In the 21st century, how does one understand a Talmudic statement praising a man for “restricting his eyes” when he has no choice but “to go to a place where there will be immodest women” (Baba Batra 57b)? (Click here to learn about modest dress in Judaism.) The Talmud isn’t being “sexist” and it isn’t belittling women…it is presenting one path of living a “holy” lifestyle.
Throughout the Torah, God commands the Israelites to sanctify themselves and to be a holy nation. The role that God wishes the Jewish people to assume in the world is that of a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6).
Let’s face it, being holy isn’t an easy task. To be holy is to be sanctified, and sanctified is defined as something set apart for a special purpose. The Torah was given to the Jewish people as a guideline for how to live a holy life. Still, even from the very beginning, people had different opinions on how to fulfill the spirit of the commandment to be holy.
The dilemma continues today, and, in many ways, it is far more contentious than it was in the past, as societal norms have changed drastically in the last 100 years (e.g. modest dress or wearing a hat for both men and women).
Some segments of the Jewish people believe that the only way to deal with the modern world is to isolate themselves from society. Others strive to live a Torah lifestyle that incorporates the modern world.
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