Volume 40 Number 58
                 Produced: Mon Sep 15  5:32:23 US/Eastern 2003

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Absolute vs Relative standards of Modesty (4)
         [Gershon Dubin, Yehonatan Chipman, Akiva Miller, Yehonatan
Echad Mi Yodea
         [Amnon Melzer]
Hebrew related question
         [Ezriel Krumbein]
A parable for our time
         [Shmuel Himelstein]
Rav Kook on halal shechita
         [Joseph Ginzberg]
Standards of Modesty (2)
         [Ben Katz, Bernard Raab]


From: Gershon Dubin <gershon.dubin@...>
Date: Wed, 3 Sep 2003 23:48:01 -0400
Subject: Absolute vs Relative standards of Modesty

Russell J Hendel <rjhendel@...>

<<But if (for whatever reason) you have spent time on beaches and have
seen womens midsections frequently then you are desensitized and hence
saying shma in the presence of a midsection is permitted>>

God forbid;  this is breathtakingly, completely and utterly wrong.

According to this logic, someone who spent the summer in a nudist colony
would be able to say shema facing any part of a woman's (or man's for
that matter) body?

The midsection of a woman is included, according to absolutely any
halachic authority you could think of asking, in what you term "absolute
nudity" and is NOT dependent on time or place.

I defy you to cite ANY halachic authority of any stripe who permits this.


From: Yehonatan Chipman <yonarand@...>
Date: Thu, 04 Sep 2003 15:38:54 +0300
Subject: Re: Absolute vs Relative standards of Modesty

In MJv40n56, Russell J Hendel <rjhendel@...> commented:

<<.. if you are like me and have spent the weekends of the summer
answering mail-jewish (and not on beaches) then you are not use to
seeing womens midsections and hence it would be prohibited to say the

Just a sociological, factual observation: But as a matter of fact:
standards of our culture today are such that, wherever you go-- subways,
malls, city streets, airplane terminals -- you are likely to see women's
(usually upoung girls') midsections.  "Ba'avotenu harabbim" you can see
them even on the streets of Jerusalem ir kodsheinu vetifartenu -- not to
mention New York, Boston, Minneapolis, Baltimore, etc.

<<And I go back to my original point...even a reform rabbi would object
a woman came in to his synagogue with her midsection exposed....He would
probably say "This has nothing to do with law...rather it is not the
norm in a synagogue to go this way."  (I used this to argue that in
theory the reform and charedi Rabbi have both similar values and

Unfortunately, I have seen women dressed thus in synagogues, including
Orthodox ones.  While one may assume that most rabbis of all
denominations are not happy with the phenomenon, as simply being
undignified (and I would argue that the concepts "dignity" and "modesty"
are closely related), they are of two minds whether or not to combat it
frontally.  A story in "Ha-Aretz" mentioned a conference of Orthodox
rabbis from farflung Diaspora communitues sponsered by Bar-Ilan's
University's Center for Jewish Identity, discussing how rabbis ought to
deal with women who come to shul in a manner that is, shall we say, at
the cutting edge of current fashion.  Do you want to speak against it
from the pulpit, and risk their never coming back to the synagogue?
It's not such a simple question, and this form of dress is now so common
and widespraed that many women in their 20's don't even see what's wrong
wth it.

<<.. Here is the way I have heard this (From Rav Aaron Soloveitchick).
(a) Certain things are ABSOLUTE NUDITY (eg Breasts). ...>>

I'm not sure that the strong taboo on breasts in US and European culture
was always so.  I heard years ago from Rabbi Charles Weinberg, formerly
of Malden Mass, that in the Eastern European shteitel it was not unknown
for women to nurse babies in the presence of men, including
non-relativess, say whiel travelling on a train.  This was obviously
done in a modest way, but the breasts might be momentarily or partially
visible, and were in fact not treated as absolute ervah.  After all,
babies and toddlers have to eat!

Yehonatan Chipman, Yerushalayim

From: <kennethgmiller@...> (Akiva Miller)
Date: Thu, 4 Sep 2003 08:51:47 -0400
Subject: RE: Absolute vs Relative standards of Modesty

Russell Hendel wrote <<< Certain things are ABSOLUTE NUDITY (eg Breasts).
(b) Other items (like the lower portion of legs ...) are RELATIVE
NUDITY--if everyone does it then you get use to it and you are permitted
to say the shma in front of it; otherwise it is prohibited >>>

Yes, that's the way I understand it as well.

He continued <<< But if (for whatever reason) you have spent time on
beaches and have seen womens midsections frequently then you are
desensitized and hence saying shma in the presence of a midsection is
permitted. >>>

This is very different than what I've learned. My understanding is that
*only* the following areas are in the "relative nudity" category:

1) Head (from the breastbone upward)

2) Hands (the rabbis dispute whether this is to the wrist or to the

3) Feet (the rabbis dispute whether this is to the ankle or to the knee)

(Furthermore, the rabbis dispute whether the word "to" in #2 and #3
means "up to and including" or "up to but not including".)

But all points inward of those boundaries -- whether the breast,
midsection, buttocks, upper back, or whatever -- are all in the same
"absolute nudity" category, regardless of what is actually done in any
particular time or place.

I do realize that this may sound odd to people in our culture, but I
think that is because we perceive a long sliding scale of categories,
some of which are closer to one end, or closer to the other end of the
scale. But the halachic system, as I understand it, has only the two
categories described in the first paragraph. Or three categories, if you
split "relative nudity" into two (the areas which are covered/uncovered
in our time and place).

If Dr. Hendel or anyone else has a reference which places a woman's
midsection in the "relative nudity" category, I'd like to know where it
can be found.

Akiva Miller

From: Yehonatan Chipman <yonarand@...>
Date: Mon, 08 Sep 2003 08:58:01 +0200
Subject: Re: Absolute vs Relative standards of Modesty

    A postscript to the question as to whether breasts are ABSOLUTE
ervah.  After writing my last posting, I remembered a mishnah in Hallah
2.3, which reads as follows:

     "A woman may sit and separate Halllah while nude, because she is
able to cover herself, but a man may not do so."

     This mishnah relates to the mishnah in Terumot 1.6, which states
that one who is nude cannot separate terumot becase he/she cannot recite
the required blessing in that state.  Here, a distinction is drawn
between men and women regarding this halakha because, as a woman's
genitalia do not protrude from her body, she may cover herself while in
a seated posture ("paneha lematah tohah bekarka" is the way R. Ovadiah
Bartinora expresses it), whereas a man's genitalia protrude, and hence
he cannot cover himself with the same ease.

    From this, the clear inference would seem to be that other parts of
the body are not ervah in the same absolute, unequivocal sense, but are
or are not depending upon the particular halakhic context.

    Indeed, Bartinora adds there that "'Agavot einan ervah leinyan
berakha": that her secondary sexual organs or, more generally, any part
of her body that might be considered erotic, are not ervah for purposes
of her making a blessing for herself.  Note: there is a distinction
between what is ervah between a person and him/herself, and for a person
of the opposite sex looking at him/her. (I'm not sure of the exact rules
for one looking at another of the same sex) This makes a great deal of
sense: the basic idea is that when sayin Gd's Name a person should not
be looking at things that remind him/her of sexuality.  For the person
looking at himself (or touching those parts, even with his/her foot; see
Rambam, Keriat Shema 3.16-19), it is only the genitalia themselves that
are sexualized; the rest are just parts of one's own body.  But, e.g., a
man looking at an attractive woman may find many places on her body to
be sexualized.

   It was this distinction, surely, that Rav Aaron Soloveitchik had in
mind when speaking of "absolute" and "relative" ervah.

    Yehonatan Chipman


From: Amnon Melzer <amnon@...>
Date: Wed, 3 Sep 2003 15:51:33 +0200
Subject: Echad Mi Yodea

Does anyone know how old the Pesach song "Echad Mi Yodea" (Who knows
One) is?

Amnon Melzer


From: Ezriel Krumbein <ezsurf@...>
Date: Wed, 3 Sep 2003 21:29:42 -0700
Subject: Re: Hebrew related question

>From: David Ziants <dziants@...>
>2. In the remaining letters of the alphabet, a dagesh represents a
>doubling of the letter. This typically occurs after the "Hey HaYedia"
>(Definite article), e.g. HasSus (the horse), or in a verb in the piel
>(strong) form, e.g. bikkaish (he asked) . This is how the words should
>be pronounced, so if their happened to be a sh'va under the dageshed
>letter, the sh'va would be vocal for the "second" of the doubling which
>starts the next syllable.

I am no expert in dikduk but I am pretty sure a dagesh chazak which as
you say doubles the sound of the letter can come in all letters except
as you mentioned: aleph, hey, ches, ayin, raish.  The 2 times a dagesh
kal which does not double the sound of the letter comes is when it is
the first letter of the word and when it follows a sheva nach.  A dagesh
kal only occurs in the letters beged kefet or bais, gimel, daled, kaf,
pay, taf.  The way I like to point out the doubling of the sound is that
Shabbos has two b's in it because it is a dagesh chazak.  I also noticed
that the Koren Tanach when transliterating names uses the doubling of
the letter for a dagesh chazak.

Kol Tov


From: Shmuel Himelstein <himels@...>
Date: Tue, 2 Sep 2003 10:33:36 +0200
Subject: A parable for our time

I picked this up off a non-Jewish Web site, and modified it somewhat. I
believe it's a great story for this time of year.

Shmuel Himelstein

A young man went to his rebbi and explained that he was disgruntled with
going to davening because he wasn't getting anything out of it. The
Rebbi picked up a dirty, old basket and told him to go to the well, fill
it with water; then bring it back. The young man did as he was told, but
by the time he returned the water had dripped out of the basket.

The Rebbi told him to go back to the well again-three more times,
actually-and each time the young man returned with no water in the

Frustrated, the young man asked what's the point of keep going to the
well since he was returning with no water.

The Rebbi smiled and said, "The point is not in returning with water but
in going to the well. After all, the water has cleaned a dirty, old
basket. "


From: Joseph Ginzberg <jgbiz120@...>
Date: Wed, 03 Sep 2003 17:07:47 -0400
Subject: Rav Kook on halal shechita

With all due respect to Rav Kook and his many admirers, the Rambam in his 
S"hut has this exact question, and deals also with the issues of:
1) is "allhu achbar" recited by the shochet avoda zara?
2) is "allhu achbar" recited by the shochet hefsek bracha?

He permits doing this, and even points out (IIRC) that the
middle-Eastern cost of beef is so high as to warrant exceptional
allowances, since without this "heter" it would not be allowed to sell
the meat to an arab if the animal later turns out on inspection to have
an internal treife problem.

Zei g'bencht
Yossi Ginzberg


From: Ben Katz <bkatz@...>
Date: Tue, 02 Sep 2003 12:50:13 -0500
Subject: Re: Standards of Modesty

>From: Michael Kahn <mi_kahn@...>
>We've spent a lot of time, justifiably, discussing what areas of a
>woman's body must be covered when reciting a brachah. What parts of a
>man's body must similarly be covered during a bracha? Can I make a
>bracha in shorts? Bare-chested? I always wondered about this. I assume
>barefoot is not a problem.

         This is dealt with by the Talmud in berachot (and probably
elsewhere as well) as well as in the codes (eg rambam).  if i recall
correctly, one can say keriat shema al hamitah bare chested (presumably
if that is the way one goes to sleep, altho i don't recall if you need
to be under the covers or not) and rambam says that whether one can
daven barefoot depends upon community standards.

Ben Z. Katz, M.D.
Children's Memorial Hospital, Division of Infectious Diseases
2300 Children's Plaza, Box # 20, Chicago, IL 60614
Ph. 773-880-4187; Fax 773-880-8226; Voicemail and Pager: 3034
e-mail: <bkatz@...> 

From: Bernard Raab <beraab@...>
Date: Thu, 04 Sep 2003 00:57:29 -0400
Subject: Standards of Modesty

 From: many listers and Barak Greenfield:
Ok, then what does it mean to dress modestly? Either way, you have to
either allow that erva depends on time and place, or that it was defined
in one way for all time, but you would need a specific source for that.

I heard a story on this subject at a lecture on development of halacha
in modern times. The speaker described a summertime visit to New York by
a prominent Gadol/Rosh Yeshiva which apparently included a trip on the
A-train to Washington Heights. Shortly thereafter he published an edict
in which he "assered" the use of the A-train in New York, owing to the
immodest dress he encountered on his trip. This elicited a responsa from
R. Moshe Feinstein, zt"l, who said that New Yorkers are accustomed to
this environment and are certainly allowed to use the subways in the
summertime as well as year round.

b'shalom--Bernie R.


End of Volume 40 Issue 58