Shani couldn't forget what the woman with the scarf had said. "I was always told that the Torah makes us better people. I'm not so sure anymore...." Of course the Torah makes us better people, Shani thought. The woman was just over-wrought. A girl being pelted with rocks, even a pritzua, would have that effect. And, sure, maybe as an outsider, some of this separation might look a bit bizarre. But after all, women must be kept in their place so that the men can focus on their learning. Still...Shani remembered a time when there were no women's hours. Or at least she thought she could.
That night, after the kids were in bed, Shani sat down with her husband Yaacov. Although the pressures of raising six children (keinehora) had driven Yaacov from kollel and forced him to earn a living, he still made time every night to go over the parsha and the Daf. Once Yaacov returned from Maariv, Shani was confident that he'd be able to answer her questions.
Shani relayed the events of the last two days. Yaacov looked at her thoughtfully. He knew about some of the "modesty squads" that patrolled Thirteenth Avenue, but, like many people, was appalled by the violence. As Shani finished her story, Yaacov thought about how to answer her.
"Shani, you and I both know that hilchos tznius exist to enhance the kedusha of our community. Look what happens in other areas. Women dress with everything hanging out, like they don't respect their bodies. And then they wonder why they get attacked and raped. Same thing with this girl. Maybe if she had been more careful..." Yaacov trailed off.
"Are you saying that those boys should have attacked her?" Shani had never known Yaacov to advocate violence.
"No, of course not. Chas v'shalom! I'm just saying that we have to be so careful. There are men who must preserve their learning. After their Torah learning protects the whole world. If it were to cease for even a moment, the world itself might stop."
"But what about the boys?" Shani asked.
"Those boys are just thugs. Look at them. They were out on the street in the middle of the day because they have nowhere to go. The yeshiva's don't want them. Most of them can't get a job. So they make themselves important by throwing rocks."
"But why can't the rabbis do anything?"
Yaacov chortled cynically. "Which ones? You know Boro Park. Besides all the Chassidishe rebbes, there's the Agudah, the Young Israel...the list goes on. So many voices. About the only thing they agree on is 'kol kevuda bas melech p'nima.' "
Shani had heard the quote from Tehillim repeated frequently since her days in playgroup. It meant "The glory of a princess is inside."
Yaacov continued. "No one wants to think that his wife or daughter could be attacked. But we must preserve the kedusha of our community. That's why we demand the utmost in tznius."
Shani reflected on the conversation she had earlier that day. "But doesn't it say in 'Eishes Chayil' that 'her clothing shall be of fine linen and purple'?"
Yaacov smiled at his wife indulgently. "That's just a metaphor for a woman's status as a bas melech--a daughter of a king. Just like a princess wears special clothing that befits her royal status, so to does a daughter of Israel wear refined clothing that does not draw attention to herself. Refined clothing is not flashy with bright colors. It's subdued."
Shani nodded. You certainly can't get more subdued that black, grey, beige and white, she thought.
"Is there anything else?" Yaacov asked.
"In the Torah, did Yaacov kiss Rachel?" Shani asked.
Yaacov pulled a Chumash Bereshis out of the seforim cabinet. He opened to Parshas Vayeitzei, flipped a few pages, and handed the sefer to Shani. "See for yourself."
Shani read the Hebrew, and found the passage that described the meeting between Yaacov and Rachel. "Why did he kiss her? I didn't think that was allowed."
Yaacov turned in shock. "He did?"
"Yes, it says so right here." And Shani read the Hebrew.
"I'll have to ask Rabbi Tannenbaum."
Shani rose from the couch. "Coming to bed?" Yaacov asked.
"In a minute," Shani answered. "I just want to read some more."
Yaacov nodded. "Don't be up too late. Kids have school in the morning."
Shani closed the sefer and followed her husband upstairs.