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March 30, 2009



Am I understanding you correctly? Are you saying that those who walk out of the house without gloves or face powder or hats (for men) are less modest (and therefore less honorable) than those who do dress in this "honorable" fashion?

Please explain.

Also, was the president wearing jeans while performing a state function? Does the context of where he was wearing the jeans in public make a difference to you?

Robin Goodfellow

Wearing jeans?

That's your problem?

You feel "dishonoured" by that?

It's quite possible that he has better things to worry about than what pants he wears. You should "honour" him regardless of his appearance and garb.

Should I treat a stripper as less of a person, worthy of my decency and respect, because she is scantilly clad?

When I hear about people talking about "honour", all I hear is people demanding that their personal set of morals be validated. And that in itself is not very "honourable".

From what I've seen in this community, honour is imposed as a masculine virtue as a way to manipluate men through shame. "Do this because it's honourable. Do that because it's honourable." Women have as much merit criticizing men's honour as we (men) do critizing women's purity vs sex appeal.

Tom Babcock

Gila shows remarkable insight in her observations and is right on regarding the appearances that might be conveyed by a world leader in seemingly little matters. Jeans and casual wear have their place in American presidential attire (from ranch wear by Reagan and Bush to beach wear by Kennedy and the other Bush). Gravitas is more than a manner of speech delivery. Perhaps it also reflects the other side of the modesty issue--while women's attire became more immodest in the latter half of the 20th Century, men's attire became more casual. The doctor without the white coat, the teacher or professor in jeans and no tie, the "business casual" norm in the workplace. Yet we expect our retail salesmen and car dealers to wear suits. Your school in Israel recognized the accomplishments of the teacher in Rabbinical studies, and while the humility is admirable (like saying, "Hey, I'm still young; let me first demonstrate that I can teach as well as learn), but as you say, Gila, the honor was in the students' recognition of the accomplishment, in their validation of the value placed in mastering the Torah. Perhaps that is what men lack in their move to casual attire--a sense that their "pride" in appearance is not in the sense of a statement of "self worth" but rather a validation of social norms. Much like modesty as a statement that virtue and respect of human dignity have a place in our culture!

Robin Goodfellow

Tom, have you read the book "Blink" by Malcom Gladwell? It talks about judging [people] incorrectly.

I really don't care about what the president "should" wear. We wear suits because we like being pretentious. It gives us an artificial sense of importance. And the suit only makes the man if there's a real _man_ in the suit-he doesn't become less of who he is when he's not in it.

I thought those in this community understood the value of humility. When Obama wears jeans, it's also possible for him to send the message "I'm not better than you." Heck, the theme of humility was at the very beginning of his inauguration speech.

Yes, yes, I know certain attire is donned to show proper respect, but using the word "honour" goes a bit too far. I take that word very seriously. A man's (or woman's) actions speak louder than their garb, and that's what should matter.


Um, exactly. I'm glad we have a president who's not afraid to dress like a normal person. And who, say, takes questions from people across the country over the internet. Not historically common, but a great improvement.

Tom Babcock

"We wear suits because we like being pretentious" is also a judgmental statement. We hear the statement that we should respect the office of the presidency irrespective of the office holder. I don't pretend to be able to look into someone's heart and judge their motives, but if someone were to tell me they dressed or acted a certain way out of respect for the office or role they filled, I would take them at their word. In the context of this blog and Wendy's books, women might dress modestly not solely for virtue but also, in the workplace, so that they are taken seriously. It is not pretentious to recognize that the image we present will effect how we are perceived, how (and whether) our words will be heard, and perhaps how our actions will be judged. It is still only one factor, but one that should be considered. I grant you that in dressing differently, one might also be making a statement (Carter's sweaters, Obama's jeans) and I do not doubt the sincerity of either president in this regard. It can be seen in the press, however, how the statements were interpreted.


Tom is exactly right and Robin is being more judgmental in my opinion than Gila as his tone is more heavy-handed. We all recognize that our dress sends a message and it's about time we started to think about what the message is.

I really connect to the idea that we don't honor anymore and yes it's not just about dress.


Yeah, I don't want to see Obama wearing jeans unless he's on vacation. I have to wear nice clothes to go to court (I'm a law student), so he can refrain from wearing jeans while he's acting under his presidential capacity. I don't think he has a good grasp on the formality of his role. Those DVDs he gave to Gordon Brown were just an embarrassment.

Gila Jacobsen

I just wanted to respond to a few of your comments (which I really appreciate- I love delving deeper!)

I think that we all have the ability to make a statement with how we present ourselves. It used to be that people wanted to be "ladies" and "gentlemen" and so, they dressed like that. I recently rented the film, "Changeling" starring Angelina Jolie and looking at the clothing from the late 1920's, they looked like "ladies and gentlemen." That is simply what you might call a person dressed in that attire. Even the cast commented on the fine tailoring and respectable feel of their wardrobe. I think a person should dress according to what they want to be labeled. That will either make "man" or "woman" either a label to be respected and admired or looked down upon.

I think Marauder, the law student who commented above makes a good point- the President needs to grasp the formality of his role. I heard him speak today when asked about whether or not he might wish a British soccer team luck on their football game.

He responded that he wouldn't because he "Stirred up all kinds of controversy" when bringing up March Madness. Apparently, some suggested he might want to focus on more important things. I don't see any reason why he couldn't just say, "Good Luck," but I guess he wanted to increase the formality of his very important role as a world leader. Aah, change.

Everything has its place. When I was little, and sitting in my synagogue watching a young lady waltz down the aisle to a seat in a tight cotton skirt and bright blue underpants that we could all see, my mother would tell me later, "Everything has its place- bathing suits belong on the beach or at the pool, not in synagogue." She also told me of the importance of wearing a slip!

Thirdly, I am not dishonored by the President wearing jeans- He is, and so is his title/post. I don't have a problem but he might. I didn't choose his wardrobe or that of any of the presidents before him. They set the precedent, not me. Who owns the "problem"? I only dishonor myself by my actions and no, if you saw a stripper doing her thing, you might say "Where are you?" since you really can't see the person's soul when their body and sexual allure is too distracting from their greater, inner self--which I hope is their true self. That's what I want to see in others and what I want people to see in me.

Is it rude to ask a person "Where are YOU?" If they point to their body, identify with it and respond, "Right here!" would telling them that there is so much more to who they are be an insult?

So anyone who suggests I "feel" dishonored should remember that I never mentioned emotion about the President's Jeans. Just opinion based on logic. Please read my blog again.

Fourth- I do believe in judging, that is one way we filter truth from junk. It helps us grow. You are here to judge, I am here to judge so we can get at the truth and live it. But most of all we must make a tremendous effort to judge one another favorably and give each other the benefit of the doubt. That is what I did at the end of my blog.

And, by the way, I don't want the President to be "just like us" (there is a lot of "US" to choose from). We need a HERO! My greatest hope is that that is what he is or may become. Look, there is a learning curve, that is why I said we all need to learn about honor, even him, and if he is truly humble, that is what he will do.


This is such an interesting discussion. Thanks for sparking it, Gila.

I just want to point out to those who missed it that this particular blog is about much more than just jeans.

Concerning the general issue of honor and its decine, did anyone else notice that Facebook deleted accounts of people called "Rabbi" or "Father"? The only way you can have a Facebook account now is if you do not have a title; thus "Rabbi Shmuel" must become just "Shmuel"--everyone is on the same plane.

Personally, I don't think this hyper-egalitarianism is a positive development, and I think it speaks to Gila's point about how we've forgotten the importance of honor.


It's so true that as our culture has lost respect for any kind of authority, we really aren't doing ourselves any favors. My generation supposedly hates authority, rules, and guidelines, but I personally disagree. I don't always appreciated being told what to do, :) but I certainly like having a higher authority that guides me in my choices.
I think everyone has some sort of hero, someone they look up to, even if they don't realize it. But our heroes need to strive to earn our respect before we consider giving it to them.


Gila, I'm glad to see you up in print!

I agree with you that we need more honor in our leaders, and I'm glad you're writing about it, because I feel it needs to be talked about!

But I also think what they need to be focusing on much more than the clothing, is the honor that comes from acting with integrity and a strong sense of morals. Being honest and true and just.

Robin Goodfellow

I respect authority, until the trust its based on is lost.

I honour actions, which define one's character.

You're talking down to me, and you shouldn't. Lecturing me like a wayward child. Not cool. You assume I owe you some sort of esteem... but you haven't earned that. You haven't done anything to prove to me you know what honour is, besides the petty semantics of respecting decorum.

You see, it's very easy to judge others when you're inside a bubble. On this forum, it's perpetual self-affirmation, and anyone challenging it can be struck down by moderators. But if I don't challenge you, don't judge _you_, who are you to judge others?

One of the reasons the modesty movement isn't more successful, is because of posts like this. You take pride in villifying someone who doesn't live up to your expectations. Rather, you take pride in pointing out someone's flaw to your friends. Also note that it's only a flaw because of _your_ perceptions.

That's not noble. That's petty.

And such poor character dishonours _me_.


Whenever I read a comment from Robin, he is always complaining about being censored and how his feelings are so hurt because he is so censored. Well, if I'm reading his complaints about being censored than obviously he is not being censored. It seems like he wants to see himself as victimized but if he feels so oppressed by this blog than why keep reading it?

Hello, everyone makes judgments Robin. You make judgments and so does everyone else here. Some judgments are better than others and that's what an exchange of ideas is about. We are not gossiping about friends here, we are discussing the President of the United States and the leader of the free world. If it hurts your feelings too much to have this discussion than stop trolling!


Regarding Facebook, my friend's husband had his account deleted because his name had "Rabbi" in front of it. Talk about uncool! Why are we so afraid of titles in this society? !

Sally G.

Obama wore jeans in North Carolina when on the campaign trail. And he showed that he knows how to wear jeans in a dignified way--interestingly, in an interview with MTV he criticized the popular hip-hop style of wearing low rise jeans below one's underwear. Who better to address this immodest style than a leading figure who knows how to wear jeans in an appropriate manner? If that's not a step in the right direction for modesty I don't kow what is. The subtle swipes on this blog at the U.S.'s new president thinly veil right wing ideology and political preferences; they simply reveal certain political leanings. Stick to modesty, please.


Sally: I do appreciate Obama criticizing jeans that show people's underwear. Having said that, I wouldn't want any president, regardless of political leanings, to wear jeans while acting in his (or her) professional capacity, and when candidates are on the campaign trail people are trying to figure out how they'd act in that capacity. If Obama wants to wear jeans while he's on vacation or when he's taking time off of work to spend with his family, that's fine with me. Then he's being "Barack, guy on vacation" or "Barack, Malia and Sasha's dad and Michelle's husband," not "Barack Obama, President of the United States of America."

Gila: Thanks. :)

Gila Jacobsen

I think I am being addressed quite personally so I am going to try to respond now, personally. Anyone is free to read on.
After I read your first comment, Robin, I thought you were responding emotionally to an intellectual discussion. Your second post just made it more clear. This is obviously touching you on a deep and personal level and for whatever reason, it seems to really hurt you, dishonor you. I had absolutely no intention of dishonoring anyone, I just believe, in my head and heart that the most important part of this blog is to get people to THINK. I understand, in my own experiences, that one can only remove honor from oneself- I am dishonored if I do something that is dishonorable to me. Let me give you an example.
I met a woman who is known as Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. She is an amazing teacher and light shining in this world who always gives hope, encouragement and true love to others. She is the descendant of the head Rabbi of Hungary and a survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Now, if you or anyone else met this woman, the only thing that you might experience is a sense of positivity: warmth, acceptance, understanding, greatness, I could go on forever. Now, Rebbetzin Jungreis describes some of her experiences in the camp: a small child, shaved, starving, in rags, full of lice, seeing atrocities daily, being treated worse than dirt! She describes how her father gathered morsels from his daily rations of rotten bread for the Sabbath "meal" when he would gather his children, having them close their eyes and imagine the smells from the kitchen back home, the freshly baked Sabbath bread. He would sing about the angels that would come to the home before the meal to bless the family and his little son opened his eyes, looked around and said, "Papa, there are no angels here," and his father looked at him and said "You, my children, are the angels." Young Esther and her father were the only survivors of the immediate family. She got up and built a family, an organization of teaching and learning and never gives up even in her old age and frail state, to inspire the world. Nobody could dishonor her! She knew the greatness of her soul, even in the depths of hell. Robin, and everyone else- No one, I repeat, no one can dishonor you! No one can break the greatness inside you and don't let them- or you will die.
I looked up honor in my new American dictionary, thinking that perhaps I was getting the definition wrong (I am glad my mother forced me to do this as a child- I gain so much from true understanding). It turns out that I was using that definition that I found there. Maybe we are defining our terms differently so I suggest you find out what the dictionary definition of "honor" is since I will not spell out the entire thing right here. It could be you are describing something else, perhaps. It is important for us to be on the same page so we are talking about the same thing. I think that is fair.
By the way, I don't mind being "challenged" and I think you have every right to judge my statements although I am not here to "prove" myself to you- I am here to share some thoughts and grow and so are you.
Robin, I am assuming the best of you. What I know about you from the little you have written is that someone may have spoken down to you in the past, made you feel shame, flawed, and manipulated- I am merely using the strong language you threw at me. That can really hurt and effect a person long term. I also deal with negative feelings from my past but I know that you and I, we can rise above that since we are emanations from G-d, we can choose to be heroes. I don't speak down to you or anyone- only with you, heart to heart, head to head.
My definition of modesty is my own, true but it is based on what I have personally been exposed to in my culture (all parts of Judaism), American, Muslim, Indian, European, Asian and more. One of my personal philosophies is that we must be like a sieve: Let most of the trash through and hold onto the gold nuggets, the diamonds of truth. I wish you, and all people inner peace, and the ability to expose our souls to one another without getting distracted.

Robin Goodfellow

Gila, thank you for your response.

Yes, I took some things personally, and I apologize for my less than stellar approach.

It's mainly that I tie in honour to what being a man is, and don't appreciate thus being told how to be a man by someone who isn't one. I find it demeaning.

There is enough propoganda in the media telling me what a "man" is, that I get tired of being told how to be. I'm not being offered anything by these expectations except more ways I have to defend my self esteem. Even in the modesty community, I strain to find something more than a laundry list of things to be.

As a "guy", it makes me feel like garbage. The immodest community already has no concern for someone who believes in the preservation of virtue, and the modest community takes for granted any efforts I make. I am treated as a "tool" in either situation.

I read all the advice given to young women looking for "good guys". You say be this, be that. You offer suggestions that aren't easy in today's culture. But you assure them that it's worth it because there are good guys out there who will appreciate them.

I'd like to say I could be such a guy. But it's hard to show that when I feel like my job is to validate others thanklessly. I WANT to be the shining white knight and all that jazz. I WILL go through Hell in the name of honour (I often feel like that posting here-btw, I'm not always a jerk, I used to post as Rofigo de la Mancha. I switched to my real name because I felt an alias was juvenile).

One of my role models, as deluded as it is, is Don Quixote (the musical's version-he's a bit of jerk in the novel). In the theme song, Impossible Dream, there is the line, "To march into Hell for a heavenly cause." But Don Quixote does what he does out of a _personal_ sense of duty and honour.

From what I've heard, women got all ticked off about having expectations from _men_ of how to be, in order to get what they wanted in life. And this sparked the various feminist movements.

Now, what if I said, "Hey, be as good a person you can, for yourself. It's not for me, it's just a suggestion because it'll make you feel better as a person." Aim that message at either sex, and it'll make them feel better. Add conditions and expectations, and buzz words like "honour", and you take away from the effect it would have had. You make it about validating your own sense of morallity, instead of letting them do it to become a better person, however they can.

So basically, I don't like being told to be more honourable for you. Let me try on my own accord, and I'll let you try on yours.

(looking back at what we've both written, it's quite possible we've misinterpretted each other's intentions)

Gila Jacobsen

Just a quick reference: "Isn't easy" would translate, I think, into "Hard". It's just another 4 letter word people don't like to use, like it is bad that doing something or being something is "hard". What is hard or difficult in life has the greatest potential to make us GROW and become the best person we can be (nowadays, we get lazy and are too busy playing video games to meet any challenge, or so it seems). We only have to choose to do what is right, even if it is hard, and become the hero we always wanted to be. Also, once you pass that test, you will feel and be great! It will create true and everlasting pleasure as well.

Gila Jacobsen

Robin- Thanks for the response. I think you will be a true original when making yourself into the shining knight you dream to be: you will do it with flair, excitement, and great honor to you, and you will make "Man" into an honorable word. We don't have to be perfect and always fit in to what others ideas are (unless of course, you are trying to win her heart, you might have to find out what honor is to her!)
It must be hard to be a man. We all have our challenges, don't we?


Must admit I'm of at least 2 minds about the issue of dress and dignity.

I recognize that certain forms of dress are considered more "dignified" than others, but I also realize that our decisions on which are which are often based not on modesty or honour, but on economic hierarchies. Although jeans can cover just as much as dress pants, they were traditionally associated with "blue-collar, working class people" and therefore, undignified. Today, of course, this is turned about and jeans are often the more expensive item with certain "designer" types being big status symbols.

I'm also aware that clothes can be a form of deceit and trickery or used to judge others unfairly as less worthy. There is a fantastic Sufi story about a master who shows up to a feast in plain day clothes and is snubbed and ignored even by the servants...he is not even recognized. He goes home and puts on silks and embroidered vests and returns to be made the guest of honour and seated beside the host...where he takes off the vest, puts it on the chair and starts serving it food and bowing. When asked about his bizarre behaviour, he says "It is the clothes you are honouring, not me." There is a certain truth in that. People perceived as well-dressed (ie expensively dressed) are treated better than others in our society, regardless of their true merits.

I suppose this is why I have always admired the principals of "plain dress" and "simple dress" among the Peace Churches. Their dress is dignified (IMHO), whether it is their workclothes or their church suit, by it's modest cuts and appropriateness to occasion....yet all in the community wear the same simple fabrics. You can't pick out who is a leader in the community, or whose business is more successful by their clothing. To flaunt your success with fancy clothes would, to them, be both ungrateful and lacking in humility. For them, God gives and God takes away....and the reasons for either are not always clear or related to merit.

I'm not sure I'd want to see any world leader wear a $1000 Armani suit to visit a homeless shelter, but I wouldn't want to see one do that in $150 designer jeans, either. More than ever, I've noticed that we live in spiritually empty times where people chase both sex and material success to "fill the hole in the soul"....more than ever we need definitions of "dignified dress" that don't depend on the fatness of wallets and the number of zeros on paycheques. We need dignity for everyone, not just for the "successful" who can afford it.

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