“The only thing good about blaming all our problems on the Internet today, is it replaced all the blaming on tznius!” BY girl.Like most decent people, I was deeply disturbed by the letter that was sent out from your school. I would rather not re-post the details of the letter because I’m concerned of the nightmares it might cause to those unfamiliar with this kind of rhetoric, and besides, I'm pretty sure the parental settings installed on most computers will filter out this kind of speech anyhow. But to summarize, your letter was a psychological scare tactic to make girls dress tznius (modestly) or they will boil their children in hot soup. It took me a full week to recover from reading it and to verify that not only is this letter real but it is a common way of chinuch in some ultra-orthodox circles. This must be stopped.
I believe you are doing way more harm than good with this method of chinuch and I would like you to take a minute and read my story below. Unlike your improbable story, my story is based on true facts. Unlike your story my story happens all the time. But most importantly, unlike your story, my story needs to be told.
It was a few years ago that we received an interesting application for our S’dei Chemed Girls program. After checking with her references we were told she is a top student in every regard, with wonderful character traits. Therefore, it was strange, when after we sent out the tznius rules, I was told she would not be able to comply. We have girls from many backgrounds, it's what we pride ourselves on, but because we keep our tznius rules to the basics we never get complaints, even from the most modern of families. So when this Bais Yaakov girl requested that she wear only skirts above the knees, you can image how strange it seemed. It took some convincing, as we explained it wasn't so much about tznius as it was a camp rule. I guess because a summer in Israel is irresistible, she agreed to our terms.
This girl was one of the sweetest and well-behaved girls you can find, and so of course, all we could think about throughout the summer was why would she not have wanted to dress modesty. Something just didn't seem right.
The riddle was explained on the last night of camp, when during the banquet the girls open their hearts and tell us the private journeys of their lives. This is understandably an emotional time, but her story left everyone teary eyed. It goes back to the time just after her bas mitzvah. During a summer break she got into a major accident where she almost lost her life. Happy to be alive, in the hospital she was told she might not have use of her legs anymore. As she sat in the hospital bed and visitors came by, she promised Hashem that she would do whatever He wants if he would give her the use of her legs again. That she would use them only for doing good things and nothing else. At this point, you could just imagine how strange it was to us that it was this very girl who was unwilling to dress modestly. That's because of what happened next.
A rabbi of hers came to visit and sat down next to her. He began by telling her how she should accept Hashem’s will no matter what. He explained that it was her legs that were no good and that Hashem was sending her a message. She must have used her legs for some un-tznius reason or maybe some yeshiva boy was staring at her legs and causing him improper thoughts. Now, it may very well be that this rabbi meant well, but this girl was destroyed. I cannot imagine the mental and spiritual damage that was done. It bothered her more than the physical damage of her legs. Now she wasn't just a cripple, but she was responsible for it too. She was so appalled and disgusted at what this rabbi told her that she made one more promise. She told herself that whether she regains her legs or not, during summer vacation they will remain uncovered. B”H she did recover and she kept her promises. She kept all of them. She now displayed her legs so that everyone could see. She even believed she was doing the right thing, as she was showing the world the very miracle legs that G-D gave back to her, but maybe it was more about sticking it to the the rabbi that told her those awful words on her hospital bed.
She took back the promise that night and said she will once again put a long skirt on because she believed she has grown up and moved on. She said that this decision was the hardest one to make, but the new counselors and rabbis she met during the summer in Sdei Chemed showed her that there is another kind of Judaism that exists. One of love and kindness.
We make it our habit to not give any tznius speeches in Sdei Chemed. We address modest behavior but never speak about the dress code. Evidence has shown us that the more tznius speeches you give, the more they resent it. They tend to go in one ear and out the other.
The words “Kol Kevuda Bas Melech Penima” is not allowed to be mentioned in our camp. The Gemara explains those words to mean that the woman should stay home with her family and not parade outside into the work force, but like so many divrei chazal it has been twisted and modernized to refer to the girl’s dress code. Of course girls need to dress modestly but this can only happen when they develop self-worth.
Your methods are the opposite of that. Your speeches remove their self-worth and the more you shut them down the more they want to be heard. My story, thank G-D, has a happy ending. Your letter might force some girls into wearing a longer skirt, but they will be doing it out of hate and intimidation, and once they get older and you have no more control over them, their skirts are going to get shorter, and maybe even come off all together.
I know it takes longer to teach children to be religious and do mitzvos out of love and a sense of duty than it does to threaten them with Gehinnom, but that is no excuse. I believe this method of education should be banned. I believe we need to filter what we teach our girls so we don't continue to damage our innocent children. Otherwise we are heading down a road of disaster. Please take this as constructive criticism.
|Our wonderful and diverse group of Camp Sdei Chemed Girls|
Related articles, another very similar story!
Suggested reading on this topic:
Why I love Sdei Chemed by Bracha Shadrouz
An open letter to my S'dei Chemed Campers. Regarding Tznius in Eretz Yisroel.
Been There, Done That: Why Being Frum Is So Boring,
Rabbi Yitzchok Feigenbaum, Principal of Tiferes Bais Yaakov High School in TorontoD’var Torah Parshas Sh’lach - The Sad Results of Half-Truths and Scare Tactics.