Obviously, on the substance of the issue I have no skin in the game. Modest dress -- by men or women -- is not a matter of religious significance for me, and indeed I'm not wild about religion arrogating to itself an opinion on the question at all.
But what I like about the answer is that -- putting the substance of the question aside -- I thought it was a great model in thinking through how to be kinder, more open, and less judgmental as a general matter -- something that no doubt we all have occasions to practice.
Anyway, here is the columnist's answer:
In terms of your question, I believe the answer can be found in Pirkei Avos. Our sages teach: “asay l’cha rav, u’konay l’cha chaver, v’haveh dan es kol adam l’kaf z’chus (make for yourself a rabbi, acquire a friend, and judge all men favorably).” Until today, I never understood why these three things are listed together, but upon trying to answer your question, a beautiful connection hit me.
Let’s start with “judge all men favorably.” [It is] easy to think badly of others when we see them doing things which we consider “wrong,” but judging others favorably is a foundational Torah idea and the way you can do it in this case is: a) assume these women learned a different opinion than you did, because there are a range of opinions when it comes to the laws of modesty (the range is not infinite, but there is a range, which means there is more “grey” and less “black and white” than you may realize), b) assume they learned the same opinion you did but were never shown the beauty of modesty and Jewish law like you were and therefore don’t feel compelled to keep it like you do, c) assume they believe in the idea in theory, but it’s such a big struggle for them – much bigger than it is for you – that they haven’t conquered it yet, d) assume they are doing whatever their parents taught them and never looked into it further to realize there was anything problematic about it.Again, as applied to the "modesty" question this does nothing for me. But the core of the suggestion: that in matters of religious dispute, consider that the other person (a) has thought about the issue and has a different view; (b) has thought about the issue but doesn't view it as compelling in their life; (c) has thought about the issue and agrees with your view in theory but finds living up to it to be a greater struggle than you do; or (d) just never really thought about the issue at all -- all of these strike me as better and more charitable ways of approaching the matter compared to just assuming the person is willfully ignorant, obtuse, or wicked.
The questioner also suggested that seeing women who didn't adhere to her own standards of modesty made it harder for her to stay true to her own path. And the columnist gave advice on this matter as well:
But you can’t only judge others favorably without solidifying your own path. Just because these women have their reasons for doing what they do doesn’t (necessarily) mean that they should be your reasons. So “make for yourself a rabbi,” comes first. Find a rabbi (and rebbetzin) who are your speed that you trust as role models and stay close with them. Maintain a certain standard for yourself that your rabbi/community holds by.
“Acquire a friend” comes after that because while it’s important to have a guide who can you look up to, it’s equally important to have close friends who have shared values so you can support each other even as you see that different “options” exist. It is possible to accept that there are differing opinions to the ones we follow and that there are opinions which we simply disagree with (but reserve judgment on those who follow them), while simultaneously maintaining a high standard for ourselves. Such a balancing act does not come very easily, but then again, nothing worthwhile in life ever does.Anyway, it jumped out at me as something that was noticeably kind-hearted, even on a matter whose import is quite foreign to me, and so I figured it was worth sharing.