Originally published 2/6/08, 12:07 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
We would like to draw your attention some recent posts on The Blog of Garnel Ironheart, which discuss a group of frum women who have begun dressing in a manner that is similar to the Moslem Burka.
The Torah concept of the shvil hazahav, the Golden Mean, does not just present a value in some quantitatively middle approach to traits and values. If one views two poles of any one trait, one is often perceived to be better than the other. The result for many is a difficulty with having to incorporate any value of the extreme that is deemed to be negative. This is an example of such a problem for it we perceive value in a lack of sexuality, than any degree of sexuality would be problematic. The Golden Mean would then just be defined as what is permissible and so you would strive for the extreme to meet what is perceived to be the goal. Another example would be found in the female leader of ths group's desire to not speak. Define the world in two extremes, declare one holy and then you will move to the holy extreme.
The principle of the Golden Mean as the ideal behaviour and value within Torah thought actually challenges this perception. The Mean is not some quantitative statement of the middle but the definition of a new qualitative middle understanding of the value and trait. It demands sophistication in thought to define this value and trait and recognize a whole new way of understanding the trait, value and life. Tzniut is not the absence of any sexuality but a new Torah definition of proper sexuality in the same way that it defines proper Torah expression of self. That is why I translate tzniut as gracefulness. The sadness of these women's behaviour is what it states about how far we are from Torah thought and the true sophisticated understanding of God's wisdom. Their behaviour is sad for them but it is sad for all of us for it shows how weak our understanding of the sophistication and genius of Torah is in our generation.
Rabbi Ben Hecht