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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sexual Modesty from a Jewish Perspective

This tantalizing excerpt is from a fantastic article by Wendy Shalit, author of "A Return to Modesty":

In truth, the real reason for sexual modesty is not shame, but an awareness of how precious we are. Smirk at that statement if you will, but the fact remains: It is a rare dog that desires a candlelit dinner before mating. On the other hand, it is a rare human who can have a one-night stand without feeling at least a twinge of guilt afterward. And, howls of protest from vested interests notwithstanding, most men know that their most intimate relationships should not be with their computer browsers.

Where does our modesty confusion come from? Maybe we had the wrong idea about covering up from the beginning. Most people think that Adam and Eve knew more after they ate from that infamous Tree, and only then realized that they were – yikes! – naked. But early rabbinic commentators on the Bible explain that after the sin, with evil internalized, Adam and Eve actually understood less about the world (Rashi on Genesis 2:25). Eating the Tree’s fruit really introduced subjectivity, so that things that were formerly True or False now seemed merely good or bad.

Whereas before, Adam and Eve’s bodies and faces shone with a light that made it evident that they were spiritual beings, the moral uncertainty created by eating the Tree’s fruit changed their physical appearance. Now only their faces retained a glimmering of the soul’s light. Needless to say, this posed a problem: Bodies could be seen as mere animal bodies, instead of servants of the soul. To make sure they were perceived accurately – to retain their human dignity – Adam and Eve immediately covered up. The world may be superficial, but the right clothing keeps the focus where it should be.

...After all, “the greatness of the daughter of the king is on the inside” (Psalms 45:14). A recurrent biblical theme is protecting the inner self, which is a metaphor for the spiritual realm. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and only on Yom Kippur. The holiest of all Jewish prayers is said in a whisper. It was Hanna, the mother of Samuel, who prayed for a child by barely moving her lips. Initially, Eli the High Priest thought she was drunk, but later realized she was onto something. From then on, the Jews mouthed their most important prayers quietly. The most significant moments are always cloaked in hiddenness.

Even God Himself uses the veil of nature to give us the opportunity to find Him (emphasis mine). No wonder, then, that public displays of affection are seen as cheapening. If you want to show everyone, how special can it be?

Read the whole article here.


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