Thu, 15 December 2022
There was never an explicit announcement to men that they no longer needed to wear bowties and could wear neckties instead, just like there was no announcement that they didn’t need to wear ties at all. Those cultural norms shifted gradually, and are understood even as they do so.
In Orthodox Jewish communities, the way cultural norms work are a bit similar and a bit different. They come both from unspoken social cues and from explicit instruction, including from religious texts. The latter approach reflects the insight that how a person dresses isn’t a purely superficial matter, but communicates something of substance. Is the human form public or private, should it be open to the gaze of all or only to select people within a circle of trust or family? What should be covered, and how? Such questions involve reflecting on men, women, and human sexuality too, of course.
This week, Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver sits down with Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll to explore the virtues of Jewish modesty, and how those virtues can be radicalized, grow excessive, and—like all virtues—transform into vice. Jaskoll is the director Chochmat Nashim (“The Wisdom of Women”), an organization dedicated to the healthy depiction of women in the Jewish public square that opposes removing pictures of women completely, while still supporting modesty. They discuss what modesty is, what it’s for, why it deserves protection, and how it can be exaggerated and abused.
Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.