Let me make it clear that I do not doubt Mrs. Goldin's sincerity or the fact that she had nothing but the purest intentions in creating this program. The students whose diaries are published within the book also shine through in terms of their genuine, thoughtful and honest exploration and desire to truly grow and serve God. I admire the sincerity of both the teacher and her students and am also impressed that Mrs. Goldin refrained from forcing the girls to participate in any way. Indeed, midyear she allowed students in the group the chance to drop out, and four did so, which is why only six diaries are published.
Nevertheless, I find this book to be an appalling piece of confusing propoganda mislabeled as inspiration. There are ideas and points of view expressed by the participants in this program that are never corrected by the teacher. This may either be a flaw in the book (perhaps she did correct them but this is not documented in the text) or prove that the teacher herself agrees with the points of view expressed, which would be worse. While the teacher meant to help her students grow in their service of God, I believe that in fact many of them regressed. Mrs. Goldin allowed them to harness the natural ability humans have to be judgmental and turn their judgments against fellow classmates, parents and others who do not meet the correct tznius standards. This is aside from the fact that her exposition of the topic of tznius does not appear (at least within the book) to be based in halakha so much as a personal viewpoint. Her comments are often unintentionally patronizing and restrictive.
Early into the book, Mrs. Goldin demonstrates that she has never met an intelligent female. She breezily asserts, "Ask any girl what she finds the hardest roadblock in her avodas Hashem, and if she's honest, she will tell you: tznius" (Goldin 22). As my friend joked, "Aw, damn, and here I was going to say the Documentary Hypothesis!" Mrs. Goldin's assertion is deplorable. It undermines the very real philosophical challenges and difficulties many people face and suggests that the only true problem women have when it comes to serving God is their focus upon external clothing. This is a dismissive and patronizing approach that betrays an utter lack of understanding.
Mrs. Goldin compounds this when she declares:
- The Vilna Gaon says that what Torah is to a man, tznius is to a woman. The girls were unimpressed. I wasn't worried, and continued developing this thought. This means, I told them, that if Torah is the fuel that feeds the man's neshamah, then tznius is the fuel that feeds the woman's neshamah.
If Torah is for every single male, then tznius is for every single female.
If the yetzer hara does everything in its power to stop a man from learning (in fact, the Chofetz Chaim used to say that the satan would be happy for a man to daven and say Tehillim all day, as long as he's not learning), then the yetzer hara will launch a similar attack to make sure the girl doesn't put the correct emphasis on tznius.
There was a collective blink.
This means that if a girl does chesed, if she davens, if she respects and honors her parents, and even loves to learn Torah, to a certain extent, the satan is pacified.
"Are you saying anything we do is worthless unless we're working on tznius?!"
"Are you saying all the things we work on mean nothing?!"
"Are you saying all Hashem wants is our knees and elbows?!"
No, no, and no. I was just saying, the satan is somewhat pacified, because he got to keep the main thing. (Goldin 22-23)
Now let's demonstrate the detrimental effect this woman's point of view and attitude has upon the way her students view others.
In a diary post written by Shevi, the student explains:
- I was just thinking...I saw pictures on the computer of a girl I know, and she was totally not dressed okay- the pictures were really inappropriate. I was good friends with her last year, and we are still friendly this year, but when I saw those pictures it made me look at her differently, and kind of...distance myself a little bit. I feel really badly about it, cuz she is really sweet, but she keeps putting these types of pictures up. She totally sees nothing wrong with it, and it makes me wonder. I can't help staying away. (Goldin 110)
These comments are not made by only one diarist. Point in fact, here's another documented entry by a different girl:
- She was coming over to spend the day at my house, studying. I was wearing my usual type outfit, whatever it was that day, and she came in wearing one of those V-neck Hanes tee-shirts, which are SO not okay to wear alone on anyone. It came so low that I had to look away- it was embarrassing. I was so, so...surprised, I guess. I mean, it was upsetting to me in general that she thought it was okay to wear something like that around me, and also...I just couldn't understand. I was so taken aback that I couldn't comment. (Goldin 175)
Lest you think the teacher corrected this student and informed her that her own supposed progress in a particular area doesn't mean she mustn't remain friends with others who don't accord with her point of view, I offer the following passage:
- We can also harness the power of a group. If peer pressure is a huge force for the negative, it is equally as strong for the positive, and working on something together with a group of like-minded people is an enormously effective technique.
Make it easier for yourself: Don't buy the clothes! Don't keep them in your closet! Don't shop in certain stores! Don't hang out with those kids! Tznius is difficult enough without the things that we are constantly doing to sabotage ourselves. (Goldin 167)
Let me understand this correctly. Because a group of teenagers chooses to buy tight-fitting clothes, or short jean skirts, or wears pants or t-shirts (because the lack of tznius the teacher is referring to throughout this book has nothing to do with children who are walking around just as strippers, just children who are wearing contemporary American styles), one shouldn't hang out with them? Drop the friendship rather than respect another person despite the fact that they wear tight-fitting-shirts and you don't?
That's certainly not a message I would want my daughter to assimilate.
But it gets better. You see, the children in this book are being turned into fundamentalists. This to the point that one of them decides to literally cut up her clothes. Not donate them to the Salvation Army or otherwise give them to someone who could profit by them. Nope. Rather, this passage is related, again without comment or critique:
- K, so there's something I've been realizing. After each time we meet I get all inspired and have all these ideas fo what I wanna do, but then I just forget about it the next day. So this time I really wanna do something about it. So now it's time to say good-bye to my really short jean skirt. I'm thinking about cutting it up, because if I don't I'm still gonna wear it.
Okay, I'm really gonna cut it. Uch, I keep changing my mind and now I don't want to.
K now I'm really gonna cut it. I'll let you know how it goes.
AHHH!!! I just went on a rampage and cut three skirts! I think I'm getting a little carried away. It kinda feels like giving a korban- I know that sounds weird, but I actually mean it. (Goldin 70)
Despite the fact that Mrs. Goldin avers that being tzanua does not mean changing your personality, that message is clearly not understood by the students she is teaching. Rather, one of the girls looks up to a peer who does something I find very disturbing:
- I went home with a friend last night, and I sat on a bus that had girls and boys on it. Anyways, there was this kid in my class who I started to talk to after I sat down, and when we pulled up to the stop that the boys got on she suddenly stopped. She never picked up our conversation, and then a few minutes after we pulled off, she sent me a text apologizing, saying how she really tries hard not to call attention to herself. So every single day she plugs in her iPod, and just becomes the silent one for the rest of the trip.
She's been doing this every day for a year. It's unbelievable. (Goldin 170)
- So I know this kid who's a really great girl, so kind-hearted and caring, and she also dresses very tznius. But to me, I forget all of that when I hear her talk and laugh. When she talks, she talks in this really loud voice, and speaks over whoever happens to be speaking at the time. In a way, I think she needs everyone to hear her, see her, notice her- she just seems to be so attention-grabbing. The way she acts seems to contradict the way she dresses. Tznius to me is a package deal- you really have to have it all. Tznius is a mentality and an awareness- a constant awareness of how you dress, talk, stand, think, and feel. In my mind, that means someone who is completely self-aware. That's the goal, anyway. (Goldin 129)
Then there's the wonderful power of the guilt-trip that wends its way throughout the book:
- K so basically after tonight's meeting I literally feel like garbage. I can not begin to tell you how uncomfortable I was hearing about how against halachah I dress...I am.
And I KNOW I'm not half as bad as a lot of kids I know.
So why do I feel like the world's worst Jew?
It just feels really frustrating to be trying so hard and then to hear the things we talked about, and realize that it doesn't really matter because I'm doomed anyway: chukas hagoyim, arayos, knees, collarbone, elbow, tightness- like, seriously already!
One second you're telling us that wherever we are is fine, as long as we're headed in the right direction- and the next it's like oh, and by the way you're all transgressing like 3000 issurim d'Oraysa. Like, oh gee, thanks. Totally not making me feel bad at all. NOT! (Goldin 71)
There's a great part in the journals where the teacher basically suggests that keeping the laws of tznius is more important than mitzvot that are interpersonal (bein adam l'chaveiro):
- Then I addressed something I read in one of the journals: Why is tznius such a big deal- it only affects you. Isn't it worse to speak badly about someone- now, that really affects someone else? The fact is, though, that when you start seeing tznius as something bigger than the clothes you choose to wear; when you see it as protecting the kedushah which is an integral part of klal Yisrael, then you realize that your decision whether or not to be tznius at any given time is not a small, personal decision. It's huge. It's cosmic. It's global. We spoke about this thought from all angles, for a while. (Goldin 42)
If people are interested in reading a book that honestly deals with the topic of modesty, I would recommend purchasing Understanding Tzniut by Rabbi Yehuda Henkin. He is fair, clear and brings sources for his viewpoint as opposed to spouting ideas without providing proof. But I'd as soon give Six Diaries to my daughter as hand her a cupful of poison. The lessons taught by this book don't accord with the intentions of the teacher. She believes they do because her girls suddenly made commitments to wear tights every day, cover their elbows in the sweltering summer heat, or ensure they never bare their toes. But at what price, I ask you? At what price to the relationships they had forged with their parents or friends? To their mental attitudes toward others? What have they truly learned...and is it good that they learned it? I think not.
But that's all right. You see, the fact that I think this way clearly demonstrates that the Satan has been pacified by me. I might love God and believe in Him with all my heart, but having opinions like these clearly demonstrate that my tznius isn't up to par. So let the weeping commence. The Satan's got me.