Posts tagged " modesty "

PDAs – what about in front of our children?

November 17th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 5 comments

Our question is about modesty of parents. How private should the affection be between parents? For instance, is it acceptable for a wife to greet her husband with a hug and a kiss on the cheek in front of their children when he returns home from work?

With warmth,

Renat & Vaida

Dear Renat and Vaida,

Our guess is that some readers are scratching their heads saying, “Why is this even a question?” We agree with you that the topic does deserve thought, but we’d like to start by explaining why we believe that to be so.

Through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom, the Bible emphasizes the difference between humans and all other creatures on the planet.  The first two chapters of Genesis help to make this distinction clear.  One difference is that animals operate on instinct; let’s call it their operating system.  They are not making judgment calls with respect to the spiritual consequences of their action.  For humans, even the fundamental act of eating carries with it moral consequences that resonate down through the ages.

We discover the Bible using modest and refined terms when it comes to all physical activities that we share with animals.  Furthermore, it emphasizes how we distinguish ourselves from animals when we eat, excrete waste, and reproduce.

Above all, there is modesty involved.  Even in today’s diminished culture the concept still exists, though it is usually called manners.  We are taught to chew with our mouths closed in order to lessen our resemblance to animals. We are taught to relieve ourselves in private, unlike animals.  Likewise, we are taught to be reticent about acts of intimacy.

We are, of course,  each born into a certain time and place. When Prince William married, his wife Kate was widely admired for dressing in a classy and conservative style. Move Kate’s outfits to 16th century England, and she probably would have been arrested for indecent exposure. A woman’s exposed ankles do not cause men to blush today, but there was a time they did.

Similarly, today we are surrounded by public displays of affection.  So common is this that it has its own readily understood acronym: PDA. Couples, some of whom only met a few minutes earlier, embrace in public in a way that would have not been viewed as appropriate for women sending their husbands off to battle a century ago.

Your question is whether something that is extremely common in the 21st century, shows of physical affection between spouses in front of their children, is a trend that should be encouraged or not. What timeless Biblical wisdom sheds light on this matter?

God created physical contact between a man and a woman as a powerful force. There is non-sexual contact between close family members (mother and son or father and daughter for example) However, there is also a strong sexual urge that powerfully strikes men and women in slightly different ways and at somewhat different ages. The unique relationship called marriage combines both non-sexual and sexual aspects. We should relate with physical desire to our spouse and we must also relate with respect and affection that is not dependent on sexuality.

The sexual relationship between parents is an intimate one that belongs to them.  Many parents wisely keep their bedroom off-limits to the children.  A few years ago we published a Thought Tools in which we confessed our discomfort when friends, eager to display their new home, proudly walked us through the entire house including the master bedroom.  Battered as our children are with unhealthy relationship messages and with premature exposure to sexuality —even if it is not in the house but on a billboard or in a store—we prefer to let them see the sweetness of innocent affection between their moms and dads. Whether it is a welcome home kiss, holding hands while walking, or a tender brush of the cheek, in our day we think that it is important to be an advertisement for marriage in a way that wasn’t necessary a few decades ago. It’s been quite a few years since the Beatles song, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” was flirtatious and, while holding fast to ideas of privacy and modesty, we do have to live in the world in which we find ourselves. There are so many harmful messages out there that modeling loving and innocent touch to our children becomes necessary.

Wishing you a loving marriage and wonderful children,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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A Modest Proposal

June 2nd, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet


Modest: Observing conventional proprieties in behavior, speech and dress


So says my Webster dictionary. But what in the world does it mean? In today’s world exactly what are the conventional proprieties? I believe a hat is necessary if you are a lady invited to join Queen Elizabeth for a garden party at Buckingham Palace, but few of us make that list. We are more likely to spend time at the supermarket and office than at royal teas. And while we may know that going to a corporate job interview in a mini skirt and a low-cut blouse will keep us unemployed, we probably associate that fact with presenting a business-like appearance rather than an old-fashioned word like modesty.


In a poignant article in June’s Oprah Magazine, author Krista Bremer discusses how unsettling it was when, at the age of nine, her daughter, Aliya, chose to wear the headscarf common to Krista’s husband’s Moslem heritage. She had assumed that a bi-cultural marriage would bring interesting customs and exotic foods into her life. Never had she contemplated that her born and bred in America child would opt for going to school in Moslem attire.


The author only dips a toe into recognizing that associating with Islam has more far-reaching implication than choice of dress. Instead she focuses on her own teenage forays into the world of bikinis and her internal discomfort at that young age when she simultaneously enjoyed and felt disturbed by the attention that exposing her body brought her. Even while she is embarrassed by Aliya’s chosen dress she is drawn to admire the way her pre-teen is defining herself as more than just a physical body.


A number of years ago, a young Catholic girl in the Northwest wrote a letter to Nordstrom’s explaining that she and her friends were unable to shop in their teenage boutique because the styles were too immodest. Executives at the store responded by asking her to join their teenage fashion board and even hosting a “modest clothing” show. In my own community, observant Jewish women and girls accept that during certain shopping seasons there will be nothing that meets the standards we prefer to follow. And a Protestant friend complained to me that while she and her husband attempt to establish certain modesty guidelines for their daughter, it is difficult to do so when a youth leader at their church dresses in a manner that they forbid their daughter to emulate.


A modern world view may reject the notion of conventional proprieties and scorn ideas like female modesty as old-fashioned and patriarchal. I think the opposite is true. When a woman shows cleavage she might as well acknowledge that her chest will be the focus of men’s attention. If she wants them to concentrate on her brilliant mind, sparkling wit and developed spirit, she would do well to avoid that distraction. Nothing short of redesigning the human body will change that. We handicap our teenage girls terribly by pretending that how they dress is solely a matter of comfort and personal choice.


Krista Bremer’s discovery that developing one’s soul and inner being is easier when not exposing too much flesh is true. It is unfortunate that she never knew that modesty is embraced by many in the modern world; the idea is not limited or original to Islam. It was a great loss to women in our society when treating one’s body with respect and dignity ceased to be conventional propriety.

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