Monday, April 30, 2012

Eyes Up Here, Pal

Your dresses should be tight enough to show you're a woman and loose enough to show you're a lady. — Edith Head, American Motion-picture director costume Designer, 1907-1981
My teacher told us essays are like skirts: Long enough to cover the subject, short enough to make it interesting. — Unknown 

I never really talk about tznius as I find it incredibly exhausting. In the end, there are no set parameters for all, there is no clear consensus. 

Constantly talking about tznius, in my view, is untzniusdik in itself;  tznius means modest behavior, not attire, and it is a requirement for men as well as women. So if a guy gets hammered on Purim or Simchas Torah and goes around hollering, you are the weakest link, goodbye.

After hearing about this for twelve years of BY, I thought I was done. But from time to time it resurfaces oh-so-unpleasantly. Suddenly a congregation of 30- to 60-year-olds are being told that they are not tznius based on one person's arbitrary perception. 

Ta, having not been exposed to this for over a decade on a daily basis (such as myself), is absolutely furious. He can't let it go, fuming if the conversation brushes against clothing. 

Me: I'll be right down; I just have to get dressed.

Ta: Make sure it is "skimpy" and "provocative"! I can't believe he said that!

Tirade activated.

Now I feel a need to vent.

Here's the dealio: 

Men look. 

They are programmed to look. They will look at a woman in a sack. Where exactly is the line where a man looks because it's my fault or if he's got a roaming eye? 

I heard a shiur once (I can't remember the speaker) that one cannot, when delivering a hesped, claim that the deceased (in this case, a male) was tzniusdik. Why? Because no one saw him in the bathroom. Tznius is applicable even when not within the sight of others. 

If that is the case, tznius must be more than public attire. 

I abide by the current knee/elbow/collar view of "tznius." However, I will never, ever say that word regarding my appearance, or someone else's. I'll use words like "refined"/"classy" or "unrefined" instead. "Does this skirt make me look tawdry?"

There are some who think I am immodest, and there are some who think I am being overly discreet. One can't win. Matters of halacha should be clear. If they are not clear, then it can't be the very basis of our faith. Females are harassed with this nonstop as though it is the only requirement they have. We have quite a few other things to do, thank you very much.

My niece, an 8-year-old, is also aggravated about this. She was telling me how she was assigned in class to do a skit about tznius. Her teammates were saying, "So, we'll, like, wear long, long, sleeves and, like, a long, long, skirt."

"No!" she intervened. "That is not what tznius is about. Instead, we'll show a girl who got a present and is not showing off to anyone about it. And a girl who won't scream across the room to get someone's attention." 

That's my girl. 

Alex Israel addressed this on his blog, Thinking Israel. Dov Linzer wrote an op-ed piece in the NY Times that echoes the same exact sentiment: The onus is on a man not to look, not that a woman should spend all of her time questioning millimeters on her wardrobe. 

We are told not to judge, to never question someone's personal behavior, to be dan l'kaf zechus, yet why is it acceptable to call someone "not tzniusdik"? 

As for the women who take it upon themselves to chastise other females on their choice of dress, they also have the option of averting their eyes.

So please stop yammering about tznius, unless it is to advocate proper behavior and demeanor. Because I could be wearing a burqa and still not be behaving as I should, or a man may still find me intriguing. Let every woman decide for herself what is and isn't appropriate attire, and let's brush up on our shmiras halashon instead. 


Mystery Woman said...

I'm with you! Brush up on shmiras halashon instead...I like that.

Frenchie said...

Right you are :-P

Sparrow said...

Thank you! Very well said.
Maybe a redefinition of tznius as confidence? A tzniusdik person has no need to brag, or try to be accepted on anything beyond their own worth as a person?

Kudos to your niece, as well.

LL said...

You're so right. It's not for us to judge anyone else. H-shem is the only dayan.

Gavi said...

The pasuk in Michah reads "vehatzne'ah _leches_ im elokecha."

Walking is much more than how you dress: it involves one's body, demeanor, actions, destination, etc. Tznius is about our entire life, not a sleeve length or hemline.

[For the record, the basic halachot of appropriate dress for Jewish women are pretty straightforward, and take up all of two simanim in Even Ha'ezer. They are as important as the rest of shulchan aruch, but not more so.]

Princess Lea said...

Gavi: The Shulchan Aruch says that girls should cover their hair from 12 on, that the neckline can go down till . . . ahem, rather than the collarbone, and so forth.

FrumGeek said...

I can tell you personally, as a man, when a woman covers up more, I find it easier to enjoy her company, because then I can talk to her without having to constantly control myself not to look at places that are not her face. Yes, men notice what you wear, but often 'provocative' (even if it's technically tznius, but so tight that it'll burst any second) clothing may not get the response you want. I know lots of frum guys who would enjoy looking at a girl like that, perhaps even talking to her (with some rather obvious glances to places their eyes should avoid) but would never go out with one.

Princess Lea said...

I am not advocating spandex attire here. Nor am I talking about male preferences, or the type of girl he brings home.

I am talking about the hysteria over tznius, usually executed by women to other women, over little things like millimeters of skirt length or an elbow sleeve that may be construed as short.

I am talking about married women of "a certain age" being told by the local rebbetizin that they are not tznius, simply because they don't dress exactly the way she does.

And if someone chooses to dress a certain way, that is not my business, nor does that allow me to judge, simply because it is a wardrobe choice different from mine. How does it affect me?

Gavi said...

Princess Lea,

(Love the moniker!)

Regarding what the shulchan aruch says about what has to be covered etc.:

I would be quite curious to have sources for those statements you quoted. The ones I am familiar with (SA even ha'ezer 115:4, orach chayim 75:1-2) make no mention of covering a 12-year-old girl's hair, or that the neckline can be lower than the collarbone, or anything that is fundamentally different from the common understanding of the halachos of appropriate dress.


Besides, the main thrust of my earlier comment was that while the laws of appropriate dress are important, and are ruled upon (in basic terms) from the Tur and Shulchan Aruch, like every other part of halacha, they are not to be taken out of context as the be-all-end-all of Jewish dedication or observance. And that tznius means how we behave.

(If you wish to continue dialogue off-blog, let me know where/how I can e-mail you.)

Princess Lea said...

I'm not one for continuing dialogues. I think it's a girl thing.

But since I can't hijack the menfolk in my family for sources during the weekday, I'll have to get back to you. But I remember distinctly my father reading out from the Shulchan Aruch that girls should cover their hair from age 12 on.

If that is the case, then when it comes to dress halacha is not necessarily clear. In the Shulchan Aruch's time no woman wore a skirt higher than her ankle. 12 year olds, Jew or gentile, covered their hair.

Presumably, if the Shulchan Aruch saw the amount of leg the most yachnish woman revealed today, he would be shocked.

There is no clear cut halacha, for the most part, since many commentaries have different opinions.

But the same way we don't go ostracizing people for speaking loshon hara, we should not be going around accusing others for lack of modesty. Because calling attention to it is immodest in itself.

Gavi said...

Is fine to keep things on-blog... it's just the present discussion is not the main thrust of the post.


I personally beg to differ that the halachos are especially unclear. My reading of the shulchan aruch and accepted acharonim (mishnah berurah, aruch hashulchan) seems to indicate a pretty decent consensus as to the laws of appropriate dress... which is not terribly inconsistent with what many orthodox communities practice today, not to mention what my wife follows.

Please do get back to me if you discover alternative sources, as I would like to look at them. (If nothing else, "derosh vekabeil sachar" applies.)

Princess Lea said...

I'm just saying that no matter how women dress, it should not be considered the only basis for religiosity. After all, there are plenty of halachos we don't keep perfectly, yet we are not considered "not frum" because of that.

And people should get what "tznius" actually means!

FrumGeek said...

True. But it's the first thing people see.

Princess Lea said...

Meaning if I have a jaundiced eye, that is someone else's fault?

What I consider "acceptable" does not mean that my opinion reflects how the world works.

Rivkah said...

Have a look... Sexy Tznius

Princess Lea said...

I'm personally uncomfortable with labels like "sexy tznius." Must we bring either the "s" or the "t" word into it?

We try to dress appropriately yet with flair; we shouldn't have to feel as though we need to defend ourselves or our way of dress. But thing is for sure: if one needs fashion tips, take a train to Lubavitch Town.

Lauren said...

Omg can we pleeeease be best friends? K thanks . . . <3 my sentiments exactly! went to an Irish pub once with friends for some irish music and drinks & was wearing a loose elbow-length scoop neck (shirt underneath), just above the knees dress with plaid red tights & was worried b/c i usually wear to the knee and below skirts and dresses. one catholic woman (who taught us the jig) praised my modesty. this made me feel really good. FINALLY. someone who sees modesty as modesty and NOT as a set of rules i am or am not adhering to. i looked tznius. and i acted tznius. voila. tznius. i recently decided to wear jeans under dresses that just come to the knee. i like the hippie look & love the way jeans feel =) thought i don't feel bad about my decision i'm sad that others will inevitably think me to be a rebel =( quite the contrary. i am just now understanding that clothing matter less (as long as its tasteful & worn in a G <3 Dly way).

So i applaud your views and looove what your niece said =)

Rock on =)

Princess Lea said...

Amen! And you made a kiddush Hashem to boot!

Anonymous said...

Princess Lea...I just discovered your blog. Kudos on this article! :) I cannot tell you how many times BY principals and teachers frowned at me for my lack of "tznius." I was modestly and refinely dressed, yet technically I wasn't abiding to the halacha. Their comments were often hurtful and made me feel like a terrible Jewess. I wish they would realize that 1) You CANNOT judge one for their dress...we do NOT know what kind of life a person had, what they went through, what family they grew up in, etc. 2) That a Jewish woman is defined by MORE than her external modesty. Internal modesty and behaving with refinement are often paid less attention than how long your hemline or neckline is. Sigh. I'm glad you sent this message across.

Princess Lea said...

Just this past week, a complete stranger walks up to my sister and says, "You are trying so hard to be tzniusdik, but you are not succeeding." She was absolutely flabbergasted. She actually began to question herself that she did something wrong wearing peep toe wedges with no stockings.

But my position is that it was incredibility immodest for a strange man to walk up to a woman and tell her she is not dressing appropriately. That is kind of . . . creepy. Keep your eyes on the sidewalk, man!

And the poor thing is still rattled. People will make comments - in general - but one has to have enough faith in oneself to not let them get to you.

shmeichel said...

So you believe that according to Torah, a woman can dress as she wishes, and it's just not her problem if some man gazes at her? She's not causing others to stumble in sin if she knowingly dresses provocatively?

And that there are no clear-cut halachos defining the laws of tznius, and it's purely a matter of subjective preference and sensitivity?

This differs completely from the sources that I'm familiar with. Was wondering if you formulated your ideas above after looking into Torah sources without any preconceptions. Would be interested to hear the relevant quotes.

Princess Lea said...

My father can spit back quite a few sources back, except he's got a deadline so I will have to sum up whatever I got:

1) Tznius is about modest behavior. Not about clothing. It applies to "bnei adam," which means men are very much included.

2) Tznius, if it applies to clothing, is based on cultural norms. In the US of A in 2012, shorts and tank tops are accepted and normal by the culture at large. In Afghanistan, the culture is different, but we aren't in Afghanistan, are we?

Knee length skirts weren't REMOTELY acceptable 150 years ago in Europe, so no one wore them. Now they are, and all women wear them.

It says in the Shulchan Orech that all females age 12+ should have their hair covered. Why? THE CULTURAL NORM. Gentile girls then covered their hair from 12+. What Jewish girl does that now? Because the world at large doesn't.

3) Question for you: If a prominent member of your community, say, was accused of stealing from a bank or government, would you condemn him or raise funds for his lawyers? Theft is one of the BIG TEN. And I don't know the the specific commandment about vaguely defined tznius.

4) How someone else dresses is none of your business, the same way anything he/she does is none of your business. We all have to improve, and no one is in a position to preach to anyone else. We are all flawed. And we are also limited by what we, ourselves, consider "acceptable."

Grow up and realize that the Jewish community contains many different types, and they are all welcome to the Eibishter. You don't get to decide who is sinning and who isn't.

5) This is not a debate. I am stating what my father and my brothers have derived from their learning, and yes, they are learned. I read nothing in the Torah about how Hashem called from Har Sinai specific elbow lengths, because all women dressed in accordance to societal norms, as do all women nowadays.

If you reply, be prepared for silence on my end. I don't have to defend my beliefs or the beliefs of my Zeidys. You want to write off everyone else but yourself as a "good Jew," then you are missing the point of being Jewish.

Have a git Shabbos and a freilechen Chanuka.

chenyok said...

1. Tznius is not ONLY about clothing; no one ever suggested otherwise, but to assert that it is not AT ALL about clothing is disingenuous and patently absurd.

2. Some aspects of tznius are indeed related to cultural norms. This is called in halachic terms minhag hamakom. However, other aspects of tznius are not, as the poskim clearly state, based on the Gemara, e.g., "kol, shok, sa'ar be'isha erva". To reduce all the Torah's requirements concerning tznius to some subjective cultural decision is outrageous.

3. Of course I would condemn him, but I don't see the relevance. And again, tznius is not vague; it's defined clearly by poskim.

4. What you say is not a Jewish value. What every Jew does IS every other Jew's business, as Chazal say "Kol Yisrael areivim zeh bozeh." Moreover, there is a duty of "hocheiach toichiach"--you shall rebuke your fellow Jew when you see him or her sin. When another Jew flouts halacha and dares to sin in public, it's all the more of a concern to the entire community. Likewise, it should be of concern to a woman who dresses not tznius that she's causing men around her to sin, as per the halacha of lifnei iveir lo sitan michshol.

Yes, Hashem loves every Jew. That doesn't mean that He doesn't care when they spit in His face and flout His Law, or that we shouldn't care when we see it being so flagrantly done.

5. You "read nothing in the Torah"--do you mean, in Chumash? Halacha isn't defined by Chumash; the divinity of Torah Shebaal Peh is basic to Orthodox Judaism. Halacha is decided by poskim, and you can find much, much discussion of these topics there, including stringent warnings of those who violate it in their dress.

Just wondering if your male relatives are practicing Orthodox Rabbis; if not, they have no business issuing rulings on halachic matters, as you quote them as doing.

So far I haven't seen you quote a single source, other than your quote about 12-yr-olds, for which you provided no specific reference (not that it proved anything).

As for "writing people off": To me, you seem to be "writing off" all the poskim who actually have the authority to rule on halacha, in favor of some kind of relativism that has no basis in Torah.

Princess Lea said...

One thing I can't stand is to repeat myself. So I won't. Whatever you have written I have already addressed. But to add:

Just this past motzei Shabbos Rabbi Yisroel Reisman said that "Kol Yisroel areivim" means that one's OWN behavior has an influence on the nation. Not that one is supposed to tug someone else's skirt. If someone is in pain then one must act. Otherwise, not your business.

Why did Penina's children die? Because despite the fact that she had the noblest of intentions, she caused pain to Chana. And THAT is what Yiddishkeit boils down to: DO NOT CAUSE PAIN TO OTHERS. One cannot embarrass. EVER. Not even for the best of intentions. Cause that is murder. It doesn't say that about someone' skirt.

As per the two linked articles above, the stringency is on the man not to look. If he sins, it is not her fault. You can bring sources to argue with them if you like, but leave me alone.

Is it every time you see a sin you react with such religious fervor? If a child is chutzpadik to his mother or father, do you also feel a need to say something? When an elder is disrespected? The lines are a lot clearer there.

Now, for the last time because I will explode, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO CHANGE MY MIND. Your version of being Jewish is to judge. Pink't fakert. Being Jewish means leaving judgment to the Eibishter.

If you feel people are transgressing, opt for the path of the Chofetz Chaim and be a good role model. Smile. Be kind and accepting. And do not drive away those who seek acceptance. Maybe one day they will then dress in the manner that you find acceptable.

chenyok said...

In this week's Parsha (Vayechi), Rashi clearly speaks about tznius vis-a-vis clothing. He speaks about how women's colored clothing is meant to entice men:

"וצבעונין הוא לשון סותה שהאשה לובשתן ומסיתה בהן את הזכר ליתן עיניו בה." But of course, it's only the onus on the man not to look.

Rebbi Yochanan said: “We have learned true fear of sin from a young lady who was heard davening, ‘Ribbono Shel Olam! May it be your will that no man stumble because of me.’” סוטה כ״ב ע״א

Rabbeinu Yonah writes: A women must be tzniusdik and cautious, for people who look at her face are punished, and she receives punishment for every person who sinned because of her.
(‫(אגרת התשובה לרבינו יונה אות נח‬

So yes, to all the women and girls: Don't cause pain. Don't cause harsh punishment to men by enticing them to look at you. And don't bring upon yourself divinely-inflicted pain by choosing to dress provocatively.

As for the Chofetz Chaim, see Chofetz Chaim Al Hatorah pages 322-324, where he says that many of the tzaros which happened in his day were due to wide-spread laxity regarding hilchos tznius.

Princess Lea said...

That's why I can't stand debates. If either side refuses to budge, there is no point.

Since the rest of the world is apparently not on the same page as you, I guess your only option is become a hermit.

I hereby cease conversation. I have no desire to talk this to death.

FrumGeek said...

The rest of the world agreeing with you or not does not decide if something is morally right according to the torah. I had a conversation with a girl who wore short sleeves claiming that all frum people in America wore short sleeves back in the day, but its just that what people consider halacha has changed. I called that garbage. All frum people in America were not careful about shomer back in the day either, but that doesn't mean it was ok then, it just means that they didn't know/care, and yes, were sinning, regardless of how commonplace it was.

Princess Lea said...

Et tu, FG?

No one seems to be grasping my point. (BTW, my grandmother wore short sleeves still in Europe. Everyone did. Her father was from Satmar.)

"Sinning" is a very strong word. Because my point is, for the bajillionth time, no one is in a position to say someone is sinning. BECAUSE THAT IS LEFT TO GOD, AND GOD ALONE.

How many times must I say it?

No one is perfect. Tznius is something obvious, but there are PLENTY of ways we are messing up. So NO ONE GETS TO SAY ANYTHING. TO ANYONE.