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Do Women Have Something to Hide?

Do Women Have Something to Hide?

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Question:

Why does Judaism tell women to keep their bodies covered? Is there something shameful or evil about a woman’s body? If men can’t control their urges, then it’s their problem, not women’s. Why should a woman have to hide herself just so others shouldn’t be tempted?

Answer:

You are assuming that the only reason for modest dress is to avoid temptation. While this may be the case in other religions, for Judaism this is not true. The Jewish way of modest dress is not merely about how other people view women, but more about how women view themselves.

Covering something doesn’t always mean being ashamed of it. Have you ever noticed how we treat a Torah scroll? We never leave it lying around open. It is hidden behind many layers. The Torah is kept inside a synagogue, in the Ark, behind a curtain, wrapped in a mantle, held tightly closed with a belt. It is taken out only when it is to be used for its holy purpose, to be read during the prayer service. For those special times we carefully draw the curtain, open the doors of the ark, bring out the Torah, uncover it and unwrap it. As soon as we have finished, we immediately wrap it up again and put it away.

Why do we do all this? Why do we go to such trouble to conceal the Torah? Are we ashamed of it? Is there something to hide? Is there something ugly about the Torah?

Of course not. The opposite is true.

Because the Torah is our holiest object, because it is so sacred and special and precious, we never leave it exposed unnecessarily. We keep it under wraps because we don’t want to treat it lightly; we don’t want to become too casual with it. Were the Torah to be always open and visible, it might become too familiar and its sanctity minimized. By keeping it away from sight, and bringing it out only for the appropriate times, we maintain our reverence and respect for the Torah.

The same is with our bodies. The body is the holy creation of G‑d. It is the sacred house of the soul. The way we maintain our respect for the body is by keeping it covered. Not because it is shameful, but because it is so beautiful and precious.

This is true for men’s bodies too, and laws of modest dress apply to them as well. But it is even more so for women. The feminine body has a beauty and a power that far surpasses the masculine. The Kabbalists teach that a woman’s body has a deeper beauty because her soul comes from a higher place. For this reason, her body must be kept discreetly covered.

In a world where the woman’s body has been reduced to a cheap advertising gimmick, we need no proof for the truth of this wisdom. Where all is exposed, nothing is sacred. But that which is truly precious to us, we keep under wraps.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
Image: Detail from a painting by Sarah Kranz. Ms. Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children’s books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London.
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Discussion (55)
August 4, 2015
Meira Shana
You asked why is it okay for men to be immodest.
Simply put, it is not okay.

We don't talk about it so much, it seems that most men are able to absorb and practice modest dress more easily than women. That could be why we talk about it less. Or perhaps there are other reasons.
Men are not to go about shirtless, and they should wear long pants, not shorts. In the winter this is easy. In the summer, well, it depends on where you are. In truth, many men do not want to wear their tallit katan (four cornered fringed garment) on their skin. The reason is that a garment worn purely for the sake of a mitzvah should be worn in a modest way. So they wear a T-shirt, the tallit katan, and then a shirt. Three layers! Even though my T-shirt has long sleeves I think it is less. And the tallit katan may be made of wool, it is a very warm layer. (Some men wear ones made of cotton, those are cooler, and easier to wash.)

There are rules for modest dress for both sexes. Lack of modesty is not okay.
Sarah Masha
West Bloomfield
August 3, 2015
RE: covering or not is seasonal!
The difference is, the seasonal weather changes, requiring a person to "coverup" at times, is very different than making moral choices regarding an AWARENESS that revealing clothes have a very strong effect on most men. Modest dress keeps the average, but fallen, man at bay. Unfortunately mankind is at a very low level and constantly, images on billboards, MOVIES, magazines, internet VIDEOS, books being sold and more, depict "normality" as every individual, no matter at what age, being very sexually alluring. Even many movies, books, advertisements and magazines actually have "target audiences", where they target an age group to maximize their monetary return, even all the way down to 3 years old, and especially in girls and young women. In other words, we ARE being mentally manipulated to serve base interests, and NOT the interests of HaShem or our neshamot.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
San Francisco
August 2, 2015
Modesty
If only teen aged girls knew what they were doing to themselves! The family and the schools (secular) have to set down standards. why is it only the religious private schools that get to do this?
JDV
July 14, 2015
covering or not is seasonal!
No its not difficult at all to change and cover oneself like style changes all the time, one time short, one time long, different colors this season or that season, winter and summer time we dress differently, so what's the difference?
Feigele
Boca Raton FL
July 14, 2015
What are the potentials of humans?
Something about the story as told in Genesis about Adam and Eve. How they were at a very high level, but fell through the Serpent. Man has great potential, but there are forces and beings that oppose that potential and do everything to try and bring humans down to a lower level. So, the TORAH is what Hashem gave to the Jewish people to raise them up, back to the level of Adam and Eve. Modesty is a part of that teaching. It's an awareness that Hashem wants us to behave in certain ways, and when one has that awareness, then doing it becomes important and not difficult.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
Yerushalayim
July 12, 2015
modesty
I really think it's all about what you're used to. For example, me, who grew up covering myself up, anything else just- I can't do it! But someone who is used to exposing themseves- it is admittedly extremely difficult to start covering yourself and something you really just have to get used to.
Chani Goldberg
Albequerque, New Mexico
December 23, 2014
The world of separation
It's rare that I ever see modesty where I live. Typical of the "normal world" of television, videos, performances in public, the "normal" way to dress and so on, most people are lost in a sea of sensualness and overt sexual behavior. Even within boy and girl-friend relations, it's very common now to "cheat" on them.....of course, usually behind their backs in secret.
Holiness and modesty, whether with a man or a woman, go together. Purity and modesty are inseparable. Innocence is also where one finds natural modesty.

When I went to the kotel, in Yerushalayim, I felt the presence of the Shekinah, the place was so HOLY, and, of course, everyone behaved and dressed modestly.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
San Francisco
May 4, 2014
To Miriam Baley
The topic of the respective sources of male and female souls is a large and complex discussion. Very briefly, female souls stem from Malchut, the ultimate of the Ten Sefirot taught in the Kabbalah. While this is the final Sefirah, it has certain qualities which surpass those of the upper Sefirot. Two metaphors for this Sefirah are the earth and speech. The earth displays the power of vegetation, producing new things, which reflects G-d's infinite power of creation. This is not found in the higher Sefirot. Speech brings about greater depth of understanding, which shows that it infuses the intellect with greater power, although it is supposedly below the intellectual Sefirot. You can read more about this here: www.chabad.org/380390. This is because, on one level, Malchut has a greater ability to express G-d's essence than do the upper Sefirot.
Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
Chabad.org
April 20, 2014
Well, i for one... being a woman... not a Jewish woman, but coming from a world of immodesty... LOVE this article... it teaches us as women, the importance of modesty and how this keeps a family together ... (is my thinking...)

Thank you Rabbi Moss for this article.
Anonymous
April 20, 2014
Rabbi Moss, you said that women's souls come from a higher place. Can you explain that, please?
Miriam Baley
Mexico City, Mexico
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