An Uninspiring Letter to the Women of Ramat Beit Shemesh

Via Rafi at Life in Israel.

I sometimes like to post emails that get sent out to the local community email list [Ramat Beit Shemesh] that I get a kick out of… This one was sent yesterday to the local list… and I get a kick out of it…

To the Ladies of RBS from Shmiras Einayim
Mon Feb 16, 2009 11:36 pm (PST)

During these weeks of Shovavim over one hundred men have committed to
knowing more about the Halachas of keeping Kosher Eyes and improving our
habits by enrolling in the Shmiras Einayim Program and going to shiurim.

Obviously none of us were born in RBS and all have been in many other
neighborhoods to compare. We realize that women of RBS have chosen a
higher standard of modesty than other communities and have made RBS far
superior than virtually every other community we have lived in with
this regard.

We all express sincere gratitude for women in RBS being extra careful
in dressing and acting in a modest way. Each of us express greater
pride and appreciation for our own wife.
Thanks so much for each women in the community taking extra effort to
make RBS grow to even greater heights in Ruchniyus. Yasher Koach

Rafi wants to know what readers think. This reader is glad that no one has ever thanked her for dressing modestly. I was going to write that the letter is a better approach than hanging threatening signs, but on second thought I’m not sure.  The writer should show appreciation to his own wife and leave the rest of us alone.

These techniques only work on the people who already care. This letter isn’t going to inspire anyone to start covering her hair or wear longer skirts.


Shmiras Eynaim: Lit. guarding eyes; i.e. avoiding viewing immodest women

Shovavim: winter period of special fasts and prayers

Halachos: Jewish laws

Shiurim: Classes

Ruchniyus: Spirituality

Yasher Koach: Good job (roughly)


  1. It’s very patronizing and infantalizing. It reminds me of positive reinforcement techniques used with children (that i myself use at times).

  2. doesn’t it make you want to barf when it is used on us knowing adults? I wonder if the kids “want to barf” as they realize we are using it on them…..

  3. Hmmm … Context is everything. On the face of it, this letter is just recognizing this specific thing that RBS women do and expressing appreciation for it. But since it comes in the context of a (ahem) problematic attitude toward women and modesty requirements, it does sound patronizing.

    I don’t think my kids want to barf when I do it. I think they sense that I am sincere. Personally, I could always use more sincere positive reinforcement in my own life too.

  4. Oh, please. Is there a correct word to connote “super-duper-patronizing”? I can not stand when women are treated as if they are stupid.

  5. Regular Anonymous says

    I’m such a cynic. I kept waiting for the line where it said “But you really could do more…..”

  6. mominisrael says

    Abbi, positive reinforcement can definitely be overdone.
    Rafi, whoa, strong language there! Your post was more neutral.
    Ilana, if it’s sincere it’s good. The problem, with kids and adults, is when it feels manipulative.
    Raizy, don’t know.
    RA, there is that. But you feel like it’s coming.

  7. Mom – here I was responding to Abbi’s comment…. but also it was tongue-in-cheek with a side dish of slight humor. Guess it did not come through so well….

  8. the post has been updated to include a new email that was just sent to the list responding to the original…

  9. mominisrael says

    Rafi, were there any negative comments?

  10. that is the only response I have seen. The moderators usually try to not allow discussion on the list. but probably nobody wrote in until this./ I wonder if this will start a barrage..

  11. If this were just a couple of weeks later, I would have suspected it to be in the spirit of Purim. It is a bit ironic to be “noticed” for “tznius” isn’t it? The point is not to call attention to one’s person. I do dress in rather dowdy style myself, but I don’t think I would want to be singled out and thanked for it.

  12. Uninspiring is a good description.

  13. If that email was sent to a men’s list, I think it would be fine. It would be nice to think that when men get together, they talk about how much they appreciate all sorts of good things that the women in their midst do (among other topics, of course). But in the context of a community-wide email, it’s kind of insulting. The tone seems like they are talking about well-behaved children, or trying to manipulate children into living up to the praise their parents are heaping on them. That being said, this sort of email *is* preferable to angry posters or any sort of violence.

  14. Rafi, if they don’t allow discussion, I don’t see the point of allowing the message in the first place.

  15. the original post is relevant neighborhood-wise, sort of. could be a moderator felt it was fine, could be he felt he was being generous. could be the poster himself is the moderator (dont think so, but could be) or a friend of the moderator.
    But once there starts to be online replies, they would cut it off.
    probably the mod just thought it was relevant enough to allow through, but then no discussion or very little at least.

  16. mominisrael says

    Ariella, good point.
    SL, yes.
    Fern, as I wrote in Rafi’s comments, it’s not a big leap from this kind of message to the Bruria Keren face-covering phenomenon. At least the writer didn’t blame immodest women for all of the Jews’ problems. But the respondent said that the lack of rain might be connected.

  17. As someone who lived in RBS for almost 10 years, I can tell you that there is more to this than meets the eye. The community list is read by people who dress in different ways and hold different beliefs. RBS is not homogenous in dress or anything else. The point is that there are many people who want it to become homogenous, who want all the women to dress in a certain way. This is just the other other side of the threatening signs in the shops. The idea is the same – to force the values of one community on everyone in the town.

  18. I hate it when other people decide for me what I have to do. Such a letter might prompt me to go and buy a mini-skirt and wear it. I’m joking of course but you get the idea.

  19. Rafi, yes, “barf” is a good reaction.
    Even worse, it seems like these guys have sex on their minds. Maybe they need to see a couple of female, post-puberty elbos.

    The super-separate existance turns women into sex toys instead of human beings.

  20. I enjoy your blog a lot – it gives me a peek into a world about which I know little.

    Also, thank you for connecting me with Rivka re: the breast cancer stuff – it has been helpful to read her blog and other linked blogs.

    Finally, I just read an article about Haredi Jews and sexuality and I’d love your opinion on it

  21. I work in a charedi place. I started working in the summer and my standards of tzniut are definitely not up to the standards of the women there. One day I wore what I always thought was a pretty ugly blouse, but it did cover the elbows and collar bones. You wouldn’t believe how many compliments I got that day. Now most of these women are covered up the wazoo but do dress attractively. Hard for me to believe they actually like the blouse. I think they were subtly (or maybe not so) using positivie reinforcement techniques on me.

    So far the techniques haven’t worked that well.

  22. Amazing how they so carefully scrutinize a woman’s way of dressing to see if it is appropriate but don’t see that publicly commenting on how a woman dresses is itself highly inappropriate. Perhaps they need to start wearing super dark glasses in public to keep their eyes from wandering where they shouldn’t.

  23. profk – that would just let their eyes wander without anybody noticing!

  24. When I am on a diet, I do not ask all of the bakeries to remove their cakes and pies from the display window.

    And, if the bakeries decided to remove their cakes and pies from the display window for reasons of their own, I would not be so pompous as to assume that they removed the tempting items for my benefit, to enable me to diet more easily.

    Ultimately, I am responsible for my own diet, for what I myself do, and I cannot blame or thank the bakeries for what is or isn’t in their display windows. (That is rule #1 for the successful dieter!)
    Likewise, men must be responsible for their own wandering eyes, their own thoughts, and their own emotions, whatever may trigger them.

  25. mominisrael says

    Laura, yes, I feel the subtext. Welcome and thanks for visiting.
    I-D: I know what you mean.
    Batya: I don’t know if I would go that far.
    Adena: Thank you and you’re welcome. Thanks for linking to the article. Nothing earth-shattering there.
    Baila, LOL.
    ProfK, better for the women to take the responsibility.
    Victoria, welcome. Good analogy.

  26. “Maybe they need to see a couple of female, post-puberty elbos.”

    I’d settle for a few elbows myself.

  27. now, now. you’re being immodest.

  28. Yup, this letter is patronizing and offensive. It deserves to be exposed (pun intended) for what it is: a transparent attempt at manipulation and an insult to our intelligence.

    Overemphasis on modesty has the opposite of its intended effect. Look at the way women are treated in Saudi Arabia — and veiling from head to toe is mandatory there. (Source: here — you’ll have to scroll down a bit to find the relevant part.)

  29. Yup.I’m a firm believer in the “live and let live” philosopyy. I love & endorse your last sentence: the writer should appreciate his own wife and leave the rest of us alone.

  30. Sorry. That should have read “philosophy.”