With the way people are dressing these days, they could use a little tzniut.
No, tzniut (if you’re in a more Yiddishized circle, tznius)is not the latest Swiss fashion accessory, but the Jewish concept of modesty for men and women that dates back to the Talmudic era. It literally translates to “modesty” or “privacy” and refers mostly to clothing, but also the way people lead their lives.
Just about every Orthodox Jewish girl (and definitely every Hassidic Jewish girl) covers themselves up with long-sleeved shirts, long skirts, and closed toed shoes. When she gets married, she might cover her hair with a hat, a scarf, or a full-on wig. It doesn’t end there, though. Included in the umbrella is negiah, or rules of touching, which are followed by avoiding physical contact with unrelated members of the opposite sex, and kol isha, or female voice, which mandates that hearing a woman’s singing can distract a man and lead him to impure thoughts. This rule does not apply for prayer, singing z’mirot at a dinner table, or a choir of mixed voices. Some even say that even a recorded female singer violates these laws.
Men do not have as many restrictions; just refrain from touching women and wear clothes that cover your body.
Growing up in Orthodox-Jew-Land, I was well aware of all of this. At my school, girls and women had freedom of choice to wear long pants if they wanted to; some did, but most stayed within the guidelines above. Touching was not explicitly forbidden, but it was generally frowned upon, and I don’t really think we ever had any huge singing issues; if you didn’t want to hear a girl sing, you wouldn’t come to any school musicals, or if you did, you went elsewhere whenever a woman was singing alone. Kind of hard, given that we were a high school and did musicals with plenty of parts for girls, no 1776 here.
I started noticing it more as I went to college and started seeing the stark differences between how people dressed in such mixed environments. As a male, it’s pretty easy for 99% of what you wear to be acceptable every day, and if you make the choice to become more religious, you probably won’t have to go to much trouble to buy new clothes. Girls have it a bit rougher; making the tznius choice means goodbye to bare shoulders, t-shirts, short skirts, and any type of pants, so usually a significant wardrobe overhaul is necessary.
Today, I feel that modesty is something our society is definitely lacking, promoted by corporate trends and celebrity couture. Sometimes a strapless or mini version of an outfit is tasteful, and then you have Miley Cyrus (sorry Miley, but I needed an extreme comparison). This might sound a little pander-y, but I think that women should be able to choose what they wear, and while most women pull off this look effortlessly, maybe tznius should be reexamined in our times. For example, long sleeves and long skirts are probably quite uncomfortable, even thin/airy fabrics, in hot summers and for Jewish women in tropical countries or Houston. While yes, it’s argued in the Talmud, a lot is based off of what women wore in the shtetls of wintry Russia or Poland where the wind chill made these outfits practical. Furthermore, I don’t see a huge problem with pants, either. Not all pants are skinny jeans, and many tznius girls have a tight denim skirt or two. A pair of slacks or trousers can even make an outfit look sleeker and more elegant, and it would make riding a bike or climbing a ladder a lot easier. I don’t see tznius clothes as being restrictive in any way or out of fashion, but give girls a break. As long as they’re dressed appropriately for the weather, occasion, and activity, you’re good to go right there.
This leads me to talk about my own personal tzniut appearance and behavior. I made the decision awhile back to stop wearing shorts of any kind; not just because I don’t like my legs, but I just don’t see any reason why they need to be exposed – and also a bit of solidarity with my Orthodox Jewish sistas. With tank tops/wife beaters/muscle shirts, I didn’t grow up wearing them, and they certainly weren’t allowed in my school, so they never really joined my wardrobe. I love t-shirts, but since I live in Wisconsin now, I’ve been layering them over long sleeve shirts, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. The only time you’ll probably ever see me in shorts is when I am in going swimming, and even then, I’m underwater, so ha ha you can’t see me.
Probably the most surprising thing about my personal style is that this applies even at the gym. I’m always the guy in the long pants (the stretchy kind, not sweatpants, who does that?) and a shirt that covers most of the top half of me.
Orthodox Jewish girls know what’s up…and I stand with them (but not in a skirt) when I call on all my menfolk to display some tznius and look like a gentleman.
I mean, do you see what most guys wear to the gym these days?
Also – if anyone knows why my stats are skyrocketing, (1000 views today, thank you very much!), please tell me, because I’ve spent most of the past forty-eight hours bewilderingly watching people (mostly across America) click on my site, yet I only have about 120 followers, and 67 comments, most of which are my own. This blog is kinda lame most days, so either I’m doing something right or the Internet is going bonkers. So, if you’re reading, please leave a comment about what you think and how you got here (so I can get a sense of what’s going on, did someone put me on BuzzFeed or something? – I’m not that amazing of a writer), or a like, or an idea of something you want me to write about. Oh, and keep visiting, Americans. You too, other countries.
10 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal”
Lol seriously agree with the concept of lost modesty. Not sure which is worse. The fact that people don’t bother dressing/behaving decently or that as a society we have become so used to these things that they are considered the norm.
Thanks for the comment, Miss pink!
I got here from a google image search of “tznius singing,” actually! I liked your posted photo so clicked the link to see its source. Thanks for your solidarity!
Glad to have you here, Sarah!
well I got here because you asked to be my best friend -hey bestie how you doing ^_^ and I did reblog one of your posts I think it was yesterday possibly or was it the day before I can’t remember and so I popped by see if you had answered any of my comments yet and I have stayed to read today because in all seriousness my friend you are my first ever openly and informative Jewish friend and I know nothing and I do mean nothing about Jewish people, I live in the north east of England which is predominantly not just white English but Yorkshire through and through and I am guessing you know as much about Yorkshire as I know about anything Jewish, so my friend I stay and read and enjoy learning about you and about those subjects you hold dear and it is all new to me and immensely interesting though I confess I still do not know what half the words you use mean but I am slow and I try my best ^_^ have a great day bestie xx
Kizzy! How are you love? All I know about Yorkshire is Yorkshire pudding. I wonder if Bill Cosby ever did commercials there. Thanks for your continual readership, support, and awesome comments that always make me smile. Also, I adore the fact that your comments are one giant sentence because sometimes (as you’ve seen here) I write extremely long sentences too and I like to think that you talk like this in real life, like some sort of combination of Kristen Wiig’s Judy Grimes character from Saturday Night Live and Helen Baxendale’s Emily from Friends 🙂
I got here because I saw the girls in the skirts and it made me laugh because they look like they are doing some dance craze, haha! Great article, I am an orthodox Jewish girl and keep it mostly modest but I wear trousers sometimes, and I never wear the ugly modest swimwear, you can’t see underwater its true! 🙂
Thanks, Sassi! Yeah, I do wonder what they’re doing. Go Orthodox Jewish girls! Where are you from? Israel? I know several Orthodox Jewish girls from Israel who will wear culottes, track pants, or wide-leg sweatpants for dancing/exercising. Keep coming back and reading more!
I am from and live in England, my auntie lives in Israel and I have not visited her yet since she has been there. She likes to wear those wide leg trousers where it looks like a skirt and nobody seems to bother her, so if it is okay in Israel it should be fine everywhere else. I work on fields farming vegetables so its not practical to have an all skirts wardrobe with my sort of job:)
I think some of the American activity on your blog is probably from searches like mine: “traditional jewish dressing.” American fashion swings in the direction of the first lady’s perceived background (loud prints with Mrs. Obama, english suits with Mrs. Bush ect.), and with Ivanka Trump’s position in the white house there is a lot more interest in Jewish dressing, 3/4 sleeves and longer skirts are coming in and many of us are simply curious what else might be coming up as “on trend” with this look.