Thursday, January 31, 2013

What Are Women Hiding?



Question of the Week:


Why does Judaism command women to keep their bodies covered? Is there something shameful or evil about a woman's body? If men can't control their urges then it's their problem, not women's. Why should a woman have to hide herself just so others shouldn't be tempted?




You are assuming that the only reason for modest dress is to avoid temptation. While this may be the case in other religions, for Judaism this is not true. The Jewish way of modest dress is not so much about how other people view women, but more about how women view themselves.


Covering something doesn't always mean being ashamed of it. Have you ever noticed how we treat a Torah scroll? We never leave it lying around open. It is hidden behind many layers. The Torah is kept inside a synagogue, in the Ark, behind a curtain, wrapped in a mantle, held tightly closed with a belt. It is only ever taken out when it is to be used for its holy purpose, to be read during the prayer service. For those special times we carefully draw the curtain, open the doors of the ark, bring out the Torah, uncover it and unwrap it. As soon as we have finished we immediately wrap it up again and put it away.


Why do we do all this? Why do we go to such trouble to conceal the Torah? Are we ashamed of it? Is there something to hide? Is there something ugly about the Torah?


Of course not. The opposite is true.


Because the Torah is our holiest object, because it is so sacred and special and precious, we never leave it exposed unnecessarily. We keep it under wraps because we don't want to treat it lightly, we don't want to become too casual with it. Were the Torah to be always open and visible, it may become too familiar, and its sanctity minimised. By keeping it away from sight and only bringing it out for the appropriate times, we maintain our reverence and respect for the Torah.


The same is with our bodies. The body is the holy creation of G-d. It is the sacred house of the soul. The way we maintain our respect for the body is by keeping it covered. Not because it is shameful, but because it is so beautiful and precious.


This is true for men's bodies too, and modest dress applies to them as well. But it is even more so for women. The feminine body has a beauty and a power that far surpasses the masculine. The Kabbalists teach that a woman's body has a deeper beauty because her soul comes from a higher place. For this reason her body must be kept discretely covered.


In a world where the woman's body has been reduced to a cheap advertising gimmick, we need no proof for the truth of this wisdom. Where all is exposed, nothing is sacred. But that which is truly precious to us, we keep under wraps.


Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Moss


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