I just read a lovely Dvar Torah about Shavuot and Har Sinai and I realized how well it relates to the issue of erasing women.
The story goes that many mountains wanted to host Matan Torah and they each bragged about how big and/or beautiful they were. Only Har Sinai didn’t brag and so Hashem chose Har Sinai based on its Anivut. But this story now raises a question: If the point was to show the importance of anivut and not bragging/showing off, then why bother giving the Torah on a mountain top? Wouldn’t it make more sense to give the Torah on regular land or even in a deep valley? The answer is that going too far in the opposite direction can lead to poor self-esteem and despair. We need to see that we’re making progress with mitzvot and growing closer to Hashem so that we can be motivated to continue.
How does this relate to erasing women? It’s not just that we women were there too.
When women are erased from view, the practice is backed up by saying that it’s not tzniut for a women to be seen. But that’s exactly how we’re going too far in the opposite direction. What they’re saying is that women cannot achieve tzniut enough to even have their faces visible.
What does that tell our girls?
We want our girls (and our boys) to not only practice mitzvot but to love mitzvot and to feel good about them. But when we tell them that one mitzvah is so far out of their reach that they cannot achieve it, then what’s the point? Of course there are those who say that we should still try because you never know but thanks to the practice of erasing women, our girls are left with no good reason to believe that they can achieve tzniut.
In at least one earlier piece, I wrote that there are those who make excuses for the erasing of women by saying that it’s not that big a deal and that we’re making mountains out of molehills. But are we? Do we really want our girls to give up on tzniut knowing that they can’t achieve it enough to even have their faces visible? And the slippery slope is there too- if our girls give up on tzniut, what other mitzvot might they give up?
One other excuse given is that the publications don’t want to take chances on accidentally publishing a photo of a woman dressed inappropriately. I understand that concern but that is easily remedied. They can set ground rules and only allow photos of women dressed to a certain minimal standard. Or they can allow only headshots of the women so that we see only their faces. There’s nothing un-tzniut about the face but when even the face is hidden, our girls can’t be tzniut enough for anything, so why bother trying?
I’m a Torah-Observant Jew and I have a daughter and a niece and a lot of Jewish girls in my life and I want them (along with my sons, nephews, and all the Jewish boys in my life) to love and appreciate Torah and Mitzvot like I do. So here’s what I’m going to do to promote tzniut:
First, I’m going to be careful to dress and groom nicely. Even if I’m dressed casually, I don’t have to look sloppy or frumpy. I have to set the example that tzniut can be beautiful.
Second, I’m going to continue writing about how to dress well and look good within tzniut and even how to best pose for photos. Even a headshot looks better when the person is posed properly. And I’m going to continue helping other women weed out their wardrobes and dress well.
Third, I’m going to continue writing and raising awareness about the issue of erasing women.
Fourth, I understand that there are a lot of people out there who are not writers or speakers and don’t want to actively fight out this issue. But I will still encourage them to stop enabling it. It doesn’t take much to write brief letters or emails to the groups that won’t publish women and explain why you’re cancelling your subscription or aren’t donating money.
We women received the Torah at Har Sinai along with the men and we’re obligated to try as hard as we can to observe Torah and Mitzvot. Let’s not give our girls any excuse to give up on that or on themselves.