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April 20, 2010


Melissa May

This story gave me chills.

I have to say that I really admire the sense of responsibility that this young man has taken on to guard his own eyes and heart is admirable. Whether it is too extreme or not is not really for me to argue, I don't think. If he hasn't been forced into this behavior (as some women are forced into wearing burkas and covering up to the point of being invisible) and has chosen it himself, then that makes it none of my business. What is extreme to one person may be innocuous to another.

Incidentally, I'm curious if the women in these communities take the same measures to avoid looking at men? Is the choice to avoid looking at another woman representative of always choosing not to look on the opposite sex or more about the men guarding their gaze since they are more stimulated by the visual? Just curious.

Thanks for sharing this Erica. It's fascinating!


Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. It seems to me that because of her husband's modesty he actually loves, as in wants what is good, for women in his life. He wants to respect them. To be a good man is what gives him joy. I hope you are enjoying your time in Israel. I hope you share more stories with us. -Koni


That is such a sweet story--thanks for sharing it! I think that his modesty, whether you think it extreme or not, is incredibly refreshing :)


First of all, thank you for sharing this! It is such a beautiful story.

Melissa-In these communities, marriage (and modesty) is taken very seriously on both ends. While I am unsure if women engage in the same practice of not looking at men, as often as men do (for reasons that you touched on), I know that there are certain practices that both men and women follow in order to ensure that their relationship is kept totally sacred and pure. For example, both men and women will never be alone in any private location with someone of the opposite sex (other than his/her wife/husband).


Very nice story. Melissa, to answer your question, Judaism puts more of a stress on guarding the eyes of a man and the body of a woman since men are generally more into looking at scantily clad women than showing off their bodies to other women and vice versa when it comes to women.

I wrote something up about this topic on my site when a reader once asked me why Orthodox men don't wear wigs like we women do! http://www.jewinthecity.com/2007/11/why-orthodox-men-dont-wear-wigs/

Chaya Harrison

Erica, you did a great job highlighting the husband's efforts to show warmth and hospitality in spite of the stringency he placed on himself and those around him. I love the description of his wife's joy in pointing out his sensitivity to his guests.

Another practice that is more common in Orthodox Judaism is refraining from touching or shaking hands with the oppposite sex - unless they are a spouse,sibling, child or parent.

In both cases, refraining from eye contact or touching members of the opposite sex, the restriction is in place in order to heighten the intimacy and special quality of the relationship of husband and wife.

Too often, the restrictions highlight the negative, when in fact, they create opportunities for people to work on bringing out the best in themselves and those around them.

The couple highlighted in your story, take pride in showing to others, the joy in the effort to make people feel appreciated and not taken for granted.

Thanks for being so open-minded. It inspired me to refrain from judging too quickly.

Erica Z


While you are generally right that "men are generally more into looking at scantily clad women than showing off their bodies to other women and vice versa when it comes to women," I wouldn't say this is the REASON for the guidelines for modesty in Judaism.

Firstly, dressing modestly allows others to see a woman for her inner beauty - not just for how she looks externally. It also enhances intimacy between husband and wife.

But at the end of the day, a woman dresses modestly for herself, not for others. The way a woman dresses reflects how she perceives herself. Dressing modestly reflects her sense of dignity and pride. It allows her to express her true self. Ironically, by showing off one's body, one may actually be hiding behind it. Of course, the body is not bad in itself, but it can become an obstacle to expressing the soul.

Needless to say, modesty does not only concern dress, but also behavior and speech--and in all three facets it applies to BOTH men and women.


I could see where this could be offensive if you weren't prepared beforehand. It would at least be very weird to be invited to someone's home and then not have him look at you or talk to you. This man (with the exemplary assistance of his wife) seems to have abided by his standards while still honoring you and making you feel welcome. This honoring and welcoming is a large part of why we set moral standards for ourselves and in our communities in the first place.

I would have one concern if his practice became a community standard [Yes, taking a Kantian approach], and that is that women seeking counsel from a rabbi would not get the emotional support they need because they were not permitted to look into their rabbis' eyes - the windows into their souls. I'm catholic. My priests are my spiritual fathers. I would be sad if they refused to look me in the face or give me a hug.

Jews, however, have a rich tradition of women seeking pastoral support (to use the Christian phrase) from other women - rabbis' wives and other wise women of the community, so I am not sure this concern really applies to observant Jewish communities.

harriet Hellinger

Hi Erica,
I had to comment on this topic... As I accept and respect the no touch policy, I feel very uncomfortable with not being looked at in the eye or spoken too. It just seem's very unnatural and not human. It would make me feel more exposed then if I were naked. I think that if a man pious or not, has to go about his life in this fashion and is not able to control his yetzer hara there is a problem. And I don't recall any where in the Torah or Talmud of any such prohibition as not to even talk to a woman.
Just my thoughts
Shabbot Shalom

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