Op-Ed Contributor Dov Linzer wrote, "Lechery, Immodesty and the Talmud" in an Op-Ed in the Times, asking to start with, "Is it possible for a religious demand for modesty to be about anything other than men controlling women’s bodies?"
While we agree with the egalitarian ideal underlying this essay, that men and women ought to have equal standing in all aspects of life, we are uneasy with Linzer's critique of Orthodox Jewish attitudes towards gender separation and roles for men and women.
To the opening rhetorical question of his essay cited above, we must say yes, it is possible for religious "demands" for "modesty" to be about many things, including modesty itself. Why would Linzer not know this? We have said previously (and humorously) that gender rules in Orthodox Judaism can assert the male Jews' tribal territorial rights over the females. Any number of equally viable reductive explanations can be adduced regarding the prominent gender laws and customs in Orthodox Judaism.
Linzer fails to accept that blunt gender differentiation is at the crux of some of those prominent forms of Haredi Orthodox religion that teach that women are different and are subject to different rules. Such gender differentiation is not subject to reductionism, to making it sound as if these rules are hiding some sinister program of male domination over females. The rules define core values and practices of the religion. (Do we debate such internal issues now in the Op-Ed columns of the Times? Shouldn't Linzer be writing directly to the offending Orthodox leaders?)
Linzer also fails to accept that religion in the US, and in Israel, is an entirely voluntary association. Women, children, and men, can opt to skip the synagogue, to walk out of Orthodoxy and never come back, without any formal repercussions in real-world legal or civic terms. As a result of such actions, those who go out will not starve, nor will they be shot.