Book Review: A Return to Modesty, by Wendy Shalit

My friend Heidi reviewed this book on her blog, and then I read about it in several other locations, so I thought I would read it for myself while on vacation. I was deeply impressed by Shalit’s scholarship and dedication to research, especially considering that she first began work on the topic as a freshman at Williams. I wish my thesis was as noteworthy as is hers!

Shalit begins her survey of modesty and it’s effect on culture by observing Orthodox Jewish women and the manner in which they approach modesty in the context of courtship. Although raised Jewish herself, Shalit was not orthodox and was intrigued by the concept of modesty and whether or not it was oppressive to women.

Using an impressive volume of historic sources as well as modern statistical analysis and surveys, Shalit explores how modesty affected women in the past, and how the relaxing of modesty standards in recent decades has affected society. As the book’s title suggests, Shalit concludes that modesty, rightly applied, protects and reveres women, and holds men to a higher standard as well. Having read several treatments of modesty from a Christian perspective, I found Shalit’s conclusions particularly interesting in light of her Jewish background and secular sources. Her social analysis of how a return to modesty would impact our current social problems was especially well-done and intriguing.

While not a typical beach read, A Return to Modesty was an excellent book and I would highly recommend it to anyone, even (and perhaps especially) to those who don’t see what all the fuss about modesty is about anyway.

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