The Importance of Being Modest?

Happy Monday, everyone! Was it a good one for you? Mine was actually pretty good, except for an extremely pervasive case of the blahs. Oh Monday.

I’ve just come home from my Monday night Torah study, and a lot of the ideas we talked about are all still jumbled in my head. Luckily, they relate almost entirely to an update I promised you! Fancy that ­čÖé

In the beginning, there was Joy. And Joy was going to tell you a story. And you were going to like it.

Some of you may remember that I had the opportunity to worship at a Conservative synagogue over the weekend. This was a very different experience for me, as 1) I currently practice at a liberal Reform temple, and 2) this particular synagogue is on the more orthodox end of the conservative perspective. In some ways, there are very few differences between our two styles, and in others, we may as well be on two different worlds.

The service itself was quite lovely. Though there is no music or musical instruments at this synagogue, the people were more than happy to chant with pride and conviction. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, the rabbi’s D’var Torah was intriguing and thought-provoking, and the reception afterward was engaging and enjoyable.

Food makes everything better. I would give you the recipe for these, but they're so simple I think I'd be thrown out of the food blog world forever.


One of the biggest reasons I chose Reform Judaism is because of the affirmation of women which is so ingrained in, and required by, the faith. Women can do anything men have traditionally done: wear tallit, participate in certain prayers, and even serve as rabbis (as a side note, the same is true for openly LGBTQ individuals – they don’t kid around when they call themselves inclusive). As a woman who is for the equality of all, I love knowing that I, along with every individual who walks through my temple’s doors, am looked upon as an equal in every way.

This wasn’t quite the feeling I got while at this synagogue. Though the women were garbed in tallit and kippot, I was one of three – yes, three – wearing pants, while the rest wore skirts. Many women discussed at length the need for modesty, how the Torah and G-d required it of us, and how women should not wear men’s clothing.

Wanted: Pants. Reward: Skirts for everyone!

I looked down at my outfit: my best suit pants, shiny black pumps, my favorite purple wrap, and a lovely scarf. A favorite outfit of mine, actually. You know, one of those where you leave the house feeling like the most beautiful creature in the world. And with those words, these skirt clad women took my outfit and ripped it to shreds faster than the high school “it” crowd. Worse, they did it with Torah and with G-d, things they had just been celebrating as “bringers of peace and justice.” (And I don’t think “bringers of peace and justice” is code for the fashion police. If it is, I bet Moses was an impeccably dressed man.)

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this so-called “modesty,” modesty that demands I separate myself from others, particularly males, in a way I might not be comfortable with, that I might not see value in. (To the men out there: I love you, but it’s 2011 – let’s even the playing field, shall we?) Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for dressing appropriately. You will never, ever see me walking around in a tube top and short shorts at a house of worship…or really anywhere else. The outfit I wore to the synagogue covered every inch of my body, save for my hands, neck, and face. You cannot tell me that wasn’t modest; you cannot say there is any logical justification for skirts being the one and only way for women to be modest in their dress. The Torah may have that in there, true, but the Torah has a lot in there that these women weren’t adhering to – why make skirts, of all issues, a top priority?

Now I know that this one synagogue may not necessarily be representative of the whole Conservative movement, and really, the point of this description is not to knock the Conservative movement at all. I respect the fact that it is a valuable, affirming spiritual experience for many people out there. I’m very thankful for this experience because it gave me the opportunity to see another way of life, and examine my own beliefs in response. Isn’t that what life is all about?

It did make today, even with the blahs, a little sweeter as I swaggered into work wearing my slacks. As I studied Torah in my jeans. As I type this with pajama pants on. Saturday was a great exposure to another world – but I’m happy to live in mine.

Pants love.

Your turn: What do you think of modesty, as it pertains to dress? Is it something you think about? Do you find it important? Is it different for women and men? I’d love to hear what you think!