The Modesty Meme
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:
1) 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.
5) 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.)