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From: Russell Hendel <RHendel@RO.HCFA.GOV> Date: Fri, 26 Apr 1996 09:22:55 -0500 Subject: TZNIUTH: What is Good Halachah really about--Revision Although this note will address specific comments about modesty(tzniuth) I think it opens up a broader question about the PURPOSE of halachic discussion. Details will be given below. I am responding to [Kestenbaum V23 72] who asserts that most people don't care about tzniuth to the extent it has been discussed, that we are hiding our sexual passions behind halacha and there is no point to the discussions. Similar remarks with a different approach were made by [Miller] In the first place I refer to the eloquent statements by [Schwartz] and [Freedenburg] in the same issue. Clearly, there ARE women who care about tzniuth, who think it makes them better people, and who are willing to share their ideas with other people. So my first comment to Kestenbaum and Miller is perhaps they should change their circle of friends. On a deeper level I would like to examine why it is important to discuss such minutae in tzniuth. To rephrase the query, what consitutes a valid, good, or beneficial question. A first approach might suggest that halachic discussion is valid if the halacha has relevance and/or applicability. However the laws of the rebellious son (Ben sorair and morair) (Deut Ki Tasay) have no applicability---there never was a ben sorair and morair. The question of why we should study the ben sorair and morair was raised and answered in a beautiful and eloquent essay by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch with deep meaning to halahchic relevance. Suppose, says Rabbi Hirsch, by way of example, that one parent was soft and one was harsh in their treatment of children. According to the halachah a ben sorair and morair with such an upbringing (one parent harsh and one soft) is not to be stoned. The reason for this is as follows: The whole purpose of stoning the ben sorair and morair according to the talmud was because of what the ben sorair and morair was going to become (if he is rebelling at 13 he will probably become a criminal so he should be stoned now). Hence, argues Rabbi Hirsch, if his present behavior can be blamed, not on his personality, but on his upbringing, then we don't stone him because we are not sure how he will turn out. Since in this case the parents have contradictory approaches of upbringing the son might learn to manipulate them and he is not stoned. Rav Hirsch concludes that proper parental upbringing would require a unified approach of both parents. Rab Hirsch explicitly notes *that from these non relevant rebellious son laws that never took place *we can nevertheless learn important principles of upbringing. The method for doing this is simple: Every stoning requirement in the rebellious son laws should be interpreted as focusing on the good upbringing of the son (and therefore he rebelled because of HIS personality---since he is bad now he will turn out bad and should be stoned). Returning to our original discussion on what is a good halachic discussion, we can see that immediate relevance is not the only requirement. A discussion on non relevant halachas that however allows us to infer proper principles of behavior is also a "good" halachic discussion. Another illustration of this duality in halachah---relevance vs principles--can be obtained from the neighbor laws in the Rambam. The Rambam points out that although most people feel comfortable with planting a tree on their own property nevertheless if the tree grows and a branch overshoots a fence and starts growing towards a neighbors window then the neighbor can cut down the branch (depending on its length). There are many people who do not plant trees and hence this halahcah has no immediate relevance. But the halachah focuses on principles of social human interaction and caring for other people. The Talmud in its discussion of this law compares the growing branch to "an arrow shot by the planter". In other words, when I plant a tree I am probably NOT thinking of my neighbor. I am doing my own thing on my own property. Halacha teaches us to look at my planting from my neighbor's point of view---how will he feel about it if a branch starts growing towards a window. As a final example the Rambam in monetary damage laws, chapter 13 relates how the original chasidim would totally destroy their broken glass (instead of discarding it in the garbage) so as to avoid harming their neighbor (in other words, the broken glass should not be perceived as garbage but rather as a potential "pit"---the archetype name given to the a certain class of damages) These last two examples: The branch that is halachically perceived as an arrow or the broken glass that is perceived as a damaging pit clearly demonstate principles of good halachic discussion relevant to tzniuth: A halachic discussion is "good" even if the halacha is not immediately relevant if the discussion leads to insights and principles about proper behavior. More specifically, many halachoth---such as the planting and glass example--- have as their goal that we should not only think of ourselves when doing something but also think about how our neighbors perceive things. To put it still another way, an irrelevant halachah may disencourage selfishness and have us think of our fellow man. By way of illustrating the application of this principle of halachic relevance to tzniuth let us examine the"slit skirt" question. A woman puts on a dress with a slit skirt. She is only thinking of herself, it makes her feel good. Halacha would turn around and tell her to think of her neighbor, the man. The man says, she is hurting me by exposing me to a sexual tension. Now halachah turns to the man and asks the man to think of this neighbor, the woman: Halachah says to the man, "Do you really think she is trying to tease you; maybe she is doing it because she can't walk in a non slit dress and the slit facilitates her movement. Is it the slit or the intention that bothers you? She is not intending to tease you just to facilitate her movement" As this example shows, true halachic discussion is suppose to lead to deep moral concern and social empathy with other people. Yes, halachah is picky, but its pickiness has as its goal the development of multiple perspectives on acts from different people's points of views. In this spirit, I would like to encourage more solicitations from people on slit dresses and Tzniuth. To derive maximum benefit the various discussions should focus on how the SAME act can be perceived in SEVERAL ways by different people. The goal of the halachah is to make us aware of these multiple perspectives and to adjudicate. Russell Hendel Ph.d. ASA Dept of Math and Comp Science Drexel Univ, Phil Pa rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu