Sunday, May 13, 2007

Question . . .

I've been meaning to blog about this for some time, but haven't quite got up the courage til now. I hope I won't offend anyone.

I attended a very frum, right-wing high school and seminary. During high school (not so much in seminary), the school placed a lot of emphasis on teaching the laws of tzniut (modesty). This is what I was taught was halacha:
1. Women may not wear pants (except for pajamas).
2. Elbows, knees and collarbones must be covered.
3. Skin below the knee and above the ankle must also be covered - ankle socks or bare feet are not allowed.
4. Tight clothing is assur.
5. Wearing bright colors (say, red) is not necessarily assur but is a sensitivity that should be developed. Same with shirts with writing on them.

Someone told me that #3 is really minhag hamakom, not halacha, but I looked in a few different books and did not see that. I could be wrong - if someone can give me a comprehensive book that would explain it (NOT Oz Vehadar Levusha), I would really appreciate it. It could be that I assume that it's halacha since the school had a rule that we had to wear knee socks or tights all the time.

But I want to talk about something else.

Where I go to school now, there are many girls who do not dress according to these standards. I don't want to condemn them for doing so. What I am curious about is that I know that many of these girls did go to Jewish day schools, and I wonder what they did teach there about tzniut. I see girls wearing pants, short sleeves, sleeves that end just above the elbow, tops that are more open and don't cover the collarbone, skirts that are above the knee. I AM NOT JUDGING THESE GIRLS. I assume that they don't know any better or that they have come to their own conclusions. That's not my business - it's between them and Hashem. I am simply wondering about the state of the "tzniut education" programs at the schools that these girls come from.

Let's say that they don't know better. Why is that? Are schools simply not teaching them the laws of tzniut? Or are schools defining the parameters of tzniut in a different way? What might these parameters be? Is there a halachic basis for some of the styles I quoted above (short sleeves, etc) that I just don't know about?

This has been bothering me for a while. I hope that my readers can provide some clarification.


Chana said...

Hey Apple,

This is what I know:

Rabbi Auman gives a comprehensive class in Tznius at some point, and I very much want to take it. Apparently he is going to go through all the sources. Can't wait till I get to that class.

As for Tznius, this is what I was taught and my take on what I was taught.

I do not know what actual halakha is (I did read 'Oz Vehadar Levusha' and 'Outside Inside' and 'Halichos Bas Yisrael' and none of those are remotely helpful) so I cannot give you answers from a halakhic standpoint. That is Rabbi Auman's domain, and I would love to learn the texts from him when he next offers the class.

In terms of my personal opinion, tznius is one of the matters that I find most divisive, a matter that causes quite a lot of baseless, groundless hatred, something which is exaggerate to a truly ridiculous extent. I know far too many hypocrites, you see- so many people who covered their elbows and were horrible people, and alternatively, people who wear short sleeves/ pants and the like and who are truly good human beings.

I therefore value the good human beings over those who follow laws that were not even instituted by the literal Torah (as far as I know) but only on a Rabbinic level.

With regard to the girls who attend Stern- there are several types, I think:

1. The girls who know the halakha and whose custom it is not to cover their legs/ feet/ elbows

2. The girls who simply don't care about halakha

3. The girls who are rebelling against halakha

And hence everything differs depending upon the category...

the apple said...

True. I like how you categorized the girls in Stern. Seems pretty accurate.

I read your account of how you were taught about tzniut in school. That's awful. In my high school, they were VERY strict about following school rules: only blue or black shoes, white/blue/black kneesocks, uniform skirt should end two inches above the ankle (but not longer), and the only non-uniform sweater allowed was a black, button-down cardigan. On Rosh Chodesh, though, we were allowed to wear our own clothing - but the clothes had to be nice, sort of Shabbos-casual. This was a hard thing for me sometimes, since in Brooklyn the girls ALWAYS seem to be wearing Shabbos clothing.

Anyway, my point with all this is that the school was very particular about tzniut on Rosh Chodesh. I actually had a friend who was sent home to change because her top was very wide open. She was sort of annoyed, but my feeling about this was that a) she didn't follow school rule (and they do threaten to send people home to change if they don't follow the rule) and b) this particular girl was always pushing the envelope, so the school chose to fight this particular battle.

One of my h.s. principals (he's male) explained that girls tell him that if they eat a certain food, they have to go on the treadmill for x minutes to get rid of the weight gain. He said that boys, when they see a girl dressed immodestly, have to spend an awfully long time on their "treadmill" to get it out of their heads.

Erachet said...

To be completely honest, I never really learned the halachot inside (though I would love to, I'm just not quite sure where even to start) so anything I say right now comes from my own observations/what I was taught outside of actual books or texts/influence from my family and friends.

I used to wear pants but ever since I was about twelve I started wearing only skirts, mainly for practical reasons rather than halachik ones. I had to wear a skirt to school every day anyway, and on Shabbat of course I wore skirts, so that only left sunday, so I figured it wasn't worth the investment in pants, especially since I had gotten involved in NCSY and the advisers all wore skirts, so I felt weird wearing pants. So I switched to skirts. I have friends who still wear pants, though, and they found sources to back them up for their decision. A lot of it is who and what you go by, I think. By now, I've been only wearing skirts for so long that I could never go back to pants, even if I tried.

As for elbows, I honestly have no idea what the real halacha is over there, but I cover mine out of pressures I put on myself, so that I would never feel uncomfortable just in case we really ARE supposed to cover our elbows. Basically, I do it as a safety, which is never a good reason. I should learn the halachot. I really should.

Length of skirts: I grew up in a world where you never had to cover the skin between your ankle and your knee. Your skirt had to come below the knee while standing and sitting, but that was it. In high school, we had to wear socks, we couldn't wear sandals with bare feet or anything, but the principal also made it clear that that was not a halachik decision by the school, rather they felt that a school, especially a makom Torah, should be met with a certain level of kavod behavior and wearing sandals with bare feet was not respectful for school. But they weren't giving us halachik ruling about what we should be wearing out of school when it came to that.

I think a lot of girls dress the way they're comfortable from wherever they grew up. Plenty of girls went to schools or are from families where tzniut either isn't enforced or isn't the top priority. So it isn't even like they don't know better, but more they don't find it something they NEED to adhere to, and not even in a rebellious way. More like a, "oh, yeah, whatever, I never had to do that" sort of way.

There are also girls who definitely are being rebellious, or who don't know better. And then there are those who were taught different levels of tzniut, like you and I.
Sometimes I feel like things would be so much simpler if there was one straight answer, but in Judaism, yeah right :D

Chaya said...

You the Apple,

This is a topic worth discussing. Sadly, I don't know very much about the actual halachos l'ma'aseh of tznius. (Interesting considering the fact that they impact me so greatly. Strangely, my schools chose not to dwell on the actual halachos, but rather on the hashkafa behind the halachos. Once when we asked a visiting speaker for halacha l'ma'aseh, she said that it was a ridiculous request, b/c we were basically asking for the American tax code on tznius. Her metaphor--not mine. Her response is surprising considering that halachic Judaism is very concerned with dikduk ha'mitzvos.) In tenth grade, an attempt was made to teach us the halachos inside, and it was semi-informative, but I don't even know which sefer we used. It wasn't Oz V'Hadar Levusha, but it wasn't the Mishna Berura either.

I recently read an interesting article (in an old issue of the RCA's Tradition magazine), detailing the halachos of tznius. I found it very informative. Here's the link:

See you.


Ezzie said...

I can't say I know all the halachos, but from what I do know...

1) Pants are a matter of discussion. Two problems with pants would be "beged ish" and "pered regel". The first problem isn't a problem with women's pants, which are clearly designed for women; the second is tougher, but there are many people who hold that very loose pants are okay. (FWIW, my charedi cousins in Israel even said it was okay but they wouldn't generally do it, but do on hikes/trips with their Charedi schools.) Sfardim seem to be okay with even not-so-loose women's pants.

2) This one is a bit tricky, as I think almost all basically agree, though at least on elbows and maybe collarbones (?) there are people who hold you're allowed up to a tefach. Not sure how that translated into people wearing short sleeves, cap sleeves, etc.

3) Nothing more than minhag hamakom.

4) Depends how tight, but basically.

5) Weird one. It should be 'specifically meant to attract attention', not bright per se, but this is like a sliding scale. After a few years, will light blue be too bright?

So while it still doesn't cover a lot of what people do/don't wear, it's a lot more understandable as to why some who have an Ortho education would dress that way.

Ezzie said...

Oh, and tznius should have nothing to do with other boys' thoughts. That's not what it's about, from anything I've been taught. Not sure why a rav would say something like that unless he's trying to brainwash/guilt people, or isn't knowledgeable as to the source or reasons behind tznius.

the apple said...

true. I think he was just trying to make us understand that what we wear does have an effect on boys who see us. The school did make it clear that tznius is a mitzvah that women have regardless of who they're with/seen by.

TorahMorah said...

I have studied Tznius and i know that no matter how far i go into the otrah, i cant seem to find any right answer..
I come from a Dati family and i live in Israel, I wear short sleeves and sometimes pants. I mostly go around with skirts though. I reallyjust think the law is trying to tell us, we shouldnt take on the jobs of a male or if we are male not to take on the jons of a female. I have looked and looked and that is all that really makes sense. I mean, how can we get all of these rules about Tznius out of one sentence? Thats my question. "You shall not wear a mans garment" Whats that supposed to mean?

I dont know yet, and when i find an answer that truely feels right, i will let you know

Anonymous said...

great book-"understanding tznuit" by rabbi yehudah henkin-a much more liberal approach with far more halachic sources and halachic development than "oz lehadar levushah"....

chenyok said...

Why is it not your business what others wear? Of course it is, because every Jew is responsible for his or her fellow Jew, especially since this behavior has a bad impact on their environment and sets a bad example.