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The Modest Mindset
Depending where you live, you’ve probably seen us. The women and girls who wear long sleeves and crew necks in ninety degree weather. Our skirts brush our ankles or at least our knees. Maybe knee socks or even tights.
Maybe you’ve looked at us and seen fanatics. Or maybe you thought that we think we’re so much holier than thou. Maybe you even felt bad, for us poor girls, bound forever in a set of archaic laws that keep us dying of heat exhaustion. Maybe you’ve never seen us, and you’re forming whatever opinion now.
Disregard it. All of it. What you thought, what you think. What you’re parents and teachers and other authorities have told you about Judaism. Maybe some of it is true, maybe even all of it. But allow me, as a Jewish Modern Orthodox young woman, to tell you what it’s like to be that girl with the long denim skirt and sleeves to my wrist.
Let me start off saying that the layered look and long flowing skirts and dresses are the best things that happened the Jewish woman’s ability to shop freely since…a long time ago. But that’s not it. The clothing is inconsequential. If I see a t-shirt I like in Forever 21, I can buy it. Because I have a shell (a skin tight shirt worn underneath a regular shirt to fix a too – low neck line or short sleeves) to wear underneath it. My skirts mostly come from the Frum (Religious) store on Central Ave. This is the 21st century – Jewish Orthodoxy is easier than it has ever been.
But it’s like I said. The clothing is inconsequential.
The important thing is the frame of mind that allows me to see the long sleeves in ninety degrees as inconsequential.
When I was eleven or twelve, I asked my mother for a pair of jeans. Just a simple pair of jeans. Not fancy or designer, just a pair of pants. The request was shot down with heavy caliber bullets and given no burial.
But it had bothered me. I was a little girl, surrounded by people who did things radically differently than I had been taught. Modern Orthodoxy has wide parameters. Even some of my friends, all of them attendees of a Yeshiva day school, wore pants in public. I was confused.
Every teacher gave us the Talk. You must cover your elbows. You must cover you collarbone. You must cover your knees. It says so in the Torah (Jewish holy book). Maybe even an explanation as to why it was originally decreed. “Because when there was no elastic or fitted sleeves and women reached up to their looms, their sleeves fell back and if they were too short, it exposed the side of the breast.” Well, great for them. But my sleeves were fitted and I couldn’t even roll them up, let alone do anything that would make them fall back.
Then in eighth grade it clicked for me. I was fourteen at the time and beginning to understand…biology. Okay, so I was a sheltered kid. Sue me.
Anyway, eighth grade. My Navi (Books of the Prophets) teacher told us to arrange the desks around the perimeter of the room. We did so and she stood in the middle of the room. Mind you, she was not only a brilliant teacher and an amazing woman, but she was also a nurse. And she gave it to us straight. She gave us a beautiful and intense Shiur (Torah lecture). From the perspective of biology and Halacha (Jewish law), she told us why we cover what we cover and how we do not restrict ourselves, but protect ourselves from the outside world.
If you have a precious diamond, the most beautiful, flawless gem in the entire world, do you parade it around? Do you flash it everywhere? Do you wave it everyone’s face, for anyone to covet and steal? No. Of course not. You protect it. Keep it safe and secure. Shield it from theft and ruin.
So why walk around with your body hanging out? Naked and unprotected? Each and every one of us has a most precious possession. Our bodies, miracles, every one of them. Created in the image of God. That is where the clothing comes in. We must shield ourselves from the world and reveal our priceless treasure only to someone who has pledged to take care of us – our chosen spouse.
Furthermore, would you want a boy – or girl – to see the lovely diamond you own and not you? Would you like it if a man – or woman – you care about were to covet your jewel and not want you personally? If you flash around the gem, there are bound to be many who will see it and desire it. They will come and take it from you or defile and ruin it. And you will have nothing.
Exactly. No one wants to be used. So why display your amazing gift for any to take? To use? If you were used for your body, emotionally or sexually, it would hurt you. You cannot allow that to happen to you. Imagine protecting yourself, saving yourself, until someone wants to love you for you and then you share with him - or her – your gift.
Because you are worth it.