This week, when I got the Jewish Press, I immediately turned to the editorial pages, as is my custom. I saw several articles condemning the actions and the mindsets of the extremists in Israel, and that cheered me right up. Then I read the editorial column. And my smile faded.
While the editor's column did condemn the violent actions and "holocaust" demonstrations of recent days, it made one statement that perturbed me. The column read "it is important that the Jewish tradition of modest dress and separation of the sexes not be called into disrepute because of the excesses of some zealots." (Jewish Press, January 6, 2012, pg. 5 Editorial). I'm sorry, but a line like that takes the entire piece and turns it into an apologetic. The Jewish religion has many traditions, it is true. And, yes, the hallmark of an Orthodox synagogue has always been the mechitza. However, there has never been, at least to my knowledge, any concerted effort to take that mechitza into the public square. Also, until the twentieth century, everyone in Western culture dressed modestly. Many of the halachos of tznius date back less than a century.
However, among these many traditions, there is also the tradition of kindness to one's fellow man. The tradition of, as it says in the siddur "honoring father and mother, acts of kindness, early attendance at the house of study morning and evening, hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, giving assistance to a bride, burying the dead, absorption in prayer, bringing peace between a man and his friend, or a man and his wife. And the study of Torah is equal to them all." (Talmud Bavli, Shabbos 127a) Equal perhaps, because Torah study should lead to all of them. Let us hope that it still does. That these mitzvos will eventually become as important as modesty.