Open Orthodoxy

Where Open Orthodoxy Ends: Your final destination for open review of fringe Orthodox Judaism. If you have comments, send them to

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Rebbetzin role-models

A couple of years ago I had a conversation with a rabbi (who was a Yeshivat Chovevei Torah graduate) of an “Open Orthodox” congregation. One topic we discussed was that his rebbetzin was not aligned with some principles of tznius (Jewish modesty laws). The Rebbetzin wore pants, shorts, short-sleeved mid-riffed shirts and most importantly did not cover her hair except maybe when attending shul. Using hair-covering (a tznius requirement for Orthodox Jewish married women) as a basic guideline, I asked the rabbi how could married women who adhered to a stricter standard of modesty than his wife be expected to view his wife as a role model for themselves. Why should they attend a shul where they felt they were more observant than the rebbetzin? I’m certain that the rabbi wanted his shul to be “open” to everyone, but realistically an entire segment of practicing Orthodox Jews were inherently alienated by this inconsistency. The rabbi understood my viewpoint, but his bottom-line response was that it was his wife’s choice.

In the most recent issue of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah newsletter it is encouraging to read an article about a couple of “YCT rebbetzins” who are concerned about being role-models for other Jewish women. Both rebbetzins cover their hair and wear skirts in public. Toby Goldfisher Kaplowitz the wife of a YCT musmach states, “It’s very complicated for me because I have a real leadership role in the community, I think a lot of how my decisions will be viewed by other people.” Gabi Gelman the wife of an honorary YCT alumnus relates, “When I grew up, I wore pants but I don’t anymore, I am concerned about how people will view me – they’ll feel like I’m not observant because I wear pants.”

Some right-wing Orthodox Jews might take issue with the degree of hair-covering being done, or that the rebbetzins' tznius motivation appears to be driven by the perception of others, but please give some credit where it is due.