My wife is one of the most modest people I know – humble, appropriate, under the radar and Tzanua. And . . . she played the drums at our wedding.
Countless people have forwarded the articles about the bride in Bnei Brak who played the drums at her wedding and the hall and band were forced to apologize for the breach of modesty. Many have asked for my reaction to the story, given our wedding.
So here it is: There are parts of the Torah definition of modesty that are objective, regulated by Jewish law and there are parts that are subjective, standards created by each particular community. All would agree a woman playing an instrument is not objectively prohibited. Apparently, some communities would define it as a subjective breach of modesty, and we need to recognize that they are entitled to do so.
However, while adopting extreme and perhaps excessive standards of modesty might seem like the appropriate reaction and response to our culture which is increasingly becoming extremely immodest, it doesn’t come without a risk and a cost.
We are caught in a vicious cycle in which the extreme immodesty is breeding modesty extremism. The more society says there are no boundaries or limits, that nobody has a right to impose any definition of modesty on anyone else and all are entitled to dress, act, say and identify however they please and in whatever way makes them happy, the more those committed to modesty feel they need to become more restrictive and more narrow, even to the point of the absurd.
But the result is counterproductive as some who in principle are committed to modesty, see the extremism and are so turned off, they go in the opposite direction. Given the choice of living in one of the two worlds, they feel more comfortable with those who bend modesty that those who are excessively rigid with it.
But here is the thing – there aren’t only two options, we don’t have to choose between the extremes. There is a world of Torah observant Jews who are both committed to modesty in principle and in practice, who live with boundaries in speech, dress and conduct and who are turned off equally by extremism on both sides. We need to find a way to band together to preserve the attitude and community standards that are not only most true to Torah and our Mesorah, but most likely to retain and attract others to a Torah way of life. We need to not feel apologetic or defensive to either side but we must articulate the values that inform our space, the “normal” place so those like us don’t feel so lonely, so frustrated and such despair from what they see in both directions.
So, if a community wants to adopt a standard of women not playing instruments in public, it is not only entitled to, there is something admirable about its conscious effort to enforce a sense of modesty. However, the goal posts of modesty for the rest of the Jewish community isn’t moved because of it and nobody should be measured or judged by it. We remain entitled, by Halacha and by Mesorah, to subscribe to the same objective standards of modesty while defining and preserving our own subjective ones which includes our brides playing the drums on a night unlike most others, where they are center stage by any measure.