I don't spend much time reading blogs these days, but not long ago, I came across a great post by Bethany at The Apple Cider Mill. As always, Bethany writes from a thoroughly Christian perspective, and as I often do, even though I'm as Jewish as can be, I find myself nodding in agreement when reading her blog.
I'm a big proponent of modesty; as a matter of fact, realising the necessity of adopting modest dress and chaste behavior has served me as a jumping board into observing the laws of Orthodox Judaism, which completely changed my life - and I will be eternally grateful for that. I wear long skirts and cover my hair, I wouldn't show anything above my elbow or below my collarbone and I do so happily, but sometimes I feel we are too defined by our outward appearances.
Last , I came across a leaflet that technically talked about the importance of what I already practice - full hair covering, particularly with head scarves, and modest dress in general. Supposedly I was meant to feel good about myself after reading it, but in fact I felt like wanting to dissociate myself as much as possible from the group of women who wrote that leaflet. Perhaps it was because they resorted to bashing women who cover their hair with wigs rather than head scarves or hats. Perhaps it was the implication that a woman's righteousness is gained by modesty alone, while omitting the merits of reaching out to others and sincere prayer. Perhaps it was their self-righteous tone in general. But in any case, I put away the leaflet shaking my head and thinking, "no - I am not one of them!"
Modesty does not need to be associated with martyrdom or being shut away from society. I've read books which actually claim that the righteous woman should leave the four walls of her home as little as possible, not even to participate in public prayer, and point to virtuous women who only left their house once in two weeks. Publishing and promoting such writings seems sinister and unhealthy to me. Shutting women out of society and spiritual life is not "modest", it's plain sick.
Modesty is not meant to be excessively restrictive, as to interfere with the normal course of life; modesty is not meant to make women feel ugly or dirty or sinful. Modesty is a woman's crown, and I believe the Almighty rejoices every time a woman chooses to cover her hair, but who are we to look at anyone disdainfully for not complying with certain standards?
When I'm in a group of other religious women, I often feel that my skirt, sleeves and hair covering are being mentally measured and evaluated the second I enter the room, and the next second I'm categorized and classified. I can't stand that. I think that if we believe in a certain type of modest dress, the best way to promote it is simply to wear it in a dignified and graceful way. A quiet, gentle, modest spirit can reach out so much further than a holier-than-thou attitude.
Modesty is closely interrelated with humility. I think that was what bothered me most about that leaflet I mentioned earlier. It implied that women who dress modestly should "teach" those who don't. While my skirts and sleeves might be longer than of many women I know, I don't feel this automatically makes me qualified to be their spiritual guide or mentor. The better path, I think, would be to just live a gentle, faith-centered life, without dwelling on what others are doing. I am endlessly far from perfect, after all. I am just learning along the way.