Modesty for Heaven’s Sake: Authority and Creativity among Female Ultra-Orthodox Teenagers in Israel
- Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues
- Indiana University Press
- Number 26, Spring 5774/2014
- pp. 75-96
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The ethnographic research that I conducted at a Bais Yaakov seminary in Jerusalem demonstrates how ultra-Orthodox female teachers and their teenage pupils structure an ideology of modesty through the reinterpretation of canonical texts on modesty. In this study, I show that modesty is a creative sphere informed by two trends: the adoption of modern patterns of behavior, and religious innovation. The exegesis these women give to the texts upon which they base their practice redefines the field of modesty in two primary ways: (1) It transforms modesty from a rigid halachic dictate into a dynamic feminine “mission” that is connected to the sphere of virtues; and (2) it replaces the socio-masculine discourse upon which this observance is based with a divine imperative. This phenomenon bears witness to a shift in the types of authority that these ultra-Orthodox teenage girls are willing to accept, since the only justification they accept for their modesty practices is that of personal devotion to God.