Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book Review: 6 Diaries

Six Diaries is a book that tells the tale of six girls' personal journey in the area of modesty. Ten teenagers were chosen "from all four grades of high school, from different groups of friends and levels of frumkeit" (Goldin 14) to engage in a year-long activity that would include keeping a tznius journal and coming to monthly group meetings to discuss one's progress or lack thereof in this area. Aliza Goldin organized the group in an effort to engage with her students and learn about their perceptions, points of view and ideas when it came to this topic.

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)
So this woman is under the impression that for women, keeping the laws and tenets of tznius is more important than praying to God, respecting and honoring one's parents or learning Torah. It is the 'main thing' in contrast to these other commandments. I find that fascinating, seeing as honoring one's father and mother is one of the Ten Commandments which we received at Sinai, whereas these rules about collarbones and elbows never appear anywhere in the Five Books of Moses. But let's leave that aside and focus on sources. I would like to see where the Vilna Gaon and the Chofetz Chaim make these statements and the context thereof. If anyone has the source for me, I would appreciate it.

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)
So Shevi's understanding is that due to the fact that this girl is putting up pictures of herself in clothing that does not meet the standards Mrs. Goldin has been teaching her about, she should separate herself from this person. This is aside from the fact that she is implicitly judging the girl and deciding the girl is less worthy due to the clothing she wears.

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)
Rather than teaching the students to see past others' clothing in an effort to respect, love and cherish the true person underneath the external trimmings, Mrs. Goldin manages to create a hyper-sensitivity and awareness of the members of her group not (only) to their own modes of dress, but to everyone else's.

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)
Don't hang out with those kids?!

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)
I admire the sincerity of this girl's desire to serve God. She gave up something that was precious to her for God. I appreciate that. But I also feel like this is a colossal waste of money, something which recurs in the book when other girls throw out their clothes and their parents are not pleased by the fact that hundreds of dollars they spent on their children's clothing is going to waste.

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)
This is something to be admired? The girl is under the impression that having a simple conversation with a friend is 'calling attention to oneself' which somehow became categorized as a type of sin. A different girl is under the same misimpression:
    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)
Why is this student under the impression that to be loud, enthusiastic, energetic or effervescent is sinful? If this girl is speaking over others, that is simply rude and should be corrected. But it doesn't make her actively immodest. There is no such law.

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)
I hate guilt trips and I hate teaching God's law in such a way that people are made to feel that they are bad. I'm sure the teacher didn't intend her message to come across this way, but it is sad nonetheless that it did.

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)
This is where I completely disagree with the teacher. If there's a choice, I would rather my students learned to be moral, loving, accepting people who care about others and desire to expend time and energy to be kind to them. I care more about the respect they have for one another and their desire to see the good in one another than I do about their clothes. I believe this is an attitude shared by God. God desires the heart, as the prophets say- not mere sacrifices. Similarly, God desires our moral commitment to our fellows (as evidenced by Dor Haflaga, etc) rather than an obsessive focus upon externals.

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.

54 comments:

Anonymous said...

Reread the book removing (article of untznius clothing) and in lieu, insert 'a piece of ham' . Would the actions and attitudes be acceptable then?

Noam

Chana said...

Noam,

Ham is treif and is forbidden by the Torah. Tznius doesn't fall under the same category. Even so, of course the actions and attitudes would not be acceptable. If I knew a girl who loved God, davened, worked very hard on her interpersonal relations and ate treif, I would certainly be friends with her. I certainly wouldn't guilt her into doing anything differently and I wouldn't tell her the most important thing in the world was for her not to eat ham. I would perhaps offer information if she asked me for it, but to judge her, dismiss her, tell her she's responsible for cosmic and epic problems due to her actions, etc? No way in hell.

yitznewton said...

That was a pretty bitter post...

Nevertheless, I find this book to be an appalling piece of confusing propoganda mislabeled as inspiration.

propaganda: ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause
(www.merriam-webster.com)

sounds like inspiration to me, no?

So Shevi's understanding is that due to the fact that this girl is putting up pictures of herself in clothing that does not meet the standards Mrs. Goldin has been teaching her about, she should separate herself from this person. This is aside from the fact that she is implicitly judging the girl and deciding the girl is less worthy due to the clothing she wears.

I didn't get the impression of judgment so much as acknowledging that the other person has an influence that I want to avoid. Do you agree that I can stay away from someone based on the potential detriment they pose to my own progress, without denigrating the other person?

Why is this student under the impression that to be loud, enthusiastic, energetic or effervescent is sinful? If this girl is speaking over others, that is simply rude and should be corrected. But it doesn't make her actively immodest. There is no such law.

I don't think we're talking about laws here; this goes deeper. It's about values, and this book treats a certain brand of tznius as a (the?) core value for women. Obviously you don't share that perspective; I would at least say that it is legitimate, though, so beyond affirming that you go a different way (and that there is indeed a different way, which is sometimes not obvious with these works), what is there to say?

But I'd as soon give Six Diaries to my daughter as hand her a cupful of poison.

Some of your own activites would surely be poison to folks in other spheres (as in your preface to your post on some matter of biblical criticism).

The lessons taught by this book don't accord with the intentions of the teacher. ... 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.

This looks to me like the strong part of your argument against the book: the teacher believes the lessons learned by the girls are edifying, where in fact they are corrupting lessons, and the teacher would agree if she really understood what was happening.

I believe that many would say that the lessons you take as corrupting are in fact edifying, at least when the gain is weighed against the loss - though it sounds from your account of the book (I haven't read it) like the author may not be one of those.

Anonymous said...

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.
=======================
I would have understood her as saying there may be many other problems but this is usually #1 on the list. This is an assertion that could easily be tested by a survey.

The question of when to separate oneself is a very difficult one. I think most would agree that one would separate oneself from a crowd of physical abusers and not from a crowd who is sometimes nichshol in learning during chazarat hashatz (although one could disagree). Where the boundaries are is a dynamic question but for some I have no doubt that the tzniut divide may be important.

KT
Joel Rich

Gavi said...

You are certainly right about the creation of fundamentalists - I think tznius is one of the major areas where (otherwise sane) religious Jews often go off the deep end. And as I think I wrote to you a while ago, the basic halachos are quite clear-cut and simple.

Halevai we would concentrate, as a community, on "hatznea leches" in its larger and more metaphorical sense...

Shades of Grey said...

Gosh. No wonder so many girls grow up paranoid about tzniyus. This book sounds quite disturbing. I flipped through R' Henkin's book at the SOY Sale, it seemed quite balanced in its proper presentation of all the halachic sources. I've read a few of his other books on women and Judaism as well, all are engaging and interesting (and make good points, too).

Anonymous said...

A great post!
Rabbi Henkin's book is a well-balanced book and it is a good gift for a young lady who wishes to delve into sources of tznius and learn .

tesyaa said...

Chana, I enjoyed this post. Very analytical and well written.

Anonymous said...

Chana:
The Satan's got me.

Very funny!

I read Six diaries and it's a piece of junk. I wouldn't give it to my daughter either.

Fantastic book review,just btw!

Malka said...

(I)Absolutely tzniyus is incredibly important for women.
(II)Right now, I'm at a place where I absolutely love covering my hair, and I was incredibly uncomfortable when I thought I would have to wear pants--or even a knee-length skirt!-- to
work.
(III)Bitterness is not conducive to either my general well-being or my avodas Hashem.

Therefore, I made a very, very firm rule for myself years ago: if I am reading something about tznius and I feel myself getting tense and upset, I STOP. In this case, it wasn't easy: I love reading what you have to say, Chana. But this is a Good Rule for Malka, and perhaps good advice for others, as well.

yitznewton said...

I wrote:

propaganda: ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause
(www.merriam-webster.com)

sounds like inspiration to me, no?


Perhaps the difference is in "to further one's cause" - inspiration being to further someone's growth via one's "cause," i.e. something one believes in.

Anonymous said...

Of course guilt won't get a value established. But if I had guilt while eating the sandwich it may prevent me from eating another one.

Tznius is very touchy, you should ask a red blooded male the reality of guys, Rabbi Orlofsky way over does it but his point is still valid the average guy will mentally undress the average girl before addressing her mentally.

Is there a real way to judge the responsiblity Heaven assigns to various attitudes and actions?
Some would rather be machmir than at fault.
I concede guilt, judging and being generally nasty are anti-Torah values.

Noam

Anonymous said...

Noam said: "Tznius is very touchy, you should ask a red blooded male the reality of guys, Rabbi Orlofsky way over does it but his point is still valid the average guy will mentally undress the average girl before addressing her mentally."
Noam, you are saying that guys are animals and they have no self-control? Am I understanding you correctly? As far as R'Orlofsky goes-let's not even go there. He exegerates a lot of things and the content of hislectures blown out of proportion.

Malka said...

Clarification:

(III)Bitterness is not conducive to either my general well-being or my avodas Hashem.

The bitterness is mine, not Chana's.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:55PM
Of course males can control themselves, otherwise rape would be legal, nevertheless just as women's eyes are drawn to shoe displays, men's eyes are involuntarily drawn to lasciviousness.
Its not much different than an OCD sufferer, who cannot control their thoughts, even if the refrain from, say rewashing their hands, yet again.
Not all not always, but prevalent.

Noam

Elana said...

Noam, a certain chareidi book on tznius instructs married women to sleep at night with long sleeved,full length sleeping gowns and shaitels because " men's eyes are involuntarily drawn to lasciviousness", as you put it. Come on! Where one draws the line?

Anonymous said...

Elana,
A certain chareidi book?
Thats vague.
Maybe the married woman is perchance staying at the inlaws in the same room as the unmarried brother-in-laws who've gotten snowed in, the furnace died and for pekuach nefesh purposes they are all in the same small area to conserve heat.
Whatever.
Ideas and theories are fun, but are tangential.

The line is drawn where one wishes to place it, as long as you dont draw on your neighbor’s property.

If you don't like the book cut it up, for the sake of Heaven of course. But don't tell your neighbor not to buy it.

Noam

Anonymous said...

Interesting read -on this subject-
http://machshevosadam.blogspot.com/2009/06/why-did-g-d-create-woman.html

Anonymous said...

This too
http://walkingthegreyline.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Noam, you are quite a preacher!
No human being should be forced into tznius observance. Tznius needs to be taught in a loving and reasonable way. Women need to express desire to want to follow the modest ways of attire and etc. Otherwise, it's all for naught. Six diaries is trash and I agree with Chana's take on it fully.

A Stern friend said...

"I care more about the respect they have for one another and their desire to see the good in one another than I do about their clothes."

Maybe by being more tzanua you come to respect others, improve your ben adam l'chaveiro, etc? Granted, the teacher doesn't say that; she just talks about tznius being "cosmic" without explaining how or why. But the way I understand things, focusing on your own tznius should (hopefully) spill over into other areas. Since I started dressing modestly, and especially since getting married (it's hard for others not to notice that scarf on my head) I have found that I am much more careful in how I relate to others, more careful about being nice and doing chesed. If that isn't happening with the diary girls, then they are simply missing the true essence of what tznius is all about.

Shadesof said...

I am not a woman, but I can understand why the citation of the Vilna Gaon as it was quoted in the book, might bother people; obviously, there is more to a woman's identity and raison d'etre than just not being a stumbling block for male desires(although I'm sure, IIRC, that the author also potrays Tznyius as a relationship with G-d)!

I have heard, however, a different interpration of the Vilna Gaon: a woman's biggest protection against the evil inclination is modesty, as compared to Torah for a man. I think the latter is more understandable and palatable.

As far as the book in general, I glanced through it at a seforim store, and think it will help certain people. I think the book is a step forward, as it attempts to deal with refreshing honesty with young people, and shows interest in their feelings; it understands that growth includes ups and downs. I've quoted before on this blog, from the blurb on Targum website:

"Their diaries are true. Their thoughts are totally honest. Their journey is real."

Therefore, even if I disagree with particular hashkafos or expressions here and there, I still applaud the concept, which I see as a step forward.

Josh said...

Chana many of your criticisms are valid.Tznius is also much larger than a clothes issue.
HOWEVER YOU WERE VERY ANGRY RATHER THEN GIVING AA OBJECTIVE CRITICAL REVIEW.
THE BOOK ,IT APPEARS ,HIT A SORE POINT IN YOUR LIFE.

Shadesof said...

A deeper explanation of the first paragraph in my previous comment is based on the concept of "Kel Mistater", as quoted in the following link by RHS, and perhaps what Mrs. Goldin meant:

"Part of our obligation of v'holachto b'drachav, to imitate G-d, i.e. to preserve and maintain those divine attributes that were implanted within us, requires of us to lead private lives; not to be seeking the limelight; not to be loud in speech, in dress, or in action. Hakadosh Baruch Hu is described by the Navi Yehsaya as a "kel mistater". He hides from man( see Nefesh Harav pg. 281)."

Those who quote the Vilna Gaon that Tzniyus is a women's raison d'etre in general, can therefore point to the above, and say that women are given the opportunity to imitate God more than men.

However, I don't think that one can comnpletely divorce such a concept of Tzniyus from attraction and sexuality, otherwise, why not say the same for men regarding raison d'etre of imitating God? So the concept of the Gra may still bother people as it is putting such a great emphasis on one's purpose in life--to be hidden because of the nature of one's body(male vs. female). As above, IIRC, perhaps the Gra is only talking about protection against the evil inclination, and not at all in terms of a defining someone's essence and raison d'etre.

http://www.torahweb.org/torah/special/2003/rsch_masorah.html

joel rich said...

No human being should be forced into tznius observance. Tznius needs to be taught in a loving and reasonable way. Women need to express desire to want to follow the modest ways of attire and etc. Otherwise, it's all for naught.
=========================
An interesting comment. I would amend:

(No human being should be forced into tznius observance). Tznius (needs) [should] to be taught in a loving and reasonable way. Women (need) [would be best served] to express desire to want to follow the modest ways of attire and etc. (Otherwise, it's all for naught.)

We observe the law because it is the law.


KT

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was a very thorough and thought out response to this book. A colleague of mine wrote it and a few of my students are the ones featured, and while I therefore gave the book a passing glance I have to say I lacked the stamina to read through the whole thing. I agree with you on several points - the snootiness that such 'growth' can result in as well as the somewhat disturbing overemphasis of what has become the meaning of tznius (and why, in this extensive chug, has no one corrected the girls' mis usage of the term grammatically let alone hashkafically?). Schools that are more open than the typical girls' schools struggle a lot with how to turn teenagers on (or at least less off) to tznius and I myself don't know an effective method to inspire sixteen year olds who are fed distorted body images and definitions of beauty to embrace dignity and class and not feel like total losers. Is it possible that in waging a war against the, admittedly, overly suggestive clothing that is so popular now certain ideals will be compromised? I guess what I'm asking is, what would you propose as a better method/philosophy that won't then result in judging and fundamentalism?

Rabba bar bar Chana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rabba bar bar Chana said...

Chana many of your criticisms are valid.Tznius is also much larger than a clothes issue.
HOWEVER YOU WERE VERY ANGRY RATHER THEN GIVING AA OBJECTIVE CRITICAL REVIEW.
THE BOOK ,IT APPEARS ,HIT A SORE POINT IN YOUR LIFE.


Actually, Chana wrote an extremely balanced review of a book of self-misogynistic nonsense. She was far more nuanced than I would have been, choosing to credit the author with sincerity, while I wouldn't be nearly as charitable.

Anonymous said...

ותשנה קולן ותבכינה עוד ותשק ערפה לחמותה

Anonymous said...

Chana,
It's ironic that I am writing this, because I am a strong believer in halachic sources, in logical thinking, in a cognitive approach. Given any other context, 6 Diaries would be just the type of book I would derisively scan in the bookstore, and then knowingly put down.
But while you may be right in spirit (and believe me, I am no fan of tzniyus being turned into the only mitzvah a woman has to worry about), you have to look at 6 Diaries in the context in which it was written.
I know the school where this book is set, I know the girls. You have to understand that this is not a book written for those who are looking for a well-researched tome of sources to back up a halachic approaches to tzniyus. This is a book by teens who are struggling daily with the challenges of walking the fine line between trendy and un-tzniyus. It is written for teens who are living that same struggle. The painfully honest process of self-discovery isn't available in your standard halacha sefer; where you might need hardcore textual material, others might be looking for an emotional context to ground themselves in.
You argue against the suggestion that girls drop friends whose standards of tzniyus aren't high enough, and you have a point. But you are older, more mature; for a moment, imagine what it's like to be 16, desperately trying to change yourself while your surroundings are dragging you back. Sometimes the only way to transform IS by removing yourself from the situation.
And maybe that's where the issue lies: If tzniyus isn't the only thing on a woman's list, neither is it unimportant. If it would be understandable for someone struggling with being shomer negiah to take themselves out of a relationship that invariably leads to transgression, why should tzniyus be any different?
You say that as a teacher, you would "care more about the respect they have for one another and their desire to see the good in one another than I [would] about their clothes", but isn't that just placing the ben adam l'chaveiro of v'ahavta l'reiacha kamocha above the ben adama l'Makom of tzniyus? Isn't that ultimately the same issue you argue so strongly against?
I am not here to argue that 6 Diaries has got it all right, and ultimately, that's not the point. But the book you are arguing against isn't the one you're holding in your hand: 6 Diaries was not meant to be a halachic treatise, nor was it meant for everyone. It was meant to give voice to six young women, grappling with the issue of tzniyus, because for better or for worse, tzniyus needs to be grappled with. And there are plenty of young women out there for whom this book, and not a halachically-grounded one, will be the catalyst to make them listen.

joel rich said...

just a thought for commenters - it's interesting to me how the view of the quality of chana's analysis seems to be a function of the readers' take on her position on the issues raised in the book as a whole (rather than on the actual analysis)
KT

Rabba bar bar Chana said...

because for better or for worse, tzniyus needs to be grappled with

There's the crux of the lack of common ground here. I don't think tzniyut needs to be "grappled with" at all. There can be a dress code for schools, fine. But otherwise? It's not like these girls are walking around in bikinis. They are pretty modestly dressed already by any standard other than one which sexualizes every inch of skin and teaches women that they are nothing but sexual objects.

Anonymous said...

"They are pretty modestly dressed already by any standard other than one which sexualizes every inch of skin and teaches women that they are nothing but sexual objects."

On the subject of lack of common ground, this might be exactly the problem. What happened to tzniyus being perceived as a legitimate aspect of Judaism that deserves to be worked on? Why is it that as long as you're not strutting around in a bikini, anything you wear is okay? And why is tzniyus reduced to some sort of yoke forced upon women as a way of turning them into objects?
What I guess I'm asking is: Why is underfocusing on tzniyus any more legitimate than overstressing it?

Anonymous said...

I thought tznius taught women that they should not be sexual objects!

Noam the Preacher

Offwinger said...

Thanks for an excellent review.

It sounds like this book actually WOULD make for an interesting 'teacher moment' for young women. Ask them to read the book and THEN answer:

(1) Do you think these diaries represent what tzniut is?
(2) Were the girls being tzanua?
(3) Why do you think the teacher and the girls got so caught up in the tzniut project?
(4) What other values are important besides tzniut as defined by external criteria?

Many educators show their students the movie "The Wave" to spur a discussion about group-think and its dangers. That movie depicts an actual project that a teacher undertook with HIS students, yet both the teacher and students became immersed in this project in ways they never would have anticipated beforehand.

I think "Six Diaries" sounds a lot like this. There is a lot of meta-aspects to this project to teach us something about why this teacher thought this project was so important & didn't correct these girls on grammar or halacha, and why these girls became some fundamentalist and judgemental as part of the project.

Josh said...

Excellent post, Chana.
(By the way, the Josh who posted at 7:55 pm is a different Josh than me.)

tesyaa said...

Why is it that as long as you're not strutting around in a bikini, anything you wear is okay?

Turn the question on its head. Why is is that unless you are wearing clothes that conform to current chumras in tznius, what you're wearing is not okay?

It's highly likely that the "too short" skirts that the young lady cut up did not violate any biblical or rabbinic prohibitions whatsoever. A woman's legs must be covered from the to of the knee; halacha mandates that the knees be covered, I believe in part in case the skirt rises and more skin is exposed. Now, a skirt covering the knee is not good enough; current tznius chumras require that the skirt fall 4 inches below the knee, so that none of the knee will be exposed if the skirt rises.

A skirt that slightly exposes part of the knee is hardly a bikini.

Sister said...

"current tznius chumras require that the skirt fall 4 inches below the knee, so that none of the knee will be exposed if the skirt rises."
Not true.
The chumra is due to sitting down. Skirt-Wearing-Women, try this at home, sit down and check how much skirt coverage you've just lost, and much thigh is now on display, if your not wearing a long enough skirt.

Noam:
It is OK to preach the improvment of your sisters lives, even if they dont understand why.

Leibediker Yid said...

Chana,

Food for thought: Have a look at Mesilas Yesharim, the universally acknowledged sefer on striving to correct oneself and achieve perfection. In chapter 4, the deterrents of the first stage of growth, Zehirus, it states the importance of avoiding being around people who are a negative influence on one's behavior. It's not that we scorn them. But that if we truly desire to grow in serving G-d, which is the purpose of life, it's possible that our olam habah takes precedence over our friends. Of course it's a judgement if cutting people out of our lives will really achieve results. Also, a friend could have many other positive aspects which give much chizuk, which would overshadow the negative. But I think it's clear that in the Jewish hierarchy of values, choosing spiritual growth over friends definitely has its place.

Atara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron said...

Atara, you come across as pretty judgemental yourself. Chana wrote:"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"
It's really you, Atara, who has to soften your since you are clearly in Chana attack mode which is not OK at all.

Anonymous said...

Love it!

-Heshy

Atara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Atara said...

I deleted my comment because apparently it did end up coming out as if I was in "attack mode" which is something I have never intended. If Chana has read it, I ask for her mechilah because I didnt write it to offend her. I admire Chana and her blog so much for her creativity, prose, and enlightening views in Torah and secular culture. It takes a lot of courage to write your opinions in the face of unknown readers who may attack them or you personally.
However, I was surprised by the way she wrote this review despite her disclaimer acknowledging that the organizer of 6 diaries had sincere intetntions. My hope is that she keeps in mind again those who the can learn from the book and who its intended for, since not everyone - and especially younger teens - has the intellectual capacity or patience in reading the works of R' Soloveichik and R' Henkin. I am only suggesting that it would have been better for her to have said "Its just not my style and doesn't appeal to me" or something along those lines.
Have an easy fast and a freilichen purim!!

Anonymous said...

This is a great post, and I really enjoyed reading it.

I believe VERY strongly that Tznius is very important, and agree that it is something that most girls struggle with.

However, I was very disturbed by the excperts in this book, even though it's a great idea in theory. Bein Adam L'Chaveiro, treating others nicely and with respect, is much more important to G-d. The Second Beit Hamikdash was not destroyed because women were not Tznius. It was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam. How we treat others is more important.

And I also find it insulting to women to say that Tznius is our #1 struggle. Completely not true.

Anonymous said...

chana,
i want to start off by saying that i am one of the 6 girls. i experienced the entire thing. i want you to think about it in my perspective. imagine you get offered to spend an entire year focusing on one mitzvah. its constantly on your mind, day in day out. now add that to the fact that its high school, the most formative years ive had yet. instead of spending my free time outside of school going out and doing stupid things (cuz thats what high school kids do), i made meaning of my time. what we had was not brainwash sessions, it was a series of discussion groups. we, young women of today, have so many questions. and to find an adult who will give us the time of day to address our issues, questions, misconceptions, or anything else for that matter is just amazing. and you know what? it wasnt even always about getting the right answers. bc we sometimes found those on our own. we just needed someone to hear us. there are so many people who belittle the struggle that teenage girls have with tznius. those people are just ignorant. girls give up so much and they dont even know it. i dare you to pick a mitzvah, any mitzvah, and work on it for an entire year. then tell me that youre not extremely sensitive to it. tell me that when someone around you doesnt do it, doesnt give it thought, it doesnt hurt you. it doesnt bother you. we were all so so sensitive. and that was beautiful. bc it made things so clear. decisions are so much easier to make when you see clearly. that woman changed my life for the incredible. tznius is how you deal with your everyday life. not just about what clothes you put on in the morning, its also about the attitude you put on to accessorize. the outlook. the perspective. tznius is a hashkafa. its a way of life. and im so grateful to her that i know that now.

Anonymous said...

"Bein Adam L'Chaveiro, treating others nicely and with respect, is much more important to G-d. The Second Beit Hamikdash was not destroyed because women were not Tznius. It was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam. How we treat others is more important." interesting, considering how the FIRST beit hamikdash was destroyed 1/3 bc of giluy arayaot, aka adultery, which is a sin DIRECTLY resulting from a lack of tzniut. WHo are we to guage what is most important?? who are we to assume we have the calculations correct? it says in pirkei avot "hevei ratz l'mitzvah kalah k'chamurah" we should run to do a "small" or "Easy" mitzvah like wed run to do one of the "biggies" why? bc we DONT KNOW the schar for a mitzvah. thats the mishnah's bottom line. WE DONT KNOW. so anyone who is presumptuous enough to claim they know which mitzvot are "most important" is on the brink of being a "pick and choose jew". In our society today, being nice to people is the MOST important thing. Being PC (politically correct) and "open minded" is our battle cry. But we cannot be too open minded that our brains fall out. Let's be liberal, let's let everyone do whatever they please, let's accept everyone, care about everyone, hug and kiss and be happy peace unto the world. Fantastic. So, that's bringing u closer to Gd? yes, Gd tells us to love one another; yes, many many of our 613 commandments revolve arnd bein adam l'chaveiro. But its a copout to say that we should place more value on those mitzvot than bein adam lamakom. Being nice to ppl in this society is often way easier than davening, or doing teshuvah, or keeping shabbos, or acting modestly even. So why not make those easier things more important so we can feel better about all the mitzvot we're ignoring bc theyre too hard? I speak to myself as well here; it is easier, and it's a problem. Also, nowhere in thebook does Mrs. Goldin tell her audience to be obnoxious and heartless and insult their friends and judge them and say "ur a piece of garbage im better than you"; no. thats a world YOU are creating. She was merely suggesting that if tznius was something they were serious abt working on (isnt that a nice concept? for a group of teenagers to be serious abt workign on a mitzvah??) than they should try to do whatever it took to reach their individual goals. when you take excerpts from the diaries and pick them apart, please realize that you are attacking ONE innocent teenage girl who may very well have a larger portion in the world to come than you do.

Anonymous said...

Dear Chana,
i also want to start off by saying im one of the 6 girls- not b.c. it gives me anymore credence when it comes to this , but becuase i wamt to tell you, from a genuine point of view what a lot of others have said- that your post is very much making a mountain out of a molehill. There is nothing wrong, and as someone said earlier, there is something reeally beautiful about 6 high school teenagers caring enough to want to learn something more and something deeper about such a central part of their religion ( bc as Mrs Goldin says in the book- its not about the necklines, its about ur perspective, its really an all encompassing thing).
Not once in the whole experience, did any of us walk away with any information not having a root in TOrah or medrash, at no point did we started shunning our non religious relatives or friends, or start to fear we would get struck by holy lightning for not being as careful as we should be. we did not get brainwashed, and we did not get lied to- on the contrary we got told a lot of truth, and we deepeded our understading of Tznius in an intense and beautiful way. im sorry if u feel that 6 diaries is a personal attack to you, or your way of life . i assure you its not- so please, dont feel the need to attack it either- its really sad that the point where we are at now in our Jewish World, when an individual or a group tries to do something positive or expand their appreciation for their Judaism only to get shot down - not by anyone else but ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Dear Chana,
i also want to start off by saying im one of the 6 girls- not b.c. it gives me anymore credence when it comes to this , but becuase i wamt to tell you, from a genuine point of view what a lot of others have said- that your post is very much making a mountain out of a molehill. There is nothing wrong, and as someone said earlier, there is something reeally beautiful about 6 high school teenagers caring enough to want to learn something more and something deeper about such a central part of their religion ( bc as Mrs Goldin says in the book- its not about the necklines, its about ur perspective, its really an all encompassing thing).
Not once in the whole experience, did any of us walk away with any information not having a root in TOrah or medrash, at no point did we started shunning our non religious relatives or friends, or start to fear we would get struck by holy lightning for not being as careful as we should be. we did not get brainwashed, and we did not get lied to- on the contrary we got told a lot of truth, and we deepeded our understading of Tznius in an intense and beautiful way. im sorry if u feel that 6 diaries is a personal attack to you, or your way of life . i assure you its not- so please, dont feel the need to attack it either- its really sad that the point where we are at now in our Jewish World, when an individual or a group tries to do something positive or expand their appreciation for their Judaism only to get shot down - not by anyone else but ourselves.

kirby said...

hi i am a 14 yr. old religious girl. im not gonna argue with what you all said just want to say some thing really important. before you start saying things about this book, why dont you ask the girls who the book is age appropriate for, what they felt about it. this book was meant for teeagers in high school. i can tell you 1 thing for sure. many of my friends and i have really changed because of this book. us teenagers enjoy the truth and this was a very truthful and honest way to look at tznius. a way that we have never learnt before. im not all saying that everyone who read this book felt that way but many people who i asked really did enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

Ok I only read your post by chance or truly hashgacha. I was not out looking for it. Being that i read 6 Diaries and really grew from it I thought it would be only right to stand up for the book. First your comment on this book being a piece of propaganda, its anything but it. It is ment for a normal teenage girl seeking the pure beuty of tzniut. And that is EXACTLY what it does. It shows you clearly how being a tzinuah is more than just covering up at least thats what i got away from it.Being that I have pleanty more to write without you arguing my points to see where you are coming from I would rather you just email me this way i can get back to you exacytly to your difficulty with this book my email: tinyiny@gmail.com
Modesty an adornment for life by Rabbi Peasach Elyahu Falk is a great book that will give you all the halachot with all the sources- however Im warning you now you just might be suprised so you just might want to grow a little more mature before you start reading any other book concerning halacha

Anonymous said...

I am sure and happy that your girls starting to be tzniut against your rule. after reading your post this is my assumption. why would you be soo scared to have your daughter read a book of"poison"? if its really so bad wont they see that themselves? why would it bother you? Why do you need any source to prove that shes right or wrong? look if someone told you there were cows falling from the sky. you would think they are obviously wrong. therefore you wont second doubt it. simmilarly if this book was really so far from reality than why would you second doubt it? you wont! Grow Up! its not that scary. I made some very big changes in my life and im proud of it! You have to tell yourself "chana its ok to be wrong sometimes but now i must move on and go further to the truth" you will see hopefully when you get there exactly how wrong you were! dont be scared find someone who you can look up to and follow their footprints. and if your not strong enough for change at least let your kids. why should you ruin their lives. let them lead a life of their desire. and by the way it cant be that your not strong enough to grow. because Hashem only gives us problems or situations that we can handle so strive for the moon, at least youll get somewhere among the stars! Good luck With lots of love, your greatest fan(when you start changing otherwise your not such greatest fan but still with love)

Anonymous said...

I would like to say that I agree with this book review 100%. My friends come to me with ideas and judgments similar to the ones made in this book, and it is outrageous. There is currently a sign hanging in my friend's school (which is the school that did this tzniyus project and that Aliza Goldin teaches in) with the words "Redefine Impossible" formed out of cut up jeans. Talk about fundamentalist.

yitznewton said...

"Modesty an adornment for life by Rabbi Peasach Elyahu Falk is a great book that will give you all the halachot with all the sources"

The "all the sources" aspect of this comment is disputed. For one, look at http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Tzniut-Modern-Controversies-Community/dp/9655240053