Skirting the Issue?
Why discussing women, clothing, and religion isn’t a waste of time
This Sunday, I will be participating in a conference at the Jewish Theological Seminary called “What to Wear: Women, Clothing, Religion“—along with, among others, FIT curator and brilliant social commentator Valerie Steele and the always incisive Jenna Weissman Joselit of George Washington University. Slated sessions will cover everything from the Bible and the concept of modesty to stereotypes and pop culture.
But the Forward’s Debra Nussbaum Cohen is very disappointed in us.
“American Jews are hungry for meaning. Those who identify as Conservative Jews want to know what that means, if it means anything at all outside of a personal level of observance and commitment. The movement is starving for leaders who can provide that,” she writes. “So why are some of the Conservative movement’s most creative and dynamic teachers, including Shuly Rubin Schwartz, Rabbi Amy Kalmanofsky, David Kraemer, Stefanie Siegmund and Rabbi Francine Green Roston, talking about clothing?”
Indeed! Why should Shuly Rubin Schwartz be encouraged to think about anything other than Torah, observance, and the future of the Conservative movement? And David Kraemer clearly mustn’t be permitted to leave his office until he solves the day-school problem. How in the world could I have thought otherwise?
” ‘What to Wear?’ strikes me,” Cohen explains, “as a profound waste of time and effort, a true bitul zman.”
Ah, that’s right. Bitul zman—the phrase used by some of my Orthodox teachers to describe my interest in such obviously pointless things like Picasso and Shakespeare (and yes, Madonna). Which was a shame, really, because not only did this lead me to see these influences as in conflict with religion; I also, for many years, failed to understand that the passionate exploration of culture and society could actually enrich one’s Jewish identity. If God didn’t want us thinking about clothing, why’d He make it so fabulously technicolor?
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.