Religious “hot or not”
When our daughter was a junior in a religious high school in Jerusalem, the school instituted a modesty check. One of the teachers was stationed at the front gate to the institution and gave the girls a thorough look up and down before pronouncing whether they were dressed modestly enough to enter. Girls were sometimes told to button up more, put on extra clothing if available (a sweater or scarf would usually suffice) or more rarely were even sent home.
That was a few years back and those girls apparently got off lucky. New “regulations,” formulated by religious Zionist Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, ratchet up the modesty minimums and set some very specific criteria. According to Aviner, whose dress code was published in the “Be’ahava U’bemuna” synagogue leaflet, and reported last week on Ynet to a swell of controversy, a woman’s garment must “calm and reserved”; more specifically, it must cover the entire body and not be transparent or tight.
Aviner is glad to elaborate on what he means by “not tight.” It should not conceal the shape of the body nor emphasize any part of it, even for a short while. “Problematic fabrics,” according to the rabbi, include a thin or thick jersey, Lycra and tricot.
But Aviner is not content to give general guidelines. Skirts must be “10 centimeters (4 inches) longer than the body dimensions in the widest place, and 50 centimeters (20 inches) in the knee area.” Necks must be covered, reports Ynet, a) on the sides until the place the body curves, b) in the back till the first vertebra, and c) in the front till the bones. The upper button must be fastened of course, and a high neck is even better.” Finally, let’s not forget the arms, which must be covered until the elbow.
Aviner is obsessed with the details of women’s clothing. Skirts must not have slits or buttons, as the latter “may fall or open, exposing spaces.” (Zippers only, modest ladies.) And don’t think that, if your clothes are appropriately modest, you’re done. There are also six colors permanently off limits: red, orange, yellow, green, gold and silver, plus “nude.” (Did that even need to be stated…and is that actually a color?)
I remember one year my daughter’s class went on a Shabbaton in ultra Orthodox Bnei Brak. One of the girls donned appropriately modest clothing but didn’t consult her color chart and wore a red dress. She was repeatedly harassed by idle teenage boys on their ways to and from synagogue that morning.
Or perhaps it wasn’t her dress but her hair. If it’s not covered entirely as for a married woman (up to 4 centimeters can be exposed, in some cases), Aviner advocates braids as best, and certainly not hair that is “wild and unkempt.”
Aviner is known to be on the strict side – in 2010 he forbade his followers from watching the popular Israeli TV drama about national religious young people, “Srugim” out of fear it might give the impression that religious people had imperfections – but it’s important to point out he’s not ultra Orthodox himself, even though his rules would be entirely at home in Meah Shearim.
He’s also not in the mainstream among modern Orthodox decisors, apparently.
The Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah religious-Zionist movement responded to the publication of his modesty rule book by saying that his “obsessive engagement in pieces of clothing is in itself immodest” and that his “collection of instructions narrows down the value of modesty and damages the values of sanctity…All this advertisement distorts halacha [Jewish law], which seeks to reduce a person’s engagement in matters of human urges, For the safety of our children and their Torah education, we call on parents to ensure that this is not expressed in any practical way in the schools in which the students of religious education study.”
I no longer have children in the religious school system so I can’t report on whether the modesty checker at the front gate of my daughter’s alma mater is still there and whether her list of hot or not has been further tightened. If you have more up-to-date experience, please leave your comments at the end of this post. Just don’t type using the color red.