Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tzniut: Why The Obsession??

Well, I guess I should already ask for forgiveness before you read this post.
So, please forgive me if any of these concepts are offensive to your lifestyle and standards.
The frum people in this generation seems so obsessed with modesty. Both in left and right wing Orthodox circles. There're so many other mitzvoth/averot to focus on, like, lashon hara, Shabbat, chessed, kashrut, tefilla, etc.
Why is tzniut, particularly, something that is so focused on and emphasized in the Orthodox world? And why do people (particularly women) get so defensive and angry when their modesty standards are challenged?

I guess the answer in a one word nutshell to explain tzniut is: foundation. Tzniut is our foundation for keeping Judaism alive all of these thousands of years.
Chazal teach us (in Bereshit Rabba 18:2) that HaShem told Chava "be modest." Why would that be HaShem's message to Chava?
How about - be a good Jewess? Be nice to others? Help people? Smile? Keep Shabbat?
Chazal teach us that the Jews in Egypt remained Jewish because of their names, clothing, and language.
Our clothes are one of the three things that not only distinguish us but preserve our religion. Our lives. Our reason for being.
So, HaShem was telling Chava the method to keep Am Yisrael alive.

We're living in a generation unlike any other. The amount of openness in the world today is something that was unimaginable just a century ago.
The way celebrities dress today would've probably shocked the average 1950s movie star. In Western society, to fit in, a woman must give up her dignity, class, and refinement and trade in capris for shorts, short sleeves for sleeveless, pants for leggings, and dresses for long shirts. In the warm seasons, it is unusual to see any female with their knees covered, let alone their hair covered.
That might be obvious - like yeah, we're in 2013, of course it's normal not to dress in long skirts & hats! Well, it was actually the norm just a 100 years ago. Women wore dresses. Mini was not an adjective used to describe clothing. Low-cut shirts and tanktops were unheard of. 5 inch pumps were reserved for women of ill-repute. Hats were elegant.
But now?
Every summer I am bewildered at what has happened to society. Where has the class gone? What happened to self-respect? What happened to fashion?
I see how teenage girls dress, and I shudder. I was a teenager just over 10 years ago in a nonreligious school. My 13 year old classmates mothers would've threatened them severely if they walked outside wearing what today's teens wear.
Nobody wore mini dresses to bat mitzvahs. I'd be surprised if anyone even owned a mini anything before high school.
But alas, today, how many mothers blink an eye when their daughters wear short dresses and 5 inch pump heels to their classmates bat mitzvahs?
The standards have clearly been lowered - and that's in only a decade. One can only imagine what modesty standards will be in a decade from now.

So yes, 50 years ago, you didn't have to explain to your daughter why she needs to be modest. There was no need! She would've been modest anyway because everyone ELSE in society (not just in frum circles) was also modest. You didn't have to explain to your daughter why covering your body = respecting yourself. It was understandable. It was a given.
But now, that is no longer a given. Other than not walking on a sidewalk in a bikini, there are no longer any tzniut standards in this society. And, I won't be surprised if that will be the norm in 20 years (after all, people can take a stroll on a public beach boardwalk while wearing a bikini, right?)
Anything goes. Except racism. And homophobia. But short of those select topics + a few others, few actions will make anyone bat an eye.

The Nazis, imach shmam, knew that Germany had a well-renowned, refined culture & was a country full of "the most" polite citizens. How did they convince so many people to be immune (and even join) the intense hatred and slaughter of Jewish German citizens?
In Search Judaism, Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer reveals the Nazis method for dissentisizing the German nation: inappropriate movies. Yes, the Nazis screened inappropriate movies in public FOR FREE for German citizens. The rationale behind that master plan was that if you show people immoral things, aka pritzut and znut, their whole morale will be lowered.

Chazal teach us that "HaShem hates Zima" - Zima is inappropriate relations and behavior. Basically, anything associated with immodesty.

The Gemara tells us that before Mashiach, "pnei hador k'pnei hakelev" - the generation's face will be like the face of the dog.
There're many explanations to this passage, but the following explanation I heard really hit home for me.
A dog is the only animal that gets offended when you rebuke it. If you scream a cat, snake, or bee, they probably won't flinch. Well, maybe the cat will get scared at the loud noise, but he won't get offended. The dog actually gets offended when screamed at. He will lower his ears and tail, look down at the ground, and whimper.
So, just as the dog is sensitive, so too is the generation before Mashiach.

 So, my friends, this is a sensitive generation. We take everything to heart, and oftentimes, it is difficult to accept the truth. It is difficult to look at ourselves and think that maybe, just maybe, we need to change. Maybe we've been wrong all along.

When the world's morale has gone down, we need to be concerned.
No. Wait. The world's morale hasn't gone down!
That's too generous.
The world's morale is LOST. History.
We can't rely on the world to govern our morals.
As Chazal teach us, in Pirkei Avot 2:6 "in a place where there are no (worthy) men, be a (worthy) man" (man - read: leader). We need to be the leaders; not the followers.
We Jews need to strengthen their morale by setting up gedarim (fences) to protect our children. Anything in the goyish world will infiltrate into our world.
I don't care how extreme that sounds because it is absolutely true. We see anorexia, drugs, severe marriage problems, divorce, all types of addictions, etc. because those issues are all more frequent in the goyish world than they were 50 years ago. And therefore, those tragedies infiltrate into our world.

It is unfortunate and sad how so many frum women view tzniut as the way to be covered while covering as least as possible. Is the goal to blend in with the goyim as much as possible? To appear to be covering nothing while you're secretly covering something?
The yetzer hara can be so strong, but we need to be even stronger.
If one is already wearing tights, then strive for real tights. Not see through, tanned, natural-looks-better-than-my-legs stockings. What's the point of those?
If one is covering her hair, then it should look like she's covering her hair. There are guidelines to sheitels. Just about every Gadol (Ashkenazi AND Sefardi) has assured long wigs, wigs with bangs, pony sheitels, wigs with natural looking parts, etc.
If one is wearing a skirt, then it should be a modest skirt, not a tight, above the knee skirt with a slit in the back. With such skirts, isn't it just more modest to wear pants?

In short, I guess what I'm trying to portray here is:
there's a reason Gedolim like Rav Elyashiv z"l, Rav Ovadia, Rav Wosner, Rav Kanievsky, etc. stress for women in this generation to strengthen their modesty.
if we women are not dressing like Jewish women, then it's not just one mitzvah that's kind of lacking. It's one of the three fundamental basics that's missing from our maintenance of being Jewish.
If we're not dressing properly, our daughters will dress even worse.
If we're not acting like Jewish women should, then our men will be out of line. Our men will not act as Jewish men should.
And then what will be left?
We will be blending in with the people on the streets.
And once modesty is gone, all morale is lost. Anything goes.
A society where "anything goes" is the most dangerous of all.
People get offended because this is a sensitive generation, and it's their very essence that is being challenge. Afterall, "hachitzoniyut marah et hapnimiut" - the outside reflects on our inside. The body is the house of the neshama and is representing our neshamot.

Anyway, I know that this post might be viewed as fanatical by some. And that's fine.
But I respect Rabbis, particularly Gedolim, who dedicate their entire lives to learning Torah, leading am Yisrael, writing books, and utilizing their every breathing second on this earth to do G-d's will.
So, if they say tzniut is the biggest nisayon of this generation, then that's enough for me.
But if that's not enough, just open your eyes and look around. And see the results.

Please note that this post did NOT deal with the halachot of tzniut or essence of modesty. There're beautiful, very logical and spiritual, reasons for why a woman should dress modestly. But that wasn't the topic of this post. :)

May we all be on the right path of Torah & always be close to HaShem and have all of our actions be l'Shem Shamayim.


  1. One point: The main idea of tznius isnt the mode of dress but a way of life - והצנע לכת עם אלוהיך. Like the famous chssidic story of the people who worried more about what came out of their mouth than what they put into it, people should worry more about being a refined person and leading a proper way of life. Proper / modest mode of dress will come with that automatically. The flip side is that girls / women either wear clothes that are technically tznius but arent in the spirit of והצנע לכת עם אלוהיך, or girls / women who dress tznius but dont lead proper lives.

    Lesson: focus on manners / general lifestyle, everything else will follow that naturally.

  2. Anonymous - you are absolutely correct that every Jew should be modest in behavior. And that, ideally, actions should follow middot.
    Unfortunately, middot are a lot more difficult to work on than more external factors, and so we have the dictum of ""hachitzoniyut marah et hapnimiut." Fake it till you make it, basically.
    There're times in the past where I've felt like doing the wrong action, but I realize "hey, I'm dressed as a frum Jew. I need to act good because people are watching."
    Of course my motive SHOULD always be "I need to act good because HaShem is watching and it's the right thing to do!" but our unique dress should remind us of who we are and what our role is.

    Devorah - thank you & thanks for taking the time to read it :)

  3. Jewish women should stop spreading rumors about Jewish men that ruin their chances of getting married.

    I am amazed by Orthodox girls who unnecessarily blacken the reputations of dozens of Jewish men, and then they can’t understand why G_d gives them a hard time with: dating or childbirth or health or money.

    It seems to me that no matter how strict Orthodox girls are with what they eat and what they wear, they allow themselves to say anything they want about anyone they want any time they want.

    I have personally witnessed the most Orthodox ladies get together in groups of 3 for an hour. During that entire hour, the ONLY thing they do is exchange rumors about Jewish men. First they slander man #1. Then they slander man #2, then man #3, man #4, etc, until their meeting is finished, and their entire conversation is 100% prohibited by the Torah.

    My personal observation is that are taking revenge against men in general, and they are perfectly willing to falsely slander any Jewish man, even if he never harmed them.