The Britney Spears Of The Orthodox Union

Instead of davening mincha and ma’ariv and talking to people at the Sabbath’s third meal, I sat on my own and read Rabbi Eliyahu Safran’s new book, "Sometimes You Are What You Wear! An Argument For Modesty."

And there blazed across the cover was his name!

Why do those who write about modesty and humility always take care to prominently feature their name on their work?

Rabbi Safran is the Britney Spears of the Orthodox Union.

If you doubt me, check out the back cover. Not only is there a picture of this modesty author, there are reams of decidedly immodest self-praise (you can argue he did not write these self-descriptions but he surely approved them):

Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran serves as Vice President of Communications & Marketing of the Orthodox Union, the world’s largest and most respected kosher certification agency, where he has been serving as Senior Rabbinic Coordinator and New Companies rabbinic coordinator for the past 13 years. He has escorted hundreds of companies around the world including in Turkey, India, Egypt, Argentina and Greece through the complexities of kosher certification.. He is also the Editor in Chief of Behind the Union Symbol, the highly acclaimed OU magazine considered as the finest kosher trade journal.

Rabbi Safran is renowned as a charismatic scholar in residence visiting at schools and synagogues around the country, dynamic rabbi, educator, lecturer and author – having served in both rabbinic and educational leadership positions. Rabbi Dr. Safran was educated at Yeshiva University in New York where he received rabbinic ordination and a master’s of science degree. In addition to his degrees from Yeshiva University, Rabbi Safran also received a doctorate in Administration. He taught Jewish history and philosophy at Yeshiva University, and led a major Pittsburgh Orthodox congregation and served as principal of highly regarded schools in Pittsburgh, New York and New Jersey.

The scion of a distinguished rabbinic family – his late father was Chief Rabbi of Jasi, Romania and later Professor of Jewish Education at Yeshiva University and his grandfather was the rabbinic leader and Jewish legal authority of Romania, the author of major Jewish legal works.

Rabbi Safran is the author of several works, including Kos Eliyahu: Insights into the Haggadah and Passover which is now in its second printing. He is married to Klari Safran, internationally renowned designer and manufacturer of Clary’s Wigs. Together, they have nine children.

Rabbi Safran’s employer sent out this immodest press release:

OU KOSHER’S RABBI DR. SAFRAN’S NEW BOOK, SOMETIMES YOU ARE WHAT YOU WEAR: AN ARGUMENT FOR TZNIUT (MODESTY), TAKES ON STANDARDS OF (UN)DRESS THAT VIOLATE JEWISH AND HUMAN MORAL PRECEPTS

Profoundly distressed by what he sees as a breakdown in the morals of a sex-drenched society in which women’s dress – or lack of same — emphasizes bare skin over modesty, a leading Orthodox Union rabbi has written a searing and insightful book calling for a return to the values that have been emphasized for centuries in Jewish life.

These values are summed up in the word tzniut – modesty. And these values are not only for Jews.

Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is the author of Sometimes You Are What You Wear: An Argument for Tzniut, newly released by Xlibris, a Philadelphia-based publisher. Rabbi Safran, Senior Rabbinic Coordinator and Vice President of Communications and Marketing of the Kosher Division of the Orthodox Union, usually spends his time dealing with companies around the world on the process of certifying their products as kosher, as well as directing a wide variety of OU educational programs for the Jewish community regarding kosher laws and practices. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the acclaimed quarterly magazine, Behind the Union Symbol, which explains all facets of OU certification for executives and staffs of companies that are OU certified and for thousands of others in the food industry.

However, as a long-time spiritual leader and educator in Jewish schools in Pittsburgh, New York and New Jersey, he inevitably saw the absence of modesty among today’s youth as a severe problem that had to be addressed for Jewish and non-Jewish audiences alike. The book is the anti-Paris Hilton, the anti-Britney Spears, the anti-Lindsay Lohan. Rather, it is a impassioned call for the wisdom of the ages to make itself felt in today’s world.

A Powerful Message

The book’s message is powerful yet sensitive, contemporary yet filled with the wisdom of the ages, and has already been lauded by spiritual leaders and social thinkers as a volume long-awaited in our confused society.

One of those spiritual leaders is Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, OU Executive Vice President.

“I am in the unique and privileged position to have known Rabbi Eliyahu Safran since his youth. I have been witness to his growth into a foremost rabbinical figure,” Rabbi Weinreb declared. “This new book on the topic of personal modesty is but the most recent of his vital contributions to our sacred literature — all based on impeccable sources, and all relevant to the contemporary reader. He is able to blend his stunning erudition with his keen insight into today’s society. Kol HaKavod (all glory), Reb Eliyahu,” Rabbi Weinreb said.

"Modest dress is an essential part of the atmosphere of NCSY," declared Rabbi Steven Burg, International Director of the OU’s youth program. "It is understood for young men and women alike in our programs that the way you dress can help to increase a person’s self-esteem. Rabbi Safran’s book should be must reading in all homes in which a teen lives, both for the young person and for parents, to reinforce the values that lead to proper dress and an increased positive self-image."

The Decaying Morality of Modern Man

Rabbi Safran associates today’s fashion phenomenon with the decaying morality of modern man, and calls on the ancient wisdom of tzniut as a remedy. “How we behave in the world – how we face ‘outward’ – is a question of ethics,” Rabbi Safran maintains. “How we behave in holiness – how we face ‘inward’ – is a question of morals.”

Rabbi Safran emphasizes the need to incorporate tzniut if we are to save our children from the superficiality, decadence and damaging influences of our modern, “progressive” society. The book opens with the simple question: “What can an Orthodox rabbi tell me about my children or my life?”

Plenty, it turns out. Rabbi Safran discuses the modern world, the power of spirituality, and the particularly powerful religious worldview of Judaism. He presents the traditional view of modesty in the context of Judaism’s unique way of looking at the world. Judaism seeks an appropriate balance between the physical and the spiritual, denying neither and recognizing that the beauty of God’s creative wisdom inhabits both.

He takes the position that the modern world has turned children into “commodities” that serve to benefit a corporate bottom line but not the children themselves. He declares that the superficiality of the modern world, with its emphasis on body image, has done a profound disservice to our youth, with the result being illicit sexual encounters, alcohol and drug abuse, and eating disorders among other psychological struggles.

Tzniut, on the other hand, teaches the reader not simply to “look,” but to “see with meaning.” It teaches how to focus upon some aspect of creation and not to see just its outer, most superficial quality, but instead its inner, more meaningful aspects. Discussing the concepts of “outside” and “inside,” Rabbi Safran maintains that physical appearance should be designed to call attention to one’s worth and nobility, to a good soul. “Beauty diminishes but a good name endures,” Rabbi Safran says, quoting Jewish writings. Tzniut is the way to achieve an enduring good name.

The 157-page book is priced at $19.99 for the trade paperback and $29.99 for the cloth hardback. The book is available from the publisher at xlibris.com or 888-795-4274. The books’s website is www.modestybook.com.

Is it kosher for the author of a book on modesty to describe himself as "a charismatic and dynamic rabbi, educator, lecturer an author"? It’s certainly not charismatic to call yourself charismatic.

I’ve read a ton of books on modesty (the best of the lot was by Gila Manolson (The Magic Touch). Fat lot of good it’s done me. I’m doomed to spend the rest of my life having really hot but ultimately meaningless sex (which tends to grow old after about 20 years).

I email Rabbi Safran:

Dear Rabbi Safran,

Thank you for your book. I read it today.

I’ve got some questions (for publication) which may seem rude but they’re real.

* If modesty is so great, why put your name on the cover? Why describe yourself as "charismatic" and all the other superlative self-praise on the back cover?

* Fame is one of the good things God promises Abraham… It must not be so bad.

* Many Jewish women have saved the Jewish people through immodest behavior (Esther, Lot’s daughters, Monica Lewinski)…

* Without the desire for distinction, recognition and self-assertion, people will only do the minimum to get by.

* Why do we need another book on modesty? There are a ton out there, many of them Jewish.

* Where does your book break new ground on this topic?

* Howard Stern – is he good for the Jews?

Rabbi Safran responds:

Women (many) who have read the book, found that it gave them a renewed sense of self, dignity and respect not conveyed in similar books on the subject…Issues relating to modesty cry out for more and continued intelligent discussion on the subject in all segments of society… thus the book. Hopefully you found the book’s positive messages, as well…

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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