8/28/16

Bikinis and Rabbis: My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Column for August 2015

Rerunning last summer's advice. It seems to have become relevant again.

Dear Rabbi,

I’m a young modern Orthodox woman. I like to go to the beach in the summer. Recently some of my friends criticized me for wearing a bikini at the beach. They say their rabbis taught them that it is not in keeping with our religion to wear a bikini because it is clothing that is not modest. I see that the prevalent fashion for young and fit women at the beach or pool is mostly a bikini. What makes your fellow rabbis think that they have the authority to dictate to me and other women what fashions to follow on the beach —or off it?

Two Piece in Teaneck


Dear Two Piece,

I’m one rabbi who does not claim to have women’s fashion expertise. I am relieved that you ask me about rabbinic authority, rather than what is the right fashion for you.

I do know that in the world of fashion you hear often about trends, not standards. I recognize that there is a lot of variety in the choices that women have, on and off the beach.

One day this summer I had the occasion to walk the length of the boardwalk in a Long Island South Shore beach community and could not help but observe that bikinis are a quite common choice for women, young and middle aged, at the beach clubs along the way. And I did notice in the Target ad flyer in the Sunday newspaper that most of the women’s swim suits on sale are bikinis.

Before anyone criticizes me for gazing upon women, let me refer to a story about one of our greatest talmudic rabbis, Rabban Gamaliel. According to the Talmud, when he saw a beautiful woman, Gamaliel recited a blessing, Blessed be He who made beautiful creatures in this world.

I agree with Gamaliel. Beauty is something that God bestowed upon our world. When the appropriate fashion allows for us to admire beauty in a tactful and respectful way, we may do so, and perhaps we should thank God with a blessing.

Now you may wonder, why don’t other Orthodox rabbis agree with Rabban Gamaliel and with me? Why do many religious authorities who happily admit that they have no knowledge or understanding of fashion go ahead and teach and preach that it’s a religious obligation that women must cover up their arms and legs and midriffs?

I don’t know why other rabbis have taken upon themselves the authority to dictate fashion requirements to women. And I find it hard to approve of that.

It seems to me wrong for any man to require women to cover up. Even though there is a long-standing theme in Jewish customs for married women to cover their hair and there are other customs for all women to cover much of their skin, the requirement of long sleeves and long skirts using the category of “modesty” is at best capricious. In the preponderance of contexts it also is out of step with the normal and customary notions of fashion in our general communities.

And one more thing. It is not a stretch for some folk to criticize the cover-up rules in Orthodox circles as yet another means of segregating women and as a way of denying them the freedom to choose and the rights to decide their own fashion options.

The notion that covering up all of your skin on the hot summer beach or at the pool or in the marketplace around town is connected to virtue is patently unfounded. Hence the rules that mandate overdressing are arbitrary annoyances at best.

Yet I’ve been told that there is a new women’s clothing store on Cedar Lane in Teaneck that sells kosher swimsuits made of nylon and polyester, comprising pants under a skirt and elbow length sleeves. I would not be surprised if these bathing costumes have tags on them certifying rabbinical approval.

Truly, I have no idea where my colleagues got the notion that wearing a bikini at the beach is a bad thing. I can’t explain or justify this rabbinic attitude to you. My advice to you is to follow your own notions of comfort and the prevailing styles and fashions of your immediate community.

And if anyone criticizes you, you may answer with a confident and polite reply, Thank you for your opinion. I will wear whatever I deem appropriate.

Tzvee Zahavy earned his Ph.D. from Brown University and rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. He is the author of many books, including these Kindle Edition ebooks available at Amazon.com: “The Book of Jewish Prayers in English,” “Rashi: The Greatest Exegete,” “God’s Favorite Prayers” and “Dear Rabbi” — which includes his past columns from the Jewish Standard and other essays.

8/19/16

Is Olmypic Swimmer and Sex Symbol, Ryan Lochte Jewish?

No, we do not think that swimmer Ryan Lochte is a Jew. His national team bio does not specify his religion. We would guess from his last name that his family goes back to Dutch Protestant roots.

Wikipedia reports, "Ryan Lochte was born in Rochester, New York, the son of Ileana "Ike" (née Aramburu) and Steven R. Lochte. His mother is of Spanish and Basque ancestry and was born and raised in Havana, Cuba, while his father is of German, Dutch and English descent."

The Times' Style section had an extensive article about Lochte.

Ryan Lochte, Olmypic Swimmer and Sex Symbol

The U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte is poised to be the breakout star of the 2012 Summer Games, both in and out of the pool.

Ryan Lochte, Olmypic Swimmer and Sex Symbol - Slide Show

Mr. Lochte, 27, is being groomed to be a breakout Olympic superstar, with millions in corporate sponsorships.

Update April 2013: Lochte has an E! reality show, starting Sunday April 21 at 10pm EDT.

Here is a funny video interview about the show - watch to the end.



Hat tip to anonymous!

8/12/16

Should we fast on Tisha B'Av?

No. I believe we should abolish the practice of fasting to commemorate the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple on the ninth day of the month of Av, known as Tisha B'Av (falling on August 14 in 2016).

Now before you convene a synod to excommunicate me, know that I am in good company. In the third century CE the greatest Tanna, Rabbi Judah the Prince, tried to abolish Tisha B'Av.

My son Yitz called my attention to this passage below which records the rabbi's action [Soncino Babylonian Talmud (2012-04-25). Megillah and Shekalim (Kindle Locations 739-743). Kindle Edition.] and to Tosafot's glosses (at Megillah 5b) which reject the premise that someone could entertain the notion of abolishing Tisha B'Av.
R. Eleazar said in the name of R. Hanina: Rabbi planted a shoot on Purim, and bathed in the [bathhouse of the] marketplace of Sepphoris on the seventeenth of Tammuz and sought to abolish the fast of the ninth of Ab, but his colleagues would not consent. R. Abba b. Zabda ventured to remark: Rabbi, this was not the case. What happened was that the fast of Ab [on that year] fell on Sabbath, and they postponed it till after Sabbath, and he said to them, Since it has been postponed, let it be postponed altogether, but the Sages would not agree.
Of course, if Rabbi Judah the Prince (compiler of the Mishnah) once tried to abolish Tisha B'Av but the sages would not agree to it, I do not expect that the sages of our times will agree with me to abolish Tisha B'Av.

Yet here is why they should.

I concur that as a culture we need to remember the calamities of the past so that we can be vigilant and prevent the calamities of the future. But we need effective ritual memories that are clear and unequivocal. Tisha B'Av commemorates that the city of Jerusalem and the Temple in it were destroyed.

Because the city has been rebuilt in modern Israel, this befogs the symbolism of the past destruction and renders it less effective.

I have been mulling over this issue for thirty years or more. In 2012 I mused as follows (with a few edits added).

Is Tisha B'Av relevant? No I do not think that the fast of Tisha B'Av is relevant anymore. I need a holiday from Tisha B'Av.

That day was for a long time a commemoration through fasting and prayer over the destroyed city of Jerusalem and the Temple. I visited Jerusalem in May of 2011 (ed.: and again in 2013) and can attest that the city is not desolate. It is without reservations, glorious.

Who then wants the bleak story to be told? Archetypally the militant "celebrity" archetype wants to keep recalling defeat, destruction and desolation, to spur team Jews on to fight the foes and to triumph at the end of time. That scheme may work for that archetype as long as the facts of reality do not fly smack in the face of the narrative. And when they do, what then? The narrative loses its force.

I cannot imagine Jerusalem in ruins. Period. And indeed, why should I perpetuate an incendiary story of gloom and doom into a diametrically opposite positive world of building and creativity? The era of desolation has ended.

For over twenty-five years, I've been lamenting the irony of lamenting over a city that is rebuilt. It's more rebuilt now -- way more -- than it was twenty five years ago. What do I do then about Tisha B'Av, the Jewish fast day of lament and mourning? Here is what I said those many years ago.

8/5/16

My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for August 2016: Are there any Magical Jewish Cures and Curses?

Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

My friend has started to scare me. She tells me often about her beliefs in the magical powers of religion and religious people. She claims to have witnessed faith healings right in front of her eyes. I think she’s gone off the deep end. Guide me please in what to do.

Scared in Secaucus

Dear Scared,

There are charismatic religious leaders in many religions who say that they can cure people of illnesses. In Judaism we say that we do not believe in, or practice, magical faith healing. The Torah condemns sorcerers, soothsayers, and witchcraft as abominations. But also note that the Torah tells us about Moses’ magical staff, capable of outperforming Pharaoh’s magicians. And some say the magical phrase Abracadabra comes from Aramaic words ארבדכ‭ ‬ארבא‭‬ that mean, “As I speak it, so it shall come to pass.”