Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Does Shabbes Trump Tzniyus? האם שמירת שבת דוחה צניעות?

In a recent discussion of tearing toilet paper on the Sabbath, I was reminded of an incident that happened to me when I was 19 and being introduced to the world of mitzva observance. I was spending Shabbat with an Orthodox couple and their young daughter. They’d both grown up non-Orthodox and had met while studying in their respective yeshivot-for-the-newly-religious in Jerusalem; he had been ordained as a rabbi.

To my misfortune, on Shabbat afternoon I ran out of tampons. Having searched the bathroom and found none, I managed to emerge therefrom long enough to discreetly ask Mrs. Rabbi if she perhaps had some tampons somewhere. After rummaging around, she found a box, but told me mournfully that while she usually remembers to tear a few of the wrappers open (for Shabbat use), none of present company had been so rendered shabbesdik.

Noticing my perplexity at this state of affairs, and trying to smooth things over (?) -- Orthodox style -- she sweetly said, “I’ll ask Chaim; he’ll give you a heter1!”; at which moment I simply grabbed the box out of her hands and disappeared into the bathroom, where no rabbi, with or without his heter, could get to me.

At the time, I simply rolled my eyes at the situation, impatient to solve my problem and annoyed that halachah stood in my way. Today, with more time to examine the situation, I’m even more irked than I was then: Putting a young woman in the position of having to expose her private matters to a married man? What happened to tzniyus2? What happened to simple regard for the comfort of a guest in one’s home? Does the letter of the law trump all? Trees, I wanted to scream, meet forest!

Needless to say, while at the time I was on the brink, thank goodness I did not adopt the Orthodox lifestyle. While I can "get into" spirituality, I happen to also "get into" the Western logic that allows me to tear open a tampon wrapper and fill my hygienic needs seven days a week without having to appeal to a “higher authority”. So Rabbi Chaim and Rebbitzen Chaviva, wherever you are, thanks for your hospitality, but save your precious heter for some other halachic “emergency”; As for me, no thank you, I won’t be needing it.

1 rabbi-issued exemption from upholding a commandment
2 the commandment of modesty and chaste behavior to be observed between the genders

17 comments:

  1. Suppose they ran out of pre torn toilet paper; well, you could get a heter from outside the closed door, but, perhaps the rav could not in conscience provide such in either case without being certain after inspection that it was deserved?

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  2. את כזאת מצחיקה.
    כל הכבוד על הנוסטלגיה, הפקת הלקחים, והפתיחות לחלוק איתנו דבר שכזה.
    אכן יש משהו בלדעת איפה עומדת ההלכה, ובכלל, הקונפורמיזם האישי שלנו לעומת ההגיון הבריא, הצרכים והגבולות שטובים לנו באופן אישי.

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  3. A tampon wrapper can't be torn open on Shabbos?

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  4. It's not subjective, and it's not "work" in its usual, non-religious sense. It's set forth in the Torah: It is prohibited to engage in the 40 activities engaged in in order to build the Tabernacle. These include tearing, cutting, sewing, attaching one object to another, smearing / spreading (except for food you're about to consume; in other words, no lip balm nor other cosmetics or grooming aids; no trimming nails).

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  5. You referenced tearing toilet paper. Is that actually something the ultra-Orthodox consider work?

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  6. Only on shabbos and holidays, when "rest" is interpreted as refraining from altering anything from its pre-Shabbos state.

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  7. This, I promise you, is something I never heard of.

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  8. I believe you; that doesn't make it untrue. I also had to pick my jaw up off the floor when the rules of *niddah* were explained to me; and the fact that Jews actually adhere to them. They actually make a lot of sense -- much more than refraining from tearing toilet paper on shabbos.

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  9. I can't even consider it, let alone accept it.

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  10. You don't need to accept it...

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  11. Do you grab a roll on Friday afternoon and pre-tear the number of squares estimated sufficient and leave them in a little pile in the bathroom?

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  12. Not me -- them -- but yes, exactly this. If you're rich enough, you use pop-up tissues. Most uO's aren't.

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  13. Hey, #2 is sometimes "work." Is THAT proscribed? How about a man unzipping his pants for #1? I'm embarrassed when my non-Jewish friends ask me about such things. Maybe you can pay a shabbos goy to wipe your tush for you.

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  14. It's not the not tearing I have a problem with; not everything can or should be judged by Western values. It's the idea that *tzniyus* [modesty] and not embarassing a guest are also commanded by the Torah; so why does the letter of the law [not tearing open the tampon wrapper] trump the other two mitzvot? Therein lies my problem with the Orthodox way of life as practiced by my hosts and their fellow adherents thereto.

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