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Tznius These Days

“My husband wants to know, maybe you can explain it,” my friend asks. I’m talking to her motziah Shabbos she’s driving home from Shabbos Sheva braches, kids conked out in the back seat, her husband driving and baffled. “My cousin was there, her husband learned a few years in Israel, she went to a top seminary everything and you should have seen how she was dressed. I get the grey lines of tight clothes and long shaitels and knee-skimming skirts, but here she didn’t even try. My husband wants to know what she’s thinking.”

Me the groiyse mind reader, Na, I just have enough opinions and perspectives for five people
“Who said she’s thinking anything,” I started. “These days there such a lack of regard to the authority of halacha maybe she views it as nice but optional.”

Or maybe she’s feeling disenfranchised that her husband’s not learning anymore, so she’s not in the “yeshivish” world anymore.

Or, she’s not in school no one’s telling her what to do, so she’s just acting out like this. Because she’s not an idiot you know, she knows the Halacha, sure, she can recite it and many other lessons that were drilled into her head over the years.

“Na,” my friend counters. “It’s not scandalous for her husband to be in college, it’s ok for her crowd.”

“I dunno,” I muse. “These days no one is tznius and what used to be black is now grey. They always hocked in school about skirt lengths, but have you noticed no one covers their elbows anymore?”

“People in Lakewood still cover their elbows,” She answers.

“Well people on Facebook don’t.” I say, “and these are my ‘friends’.”

“And what about shaitels,” my friend continues.

“What about them?” I ask. I wear short shaitels, not for tznius reasons (although it does work out) but because my bone structure gets lost in long and my face looks fat, so I can discuss it pretty neutrally.

“We came to a consensus on Shabbos that past your bust is prust, past your shoulders to your bust is long and until your shoulders is totally fine.”

I laughed; it’s all so arbitrary.

“My sister n law was hocking about some woman she saw in the pizza store” my friend continued “ ‘her shaitel was till her waist it was disgusting!’ I ripped into her. When you got married, your shaitel was 11 inches, now it’s 16. Her’s was 16 when she got married, add five inches, that’s 21. You started off more yeshivish, but you’re at 16, she started off less so, it’s the same five additional inches, what’s the difference behind the thought? My sister in law was quiet.”

So was I.

“I can’t listen to this sister in law talk about tznius,” my friend started again. “Every day she wears the same long pleated mid-calf skirt. She doesn’t get it. She doesn’t understand women when they’re pregnant… When I’m pregnant I struggle with my knees, they’re the only part of me that’s skinny!”

And I’m thinking, does her cousin feel as misunderstood as my friend does by her sister-in-law?

My friend came back to her cousin. “Her skirt wasn’t near her knees with a slit, there’s no grey area, it’s a straight up nisht. What can make a girl just disregard everything she’s been taught.”

And then I remembered. There had been a tznius gathering for educators in my community. “Shaitels shouldn’t be more than 2 inches past the jawbone.” A co-teacher and I exchanged looks and laughed. We both complied with his ruling, but no one else did. I didn’t think much of it until the next day at school when a bunch of teachers were firing off.

“2 inches past, that’s way too short”

“I’m not cutting my shaitel”

“Who is he to make up such random line?”

Then one teacher articulated what everyone felt but couldn’t put words to.

“I’m not a person who doesn’t listen to daas Torah. If I’m told something, I do it. But I’m not cutting my shaitel, so I’m mad that he is turning me into someone who doesn’t listen to Rabbanim; it’s not even Halacha. ”

Four inches were told, hair not past a shirt’s yoke, colorful shoes need not apply. These aren’t Halacha, but it feels like that sometimes, and if we don’t listen long enough, we slowly become people who don’t listen to Rabbanim even when it is Halacha…

I don’t know what my friend’s cousin was thinking. I don’t know why she dresses the way she does, but I walk the streets and she’s not alone. The reason can’t be solitary. What I do know is that tznius is complex. It goes to the root of who we are as women and yidden, and in this modern world that seems to contradict each other even if it shouldn’t. I also, know we’re going about it all wrong. I don’t know right answer and what we should be doing, that many opinions I don’t have, I just know that this isn’t working.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2015 in Jewish, Musings, Uncategorized

 

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Vindication at a Cost

I’m not really the official devar Torah kind of person, y’know, the open a Chumash, read a posuk, explain it, ask a question, answer the question according to some gadol and add my own thoughts to it. I’m more the paraphrase kind of person, focusing more on my interpretation of things and the point gained from it.

On Shabbos though, my husband said over a devar Torah, that really made me feel vindicated in a front I’ve been talking about for a while. I had a bunch of students over later in the evening for an Oneg Shabbos, and I thought this devar Torah would give them some clarity on a subject, and also substantiate some things I had said previously in some discussions.

So, I have terrible kriah, hence my usual paraphrasing. In high school, I mastered the art of mumbling when called upon to read anything inside and scraped though, barely. I thought this devar Torah though, was worth my efforts. I practiced reading one pasuk aloud, at least 6 times, till I was comfortable with the words, the nekudos, and everything. Anyone who knows me and kriah, understands how difficult this is for me, potentially setting myself up for major busha when I wouldn’t be able to vocalize a simple pasuk in Chumish.

It all went down famously, I didn’t stumble over the words (well, not that badly) and they girls really “chapped hana’ah” from it (Wow, real yeshivish there, I actually couldn’t think of a better phrase to articulate that thought) And here it is for you, hope you appreciate it as much as I did.

In this past parsha, Parshas Chayei Sarah, perek chaf dalef, posuk tes zayin, this is when Eliezer first sees Rivka, it says (and I’m just going to translate here because typing in Hebrew is too big a pain)

And the girl was very beautiful, no other man knew her, she went down to the spring, filled her jug, and rose.

The Nitziv says that Eliezer saw three qualities in Rivka from this posuk. First, she was beautiful. Second, none of the other shepards there knew her, therefore this must be her first time here, and therefore she must come from a respectable family that she didn’t have to do this until now. And third, she was a tzanuah.

The same way Boaz knew Rus was a tzanuah from the way she lowered herself to the wheat instead of conveniently bending over to select it, so too, Rivka lowered herself to the stream to fill up her jug, then rose, instead of bending over like everyone else.

This is where the Nitziv ends, and my husband’s commentary begins. He focused on the first and third qualities. First, Rivka was beautiful. And second , she was a tzanuah, how did he know she was a tzanuah, by her actions, not by her dress. Beauty and Tznius are not mutually exclusive, a woman can be both.

It just seems in Lakewood, there’s such a focus on tznius, which is beautiful in theory, I feel though that they miss the mark. They keep focusing of the physical aspect, like skirts lengths, and now sheitel lengths, like tznius is just about not tempting yourneighbors husband. They make it seem as though any fashion trend is sacrilege, and you cannot be a beautiful woman without sacrificing modesty ideals.

I’ve been telling my students (no idea why, I teach English, not Hashkafa, they just keep bringing it up to me) that it’s your actions and how you think that are the foundations on modesty, and then the outside will eventually reflect. Working on the physical first may possibly be a “mitoch shelo lishma ba lishma” approach, but it’s definitely not a front door appeal.

So maybe Lakewood thinks that it has the actions, and inside thoughts of people worked out, that’s why they can focus on just externals, but I look around every day in my really frum complex, and I’m disappointed.

It is not tznius for women to be yelling across the complex for their children to come home for supper, and no they can’t have two more minutes, and no they can’t eat outside.

It’s not tznius for tween age girls to sit on front stoops, their legs propped up by the steps, exposing themselves to the world.

It is not tznius for women (and men) to blatantly watch the interactions between me and my husband while he’s leaving. (I’m talking about just conversation, and we’re not talking loud, they’re just watching us)

They missed the boat. Not like, oh shucks it sailed two minutes ago, more like purposefully taking a different boat in the opposite direction. And my students are confused. They want to be good, and frum, and tznius. And they are. But they look at what the community holds up as ideals, and their rightfully conflicted. They don’t want to look like that, and they’re not sure why they should want to, they just know they should, because that’s what all the adults in their life are telling them.

I’m not in any way saying that there is something wrong with a woman being very careful how she dresses. And there is a beauty to yeshivish (or whatever you want to call it) dress. However, the way it’s being taught, and hammered into our youths’ minds is hurting them, confusing them, conflicting them, and ultimately may hurt a lot of them.

I think I may have digressed a bit, but no wonder why people keep asking me how much longer I’m gonna last in Lakewood.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Jewish

 

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