source for what seems to be an assumption of yours that there must be "a mechanism, and a need, to reverse the trend and abandon some of the chumros that have accumulated with time" (assuming that that is indeed what has been happening as you postulated above)? Is this question limited to this area or a general one? Please be specific and support distinction between halocho, minhagim and chumros.

    2. DB, is it not obvious that general tznius standards have become more and more strict over the past 100 years? Isn't it generally acknowledged that virtually no Ashkenazi women wore headcoverings in Eastern Europe, at least before recent times? I mentioned the kindergardener tights example because that's a relatively new stringency in some communities today.

      I agree, however, that it would be better to lay out all the relevant halachos, and document precisely through teshuvos and photographs and such the development of tznius standards with time. Unfortunately I don't have the time and ability to do this, but maybe someone has already done it in an academic article. But I think it's obvious and well-known to everyone that what is considered tznius has changed significantly over the last couple generations (regarding issues like how much hair must be covered, skirt length, whether tights are necessary and what kinds are acceptable, etc.).

      Regarding number 4, this is how I see it. Before the advent of Reform and haskalah, community rabbis were in charge of halacha. They were neither particularly strict or particularly lenient. They ruled according their knowledge and the needs of the community. They usually didn't insist on new minhagim or chumros. Halacha didn't become increasingly lenient or stringent with time.

      After Reform and haskalah emerged, two things happened. First, there was a reaction. Many rabbis become more stringent regarding halacha and minhag, and new chumros became widespread to the extent they were considered binding minhag (particularly among certain insular groups such as chassidim). Second, rabbis from important yeshivos began to have more sway in halachic matters, rather than community rabbis who had to deal with everyday people's problems and concerns. That caused a general movement toward strictness.

      Both pressures toward strictness (the presence of Reform and the yeshivah base of most influence rabbis) continue until today, particularly in the charedi world. The Modern Orthodox and Dati Leumi world have also moved to the right on halachic and minhag matters, but the effect is less pronounced for various reasons.

      The problem is that the Torah does not anticipate a general movement toward greater strictness over time as a desirable thing. We cannot remove a particular mitzvah from the Torah, but we can't add additional mitzvos either. There needs to be balance. If rabbis are afraid to rule leniently or simply according to the original halacha, rather than more stringent contemporary opinions, then there is no way to restore this balance.

      Sometimes there are rabbis who are known for some lenient opinions, like Rav Moshe or Rav Ovadia Yosef. But in general there is no mechanism for restoring balance when pressures toward strictness have created a Judaism that is so strict that 1) it is unbelievable to your average non-Orthodox Jew that this is what real Judaism is, and that 2) it unnecessarily makes life harder for frum Jews (think of wearing thick tights, or a jacket and a shtreimel, on the hottest days of the year, or the prohibition of major poskim against going to even frum colleges.) The problem isn't insurmountable, but it's a problem.

    3. Yeshaya,
      1. Ashkenazi women in specific kehilos of Eastern Europe/Russia were swayed by the times and didn't cover their hair in the previous generation. Their predecessors did and many of their children/grandchildren returned to complying with this Torah obligation. That's not chumros. Just see what your champion of leniency, Harav Ovadia Yosef shlit"a says about hair covering and sheitels (themselves a modern leniency which many other major poskim vociferously objected to even when they were of much lower quality than today's ones and clearly didn't look like hair.)
      2. You still haven't provided evidence of the 'obvious' trends you're mentioning and I really don't see them as obvious at all.
      3. Your historical rendition is interesting but I don't see evidence of your thesis that poskim in recent generations are basically reactionary.
      4. See halachos of krias shema for covering definitions and also siman 23 in Even Haezer for general approach. If MO is moving in keeping with that is that called 'moving to the right' as in the political sense? How about in the sense of doing the right thing?!
      5. Shtreimels, long coats, thick tights (at least by chassidim). The approach is not to make this a new obligation but rather an opportunity to raise one's personal dignity as an Oveid Hashem, just as a monarch will wear his royal robes and crown despite the heat. (And why doesn't anybody complain about the stringincies of participatnts of outdoor sports in the summer where people sweat much much more...?)

    4. 1. Agreed, though I'm not sure if it was specific kehilos or all of them. I shouldn't have mentioned hair covering, because that's different -- it's clearly required. The steadily increasing standards of tzniut, in terms of how much has to be covered, how much gender separation there needs to be, etc., are different (and it's complicated because of the notion of dat yehudit -- that one should dress as the locals do -- but that was never meant to spiral into greater and greater stringencies). Other areas of halacha are involved as well, such as detailed regulations for checking of bugs for each vegetable or fruit and banning of certain vegetables like broccoli -- I don't think such rules existed a couple generations ago.

      3. I think this is the general conclusion of academic scholarship. Of course, some of it may be biased against Orthodoxy, and want to portray it as a new movement (as opposed to what it is, the only Judaism with historical hashkafic and halachic continuity with traditional Judaism). But Orthodox historians such as Rabbi Natan Slifkin agree with their conclusions -- see his brief essay on his blog on this topic.

      5. Yes, but people consider it an obligation and since it causes needless suffering (or appears to) it makes Orthodox Jews look bad. Are thick tights confined to chassidim? I didn't think so. Outdoor sports are optional, unless dress standards -- if people don't like sweating they just don't do it.

    5. yeshaya,
      1. You're bundling issues together in a way that seems to stem from ignorance and lack of tolerance.
      A. Znitut in dress - it seems you're confusing a code of dress stemming from unfounded laxness with the ancient traditions of carefully preserving one's dignity by observing these laws and customs and labeling that as excessive stringency.
      B. Which gender separation are your referring to as excessive? By what established traditional criteria?
      C. Bug checking - eating bugs is known to involve serious multiple Torah prohibition, much more severe than pork. Increased awareness of issues on the ground brings increased care not to transgress. What could be wrong with that?
      3. You're bundling youre vague impression anonymous undefined academic scholarship as defining a trend.
      A. Be academic and refer to sources and specifics.
      B. Rabbi Slifkin is an accomplished scholar with controversial views. He's scrupulous in his research and documenting his claims and conclusions and specific in all areas. Why not ask him what he thinks of Rav Aviner's recommendations?
      A. Which/how many people see it as an obligation? What kind of obligation? Do all people clearly understanding what they're doing?
      B. How much 'needless suffering' does it cause? How do you know? (How much how many are suffering and what characterizes that as 'needless'.)
      C. People will always look at some others, especially Jews, especially Orthodox ones, as bad. We can't prevent that. We can and must be careful in our dealings with others, also not to give them reason to resent us, hopefully to even respect us.
      D. Thick tights - varies by community. Many feel elevated by wearing thick tights.
      E. Sports are optional but not if you're on the team or part if it because of other social pressure. People choose not to buck the community standard for many reasons. Many even identify with it. Is that intrinsically wrong?

    6. DB, I appreciate your systematic answers.

      1.A. I haven't read it (yet), but Rabbi Yehudah Henkin's book Understanding Tzniut seems like a good place to start for people interested in investigating these issues. Apparently he critiques the charedi view of tzniut with reference to the sources.

      C. What was wrong with the apparent historical practice not to worry so much about bugs, and just ensure that there was no obvious investation visible to the naked eye? (See Aruch HaShulchan Yoreh Deah 100:13). Did Rambam or the Rema soak berries for 15 minutes in warm soapy water before eating them? Multiplying requirements for everyday life encourages the misperception that Orthodoxy is an recent innovation obsessed with stringencies rather than a continuation of historical Judaism.

      3. I would like to "be academic" about this, but don't have the ability to currently. I'm pleasantly surprised that you would bother challenging a fellow anonymous internet commenter to be academic, given the low quality of much internet discourse.

      5.B. You're right -- it's an empirical question that deserves systematic study. But surely some people are uncomfortable or overheating because of dress codes that are extreme compared to other current and past observant communities.

      D. If individuals feel elevated, fine, but community-wide standards are another thing -- others may feel oppressed.

      E. In the secular world sports are not a universal thing. There may be pressure or encouragement in certain social circles, but there are tons of people who don't get involved in sports or exercise at all without experiencing any sanctions.

  7. trying to understandJanuary 3, 2013 at 5:08 PM

    All he said is cover your knees and your elbows. He added that it would be nice if you covered up to your hand and kept the dreess a bit longer. As far as colors, /the Shac'h already banned Red. If that means bright colors or just red or maybe bright red is up in the air. But so far he said nothing extraordinary. Unless you guys are from.............

    1. See R' Aviner's full post here:

      I'm not sure which passages have been controversial. He doesn't ban just red -- also bright yellow, orange and green. and anything shiny!

      However, he doesn't say tights are required -- he just says some require them. But he gives a certain standard on tight thickness, saying they should be more than 40 denier. So it's confusing what his view is.

      He also implies turtlenecks are preferable. Seems like a strange thing to say.

      The JPOST article doesn't give much detail on the critiques. Here are the relevant paragraphs:

      "Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, co-dean of the national-religious Maalei Gilboa Yeshiva, said that the level of detail that Aviner went into was unnecessary and that “obsession with modesty is not modest.”

      He also said that the publication would be unlikely to have any effect since those accustomed to being more stringent in the way they dress would continue to do so, and those who are not so exacting would simply ignore the rabbis instructions.

      Rabbi Ronen Neubert, director of the recently established liberal-inclined national-religious group Beit Hillel, criticized Aviner’s modesty directive as “intrusive, humiliating and immodest.”

      Neubert said in an op-ed published on Ynet that the issue itself must be dealt with discreetly and that it was for female halachic experts and educators to talk about modesty with their students – and not for rabbis."

  8. On January 4, Daas Torah wrote:
    "Rav Moshe permits men to sit next to woman on a bus and indicates that there is something wrong with the man if he has a problem of hirhur from this."

    If you have such a problem you are not normal but there are hundreds of frum men just like you. There is a website called Guard Your Eyes which was made for people like you (us) and an anonymous forum so you can share your struggles with fellow strugglers.



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