Tznius: Wrapping It Up
I had no intention of contributing to your column’s most recent debate — until this week, when I attended the graduation of my kindergarten-aged son. Rachel, I am still in shock. Mind you, this is no hick-town modern day school but a well-known yeshiva run by a recognized, well-respected rabbinical head, in a sizable orthodox community.
No, it is not Lakewood I refer to; most families here happen to be middle of the road Modern Orthodox. Of about twenty mothers in attendance, a mere six of us were decently dressed. The others ranged from untznius’dik (cap sleeves with arms completely bare; own hair exposed without even an attempt at head-covering), to outright coarse (skintight tops that leave little to the imagination and… you get the picture).
My heart ached for the Rosh Yeshiva who must have been pained to the core of his being, and for the innocent little boys whose futures are being compromised by none other than the parents they look up to.
To be candid, I grew up in a very modern home where females wearing pants was the norm. (I stopped the practice when I later discovered such attire inappropriate for a Torah-abiding Jewess.) And yet I have to say that for all of our modernity, I never dressed in the crude fashion that some religious women seem to have no problem with.
As I’ve learned it, tznius is a mandate, not an option. In light of the fact that our future generations are being detrimentally affected, I find the blitz of criticism leveled by readers on the original letter-writer unwarranted. Since when has it become “wrong” to take a stand for our principles and to defend Hashem’s laws?
Where is the outcry from influential sources?
My heart is bleeding
For weeks now this column has deferred to readers who have had plenty to say about a volatile issue that, as you indicate, affects all of us.
Though many letters were indeed critical, others echoed sentiments and opinions similar to yours. In fact, readers have done such a remarkable job in addressing the topic that what remains for this column at this time is to re-emphasize the importance of guarding our manner of dress (as well as demeanor) and to stress the gravity of being lax in the inyun of tznius (which in actuality encompasses the traits of modesty, humility and restraint).
Needless to say, not all letters made it to print. One reader (submitting his comments to the editor of The Jewish Press) fiercely decried the publication of the tznius column as it originally appeared in Chronicles of June 3rd. The following is an excerpt of his letter:
I wonder how Rachel considers this a crisis in the community? Unless she is talking about the xxxxx community, in which case I would understand because there it is socially acceptable to equate transgressions of halachic law with criminal abuse… I wonder why a woman not covering her knees is considered by Rachel to be a crisis on the level of an agunah who can never remarry, or a young child being repeatedly molested by his Rebbe or a woman battered by her husband.
I myself am a “black hat” Jew, who adheres to the strictest interpretation of the law, and I am very, very offended by this article… equating a religious “transgression” with molestation and abuse is intolerable.
Sir, with all due respect for your religious convictions, your remarks are most baffling, on many counts.
1) This column tries its best not to discriminate; when a fellow-reader is in distress, we consider it a crisis. Others are equally welcome to disagree, to commiserate or to debate the sufferer…
2) It is not for us to determine the magnitude of one mitzvah over another; we refer you to the words in Pirkei Avos that forewarn us not to judge one mitzvah more (or less) significant than another. Thereby the out-of-control lack of modesty in our midst most certainly qualifies as a Chronicle of Crisis.
3) We do know that among the numerous mitzvos in the Torah, only one – the theme of tznius – is linked to the presence of the Holy Shechinah in our midst. We are warned specifically (in Devarim 33:15): “Ki Hashem Elokecha mishaleich b’kerev machnecha l’hatzilcha; v’haya machanecha kadosh…” – For Hashem your G-d walks among you to save you and deliver your enemies before you; your camp should therefore be holy … to not cause Him to turn away from you.
4) The Jewish nation is considered a “lone sheep among seventy wolves.” But our Creator watches over His children, as long as we maintain our modesty. One should shudder at the thought of our vulnerability should we chas v’shalom turn Hashem against us. (For that matter, do we know why tragedies – such as the molestation and abuse you speak of – fall upon us?)
Several years ago, as readers worldwide will recall, the topic of shmiras halashon was being confronted in every community and on every level, via live shiurim, tapes, pamphlets and workshops, in order to shake our people to the seriousness of its transgression and awaken us to the dangers we place ourselves in with carelessness of speech.
Many people may not be aware that the same Chofetz Chaim who has brought the laws of lashon hora into our living rooms for our own protection in this world and in the next, also wrote a compendium on the laws of tznius. Titled Geder Olam, this work clearly outlines the laws of tznius, as well as the hazards in flouting them: parnassa issues; shalom bayis difficulties; children going off the derech; etc. This volume belongs on the sefarim shelf of every home library.
To “My heart is bleeding”: You speak of your own “modern” upbringing and subsequent growth. Perhaps the mothers (you encountered at the graduation) are yet to embark on their own journey into the wonderful and immensely satisfying world of our religion and heritage. Let us hope and pray for them all.
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