by Decemberbaby

I just need to take a moment to bask in your love and approval. I might lose it with this post. Then again, maybe not.

You see, I’m kind of a prude. Sure, I’ll put my hand up at a Weight Watchers meeting and casually mention that sex counts as an activity, even if it’s not listed in the program guide. And I’m not in the least bit inhibited when it comes to, uh, marital intimacy. And I’ve slept with every guy I ever dated (it’s true! Does the fact that I only ever dated one guy change how that statement sounds?)

But you know, most of those things happen behind closed doors. And with the exception of the first one, my sexual exploits (sexploits?) are known only to me and Mr. December. Which is as it should be, as far as I’m concerned. There’s a time and a place for everything.

So I hope you’ll all understand when I state, here and now, that it bothers me exceedingly when women attend synagogue in skirts that don’t even make it halfway to their knees. Or in tops that show a lot of cleavage. It just screams “inappropriate!” to me. Even worse, it smacks of disrespect – even if none is intended.

I find it strange that some women get all defensive and bristly when I say this, as if it’s their God-given right to wear whatever they want whenever they want. As if someone is imposing some medieval dress code on them. As if we’re passing judgment.

Okay, I’m passing judgment.

But why do women defend their right to wear too-tight and too-revealing clothing into a synagogue when they would travel to India and gladly take off their shoes in any given temple, or respectfully don long pants instead of shorts when visiting the great cathedrals of Europe? What gives?

I’m not an adherent to the standards of tznius (modesty) in dress that orthodox women follow. But you know what? We come to synagogue, many of us, to talk to God. Or to be part of a holy community. It’s hard for me to feel holy, or focus on God, when my eyes are constantly drawn to a woman’s cleavage – and I’m a heterosexual woman. Seriously, it’s that distracting.

Is this about ego? Is it about being blind to the effect of one’s clothing on other people? And is it so hard to remember that how we dress for synagogue (or anything) is an expression not only of ourselves, but also of our respect (or lack thereof) for the sanctity and importance of the occasion?

I don’t have any answers. Just questions that come up time and time again… so I’m turning to you, my readers. What do you think? And if you think that there should be standards, who gets to decide?


7 Comments to “Prude.”

  1. Thought about this a lot – we were just discussing it at the Shabbos table with my mother, who is bothered immensely.
    It bothers me – a bit, and not as much as it used to. I mean, sure, I shake my head and wonder what the heck they were thinking, and where they thought they were going when they woke up in the morning… just like I wonder at pregnant women who wear clothing designed to demonstrate exactly how they got that way.
    Ingeniously, our shul solved the problem (partly) this high holiday season by lending out fleece shawls to counter the turned-way-up air conditioning. The thought process, perhaps: “Let’s crank it up, make ’em shiver, then they’ll HAVE to cover up!”
    But I’m older, mellower, and really, truly, I look at them and I look at me and I think, “they’re in shul… I’m in shul.” A Chabad shaliach once told me that once someone walks through the door, they’re equal to any other Jew in the place, no matter whether they drove there, took the bus, whatever. As I tell my kids when they mock the less religious people who come twice a year, “they have dozens of other places they could be today – and they’ve chosen to spend the time in shul.”
    When I started becoming religious, lo these many years ago, I hated skirts. All my life, I hated skirts. I clung desperately to my right to wear leggings or biker shorts or whatever, only putting on a skirt if I was going to be seeing a rabbi. Except then, we were seeing rabbis more and more often, and, well… eventually, I realized it wasn’t about the context – it was about ME, in the same way that “I keep kosher…” doesn’t mean “…only at home.”
    It would nice if, like Judge Judy has been known to do, someone could stand on the bima and pause the davening while they run and get a cardigan. But meanwhile, I look at them and try to see holiness, and also my own past struggle with clothing, and I smile anyway and try not to comment. Much. 😉

  2. Oy. Am I now officially a crabby old woman? I think, Yes. Part of my response involves my constant battle to judge favorably. This particular struggle is so difficult because I constantly see choices of cleavage, skirt length and general clingy/tightness that are maddening. My inner comments are along the lines of: “Are there no mirrors in their homes? Do they live alone? How can they leave the house looking like that? Especially — dafka –to go to shul?” However, I am even more appalled by the way young girls dress when they attend bar and bat mitzvahs. There are two aspects of this phenomenon that I don’t understand. 1. Why are these slutty styles manufactured for this age group in the first place? and 2. Why do parents think it’s appropriate for their daughters to wear these trampy outfits? Standards? The collar bone/elbow/knee test works for me.

  3. I leave it up to G-d. In the Torah the laws of Tzniut (Modesty) are clear and defined. Put simply our bodies are holy vessels to use in this world for our unique mission and Mitzvot and they should be respected as such. 1. Vessels of holiness as they harbor our Neshama from Hashem and 2. a powerful tool and gift from Hashem to use and then return at 120.
    As for seeing women dressed immodestly. I just feel sad, not angry. If a woman really understood how precious her body is, and how to use it properly (there is a place for uncovering ie in the home with her husband) she would not dress that way. I also believe (which overlaps) that if a person has self dignity and self esteem, they would not be so defined by their clothing and remember that it is just that, clothing to cover them.
    On the same hand, because our body is a tool in a sense I believe that looking nice, put together and stylish (not over styled where the clothes wear you) is essential.
    I like what Jayfer said about needing skirts more and more. It is true, once one realizes that the skirt is not for the Rabbi but for their readiness to serve G-d at all times instead of just in the shul….

  4. I’m a crabby old lady too. I am equal-opportunity about it though: the boys around here dress nearly as inappropriately as the girls. And there’s one inappropriately-dressed grandma who shows up all the time in skintight leopard print (though she does have a fantastic figure for a 20-year-old, much less a 60-year-old, still there is a time and place for this and the CHILDREN’S service is not it).

    Of course, the unattended and horrible behavior of many of the same children drives me much crazier because they are loud, jumping off the bimah, running around during Kaddish… yeah.

  5. I fully and totally understand your point of view. And I agree – I feel the same way about teachers. I, for example, made sure my tattoos were always covered when I was teaching or at school functions. Because teaching at a Jewish school means modelling Jewish values, which includes the sanctity of the body. I would also not flaunt them in Shul. Same reason. And yes, when traveling, I have removed my shoes when visiting mosques, covered my shoulders to visit synagogues, and worn long skirts to churches.

    I agree with the previous commenter – I also feel more sad than judgy nowadays. I wonder what happened to these women (and men) to make them feel so much less-than, that they feel they need to make up for it by attracting attention through their appearance at all times. It is sad that they are not comfortable in their own skins.

  6. Yes, we’ve often sat in shul and wondered why people don’t seem to make any effort to look smart – even smart casual would be an improvement on some of our members! It’s as much the middle aged guys showing up in scruffy jeans and old sneakers as it is the teenage girls in miniskirts. Yes, I understand it’s more about being there than what you’re wearing, and I would rather people be comfortable than not (and at least kids here are polite and well-behaved in shul) but I continue to be surprised at what some people think is appropriate attire for the circumstances.

  7. Long time reader, first time commenter (and a bit late to the party). –
    I’m really intrigued by this topic. Speaking from my experience – when I go to shul for a regular Friday night service, I wouldn’t necessarily dress smart. (It’s a very small shul, and I live on the other side of the street, so I just run over there.) On the holidays or when it’s more of an ‘occasion’ (such as a communal meal), I definitively make an effort with the way I dress, because I want to express my respect for the holiday, if that makes sense. On those days I definitively find it strange when some people show up in scruffy jeans and old sneakers, as the above commenter says.
    As a young woman, I am also mindful of dressing ‘appropriate’ – e.g. I’d say, skirts knee-length or longer, no ostentatious cleavage – although to me, nail varnish and some make-up are okay (but not on e.g. Yom Kippur). So ‘festive’ rather than ‘let’s party’. While I think it’s fine to show myself as an attractive woman, I want to be respected.

    Anyway, interesting topic…

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