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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.


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.