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Mama Deb
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Mama Deb [userpic]
Preaching to the Converted

jonbaker has a Talmud class tonight. Okay, he has a Talmud class every night, in that he's part of the Daf Yomi, page a day, program, but on Tuesdays he goes to a longer class in Manhattan.

Anyway, since I have the night alone, I thought I'd go to this program on tzniut, modesty.



If it had been a live program, that would have been interesting, especially with the sheitl situation. But it was a video. And they said nothing new, nothing that this audience had never heard before. This audience was mostly from Boro Park. It was, of course, completely female - high school girls in uniform, unmarried older girls, and married women of all ages. (In these communities, unmarried adults are called "girls" and "boys", so a "man" can be younger than a "boy".)

I saw a lot of sheitls - many looking like plastic, but I couldn't really tell. A number had an extra covering, as is common in this community - a little straw hat or a very wide headband. I also saw a lot of ladies wearing snoods and a couple wearing hats. I'd chosen to wear a scarf.

That's not the point, but it's what I saw. The audience was already being rather strict on the laws of modesty - not just the bare law or the tiny bit over that I do in covering my elbows. Most of these ladies were wearing long sleeves and loose tops and thick stockings. Most of these women were living these laws. I live these laws.

This program wasn't to get the women watching to be more tzniut. This was to for them to feel good that they are doing a mitzvah "more important than Shabbat." And that's certainly a good thing. Did it work? I don't know. I found it deadly.

I'm following these laws because these are the laws. On hot humid summer days, I'd rather not wear an overshirt, but fine.

I don't think they make me better as a person. They do enhance my self-esteem, because I'm covering my body not out of shame but because it's something nice not for public consumption. That's official. That's the same feeling I get during my periods of niddah, when I keep myself more or less covered around my husband. It's both the law and his request - he doesn't want to see what he can't touch.

This is a tremendous boost to my ego.

Does it make me a better Jew? Only in that obeying any mitzvah makes one a better Jew. Unlike one of the rebbitzens in tonight's video, I don't think it's more important than Shabbat.

I left early, when the video ended with an ad for a learning program using a book I've already read and, in many cases, disagreed with. It was past 10:15 at that point and I had to take two buses home.

Comments

A mitzvah more important than Shabbat? Is this a common viewpoint within the Orthodox community?

Admittedly, I'm coming from a place biased in the other direction, since I've never followed the tzniut laws myself, but it was always my understanding that Shabbat was paramount.

No, it's not more common. It was the rebbitzen in the video making a Point. That once upon a time in the US and probably other places, immigrant Jewish men were faced with a hard choice - employment or Shabbat. "Don't come in Saturday, don't come in Monday." And most decided food and housing were more important, so they created very early Shabbat minyanim in their home shuls or opened synagogues where they worked so they could get *something* and minimized what they could.

But some men had 52 jobs a year, and started every Shabbat unemployed.

So Shabbat was the "test." Today, tznius is the test. Or so sayeth that rebbitzen.

Shabbat has kept Israel

There is a saying that goes something like "Even more than Israel has kept Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept Israel". I think when the first Jews came to the USA this was definitly true. If you work in a factory where you work 12 hours a day 7 days a week (as was common in those days) you can't keep Shabbat. Many men did the find a new job each week, but its got to be a pretty hard way to live. I'm sure that this is what caused so many Jews to work hard to gett into a better situation. To get an education or open your own buisness or the like. We had no choice in the matter.

I think this is why so many Jews in the USA work in high end white color jobs, while our peers who came to the USA at the same time often are working more blue collar jobs to this day.

Of course there are many blue collar jobs in the Jewish community in the USA, more in Israel, and many gentiles work in white collar jobs.

OK, I'm trying to imagine how tzniut would put the same burdens on Jewish workers today as Shabbat put on Jewish workers a century ago.

Are vast numbers of Jewish women being told that if they don't show their elbows at work, they'll be fired? Seems unlikely. (I can believe that dressing differently from other women might harm their chances at advancing in their jobs, but that's different from being fired.)

Are vast numbers of Jewish women putting up with male co-workers who make inappropriate advances to them, and can only shield themselves from such advances by quitting? As you point out elsewhere in these threads, the women involved can always say no or, failing that, investigate formal procedures for protesting sexual harassment.

Are vast numbers of Jewish men working in environments where they can't help seeing female co-workers who don't follow tzniut standards of dress, thereby making it harder, if not impossible, for the men to observe shmiras einayim to charedi standards? Hell, yeah. So why don't the men get lectures on the importance of tzniut?

Are vast numbers of Jewish women being told that if they don't show their elbows at work, they'll be fired?

I'd guess that the reverse is true (show too much skin and get told to dress more "professionally"). However, a few years ago I heard of a case of a woman being told she couldn't get a (specific) job if she wore a hat/snood/scarf at work. I don't know whether she chose to get a (hair-like and therefore expensive) wig or if she went for a different job. (This wasn't in the US, so US religious discrimination laws didn't apply.)

Are vast numbers of Jewish men working in environments where they can't help seeing female co-workers who don't follow tzniut standards of dress, thereby making it harder, if not impossible, for the men to observe shmiras einayim to charedi standards? Hell, yeah. So why don't the men get lectures on the importance of tzniut?

That's a good question. Maybe because tradition makes this the women's problem?

One of these years I'm going to do some research on "tznius for men". I have a very very strong suspicion that treating tznius as almost entirely women's responsibility, and as almost entirely reducible to rules about how much skin you can display, are modern phenomena.

I think you're right. And I have occasionally heard rabbis and others speak of other aspects of tznius besides the display of skin (modesty in behavior being what springs to mind, though that's a bit of a difficult concept to define).

And I've of course heard skin-display type rules for men as well, though I doubt that's exactly what you mean. (I've heard everything from "no shorts" to "some men always button their shirts up all the way")

What's a bit difficult for me is the (debatable in my opinion) emphasis on the idea that women are doing this so as not to be a temptation for men. I'm sure that idea isn't entirely absent, but shouldn't it really be the man's responsibility to control himself? Then again I'm not a man.

my $0.02

A mitzvah more important than Shabbat? Is this a common viewpoint within the Orthodox community?

The answer to that probably depends on which Orthodox community you ask (assuming you could define a community well enough to be sure you were asking the right representative(s) to get the true answer). I would guess (and hope) that most would say "no", but if the community in question is a girls' school which has just had a speaker like the one described, the answer could well be "yes".

As for tzniut being "the test" today... I've found that it works as a test both ways: there are some people who treat me differently depending on whether or not I'm wearing clothing to their standards at that moment (e.g. walking into the same store on 2 different days, once in a skirt and once in jeans, and getting "potential customer" or "what are you doing here? you don't belong"). I've used this as a test for whether a store is worth giving my business to, whether a person is worth my investment of time/effort to get to know them, etc.

Granted, on some level I'm being just as judgmental as they are, but I think there's a difference between judging someone by whether or not they live by your standards in clothing (especially when you know little or nothing else about the person) and judging someone by the way they treat other people.

(And then there's the somewhat separate issue of whose standards of tzniut, e.g. whether it's better for me to follow my parents' custom or someone else's chumrah, what to do when there are multiple communities overlapping in the same physical space, etc.)

Re: my $0.02

This was in regards to a question one of the rebbitzens had fielded in a live presentation - should a woman continue in an otherwise perfect job if her boss flirts with her? And the implication (it was never said straight out) that the answer was "no." She should quit for modesty reasons the same way her grandfather may or may not have quit for Sabbath reasons.

Personally, I'd confront the boss first, but that's just me. :)

Re: my $0.02

Wait a minute. If her boss flirts with her she should quit for modesty reasons?! What about sexual harassment, potential job problems for saying "no", etc, etc? Since when is this a modesty issue?

Re: my $0.02

That was my take on it, too.

Re: my $0.02

Ah, but if she makes a fuss about how she's treated, then she would be calling attention to herself, which is un-tznius.

Re: my $0.02

Lovely theory, but if calling attention to oneself were really considered being non-tzniut then the people who work in midtown Manhattan wearing multiple layers of black in the summer in styles that were popular in Europe in the 1800s(?) would have to (horrors) switch to modern suits and their kids would (real horrors) switch to jeans and T-shirts. (Yes, some exaggeration here, but not much.)

Re: my $0.02

It's un-tzniut if she throws a tantrum in the middle of the office. It's not if she quietly goes the coworker and says "stop it", or to HR and initiates a complaint.

Re: my $0.02

This post really spoke to me. Right after I converted, a rebbetzin told me about how she wanted to be friends with a group of women but she couldn't because they all wore stockings and she didn't, so she started wearing stockings. My first thought was "Why on earth would you want to be friends with people who judge you on what you put on your legs." My second thought was "What have I gotten myself into?"

It led me to constantly want to be more and more tznius, just in case, and to wonder why everybody else didn't do that too. (I don't think I was judgmental, exactly, I never thought "I'm better than her" or "She's going to be punished and I'm not."... just thought "Gee, wonder why she's showing her elbows when You're Not Supposed To Do That."

That said, to the main point... yes, it sounds like this was a disturbing little exercise in "rah rah for our side" that could have been done without. Women should be proud to be tznius (though my personal observance of it, like all my current observance, is a bit up in the air), but for the right reasons.



Re: my $0.02

It led me to constantly want to be more and more tznius, just in case, and to wonder why everybody else didn't do that too. (I don't think I was judgmental, exactly, I never thought "I'm better than her" or "She's going to be punished and I'm not."... just thought "Gee, wonder why she's showing her elbows when You're Not Supposed To Do That."

It's that last bit that I find most disturbing (not specifically in this post, but the more widespread attitude). Judaism is a worldwide religion, with many customs that started in some little town somewhere and have since spread (or not). Just because one (or more - doesn't matter) group of Jews decided to become "more tzniut" by covering their elbows, why does that make showing elbows a "Not Supposed To Do That" for anyone else (or anyone else's descendants)? Given the emphasis on respecting one's parents, shouldn't following my parent's ways (assuming they are in accordance with halacha) be more important than picking up someone else's custom? I can understand the "be respectful of you hosts/friends/neighbors" but I can also see that going the other way - my hosts/friends/neighbors should (I hope) be able to respect that I am following my family's traditions (and am following halacha) and treat me as a person rather than a sleeve-length.

Re: my $0.02

I know this isn't really directed at me, but I can't resist the urge to clarify (unfortunately it will take a bit of text to do that, forgive me).

First of all, at this point I am no longer fully observant at all, so nothing I say here is meant as a halachic correction to anybody. That is something I tried to stay away from even when I was fully observant.

However, at the time it was my understanding that covering the elbows was basically bottom-line halacha, not a custom. That's why I say that I didn't understand women not doing it.

This does bring up many issues, which I can't really fully address here. First of all, is it really bottom-line halacha? I've heard since that it may not be. Second of all, why do I have to poke my nose into whether people are following bottom-line halacha or not? Isn't it their business? (Even at the time, I didn't run around correcting people, or write them off as not good enough, but even questioning their decision was probably too chutzpahdik).

As I say, I am no longer fully observant anyway. I do like to discuss these issues, as I am looking into getting back into observance possibly, but nothing I say should any longer be taken as an "Orthodox viewpoint" in any case. Sorry if I shouldn't be posting, on those grounds.

Re: my $0.02

I don't think Mamadab is upset to see comment threads in her journal discussing halacha, custom, etc. Mamadeb?

As for not being observant, so what? As long as everyone is civil, why should anyone be excluded from a discussion? I'll agree that it can help to give one's individual background/observance information, but at the same time, I'm not planning to make religious decisions based solely on something someone writes on LJ, and I really hope no one bases religious decisions based solely on what I write.

As for where "bottom-line halacha" is, I know that Yeshiva University (in the 1960s) and Yeshivat Ramaz (in the 1980s) both had no problem with women's elbows showing. I also know that some people consider Ramaz a "girls' school" (it's co-ed; the term was used to mean that it wasn't a "real" Yeshiva) and both Ramaz and YU too "modern", so... As I wrote above, there are lots of different customs from lots of different places, and for all I know even the YU/Ramaz line was originally a community chumrah. Being observant doesn't automatically grant me historical knowledge of everything. *g*

I don't think Mamadab is upset to see comment threads in her journal discussing halacha, custom, etc. Mamadeb?

Mind? I'm loving this. I get to sit back and read the most interesting things and it's all here. :)

As for bottom-line halacha, the knees and elbows are grey areas. So, for that matter, are pants. That I've chosen to go with the stricter views (and boy, do I regret the elbow thing when the heat reaches above 90F) does not mean that the more lenient ones are wrong. The stricter views define the knees and the elbows as part of the thighs and upper arms respectively. Anatomically, this makes very little sense.

Post all you want. All viewpoints welcome in this journal.