There’s been heightened talk in the last year or so about how the dating practices of Orthodox Jews (not modern Orthodox) – shidduchim, or matchmaking – have gone awry. Connected to that is the issue of hyper-modesty, which has certainly been a volatile topic in the last year and decade, in Israel and outside.
The situation is severe. And the Jewish world is discussing it here and there.
Here’s a very well-written Tablet article by ‘insider’ Avital Chizhik depicting the extremism in halacha teaching and practice in the diaspora: Tights Squeeze: How much modesty will ever be enough for Orthodox girls?
Avital explains the world we grew up in, where over time, teachings have gotten more and more strict and religion has become more and more based on fear and details. Spoiler alert, I’m giving away the ending, but this is something I’ve been thinking about for years as I’ve moved further and further away from what passes as ‘halacha’ these days:
Back in high school, when we girls would ask our teachers for the source of the laws of modesty, the classic answer was to turn to Micah 6:8. Yet now it dawns on me that the same text has been misread, poorly taught. When Micah enjoins Israel to “do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk modestly with thy God,” his final verb is to walk with God. Modestly is simply the adverb.
He essentially is asking that our piety, our walks with God, be done modestly—he’s not asking us to hide our women. Nor to confine them to specific streets, nor to the back of the bus.
Perhaps, rather, he is asking us to keep our piety modest. No one needs to know how many pages of Talmud you’ve learned today, what kosher certification you don’t trust, how intensely you sway during prayer—or how thick your tights are.
On the flip side is Yitta Halberstam, writing this week in the Jewish Press: Purim And The Tyranny Of Beauty: A Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shidduchim. The article is so gut-wrenchingly, nauseating to read, I have a friend who was hesitant to share it directly.
But as disgusted as it made me feel – for boys, for girls, for mothers of singles looking to get married in the Orthodox world – I felt I had to bring it up.
Yitta’s point seems to be, as a mother of a son in shidduchim, that as she feels sorry for the throngs of girls who have to sit back as they get ‘chosen’ for a marriage, which is a highly competitive process, she has this piece of advice for their poor mothers: don’t let them leave the house without looking as beautiful as they can. Make up is the first line of offense, but then if you must, resort to borrowing money and getting surgery.
She compares today’s Jewish bride wannabes with the women of Persia in Megillat Esther. She quotes the Satmar Rebbe who helped a pious woman on the dating scene by paying for her to get teeth (she had none).
The absurdity there, for me, is the lack of a notion for attempting to fix the broken system. Applying make up is the application of a band-aid on a horribly unfair and growing worse condition of shidduchim, which leaves ‘older’ girls behind, and rewards based on non-personal merits like wealth, family status, and which bride’s family can pay for a new apartment.
Anyway – I’m not going to go into it fully here. It’s written with such attitude and faux modesty (hmm, see above). I dunno. Check it out for yourself. It’s not wrong that the Charedi world’s dating system is superficial/unfair (I have my own Charedi nieces who in a few short years will be in this dark predicament). But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fixed.
You can check out A Mother In Israel’s take on the Jewish Press article for more detail on the flaws.
Bottom line: Something is broken in Orthodox Judaism’s version of modesty, dating, and women’s issues. And I’m not hearing much from the people with the power to fix it.