Yshai Amichai
Yshai AmichaiCourtesy

In my previous article I suggested that we phase out male OB-GYNs, to let women reclaim a profession that was once theirs, as midwives and even as trained physicians. I do not think it is appropriate for women to be examined by men, particularly if this can be avoided.

I gave some examples related to modesty and sensitivity, but I understand that others might see things differently. The differences of opinion may vary widely, but what I would like to focus on is the mentality.

While some people might be extremely sensitive to such things, others appear to have been desensitized. It does not matter to them which gynecologist checks them; whether a man, woman, friend, or foe, whoever they expose themselves to makes no difference, so long as it is done professionally and for medical purposes.

What is unusual though is that people can be desensitized to one issue, such as gynecological examinations, but then remain sensitive to other issues, such as dressing modestly and segregating the sexes in schools, synagogues, and public gatherings. This suggests that their embarrassment is less about their bodies and more about how others view them.

This explains why secular women might dress immodestly without being ashamed, unless a man were to look at them inappropriately. Their immodest dress is deemed appropriate to their society, but the inappropriate glances are not. Their clothing or lack thereof are less of a consideration to them than how others should be expected to react.

Which leads us back to their visit to the gynecologist. If the gynecologist is not expected to view them inappropriately, then they have nothing to worry about him, or so their society would tell them.

But if society dictates our emotions and our mentality of modesty, then we are faced with serious dilemmas as individuals. The most important one is related to the consistency of the message: How can a person be expected to suppress his feelings of shame in one circumstance and then suddenly restore them again in another?

A blatant example of this can be found in liberal society, where people are expected to feel comfortable wearing undergarments at the beaches, but then be embarrassed when wearing them in the city streets.

I accept that society should have expectations of modesty from us, but those expectations need to be consistent, and hopefully in line with our true emotions. Particularly in a conservative society where modesty is a way of life, we should not be asking people to make exceptions. Exceptions are a recipe for exploitation.

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve were unabashedly naked in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:25), like children who walk around naked and feel no shame. Then they ate from the Tree of Knowledge and had a change of heart, so they covered themselves with fig leaves. They heard the Voice of God approaching with the wind, so they hid for cover in the trees.

When Asked by God where he was, Adam responded that he heard God, but was afraid because he was naked, so he hid. Although the fig leaves seemed appropriate enough when it was just them and the animals, they felt the need for a higher standard of modesty in the Presence of God.

God did Ask Adam where he got the idea that he was naked, implying that He Knew what had happened, but God did not mock them for this or expect them to make exceptions for Him. Instead, God Made them leather garments and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21).

That’s right, no exceptions for God, although we can never truly hide our nakedness from Him. No exceptions for people either. What matters is that we should feel comfortable with ourselves in the Presence of God.

The Torah does unequivocally and severely prohibit the uncovering of nakedness in the family (Leviticus 18:1-19), and even being unclothed on the steps of the Altar (Exodus 20:23), so if modesty is so important in the family and in the Presence of God, you should consider it a mentality that applies to you personally as much as it does to society.

In Private and in Public

It’s hard to say exactly how much of our shame in matters of modesty, or our lack thereof, is natural to us or influenced by others, but we do know that children are not born with it. They run around without clothes, and whatever parents might say to them seems to have no effect, until they reach a certain age of awareness.

Once children reach that age, roughly around the age of 6, something seems to click within them the way it did for Adam and Eve, who developed a sense of modesty. The only difference is that we do not live in our own private gardens with our spouses and no one else, we live amongst the public.

What people do in public is obviously not the same as what they do behind closed doors. Closed doors provide a sense of cover from prying eyes, the way the thick provided relief for Adam and Eve, but we should have the same mentality in both places, a mentality of modesty.

Such a mentality cannot be maintained if we are inconsistent in our ways or make exceptions in any place. Male OB-GYNs are one blatant example, but there are many others. We must be particularly cautious when it comes to children and married women, to protect and guard them, particularly from men.

The concept of bringing the public space into the private realm, with outrageous ideas such as co-ed bathrooms or false gender identification, may seem far off to us, but it is not. It is an issue of mentality. Our society seems to have a way of compromising the defenses of its weaker elements while allowing wolves to hide in sheep’s clothing.

I am not crying wolf at any specific person, but I am encouraging a whole new level of caution. People need to feel comfortable and safe, particularly women and children, without having to fool themselves or lower their standards.

People need to take their modesty seriously and not compromise on it for any reason. Refuse to accept what others tell you is acceptable when you feel uncomfortable. Refuse to let society desensitize you as a person and breach your defenses. Refuse to let your wives and children be placed in such situations.

Refuse to accept that people should tell you not to fear or be ashamed, when that is what you feel. The mentality of modesty requires you to have enough fear, shame, and sensitivity, to guard yourself and your family. If others tell you otherwise, kindly ignore them, but continue forward on your path of modesty.

Yshai Amichai is a father of six and an author with a legal education, whose books advocate upholding the Torah as a national Constitution. He may be contacted at: [email protected]