Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Tznius Barometer

EDIT: While in general, I love comments, for some reason this post has inspired a bunch of nasty comments that I have no interest in seeing - or sharing, so I've closed the comments for this post. For those of you reading it for the first time, the ikkur is at the end. It is not a post about tznius in general, and my opinion on this may seem a little extreme to you. It is the way I feel, and is not necessarily halacha for everyone. You can do whatever you want. My point is about trusting in your own sense of right and not always relying on others to tell you what's right and what's not.

We had an optional class in tznius (feminine modesty) when I was in seminary. A whole group of us got very into wearing our clothing just so. We would throw open our closet doors and model our entire wardrobes for our teacher to look at and pass judgment on. She would tell us why this sweater was perfect, but that sweater was a tad too tight, why this skirt was too short, and this one too long. And we would sit there soaking up every word.

One of the things I miss the most about seminary is the peer pressure to be better than you were before. Everyone was aiming high, striving to become more ___ people. To become more tznius people. Clothing that before I would never have been caught dead wearing began to look good to me. The people I admired were no longer the ones who dressed in the height of fashion, but rather the height of tznius. It was a wonderful year.

Unfortunately, like most good things do, seminary came to an end. I came back to America, affectionately called shmutz l'aretz, where tznius is not "in style." The situation here was worse than I could've believed possible. Good Bais Yaakov girls were wearing skirts that were too short even according to my pre-sem eyes. And they were wearing the newest style: short sleeved shirts with long sleeved shells underneath.

I don't mean to offend anyone by this. I am not trying to preach to anyone; if you wear this style, that is your decision and you are entitled to it. This style strikes me as one more way for us to imitate the goyim. It gives off the impression that the person wearing such an outfit wants to be like her non-Jewish neighbors and wear short sleeves, but compromises and wears long sleeves underneath it to make herself feel covered.

It's scary to see people a while down the line and see how they've changed (I've already discussed this here). I recently saw one particular girl who was one of those very into tznius while in sem (not my sem). She was wearing a very loose shell under a short sleeved shirt. If the short sleeved shirt would've been long sleeved, it would have been a perfectly tzniusdig (modest). But it wasn't, and it wasn't.

I'm sure there were extenuating circumstances which led to her wearing this outfit, which she would never have even considered wearing in seminary. Even so, it scared me. You see, this girl was always my tznius barometer. I would look at her and know I was looking at a girl who epitomized the ideals of tznius in dress and demeanor. Whenever I had a question about my behavior or clothes, I would always seek her opinion.

And now … who can I rely on?

I know the answer, the only answer.


Once we finish school, we are basically left on our own to grow or not as we choose. Through all those years, we have looked to others – our teachers and classmates – to model what we should be doing. There comes a time when we realize that we are on our own. We have to be our own barometers, our own consciences. Only WE know what we need to be working on and how we're doing with it. There is no report card because this is the real world.

And what a beautiful world it is…


Staying Afloat said...

I'm digesting this one. Question- Do you feel the same way about v-necks? Large T-shirts (vs. the tiny ones). I've actually been throwing this one around in my head for awhile and have been avoiding it, as has my daughter although I haven't said anything to her about it. But I wonder what your rav would say if asked.

I believe there is a difference between what one chooses to wear for herself and what is appropriate to be worn in general. I am machmir on myself for certain tznius items that I would not hold others to.

That being said, I have been in a situation where I saw people I looked up to wearing clothing I could not believe because of a change in scenery. We were by the shore, and the socks came off (OK- that's minhag hamakom, which may mean they don't hold that way but respect the place in which they live) but the hemline also rose higher than it should have. And it's a shock. So I hear you. You really do have to develop a strong sense of self.

Anonymous said...

What about a vest? It's sleeveless, and it's worn over a long sleeve top. It's generally for style, not for function. Where do you draw the line? I think, like Judge Potter Stewart, that "you know it when you see it." And that's appropriate, if you're judging only yourself.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...
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הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

"..this skirt was too short, and this one too long"- "Too long"? That's absurd. It can never be too long. There's a story about how women in Yerushaaim started wearing skirts that didn't drag on the floor, and a plague followed.

These Rebitzens aren't the last word on what's considered tzanua' (take or example that in Borough Park they wear much shorter skirts than many of the "Litvish" women in Flatbush). ..the ankles are an area attraction.

"It is not tznius because it draws attention to an area of the body that should not be noticeable. Additionally"- Namely..? The torso? Anyway, from a male perspective, short sleeves with longer sleeves underneath isn't more or less attractive than long sleeves. As log as the arms are covered what's the problem..

I think there are a little more severe tzniu't infringences than that in that community...

MusingMaidel said...

I knew when I wrote this that it would be one of those inflammatory ones. For the record, I wasn't trying to change anyone, just express something that I was feeling for myself. I apologize if I implied otherwise.

SA and tesyaa - My father brought up the same point that you did. What about vests, jumpers, and v necks? I don't have an answer to that. All I can say is that it is universally accepted to wear shells in that manner. It is NOT universally accepted to wear the short sleeves with long sleeves. Additionally, the majority of these shells are so tight, there is no way that they're tznius.

One of the things about tznius is that there are not necessarily quantifiable guidelines. It is so much more than covering knees, elbows and collarbones. It is a mentality, a certain sense of what does and what doesn't pas for frum women to wear. You can argue from today till tomorrow that something is "tznius" because it covers everything it should cover, but it isn't in reality because it's not in the spirit of tznius. And honestly, everyone has to discover and internalize that spirit for themselves. It really sickens me to see some of the clothing that girls are wearing today - clothes that are opened up to them because of the "heter" to wear long sleeves underneath them.

We are supposed to be a kodosh nation. Kedusha means being separate from the goyim, and that means not wearing their clothes.

[If you don't agree with me, you're entitled to your opinion. But until a gadol says it's OK, I'm going to be staying away from them b'n.]

halfshared said...
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MusingMaidel said...

Thank you everyone for your comments. This has turned into a very interesting discussion about tznius, and I'm sorry if I came off sounding judgmental or anything else negative.

The thing is that this post wasn't really about tznius, which everyone kind of missed. Maybe I didn't say it so clearly. So I'll state it again - this post was simply an expression of my surprise that someone who I thought would be completely with me in this wasn't. I'm sure she had a good reason; in fact, I thought of one, but don't choose to share it in such a public forum. My point wasn't to denigrate those who wear that style, but rather to show how I came to realize that tznius is something that is inside you, and only you can decide if something is ok for YOU to wear at any given time. It can't be based on what others are wearing - even those who are more "tzniusdik" than you are.

I apologize again if I offended anyone.

Melissa said...

Thank you so much for what you wrote on my blog. Your words touched my heart.

It is absolutely fascinating to me how there are so many levels of observance and tznius. The Jewish religion constantly has me learning new ideas all of the time.

My Partner in Torah's daughter just returned from her 1 year seminary studies in Yerushalayim. She had a marvelous time. Wouldn't it be something if you two knew each other?


harry-er than them all said...

the way i understand it is that there is halachically tznius and tznius sensitivities. not everyone has the same sensitivities.

but at the request of the author i will not delve into that topic, and go on the intended. Yes, we only have ourselves as a barometer. because only we can sense certain things.
e.g.- in camp, during the counselor training session they told us that if something feels weird (with campers and/or counselors), then it is weird. dont underestimate your sense of judgment. esp in areas of sensitivities

fear from love. said...

Interesting part where you mention
"One of the things I miss the most about seminary is the peer pressure to be better than you were before. Everyone was aiming high, striving to become more ___ people."

I believe that there is a peer pressure in the yeshiva/sem world but i dont think that it comes from the right place. now i am not making a general statement, but alot of the time people respond to the peer pressure not from a good place, not from actual tachlis, rather it comes from a need to 'play the game'. peer pressure is tremendously powerful and the majority of us do not have the strength of character to resist it, and we merely go along with the flow, which is why people dress the same in such situations, which is why when a certain sefer is "in" everyone gets it. we look to those who are, so to speak, cooler that us and aspire to be like them. but not because they are role models but because we dont want to be subject to the judgements as we see in this post.
we dont want to be labelled as "bums" or "dropouts" if we dont do certain things, whether or not we believe in them or not.

your first paragraph was shocking, a real eye opener.

it takes coming back to the real world to realise who you are and why you are doing things. and sometimes it may mean chilling out on what you wear, so it may mean blue shirts and khakis for guys, or a shirt sleeved/ long sleeved shirt combo for girls. they are dressing tzniusly, why do we have to lambast them saying "they want to dress like non jews" instead we should praise them, in the reality of todays world where we are under constant attack from materialism to slip in our judaism, these people are still dressing tzniusly.

the question is, are we doing things because we seek to connect to The Creator or do we do it from peer pressure, from our teachers and from our friends.

frum single female said...

interesting thought. the thing is the only people i see wearing t shirts over long sleeves are frum girls. what i find more disturbing is frum women wearing strapless dresses with a long sleeved shirt under them. its a technically tznius, but doesnt really look it.s

Flatbush and Proud said...

Wow, did you get brainwashed. Puke up the kool-aid, honey, you'll feel better.

Data said...

The thing about tznius is that there aren't official guidelines how it works. My father can whip out a sefer and state what is required, and the "laws" that I learned in school, he firmly says, are not so.

This was the first time I heard that one shouldn't wear a new style. So if it's an old style, than it's okay? It's still attractive.

What does "looking like the goyim" mean? We have been everywhere on this planet, as Jews. We wear clothing. Goyim wear clothing, and plenty of them make clothing. Invariably, we will look like --- people in general?

I believe that when tznius was first invented, it was more about behavior and decorum than about garb. Talking loudly on a cell phone, being rude to waiters, goofing around in public --- that's not tznius.

My father says that it his requirement according to halacha, as my father, to ensure that I look attractive in order to get married.

My issue with topics like this is the slippery slope --- there are no specific parameters. According to your definitions, I am not tzniusdik. But some of my neighbors, who live slightly more modern lives, think I'm a fuddy-duddy.

Plenty of people I know do not dress what is considered "tnius" by Bais Yaakov morahs. But they are amazing, tzniusdik people, who do amazing things for our community. I don't think the Eibishter will fault them because they enjoy, for their own personal reasons to wear a "shorter" skirt.

A better person means becoming a more loving Jew. THAT we are required to be.

Morgan Russo said...

I also had a very hard time with tznius clothing basically being goyisha clothing made tznius. So much so that I actually started my own clothing company, Honestly Me (www.honestlymeclothing.com). There should be more already-tznius clothing out there!

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