The Modesty Meme

MominIsrael has put up a meme about tzniyut ('tziyus' for you solid-core Ashkenazim), or 'modesty' as it's translated to in English. I had the honor of being one of the tag-ees, and I will answer the questions here.

These are my feelings based on what I have learned from Torah and Halacha, and from what I have observed over the years.
Here were her questions:

For married women, do you dress by the same standards as you did when you got married?
Also for married women, do you and your husband conflict about this issue?
I actually dress by stricter standards than when I first married; I little by little became more observant, from initially being 'conservadox'--walking to shul, but using electricity on Shabbat (!), to returning to my Chassidic roots and becoming fully Orthodox, albeit still 'modern' by certain standards. My husband is not concerned about this issue.
He is more laid back and nonchalant about these things. For example: once, just before Shabbat (while I was away in Israel), my husband was walking to a friend's house where he had been invited for the Friday night seudah. Another friend, who lives a couple of blocks away, happened to come out to throw out the garbage wearing pants--just as my husband was passing! She became flustered, apologized and started to make a dash for home, but my husband reassured her not to worry--that he couldn't care less.

2) Have your standards changed from when you were growing up, and why?
Yes, they have become stricter. As I mentioned above, I grew up in a 'conservadox' type home, all the while believing that I was Orthodox. Being Orthodox was very important to me (see my future post...), but I really had no idea what it really meant. I knew that I had 'yichus,' that I had famous Chassidic ancestors; but I had no idea how that was supposed to translate into tachlis. After I was married I began to learn what it meant to be Orthodox, and basically 'converted' my family's lifestyle. You could perhaps characterize us as "Modern Orthodox with Chassidic Tendancies," with me being stricter for myself.

3) Do you often feel uncomfortable when you are in the company of a group keeping higher or lower standards than you?

Before I covered my hair, in the first years of my marriage, I did -- I felt uncomfortable in a group of women who covered their hair, until I made the decision to do it myself. Even though-before I officially changed my mode of dress-I didn't look the part, I always felt 'frumer' than my friends at the time, who were mostly reform or conservative. My closest friend, however, was the Orthodox rabbi, his wife and their kids, at a shul in sunny Florida comprised of all secular or reform Jews. There was always this pull I had towards greater observance, which initially I didn't fully understand.

4) If you have ever suddenly changed your standard of dress, did people treat you differently or make approving/disapproving remarks?

I began covering my hair when we first moved to Israel in 1977. I felt most comfortable among 'settler types,' who wore mitpahot or keffiyot instead of hats. I have vague recollections (it was a long time ago) that some of the women expressed approval that I started covering my hair. Today, because of the community in which I reside, I also wear sheitels as well, though it's not my first choice.

How accepting is your community of women who "deviate" from the generally accepted mode of dress?
I guess I am not aware of any un-acceptance; women here-as they are in many communities I am sure-are sort of lumped into categories: modern Orthodox, Chassidic, Litvishe, etc. But if, for example, I decided one day (I'm playing devil's advocate here) to take a walk around the neighborhood in pants, I think I would probably shock a few people, and they might react negatively (but when I go to the mountains to hike-can't remember the last time I did this~need to get out more-I wear pants; and hiking boots, of course.)
The danger is this: even though a person can be strict in observance of Shabbat, Kashrut, etc. (we will assume taharat hamishpacha as well, not being privy to one's private life), if she suddenly changes her mode of dress, the community might begin to doubt her general observance. This could lead to fewer people being willing to eat at her home, which can escalate to being shunned (a mild form of karet-being 'cut off') by one's friends and neighbors. Not a pretty thing (it actually can be devastating.) Is this community reaction correct? Not in my opinion, but it can and has happened.
I actually have a friend (from our sojourn in Dallas, Texas many years
ago) who became frum through contacts with a misnagdishe Ashkenazic community. She began her frum 'career' by covering her hair, but later thought long and hard about what she was doing. She was attending graduate school at the time, and was on a track towards her Ph.D. In short, after long soul-searching, she decided covering her hair was not for her. She is the only person I know personally who stopped covering her hair 'mid-stream,' you might say--and continued to be frum. I remember that she received at least one nasty, threatening letter from someone (a Rav) in the community, condemning her for her actions. I absolutely disagree with that; what she did, she did after a great amount of thought. And it was her own business.

6) If you have a daughter, has tzniut become an issue yet?

This brings me back to point #2: remember, I said 'Modern Orthodox?' Although I sent my kids to an Agudah-type school in their early years, I still maintained a more modern approach, partially because both my husband and I had come from more modern backgrounds, and partially because my kids-boys and girls alike-loved sports (swimming, soccer, basketball, hockey), so I sent them to the JCC for sports when they were really little, and we went to the local rec center for swimming lessons. Now they are all grown, and each is growing and approaching Judaism in her own way: my oldest being the least observant, my middle-est somewhat observant but modern in dress, my youngest a ba'alat teshuva. And hopefully they are still growing in their Judaism...

7) Any other comments you care to share on the topic?
Very often people with no Jewish background or training are mekuravim, or 'brought closer' to observance and become 'religious' Jews without fully understanding it. I personally believe that a woman can be a religious Jew, without covering her hair all the time, i.e., when not in shul (synagogue) or at shul functions. The observance of covering one's hair is not a mitzvah--commandment, but rather is derived from psukim in the Torah, where it is shown that a woman brought to court is humiliated by having her hair uncovered, which is an implication that one should cover one's hair. Another example: in Tehillim (Psalms), David HaMelech (King David) wrote: kol kevodah bat melech pnimah, which indicates that a woman's glory is internal. There is no outright proscription against not covering one's hair, as far as I am aware. I am opening this question up to anyone who has studied the Talmud well and knows other sources for this halacha: I welcome comments and documentation (is it really in Yoma 47a? I couldn't find it. But I am not well-versed enough in Gemara to know.)


Anonymous said…
Great post!

Gives a view into your journey of becoming more observant.
muse said…
lovely thoughtful post
I think it's perfectly normal to grow and change with time.
triLcat said…
it's nice reading your take on the subject. I actually know a lot of women who stopped covering after a few years of marriage. Perhaps because of the context in which I know them, or perhaps because of my background, it never occurred to me that it's an overall religious decision - to me, covering my hair is often a real burden, and I understand those women who choose to unburden...
BB said…
Wow, what a thoughtful post. It's inspirational to read about your journey. I just wanted to point out a few things that your probably already know. Our Torah is composed of the Oral and Written Law. It's true that in the written law it doesn't say: Thou shalt cover your hair. But does it say: Thou shalt fast on Yom Kippur? Or is it something that the Gemara brings down as being the meaning of v'initem et nafshoteichem. There are so many mitzvos like this. I am sure that you keep many of them. In the Shulchan Aruch it says very clearly that you need to cover your hair. You can study the halachos in depth if you have any doubts. There is a great book called "The Modest Way" which brings down all of the sources. Even if you don't see an "outright" mitzvah, the rabbis still tell us that this mitzvah is d'oraisa (from the Torah) as opposed to d'rabanan which means a Rabbinic decree. Read the book for further details. I enjoyed reading your post very much.
frumhouse said…
I enjoyed reading your answers! Something like hair covering is a very personal decision. The problem is that it is a public observance. Therefore, unlike taharat mishpacha or even kosher or shabbos to an extenet, everyone knows if you are adhering to the practice. I don't think peer pressure is a reason to cover or not. In many respects, I think there might be many more observant Jews if people would keep their commentary to themselves. No one likes being preached at. I'd rather have someone not cover their hair and wear pants, yet keep the major mitzvot and give their kids a religious education and have a positive feeling about Judaism.
Lady-Light said…
(Folks, I am so frustrated! --had some technical problems and lost the most brilliant comments I had ever written into the ether (what can I say—it’s your loss!)
noch: Thank you. I actually might have surprised a few people (who thought I was ffb. I think I have always been ffb in my soul, though.)
muse: Thank you, as well—I am simply amazed at the fact that this post generated more heartfelt interest than, say, a political post. Very often people respond more to the personal; it touches something they can relate to. Yes, we grow, as we discover little by little who we really are (but for some it takes longer…maybe in the next gilgul?)
triLcat: I, too, understand, but for many women, covering or uncovering one’s hair is a very serious issue. These decisions are not made lightly. And, nobody said it would be easy; they don’t call it ol mitzvoth for nothing!
bb: Thank you for your insightful comment. I actually needed to refresh my memory and looked up the reference to Yom Kippur (per your example) in Bamidbar 29:7 and yes, we need the Gemara and the commentators to explain exactly what is meant by ועניתם את נפשותיכם . Next I will see if my קצור שלחן ערוך has information on covering one’s hair. I actually Googled (-never thought that would ever be a verb!) the book “The Modest Way,” and plan to get a hold of it and read it (after I wend my way through the four books I am attempting to read now~!)
Thank you for visiting, and please come again!
frumhouse: In theory, one should not make the decision to cover one’s hair only because of ‘peer pressure.’ In practice, however, this is what often happens. People want to’fit in’ to the group they are courting and therefore seek approval, whether consciously or not. I agree;‘keeping commentary to themselves’ is basically complying with not speaking lashon hara. This is why I love Chabad- they accept people wherever they are in their Judaism, and do not try to mold them into something else. They teach by setting a personal example instead. As far as I am concerned, if I am able to determine that the person keeps strict kashrut, Shabbat and chagim – I will eat at their house, regardless of if they cover their hair or not. That is a decision I have made for myself. Others may decide otherwise. Hope to see you here again soon!
Very interesting response--the community definitely influences our choices. You have clearly thought a lot about yours.

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