Monday, February 6, 2012

Burqas or Bikinis

Rebbetzin (rabbi's wife) Batsheva Kanievsky zikhrona tzadeket l'vrakha (may the memory of
the righteous be a blessing) was possibly one of the most amazingly spiritual women of our generation. When she passed away a few months ago, the Jewish community was crushed. While her death was a huge blow, her legacy is far from over. I recently heard Rabbi Yechiel Spero, a teacher at Baltimore’s Talmudic Academy and author of the popular ArtScroll series Touched by a Story, share an amazing story about Rebbetzin Kanievsky that I wanted to share.

According to her children, Rebbetzin Kanievsky only got upset two times in her life. One of the times was when someone arranged for her to speak with a group of girls. These girls were very modern, and they were not dressed according to the rules of tzniut (the laws of modesty in dress). She was happy to speak with them anyway, and they met her at the synagogue where she prayed three times a day, every day, outside of her home. (It's worthwhile to note that few women bother praying three times a day, since the technical law is that they only have to pray certain parts of the liturgy twice a day.)

A man walked by and he saw the girls. Horrified at their mode of dress, he started yelling at them, “How dare you come into our neighborhood dressed like that! Shame on you for talking to the rebbetzin dressed like that!”

Rebbetzin Kanievsky started crying, extremely upset, and shouted at the man, “How dare you talk to them like that! You’re being mevazeh [disgracing] a bas Yisrael [Jewish woman]!” She ran upstairs to her husband, Rabbi Kanievsky, who she never disturbed. She cried and just kept saying, “He was mevazeh a bas Yisrael, he was mevazeh a bas Yisrael!”

I think this story adequately shows that the kavod (respect) of a Jewish woman should not ever be compromised. Whether she’s wearing a burqa or bikini, if she has a Jewish soul, she deserves the same respect. If someone on the level of Rebbetzin Kanievsky had no problem speaking to women not dressed according to tzniut, then what right does anyone else have to shun women from their neighborhoods based on their dress?

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