Thursday, October 30, 2014

Variations of Tzniut

Once in a while something special catches my attention, a brief insight into Torah nor more than a few minutes of length which has any number of widespread application and insight.  One of these came a a pre YK Dvar Torah by one of the younger Roshei Yeshivah of Yeshiva University.  The rabbi spoke of elements of modern life that we acquire from the outside mainstream culture, absorb into our usual and customary practice but are really contrary to what we are supposed to be extracting from Torah and its many expositions.

The Rabbi selected three:  Shabbos, Tzniut, and elements of law that run counter to our best assessment of what our concept of Din ought to entail.  The reality is that my pager and cell phone never shut off, as I am the only endocrinologist on staff at my hospital.  I carry them to shul on shabbos, assuring that the concept of shabbos does not disappear.  Electronics shut down except for immediate patient care.  For the last three years I have been treating myself to a leisurely breakfast to mark Saturday morning and for the most part the shopping centers are off limits.  While maybe the car ought to be put away too, it enables me to do things not available to me the rest of the week.

I'll reverse the order slightly.  Election day approaches next week.  I live in a Blue State where I am within the majority, and in small state where I've met nearly all my representatives, chatted with most at one time or another and do not have any particular ethical problems with any of the people I have voted for and few ethical problems with the people I've voted against.  At one time I was a swing voter.  That stopped with the last election.  There can be no moral defense of Legitimate Rape, enslavement of workers by their employers, science denial or accepted maneuvers whose intent is to deny people their access to cast their ballot.  Sorry, very nice Red State people I encountered in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming this summer.  Torah requires a certain commitment to laws that reflect justice and the reality of what HaKodesh Barechu put into place in the world, at least as I interpret it.  In that context, Judaism's values run separate from a significant fraction of the mainstream.  While we tend to vote in the same manner as much of America's underclass, we make our electoral statements the way we do primarily because it represents the right choice, and less because we got the gimmes for ourselves.

Tzniut requires special mention as it has a lot of implications beyond maximizing skin and hair covering among women.  While I'm still a product of the suburban debate nights of the 1950's when representatives of the Orthodox and Conservative shuls would meet on neutral turf to solicit membership from beneficiaries of the post World War II GI too good to pass up home loans, the reality is that Orthodox and Conservative worship were not very different.  Mixed seating and open parking lots were the main differences, with my parents opting for those elements which inevitably imprinted on me.  Fifty years later, the differences have exaggerated considerably, not only in the decline of shabbos and kashrut and even population among the Conservatives, but in the mindset.  Tzniut has eroded as well, not so much in clothing or hair covering or who can worship where, but in how people are classified as important vs convenient.  Macher swoops, small in-bred assemblies of wealthy operators running their organizations with entitlements due large corporate shareholders violates any application of Micah's L'Hatzneat Lechet.  We have tyrannies of small minorities who can leverage what they want by threatening funding or in our case withdrawing from an already tenuous daily minyan.  We have tyrannies of the majority undermining the quality of the Hebrew school curriculum so that kids get processed through to Bar Mitzvah with little of enduring da-at or binah to show for the five years of afternoon and Sunday effort.  We have Federation Machers who want your money but not your ideas for how to best allocate what gets collected.  The Rabbi asserted that theses assaults on tzniut derive from applications of exposure to common practices of our secular world adapted to our Jewish agenda.  I'm not so sure this quest for status or influence that has really devalued status was really imported.  Where I think the Rabbi scored, though, is in his assessment that resistance to this remains a core element of Judaism, one that could be asserted more consistently by more participants than it has been.

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