Modesty and Desire

Rabbi Dov Linzer, a prominent figure in Open Orthodoxy, recently published Lechery, Immodesty and the Talmud in the New York Times. The article explicitly responds to some recent attempts by ultra-Orthodox leaders in Israel to enforce their standards of “modesty,” (E.g.: Segregated elevators; segregated buses; a newspaper blurring out the mother’s face in the family picture accompanying the article about the murder of the mother and father). Linzer rebukes the ultra-Orthodox for hyper-sexualizing women and calling it “modesty” to police their dress and public presence. He cites Talmudic sources to correct the ultra-Orthodox understanding of Jewish law in this area. Linzer says:

The Talmud tells the religious man, in effect: If you have a problem, you deal with it. It is the male gaze — the way men look at women — that needs to be desexualized, not women in public. The power to make sure men don’t see women as objects of sexual gratification lies within men’s — and only men’s — control.

He concludes:

Jewish tradition teaches men and women alike that they should be modest in their dress. But modesty is not defined by, or even primarily about, how much of one’s body is covered. It is about comportment and behavior. It is about recognizing that one need not be the center of attention. It is about embodying the prophet Micah’s call for modesty: learning “to walk humbly with your God.”

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