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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Shoftim, Devarim 16:18. Modesty Police

Recently, our Bnei Brak and Yerushalayim Mishmeres Hatznius, the Modesty Patrol, and the violence generated by and in reaction to them, has been in the news. From The Yeshiva World on 8/28/08-- *Chareidim in the Meah Shearim area of Yerushalayim on Monday continued throwing rocks and burning garbage receptacles in protest against the continued incarceration of members of the Vaad Tznius. A number of streets were closed as a result of the violence.

Coincidentally, that issue is mentioned in this week's parsha.

The Baal Haturim here says that the connection between Shoftim and the end of R’eiy, which talks about the Regalim, is, as Reb Avin says in the Gemara in Kiddushin 81a, in the sugya of yichud, “sakva d’shatta rigla,” that the worst time of the year (for people getting into trouble with the opposite sex) is during the Yamim Tovim. Therefore, as the Rambam in 6 Yomtov 6 says, “it is the duty of Beis Din to appoint ‘shoftim’ during the Regalim to circulate and to check gardens and orchards and riverbanks so that men and women shouldn’t gather there to eat and drink and come to sin.”

Rav Shternbuch here says that a community should have shotrim walking around during weddings to make sure that there's no hanky panky going on. Talk about a Hechsher Tzedek...

The question arises, however, whether the Morals Police should carry lethal weapons, like the American police, or perhaps truncheons and whistles, British Bobby style, would suffice.

Or, maybe

She's wearing WHAT????

The answer is found in Rashi, who says that the Shotrim carry sticks and lashes.

The truth is that it is easy to make fun of the concept of Taliban-style enforcement of public virtue, and the tznius squads usually end up composed of two types: the sexually repressed in misogynistic reaction formation/over-compensation people, and wild-eyed burka people; but we have to remember that our Torah, and our tradition from the Gemara, from Rashi, from the Rambam, and from the Baal Haturim, teach us that this is something that a Jewish community should aspire to. Theoretically, a sensitive application of this concept in a religious community would be a good thing.
But, as I discussed in the immediately previous posting, every time and every place requires its own approach to a problem; what may have worked in small, insular and homogeneous religious communities, clearly wouldn't work--would indeed likely be counter-productive--in our pluralistic, modern communities. Yiftach's approach would be wrong for Shmuel's generation, and Shmuel's approach wouldn't work in Yiftach's. Either one would probably not work in our generation, especially considering our distaste for religious compulsion; we are raised in a society that believes in absolute autonomy, that religion and morality should be matters of personal choice. But let's not forget that if it were possible, if it could be done in a rational and prudent manner within specific religious communities, if it could be done without sliding into extremes, if it were less harsh compulsion and more a matter of quiet persuasion, this would be a very positive endeavor.
I think that most people would agree with this concept, but disagree on the extent of its application; most would agree that parents should establish rules and punish the breach of rules within a family: many would say this is appropriate for anyone who is in loco parentis-- a teacher in a classroom, or for a principal in a school setting; the only question is, how broad of a group do we apply this to. Many times, reading the paper about the latest financial malefactor, I think that many of us really need a father to give us a little patch. The concept of Shotrim who prevent a breakdown of societal moral standards is timeless: where and how they are to do this, must change with the times.

Of course, the first reaction of many 'modern' Orthodox Jews is that they go to mixed dancing weddings, and to the beach, and “lo allah be’libam davar,” that no inappropriate thoughts enter their minds. This might be true (it's not); but this is not evidence of innocence. It only illustrates the callousness that comes from habituation, and such a state is as pritzusdik as actual hirhur. People need to realize that there is a concept of societal public modesty--Das Yehudis--that means that people are not used to frivolous social contact with the other sex. True, the result of such modesty is that hirhurim are more easily triggered; an exposed ankle was scandalous for the Victorians. But considering society as a whole, this is a better condition than being so inured to contact that it becomes insignificant.

A cousin of mine, in Israel, once said to me that yeshiva bochrim think about girls more than modern boys. I agreed that even if this were true (it isn’t), the rate of premarital pregnancy and venereal disease is probably lower among Yeshiva Bochurim and Beis Yaakov girls than it is among her Tel Avivian friends. Or, as a lawyer would put it, chronic misdemeanors are not the same as an occasional felony.


Anonymous said...

Barzilai said...

yingerman said...

while the dati's aren't perfect, i still think they way ahead of 2nd place