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Laws of Modesty


 

The laws of modesty have, as their main purpose, to enhance holiness in sexual activity. According to the Talmud, the general idea is not to expose parts of the body that should remain covered. It applies equally to both men and women. However, women are the primary targets of these laws, whereas men are generally "let off the hook," requiring minimal adherence to the laws of modesty. Stringent codes of modesty have been imposed on Jewish women for centuries. For example: a woman’s legs, hair, and voice are considered Herva--forbidden to be exposed.

Orthodox Jews continue to impose these same standards today, but modern Orthodox women no longer follow them to the letter of the law and, most Jews argue that the standards must change with the times. Uncovering a woman's hair, or listening to her voice is not necessarily sexually suggestive in our day and age.

Tzniyut refers to a much broader category than dress. Intending to establish a "fence of discretion" around sexual activity, the Tzniyut sets apart specific sexual behaviors in order to make them holy.

The question then arises: Since the sexual revolution of the sixties, has the erection of so-called "fences of discretion" (which have become increasingly cumbersome over time) aided our quest in achieving "sexual holiness" or, have they become a hindrance and turn-off to seekers of Jewish spirituality and why?

Feminists certainly raise a number of concerns about Orthodox rules, that have for years been (and still are) used to impede women's educational opportunities, and restrict their actions in the synagogues. Does not covering the body, denying one's feelings, ignoring the issues, and forbidding sexual expression make sex more perversely desirable, guilt ridden, less natural, open and beautiful?

Perhaps, in the final analysis, love may prove to be the surest way to achieve holiness in one's sexual relationship. Unlike species that merely copulate, only humans--as far as we know--are capable of "making love."

Unethical Sex/Gilui Arayot

In traditional texts, gilui arayot or unethical sex, is understood to mean adultery and incest, both of which lead to the deterioration and destruction of the basic unit of society, the family. "Incest and rape are not sexual acts but acts of violence," explains Rabbi Gold.

Rape in the Bible, as Raquel Biale explains, "…was not seen as a crime of sexual assault against a woman only because she is female, but rather as a calculated attempt by a man to acquire a woman against her and her parents’ wishes. Thus, rape is analogous to illegal seizure."

The Torah (Bible) and the Talmud speak only to rape of a married woman in the context of adultery. When a married woman is raped, she is still permitted to be with her husband, even if she consented willingly.

In order to maintain ritual purity, a Kohen must divorce if there is suspicion that his wife has been raped. Some of the worst cases of rape occur within the family unit, and the Torah is very specific when addressing the issue of incest. By commandment, certain members of the family are forbidden from engaging in sexual relations with each other: a mother, step-mother, sister, daughter, biological aunt, uncle's wife, son's wife, a brother's wife (other than for reasons of a levirate marriage) a step-daughter, or two sisters at the same time.

Bible Verses about Modesty

1 Timothy 2:9-10 - "Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works."

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 - "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."

Proverbs 31:30 - "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised."

1 Peter 3:3-4 - "Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewellery, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious."

1 Peter 3:1-4 - "Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewellery, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious."

1 Corinthians 10:31 - "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

Proverbs 11:22 - "Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman without discretion."

Matthew 5:28 - "But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

Proverbs 7:10 - "And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart."

Leviticus 19:28 - "You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord."

1 John 2:16 - "For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world."

1 Peter 3:3 - "Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— "

1 Timothy 2:8-10 - "I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works."

1 Peter 5:5-6 - "Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,"

1 Samuel 16:7 - "But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Matthew 6:1 - "“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven."

James 1:15 - "Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."

Deuteronomy 22:5 - "“A woman shall not wear a man's garment, nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God."

1 Corinthians 6:19 - "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,"

Matthew 5:27-28 - "“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. "