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Tights Squeeze

While Orthodox girls obsess about skirt length and hosiery choices, are we overlooking Judaism’s most important lessons about modesty?

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(Alana Newhouse/Tablet Magazine)
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At the Seder, we open the door for Elijah. As a child, I thought he’d actually appear. Then I grew up, and anticipation faded into resignation.

A friend asked me to serve as a match-reference—that is, to attest to the virtues of a prospective bride—for her older (Torah-learned, black-hat-wearing) brother. My friend, apparently, had discovered, through other references, that the young woman in question did not always wear appropriate hosiery.

“I’m just confused,” she told me. “Because I thought you even specifically mentioned that you thought she wears tights, and I would just be surprised if she didn’t wear some sort of socks or tights, based on the level of piety that I heard about her.”

“I must admit,” I said, “I don’t spend much time looking at ankles. I tend to look people in the eye.” Then, sensing my friend’s dissatisfaction with my answer, I added: “But I’m pretty sure she wears some sort of socks.”

I then proceeded to dissuade the match—solely for the sake of the prospective bride, whose résumé had clearly been analyzed for hours over a kitchen table by the mother and sister of the scholarly yet clueless bachelor.

***

Welcome to a culture that no one outside will ever understand—that of the yeshiva girl. It’s an insular, narrow space, where the outside world is demonized en masse; where religion becomes a competition in which everything is tallied up, right against wrong, and every additional stringency that is taken on instantly earns communal admiration. (One of my few relatively modern teachers in high school dubbed this “Orthodox Compulsive Disorder.”)

When choosing to be Orthodox, I sought authenticity and reason, passionate spirituality, closeness with God and with history. I love my religion, traditions, law, community, the small politics, the debates over the Shabbat table about the heights of the mechitzah in shul. But the widespread neuroticism, the vehement zeal: This is something new. This isn’t the brand of Orthodoxy that I embraced and emulated growing up, and it’s not the religion for which my parents defied our Russian family’s avowed secularism.

I don’t want to be that girl: the aspiring writer who has broken free of the tightly knit Orthodox community or school system and then proceeds to write about her love-hate relationship with said background. Because the truth is, I’m not that girl who’s broken away. I pray daily, recite benedictions before and after food, study Torah (but not Talmud). I still feel uncomfortable reading Aramaic texts traditionally limited to men. Friday afternoons find me running around the house, covering bathroom lights with special Shabbat covers, choosing tablecloths, filling the hot-water urn. And if it matters, which I suppose it does these days, I dress the part, too, despite being taught otherwise by secular grandparents: I wear modest skirts that reach my knees, sleeves that cover my elbows, and I refrain from any physical contact with males.

But I also wear stilettos. I also study Tennyson, Nabokov, and Joyce; I read the New York Times avidly, attend film screenings and art galleries. In the past few years, after leaving the comforts of my high school, where everything had been carefully dictated and prescribed, I’ve been trying to balance Torah u-Madda, religious studies with science or secular studies.

So much so have I entered the world of Torah u-Madda that I’d almost completely forgotten about the world I left behind. It took a conversation about hosiery to remind me why I am where I am today.

My friend’s query about that prospective bride’s tights floods my mind, for a half-second, with memories of the all-girls Orthodox high school we attended together. Kind teachers encouraging us to understand that our long sleeves might be a bit too tight. Running past teachers down the stairwell before they noticed that I wasn’t wearing tights in my ballerina flats. While my friend had gone on to seminary in Israel and chosen to be more stringent, I had chosen to go to Yeshiva University, bastion of modern Orthodoxy. To the outsider, the two seem indiscernibly similar, but to the insider in the Orthodox Jewish community, the two worlds couldn’t be more different.

My younger sisters, who still attend that all-girls high school, have been alluding to problems with particular teachers in vague text messages and sighing phone calls. When I came home one weekend, we went to a local coffee shop to discuss their issues in depth. One sister began to cry as told me how her rabbi had told the class that one who transgresses the boundaries of forbidden physical contact, even in the most casual and unaffectionate of manners, a mere handshake, is considered adulterous and thus is deserving of death, according to biblical law. “That just makes me want to go to the Gap and buy a pair of skinny jeans,” she told me, pulling her denim skirt to cover her knees as she sat down.

Another teacher announced proudly that the walls of her house have never seen her hair, just like the righteous mothers of the Talmud. “I sleep with my head covered, girls. Always.”

Yet another teacher brought in an article from the ultra-Orthodox magazine Mishpacha. The story followed a Jew in 1950s Soviet Russia who expressed an interest in studying Judaism but never did so because of the danger involved. The teacher explained: “Girls, what do we learn from this? That this man clearly sinned! One should always follow through with one’s intentions!”

My sister tried to argue; as the daughter of Soviet immigrants, she grew up with an understanding of what it meant to be Jewish in the USSR. “He was risking his life—” my sister began. The teacher dismissed her: “Yes, but one must risk one’s life for the sake of Torah.”

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Carl says:

Great article. This trend will continue until Jews say no to the influence of the Haredi cult which is distorting Judaism in to an unrecognizable form.

Shmuel says:

You say you don’t want to be “that girl” but by writing this article in The Tablet….you basically have done just that.

I agree with so much of what you say. There is a lot of nuttiness in the Jewish frum world & many people are looking for black & white, easy answers. But many who read this sort of article are just looking to de-legitimize the Torah world. Do you think you might be helping them?

penk18 says:

Kol ha-kavod to the author for a sensitive, loving and sarcasm-free discussion.

Shmuel, did you really read the article?

The author no longer subscribes to the “nuttiness” (your word) of the frum world; this means that rather than be “that girl, she has instead chosen to remain within the range of what she/you consider Torah Judaism.

And if acknowledging and exposing such “nuttiness” helps “de-legitimize” (again, your word) some form of Torah world (surely such “nuttiness” is not symbolic of *the* Torah world), then perhaps this is not a world worth saving.

When a burqa is looked on as something positive, and when an observant Jew cannot comment on the ridiculousness of Jews’ thinking that wearing one implies serious piety without being accused of giving aid to the enemy, we have truly left sanity behind.

Nancy says:

While of course there are issues with the way some people live their ultra-orthodox lives, living your life IN REACTION to them is immature and a cop-out. Do you believe that every facet of Halacha was dictated by the G-d you believe in? Then do it, and stay away from the bad middos shown by these people. But the harm you cause by writing such articles and preventing not-yet-observant people from seeing the true beauty of G-d’s Torah, that harm can never be reversed.

I understand your points and almost completely agree with you. The point is not to be completely modest but to be walking with Gd and that must be done modestly. At the same time criticizing the women and men who choose to be more ‘tznius’ makes no sense. I do believe that the women who do wear tights every day and the loose clothing are generally more religious, save for the woman pregnant with a ‘yeshiva guy’s kid’. I do disagree with our culture that puts so much emphasis on what they wear but unfortunately they do, and if you want to be regarded in this society as a more orthodox person and want to get set up with the typical yeshiva guy (and I’m assuming you don’t based on how you describe yourself) you do have to wear tights and you do have to wear longer skirts, not that it makes you a better person, it’s all about conformity, unfortunately.
That said i absolutely agree with your burqa comment and have once made a similar one and the man didn’t see my sarcasm and i explained it to him and he was surprised “how can you be so insensitive to the most religious people of our day”- but that is an argument on its own because that takes away the moderation our religion is based on we are not supposed to do that much more than we are required to, and to wear a burqa is to embrace a non jewish culture which we must shun.
The conversation you had with your sister is the problem i have with girls schools all around; between my sister and some dates I’ve been on, I hear that the schools aim to teach without letting you understand- force feeding you something with out allowing questions has never and will never work. I have always asked Rabbis about any question i would have and they were accommodating i never understood why that didn’t go over to girls schools as well. The problem though is with how everyone only cares how people perceive them not how they actually act and as you correctly pointed out that is not how we should be.

Agree here. The problem with people who come out “against” the “ultra-crazies” is that they wind up being just as judgemental as those they are attempting to judge.
It only furthers the hate and ruins it for the honest enthusiastic people.

We need to find a way to denounce the evils without stereotyping or declaring everybody “frummer” (or even less frum than us) as crazy.

Franko says:

Are those your feet in the picture?
Hot.
(Yes, that’s how men think…you sound much too idealistic regarding the importance of modesty in dress and behavior..I’m not telling you to wear a burqa, but you do sound a bit naive.)

Nechama says:

Great article. You hit the nail on the head identifying a problem that does not just affect the Haredi world. I cannot overstate the dammage that the Haredim do in terms of turning jews away from Torah. By claiming that their perverse, self-righteous piety competition is *the* one and true interpretation of Torah, they end up repulsing many, many Jews who, rightly, would want nothing to do with such a messed up world.
And Franko, tsnius shouldn’t be about how men think. Your thoughts are your responsibility. If you or any man want so to leer at a woman, that reflects on you, not on the woman. Controlling women’s bodies is a pathetic substitute for a holy connection to Torah and the Divine. Again, precisely the sort of thing that turns Jews away from Torah, a consequence for which the Haredi world should be made to take full responsibility.

Rachel says:

Hey, great message unfortunately so true. nowadays many ‘frum’ girls mostly care about the legnth of their skirt etc and not their middot inside, when at the end of the day that is what really matters. Of course tzniut matters as well and is a fundamental part of a young jewish womans life however, how can one be ‘frum’ on the outside and false on the inside? I think in order to gain a complete understanding of what being tzniut is all about one must first internalise what it mean to be modest and a G-d fearing woman and THEN put it into action.

Mike Miller says:

I *love* the last paragraph here. Definitely goes along with Hillel’s idea that those using the “crown” of Torah in unworthy ways are liable for it.

What a poor excuse for an essay. Long, rambling and graceless and the message, dull and derivative. Why do we need this? What does this add? The Torah is so much bigger than all of this pettiness. I recommend that the author visit Ravmosheweinberger.com a truly original and deep thinker who has much to say about these very issues.

This is great. Our latest post has people one upping each other on how to be more religious…alienating and unaccepting…thoughts? .www.urbanfrum.com

Harold says:

Excellent article. Thank you for writing it and for publishing it here.

One very minor point: “Friday afternoons find me running around the house, covering bathroom lights with special Shabbat covers…”

So no one will think we have special bulb covers which somehow don’t catch fire, you mean “covering bathroom light switches with special Shabbat covers…”

Nina says:

Just a technical comment. Chardal stands for “chareidi L’she-avar” which literally translates as Formerly Ultra Orthodox. It does not necessarily have anything to do with Zionism. One can identify themselves as a Chardal and not as a Zionist.

Marty says:

@Nina. No, Chardal (at least in this context) stands for “chareidi-dati leumi,” i.e. very religious right-wing Zionists.

Conservative shul goer says:

This essay sums up many reasons why the Orthodox world beyond the Modern Orthodox circle, is sick and so unappealing to the vast majority of Jews. Demonizing women and obsessing about modesty to such a degree is sick.

avrohom says:

Just a question – my wife was horrendously bullied by the girls at Beis Yakov and today – she still suffers the scars from their bullying [her crime? She was caught with red nail polish on her nails outside of school]. The principal sicced these kids on her for about 3 years – this bullying was very similar to the abuse i went thru when i was in a cult. Are their any support groups for people who were abused by Ultra-Orthodox establishments today. PS – thanks for the article – it helped bring my wife healing

Samantha says:

I love this! As a completely frum woman (BT) who doesn’t always wear tights, and sometimes lets her collar bone show, it’s such a relief to see another similarly observant women make the same argument I have: what’s with all the concern over the superficial stuff? Thank you for at least validating my feelings!!

Franko has a foot fetish. Good for Franko. Of course, it’s up to the man to actually keep thoughts modest and not act on them as if every woman who doesn’t wear tights or dresses in meshuggas outfit is a whore.

Good article. Reminds me of the fact that the people who make the greatest noise about being modest and uptight are usually the most flagrantly sinful.

i too love being jewish — all branches of this great tree — but seeing ultra-orthodoxy acted out cuts off my air supply.

scott says:

Good thoughts and I think that each of us should be concerned with our own. If covering from head to foot suits you by all means do it, just do not force your views on others. We certainly do not know what G-d thinks.

Antidos says:

This is to be expected in the world where everybody likes to play “I am frummer than thou” game. Tznius obsession is just one part of the problem. I’ve already seen yeshivish communities where women and girls wear only black/blue and white. Soon they’ll introduce tzniusdik burkah too !

JCarpenter says:

Is Micah’s injunction “to walk _modestly,” or “to walk _humbly” with God? I see a lot of arrogance in the legalistic interpretation of “modesty” for women, especially as the judgments come from others, rather than from within one’s own heart and spirit. Stick to the Ten, simply applied. As if that’s what God wants to be to his people, a burden and a source of tension. Love God, love your neighbor.

Yossi Ginzberg says:

This is a beautifully written article, but to be honest misplaced.
If you want to effect change, get this printed where the Boro Park crowd will se it.
If you just want to change yourself, move out of Brooklyn to any one of the many less-judgemental communities.
If you just wanted to vent and chose to do it publicly, then you are onr of “those girls”.

Frank Jaffe says:

nice

Gideon Glass says:

Brilliant. Shedding light on the sad realities of our religion. Regretfully, you are likely “preaching to the choir” for your intended audience likely won’t be reading this. However, if they did chance upon the internet (blasphemy!) they would angrily dismiss you as a heretic in much the same manner as your high school teachers dismissed modernity or flexibility of religious expression. Nevertheless, I commend your boldness and as a fellow modern orthodox affiliate, your message resonates deeply with my sentiment. Thank you.

amyrpk says:

avrohom, my son has been horrendously bullied at the D’L/Torani schools he goes to. He’s called “doisy” and beaten and teased about his peyos. And no, we are not Khareidi.

He gets similar abuse from khiloni kids in the park.

Who does my son go to for support? Are there any Jewish identifiers left for him?

I felt the article deeply, though it was surprising to read that they’re still separating the riders on the bus from the Kotel. In my experience, there are signs on all the buses stating that that’s not allowed.

And the very long skirt that her friend was so impressed by, well, khareidim would be horrified by how untznius it is … long skirts to the ankle are verboten, they tell me (except when wearing formal gowns … those are allowed).

I guess reading it all just made me feel very, very tired, and very, very depressed, not so much because of the dysfunction it described, but at how misplaced the article is. The readers of this site, is it going to change them? Is it going to make them re-think the way they behave? Is there anyone reading this site who it remotely applies to?

No. There isn’t. And all it will do is give the readers one more thing with which to bemoan those Backwards Orthodox.

Though we Sideways Orthodox do get to post self-congratulatory comments (precisely like this very one) about how we’d never be so closed and small …

Maybe try it over on the imamother boards. It’d be quite interesting to see the reaction it would get over there.

I love how all the frummies will say “of course a burqa is extreme and sick”, but then defend all the new nonsense of tights etc. as “important” and “contructive”. As the famous saying goes, wherever one’s religious standing is, those to the right are too extreme, and those to the left are too liberal.

Kman says:

Wow, what an immature article. This is a stereotype of the black hat world if I ever saw one. Kind of like a Haredi claiming that all of the Modox world texts Shabbos.
Avital, I think you need to grow up and learn how to ignore the crazies that we, like every religion, has and associate with normal and sincerely frum people who are all over the place. The silent majority.

Howard says:

Although once I lived in the dati tzioni world, I think that ultimately the craziness about women provided the ultimate religious cracking point for me.

This article illustrates why, in my constant internal debate about whether Torah is divine or madness or divine madness…. the haredim are living proof that it is most likely that it is simply madness.

I continue to think that living with and doing Torah matters… but this article reminds me never to take it too seriously or too literally… because look where it leads… to an insanity that is, once you gain a clear eyed glimpse of it, so obviously insane, so obviously not possibly the word or desire of HKB that, in a sense, we are mercifully, once again relieved of our burdensome sense of obligation in so many other areas, such as kashrut or Shabbat.

No, when we read about the craziness of tzniute rules, it throws a light on all the other aspects of Torah, and reminds us that we must not take any of it too seriously, even if we take it a little seriously.

Mordechai says:

While I may disagree with some of the arguments made in this essay, I definitely agree with the bottom line. The epitome of tznius as described in the Chumash is Bil’Am’s praise of Bnei Yisrael “Mah Tovu Oha’lecha Yaakov”, on which Rashi comments that no window of any tent faced the window of another tent. This teaches us that while there are definitely guidelines for parts of the body that must be covered with regards to being tzanua, tznius is more an attitude than a style of dress. A Jewish woman can and should present herself ATTRACTIVELY, as is befitting the daughter of The King. However, that does not mean that she may dress to ATTRACT particular attention to herself. Kol Hakavod Avital!

Arthur Toporovsky says:

This is a nicely written and sensitive comment on an important issue. Kudos to the author.

vacciniumovatum says:

As a practicing Conservative Jew who grew up in Crown Heights (but was never a Lubub) and has spent her adult life in he Pacific Northwest, I found this article fascinating.

This could only be written by someone who lived in a place like metro NYC, LA, Baltimore, Israel…

There is nothing about the neshama of the woman, just the dress code.

It makes me think the Sephardic side of my family had the right idea about dress.

caydee says:

@Kman: “associate with normal and sincerely frum people who are all over the place. The silent majority.”

Yeah… I’m still looking for them. They are silent. You yourself say that. So how can you find them to associate with them?

Kman says:

caydee, The average frum Jew in Monsey, Far Rockaway, Passaic, etc would be in that category. The overwhelming majority of those women dress attractively yet refined. For Avital to assert that we look up to burka clad women or look down at Jews in 1950′s Soviet Union is so disingenuous.
Oh, and she also knows of those having secret affairs with Yeshiva boys who also lecture others on tznius. Right. How convenient.
If Avital would have written an article about how tznius is less about skirt length and more about demeanor, I could have respected her point, but she sounds like another one of those bitter ex frum women who were featured in the NY Post and Dr Phil, who has an ax to grind.

Simi says:

This article is not meant to classify all right-wing Orthodox people. It is an eloquent defense of the importance of the true essence of mitzvot, and seeks only to point out the problems with those who incorrectly interpret various aspects of mitzvot. Nowhere does Ms. Chizhik decry ultra-Orthodox Judaism as a whole, only highlights some issues that are very clearly a part of some right-wing practices.
Add me to the growing list of your supporters, Avital.

Haaretz Commentator says:

This is exactly what I and all of my hiloni friends have been saying about you dossim all along. You’re all crazy sexist, racist, lazy leeches on society who live in the 17th century and don’t have respect for anyone outside your community or anything that goes against a single word that your rabbi may have said to your brother’s wife’s cousin’s husband late at night on Purim 10 years ago. This article has confirmed every single stereotype I have ever held against anyone who keeps Shabbat regardless of whether or not it was ever mentioned or referenced, since I didn’t actually read the article, nor do I ever visit this site unlike everyone else here – who seems to feel (appropriately) that this article is, in fact, about them, but does not seem to realize that is article is, in fact, directed AT them.

You have focused my thoughts and show I am not alone in such. Thank you.

Sigalit Shual says:

Avital, you took the words right out of my mouth. I too was raised orthodox, but in a small town where the kodesh learning took place after regular public school classes. What we learned were skills in reading, chumash, navi, rashi, ohr hachayim, and dinim right out of the kitzur and shmiras Shabbos kehilchoso. No opinions on or judgement of others. Mine was the generation after the Holocaust and every Jew was considered precious and worthy of respect.
My daughters however went to schools like yours and it tore some of them up, when they were taught things that aren’t halacha, but are chumros and worse. The judging (what happened to “al todin”?) got to one of them in particular. She is no longer Shabbos observant. The “talibanisation” of the Jewish woman gets to me. Since when must we not be seen, and the publications must have no womens pics? Even publications by women for women?
Thank you for speaking up.

Umm, maybe the writer should hang out with a different orthodox croud in Israel – where women wear slacks and are still considered to be modest, because they are (they’re not trying to catch anyone’s attention) and life is lived normally. The writer claims otherwise, but she’s employing a stereotype.

Kol ha kovod. Well said.

I have friends who were told, as 10 year olds, by their neighbor’s kids that they weren’t allowed to play with them because they weren’t “tznius enough” despite the fact that they were all Orthodox, went to the same school, etc…

You mistranslated the pasuk in Micha. In הצנע לכת עם אלוקך, the word הצנע is a verb, and לכת is a noun. It translates more literally as “be modest in your walk with G-d”.

Which has a somewhat different meaning, as in “don’t be boastful about that you’re walking with Him”. It doesn’t affect your point too much, but when an emphasized section of an article is inaccurate, that shouldn’t go unmentioned.

Yaffa says:

Wonderful article. Some of the earlier commenters, though, I think have missed some of her points. Avital is not saying that wearing tights is wrong, and being more religious is sanctimonious, instead she is commentating on the fact that so much religious guilt and observance of halakha is based on other people’s actions and the ‘orthodox way’ as a whole. Essentially, it does not matter what others do, it just matters how YOU walk with HaShem.

Grammar objection! In the original Hebrew, “hatznea lechet”, translated as “walk modestly”, means to make ones walk modest. So “walk” is in noun form, and “modestly” is really the verb.

Gideon Glass says:

@Kman- Turning a blind eye to the “crazies” as you so bluntly described them and instead focusing on the “silent majority” is really a poor outlook on life in general. Granted, every religion has their “radicals” in either extreme, and by definition they are the minority, but nevertheless minorities can be significantly detrimental (see Ramat Beit Shemesh where little girls have been spat on for being “immodest”). The fundamental point the author was trying to impress was that some have taken the virtue of “modesty” and essentially reduced it to the point of superficiality in which certain stringencies are met with a “checklist mentality”- does she wear socks? does she have a skirt cover her ankles? These questions (mind you, mostly added stringencies beyond the letter of the law) should be secondary to a transcendent, genuine piety. So yes, while you can find plenty of people of the “silent majority,” the “crazies” still warrant attention.

Gideon Glass says:

@Kman- Furthermore, this mentality manifests itself clearly in the “shidduch resumes,” which are predominant in the broader “silent majority” that you praise as independent of such a pettiness.

Ally Levy says:

so fantastic and spot on.

Right on!
I must note, however, that other people’s OCD piety and craziness does not give us carte blanche to throw halacha out the window. Us NORMAL PEOPLE must take ownership of Orthodoxy, or else they will.

Yael says:

@Nina – actually in my circles Chardal means “Charedi Leumi” and I presume that’s what Avital meant

Avital – Thank you – your article brought tears to my eyes, tears of gratefulness that I am not alone, that my daughter isn’t the only 12 year old who comes home from school crying that she feel like she won’t see Mashiach because we have a dog or she won’t have arms in heaven if her sleeves slip up above her elbow. We are switching schools next year because we are now not religious enough for the new rules that her current school has taken on (we are too American as the teacher told my daughter) but the message I got when looked into other places is not just that we are not religious enough BUT we are too religious – I try so hard to find the balance in order to raise my kids with religious standards but they feel hatred from all sides, hatred because either they are assumed to be Charedi or because they are not Frum enough – my message to them “Do what is correct in G-d’s eyes – what everyone else thinks doesn’t matter” but that is so hard to uphold when you feel ostracized from all sides.

My current “revenge” is my oldest daughter, married to a wonderful guy, Breslev Chasidim with true joy in their hearts for Avodat HaShem – the same daughter that I was told would come to no good because her skirts were too LONG (they swept the floor) – chew on that all those who gave me grief and told me I didn’t know how to instill tznius in my daughters !!

I think we lost our focus (and I really think I need a support group !!!!)

Yael says:

@Haaretz Commentator – you sound very angry – I feel sorry for you.

Us “dossim” are just normal every day people who are trying to live a life according to the morals of the Torah.

The fact that, unfortunately, we have to cope with the pettiness of others who need to bring us down in order to feel better about themselves (be it “charedi” or “chiloni” or anyone in between) is sad but it is a reality that we must handle.

Maybe this forum was not the best choice to air our frustrations but I do hope you learn to love yourself in order to be able to accept and love those around whatever their beliefs may be.

Excellent essay –thank you.

emmy weiss says:

to Kman and Gideon Glass :
You do mention of “silent majority” that’s the prob ! Why the majority is silent and let Satmarers and other frummies do Chilul Hashem and put mud on us (silent majority) ! As such : letting the Shomrim protect offenders, stealing money from gvrnmt (pretending not knowing who is the father of tehir kids…for single mom allowances), yelling insults, spitting on non-modest women or kids !

Marc says:

I don’t blame the teachers at Beis Yaakov, the chareidim, the OU, or any of the such for this frumitization of Judaism. It’s the fault of the people. As Jews we are given the Torah to learn. We should know enough about what is and is not permitted and consulting with a rabbi when we don’t know. However we’ve completely given over not just asking but learning too to the establishment. We’ve lost touch with what Judaism is. As a result we put on a costume each and every day to try to feel Jewish. Black hats, white socks, black socks, shtreimels, tights, long skirts, longer skirts are all a costume in this context to give off the appearance of being frum without actually having to be. And when we self define our religiousness through the “denier count”, we innately feel we’ve cheapened Judaism. So we go further and further to the extreme to mask those feelings so we don’t feel that cheapness until one day we start to wake up and realize we let this opportunity of being “am chacham v’navon” get away from us and all we are is a parody on Saturday Night Live or when the Simpsons visit NY they see chasidim as ZZ Top. We need to reclaim our keter Torah away from organizations that need to be machmir to satisfy everyone when they should be more meikil. We need to take away the power from the right wing schools that say you’re going to hell if you show your collarbone. It’s up to the people to rise up and revolt and to actually start observing Torah instead of trying to mask our religious inadequacies with dress.

Shoshanna says:

Beautiful. Well written. On point. 100% on the money. Good luck and be proud of yourself.

Rachel says:

Really well done. I never read this publication, but this essay might change my mind.

Aviva says:

yasher chochecha on your article. The direction the Orthodox world is heading towards, at least in some circles, is alarming, especially for women. And, don’t be afraid to learn Talmud–if you were taught some of the most graphic parts already, what’s to stop you from studying more yourself, to understand the sources of halacha and Jewish religious life? Try out Drisha in NYC..they have great courses.

chag kasher v’sameach,

Aviva

Shoshy says:

Very well written and to the point. To those who say the author should avoid generalizing from the “crazies” to the silent majority — the point of the article is that the crazies are teaching our children, and controlling the shidduch process through which they meet their mates. This should very much be a wakeup call to the majority of Orthodox Jews who care about the future of Klal Yisrael. This is NOT a sensationalist bid for 15 minutes of Amazon.com fame.
Avital, walk tall and be true to yourself and your beliefs. This stage in your life is an opportunity to spend some time in different communities, both here and in Israel. Try to find people who inspire you in the way they find balance in their lives and whose spirituality is a model for you. Surround yourself with intelligent, thoughtful people who “get” you and hopefully ultimately that will lead you to find a soulmate who is worthy of your talents. And yeah, try to avoid the “crazies” as best you can.
B’hatzlacha!

Lila Chertman says:

Wow. This is one of the most powerful pieces of writing I have read in a while. Thank you Avital for so eloquently expressing your thoughts on this issue. I wholeheartedly agree with your conclussion about Gd wanting us to keep our piety modest, something that unfortunately seems to be glossed over by too many of our own faith.

David says:

Excellent article. Orthodox communities are increasingly dysfunctional due to growing extremism, poverty and infighting.

Avital, I hear everything you say loud and clear and agree! My only point of contention is this Artscroll translation of Micah 6:8. It seems like they made the translation into something that makes sense better in English, but the verse in Hebrew is more, “And the modest person walks with G-d.” Which would go along with your point better anyhow. I have a funny song about tznius on website. It’s called Tznius is Cool.

itsnotimportant says:

Clearly it is not modest to brag about modesty.

masortiman says:

Kol hav kavod to the author.

This piece is a kiddush hashem, and brings honor to Torah and to Modern O. While not all haredim are like the extreme cases (and a few are very good people), anyone who has had extensive dealings with that community knows that there are a few who are obsessed with such issues, and many more who are not obsessed, but who express such things from time to time, if not always in the most objectionable ways.

Sarah says:

You NAILED it! Kol hak’vod! I too left my secular family to embrace Judaism and the beauty of its ways — not the narrow guilt-ridden fetishism that is trying to pass as stringent orthodoxy. Micah is my guide; the Torah is my learning; my siddur is my aid to contemplation and praise.You have found balance — let us hope that enough other young women find balance as well so that they can pass on the true values of Judaism to their children.

Yehuda Poch says:

Thank you Avital.
This is a brilliant article and the point is incredible. I wish many more people in the “frum” world would get this point as well as you have. I am sympathetic to the pain you have experienced in your development, but I am pleased that it has given you a Torah-true insight.

rena bannett says:

What a beautifully written and well articulated, though sad, picture you paint, Avital – thank you!

rhondda says:

Excellent, well-written article. Looking forward to reading more of your observations.

I have a particular beef with the emphasis I see at our local “bais-yacov-style” girls’ high school: full makeup at all times. Yes, let us focus on INTERNAL beauty…

miriam says:

Don’t bash people who follow the standards of their own communities, just because you chose not to. Don’t complain about people just because they dress differently than you do. You claim that others do that – yet perhaps you’re doing the same thing. Let’s all make our own choices. Let’s all respect the choices of others. Let’s not criticize others – especially not openly – for differences between us.
So someone yelled at you at the Kosel… someone else yelled at her daughter for a low neckline. Big deal! You will unfortunately find people who make little things into big things in every religious group, in every community. You will find teachers who focus on wrong points, who hurt students – in every community, about every topic. I had a bio professor in college who loved to bash anyone who was straight, non-vegetarian, and/ or believed in G-d. Did that make me feel bad? No way!
I speak as a daughter of BT’s, raised in a very charedi area and having attended all charedi schools. I also have completed graduate school and work outside the community. I watch videos and the occasional movie. I have the standards that I adhere to as far as what I choose to watch. I don’t disparage those who watch more, and I don’t disparage those who watch less – or none. I dress in a way that I feel is apropriate – yeah, it includes tights. Sorry. I don’t mock those who are more – OR less – tzanuah. Sometimes people are more tzanuah, or religious in other ways – for the right reasons, and sometimes not. It’s not for me to judge, and I try to remember that.
There are alot of not-so-crazy chareidim around.
Please. Don’t judge. An article professed to have the topic of true modesty should not be one that puts down people who safeguard their own.

R. Klempner says:

I don’t think the problem is the tights. I don’t think the problem is any woman taking upon herself the habit to dress in a very modest way (unless you are–like the briefly mentioned in the article–dressing in a burqua when rabbis tell you this is not a Jewish practice). Choosing to dress in a G-dly way is a personal decision and is a way to serve G-d.

But a person are supposed to serve G-d with joy. The problem is trying when people try to force others to serve G-d out of guilt, bullying, or fear. I personally dress in a way that is quite tzanua–but I don’t look down my nose at those who don’t. Any woman today who thinks about G-d when she dresses deserves an ovation, even if she still shows a little elbow, a few locks of hair or a knee. What troubles me the most is people who look down at other people who DO dress tzanua, but not to the level they themselves do.

I think that the trend to be more and more tzanua is an irrational reaction to a very real problem. Our society is SO permissive, and the primary victims are young ladies. Dressing modestly–when done of her own free will–allows a woman to feel more dignified and invites people to look at her eyes and smile instead of her cleavage and thighs. It discourages overly-familiar behavior from men. I experienced this first-hand when I became religious and adopted a more modest way of dress. However, spreading the message of modesty must be done with gentleness and positivity, not bullying or a sneer.

Since when is Micah a source for halachah?

It’s shameful when boys and men are given real reasons for halachic issues and girls are quoted to from Prophets and Psalms, as though learning the laws they live by might damage them.

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen religious Jews (male and female) behaving with absolutely no derech eretz (respect, politeness, gentility) as they engage in loud conversations about whether a person, place, or thing is kosher enough for them.

Whether it’s loudly discussing another person’s observance or loudly discussing the reliability of a restaurant (in full view of other diners currently eating), or loudly asking the clueless barista at Starbuck’s if they can examine the whipped cream canister — the forest is definitely being lost for the trees.

All of those conversations can be conducted, if necessary, in a very different way — if only we remember that how we treat our fellow human beings says more about us than our skirts or hats.

Thanks, Avital.
Unfortunately, it is much simplier to wear a long skirt or a black suit and think of yourself a religious jew than to actually behave according to the Tora morals.

Tzviki says:

It’s so wonderfully refreshing to read a well-written, non-cynical, and open-minded approach to subject that is not easily approachable from a self-proclaimed “Yeshiva girl.” There may be yet hope…

nick says:

Great article!
It seems to me that you are in that stage where you’re discovering yourself, figuring out what you believe in and what your values are. You try to distance yourself from what you believe is obsessiveness etc, but you still try to idealize other things. It is a stage that many of us, former ultra-orthodox, go through.
Most end up realizing that the craziness does not end with the ‘modesty’. We realize that putting on the covers over the light switches is just as pathetic. Getting angry at a sibling or a child because they may have had a crumb of ‘chometz’ on their outfit or shoes is just as pathetic… The list goes on..
I hope you keep opening your eyes and realize that it’s a superficial, sad lifestyle. You’ll also have a lot more to write about..

Man, I miss good old-fashioned modern orthodoxy. Clearly, when there isn’t enough anti-Semitism in the world, we Jews have to go and create it amongst ourselves.

Well said Avital !

Gitta Zarum says:

Don’t think it fair to mention the young woman having an extra-marital affair: whilst disgraceful, it is surely the exception [although I understand that you mention it because of the skewed value system]. What bothers me more is your reluctance to study Talmud. Why ever not? One good reason to me seems to be that if we [as women] don’t learn the issues, e.g. for kashrut, then we don’t know when to ask a sha’alah. And all learning to do with Torah is to be encouraged.

Bonnie says:

This is well written, beautifully done. What is wrong with our people? When did we get so crazy? Where are we going with this? We of the modern Orthodox world must fight back against this prejudice. Crazy to judge people by the “chizoni”. What about character? What about simply being a good Jew? Is that not important anymore?

An article only a BT can pen. Well done. I wonder, how much of what you describe is a product of any feminine environment, religious or secular? In my experience, guys just don’t seem to cut each other down the way women do.

Keep writing.

Avrohom Bruck says:

The people who want others to be open minded seem to be the most closed minded of all.

Those who ask to be allowed their space are the first to deny it to others.

If you want others to respect your “freedom”, then respect their “slavery” …

SisiL says:

I just discovered your blog via Free Jinger.
As a Jewish woman who was dissuaded from Orthodoxy by “OCD” as you described it I find it refreshing that there are Orthodox people who recognize some of the problems and are willing to talk about it.
I now belong to an egalitarian congregation and live with my Jewish fiance and we both strive to observe Judaism to our own degree. I still love my Chabad friends, I simply cannot see myself sanely meeting the standards that they keep. I still enjoy shabbos at their homes though, and am thankful that they are there opening their homes to share the joy of Judaism with others like myself.

Aliza says:

you go girl.

Thank you very much for this excellent article; it resonated with me so much!

ELLIS JAYUS says:

And let us all say, AMEN! BTW-I know of an absolute gem of a normal Orthodox (note that I resist the term “modern”) young man, American-born, now living in Jerusalem, who would love to meet a female of equivalent practice. According to many unmarried “normalists,” the problem they encounter is the lack of same…either too far right or too far left, no one left in the middle. Perhaps this article will help bring about a course correction to our ship that is now listing about 60 degrees right.

Chaya says:

In our family, my grandmother (of blessed memory) was the gold standard for piety. When I knew her well, which was later in her life, she davened every day at home, went to shul on Saturday when her health and weather let her walk, and was as strictly kosher as imaginable.

However – she refused to marry my grandfather until he finished his Polish army service, declining to be a possible widow with a baby, and so did not marry till she was 21. She never shaved her head or wore a sheitel. And HORRORS! – she sometimes wore a short sleeved dress, especially when tackling a major kitchen chore, such as turning 5 or 10 pounds of flour into the best challah (from which she took challah) imaginable.

The current state of OCD is really the frummer-than-thou syndrome, and shares a lot with the fundamentalists of all religions. The Jewish women in burkas look like the Arab women in burkas. This is supposed to be a good thing?

Gabe Chesnau says:

“God’s” Torah, the Quran, Christian Bible, and Book of Mormon derive excessive power from the assertion they were “revealed” by an all-knowing Divine source and accordingly are infallible documents whose ostensible shortcomings are a result of our inability to understand them. We can find words of wisdom and love in all these “holy books”. Yet one can also quite clearly see messages of hatred and ignorance. Human beings, typically men, wrote and edited all of these books. As such they reflect the fears, prejudices, experiences, mindset and desires of those societies and writers: homophobia, slavery, misogyny, control over others…. The Rabbis concocted rules that prevented some heinous applications (witness requirements, etc.) such as killing of the rebellious son. But they also have added far too much minutiae that could rightfully be called “nonsense”.

A modesty code can be a good thing when presented as a guideline to avoid the excesses of the modern world. Children, teens, even adults watching t.v. or movies see nudity, violence, sex, drug usage, over and over. A few clicks on the internet and there are engagement parties in which all the women are coupling with a male stripper.
Extra-marital affairs seem to be widely condoned.
An escape to the world of Orthodoxy can seem like a good alternative. But to surrender to all of its dictates on the assertion “this is what Hashem says” is
a denial of our own God-given powers of intelligence. There must be a middle way.

C>Hoarsen says:

Im floored, I guess I am just ortho-reformed

The photo above this article shows a shapely pair of female legs and feet, encased in “modest” long stockings. My point. This model is so sexy that it exudes despite the so-called modest, opaque stockings.

patricia ciasullo says:

i truely enjoyed you article having grown up in a small community south of pittsburgh called white oak. the jewish community there was headed at the time by rabbi chinn. he was a wonderful, learned and temperate man much beloved by the entire community. he was the adhesive between the ultra religious jews those less so as well as the non jews in the town. he depended upon us to know our limits and follow the word of g-d without coarse admonishments. his presence is surely missed

deborah says:

Ms. Chizhik has written a brilliant piece. She understands that there is a difference between living the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.
The Pharisees in ancient times prided themselves on their strict observance of the law. The tendency of their teaching was to reduce religion to the observance of a multiplicity of ceremonial rules and to encourage spiritual pride. Have things changed all that much?

Abbi says:

Nina, all the way up on top: Not sure you’ll see this, but in Israel Chardal is definitely NOT charedi l’sheavar. It’s Charedi Leumi (combo of charedi and national relgiious).

I don’t think there’s a specific acronym for a former charedi, but a former dati person is called a Datlash- dati l’sheavar.

Thank you for that article, I found it interesting and painful. Do women of valor where tights? Modesty is in the eye of the beholder, although the media has tried hard to project decency as a thing of the past.

She was shaking her finger, screeching, “Erva!” and pointing to my hair, which was partially covered with a scarf. “Nakedness! How dare you not dress as a daughter of Israel, in the holiest of places? Where is the respect? How dare you not respect your husband, and the holiness of this place?” I was at such a loss for words that I didn’t know how to explain that I’m not even married, I’m not required to cover my hair—and I wondered why I’ve grown defensive. Why did I feel a need to explain myself to this woman? Where was the respect from her end.

For someone that writes for a living, how can you be at a loss of words. But I am not married would of sufficed and shut the lady up and maybe even brought about an apology. What needs to be looked at is why it is such an issue for you.

Barbara Clark says:

Excellent,somewhat distressing article,I can imagine what my life would be like run by orthodox rigidity;it would be an unreal nightmare plus it would pander to male needs and dominance. We are here for a very short time-there is a universe which pays very little attention to the length of our clothes or our religions—it’s time to embrace the openness and energy of this world not the death like rigidity some people practice to control themselves and others.

Chaya says:

In an answer to etan – why was it this woman’s business at all, to reprimand someone she did not know and could not know if she were married or not? This is the essence of the issue – those who think it is their right, their duty, their privilege to police everyone else, while behaving in a way that is essentially shameful.

Someone else wrote that an ankle-length skirt would not meet the tznius standards of the charedi – is this so they can easily check to see if you’re wearing tights? Would they wear short burkas for that reason?

And yes, a writer can be at a loss for words. One writes in private and with contemplation. The loss for words can simply be complete consternation that anyone would behave in that fashion, and part of restraint in not replying with venom or in a physical fashion.

Moshe says:

Great article, hopefully someday the mainstream Orthodox community will be able to move away from this superficiality and prioritize the real issues.

I’ve been hearing about the ‘silent majority’ so I will break the silence. I am ‘Hareidi’, I wear longer skirts, sleeves and higher necklines and I live a full, meaningful religious life that is not defined nor characterized by the clothes I wear. I find it highly insulting and a reflection of the ignorance of any speaker who dares to group the Hareidi world into one large mass. The ‘hareidi’ world is a tremendously diverse, nuanced group–and I am proud to belong to a a part of this world that respects both women and halacha. I welcome you to look just a little farther outside of the petty world to which you have been exposed and find the strictly orthodox communities that celebrate a rich, productive religious experience. It is exciting to write about the pitfalls and prejudices of a self-righteous people, it is far less exciting to write about genuine, happy and thinking religious communities. I challenge the author to look around and perhaps make these communities the focus of her next article.

David Z says:

It is hard to write one of these pieces without being that girl who escaped, but at the same time, you did not stay in that society and try to change it – you went to YU (I did too, so no offense there).

You also seem to mix issues. Reading Tennyson has nothing to do with your problems with kharedi/yeshivish modesty. Girls can think they need to wear tights and read Tennyson or girls can be bare-legged and think they shouldn’t. Tennyson is certainly permissible if it entertains you and helps you relax so you can better serve hashem, and it might improve your English and or even how you think, but there are many ways to do that without imbibing local culture. No need to confuse the tights thing with secular literature.

But the things your sister is being told are horrifying by any perspective. I live in L.A. so maybe the yeshivish people here are different, but they would make fun of such things, even if they would never take off their tights. The real question is how to change the sick way these people think and I have no idea. You can’t teach them tora, because they’ve obviously sent he tora and rejected the balanced, reasonable parts in favor of whatever they’re own desires are. People don’t just have a yetser hara for laziness and leniency – they also have one for extremism and stringency. But it’s one that is not even recognized and so they feel they can wallow in it while all along they are m’nuval birshut hatora in their comforting stringencies. I was never a part of that world, though my wife was. She didn’t go to YU, but did more yeshivish things. Marrying me was probably her equivalent — I broke up with one girl because she wouldn’t take off her tights at the beach (well I’m not that shallow, but it was indicative of other issues). But we aren’t Modern Orthodox either, and just hope to influence as many people as possible to live balanced but dedicated tora lives. So that you can reject Tennyson and still take off your tights at the beach.

David Z says:

As an aside, I don’t know how you can compare the things your sister was told with that comment on bestiality and American society. I think your teacher was certainly right. There is, of course, quite a bit of bestiality going on (one arrest recently hit the news, but most of it is in private, of course). And why is it demented to think that perhaps it might come en vogue again? Certainly Internet pornography has given it a resurgence.

miriam says:

Wee-hoo! I proclaim myself happy to read Tennyson if I so desire – though I usually choose lighter reads myself, and equally happy to wear my tights to the beach!
David, I probably would have broken up with you, too – your disturbance over my wearing tights at the beach would certainly be indicative of other issues!

To Leah: Thank you for your beautiful, articulate defense of the thinking, happy, and genuine chareidi community! I do indeed believe myself to belong to one of those – though you wouldn’t believe they exist, to read some of these posts!

languagegirl says:

The world has gone insane and no one is brave enough to admit it out loud. Thank you for writing this.

masortiman says:

“I find it highly insulting and a reflection of the ignorance of any speaker who dares to group the Hareidi world into one large mass. ”

There are haredi folks who group everyone who is not Orthodox as “frei” – grouping together drug using hipsters, intellectual atheists, vegetarian Reconstructionist Jews, and observant Conservative jews who would are virtually orthoopraxic. (There are even a few who group modern O into that, but it may only be hassidim who don’t see the distinction between modern O and “frei”)

So you can get that chip off your shoulder.

Yes, there are relatively enlightened haredim. But there are huge parts of the haredi world, in the USA and in Israel, that are moving in the opposite direction. And AFAICT deference to the right is high throughout the O world – modern O defering to the frumkeit of the yeshivish, and enlightened yeshivish deferring to the most close minded.

If the enlightened haredim do not wish to be grouped with the most repressive and backward, they need to publicly repudiate the worst (thats happening a bit in Israel in response to Bet Shemesh) and to forge alliances not only with the modern O, but with the rest of the Jewish world.

GABRIEL says:

So what`s your point woman?

Trying to indicate that women should be more whorelike?

In that case, don`t bother quoting Micha.

Because you will not be walking with God at all.

Felt like I was hearing myself speak in this article. I hear you, sister. Keep up the great writing.

Doctora Halaawah says:

I almost cried when I read your article. I spent many years living in Saudi Arabia … and this is so similar to the kinds of stories I heard there…. It’s quite common for women to have absolutely no part of their person exposed; they are covered completely in thick black abaayas with multiple-layer headcoverings that even cover the eyes (they peer out through a thinner top layer), black gloves that go up over the wrists, thick black socks or tights, and black shoes when the temperature is 120 degrees or more…..just to be “modest.” Sigh.

Rachel bat Rivka says:

The sin of excessive public piety is ignored by so many of these people…

“modestly” is important…satan walked with G-d as well…is good not to take out the modesty in walking with G-d.and him being omnipresent modesty is recomended at all times.

..about being an avid NY Times reader…i read the story of the lubavitcher Rebbe and his cousin who became a famous poet in Israel, Avraham Shlonsky..in one poem he says”on my father’s bookshelf sat the Tanya leaning on the books of Pushkin.

and yes the picture is flirtatious

and that’s why one became The Rebbe and the other became a poet..in “Larger than life” by Shaul Shimon Deutsch..Influences …

and one more:
there is a story about a rabbi who wanted to move to another city cause he cannot stand the city how it became and sends a talmid to another city to bring him information about it how is the place how are the people…and the talmid went, entering the city stopped at an inn and got a drink started chatting ,eventually got robbed and left beaten outside the inn.came back begging the rabbi not to move the people are bad,The Rabbi sent another talmid to get a second opinion..this one went passed the innn went straight to shul,people were fighting over him to invite him over ti be their guest,he came back with nothing but praises.long story short the rabbi realizes he doesn’t need to move,

Great article, and a reminder that we all need to remember that BALANCE is called for in our behavior. Too loose and too strict is not good for a soul.

Andrew says:

This is one of the most painful blog posts I’ve ever read. In my whole life. And I’ve lived a long time. One small step for man and PUSH we have schoolchildren reporting on their neighbors and parents. Up we schlep a giant step and for peace we leave our footprints and this is humanity’s next chapter.

Rebecca says:

I believe in religious freedom and I respect all people. I am most certainly anti-semitic but when religions are taken to such legalistic extremes, it’s dangerous. I do not feel a need to respect religions that treat women like, at best, second class citizens, or at worst, scum, animals, and expendable. That you still feel guilty about reading ancient texts traditionally reserved for men is heartbreaking. I couldn’t do what you’re doing — I grew up in a very legalistic brand of fundamentalist Christianity with very similar views on modesty — but best of luck to you.

David says:

A great Rabbi once said that if you clean the inside of the bowel the outside will be clean. He also said, You whited sepulchre, pretending to be uncorrupt of sin, while worm-infested, rotten through within!

It is a matter of the heart. Certainly, those externals give some clue, but so does the unloving letter of the law. Love the LORD your G_d with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Circumsise your hearts. (Deut. 10:16)

Arguing over anachronistically irrelevent minutia instead of identifying with their God; a veil covers minds and eyes of the Chosen people, chosen to be examples for mankind, of human nature and fickleness.

>So much, it seemed, depended on covering ourselves—and in some circles, it still does. One young woman recently apologized to me that her husband doesn’t know any modern Orthodox young men to introduce me to, and that perhaps if I wore tights it would be a different situation. Soon afterward, I found out that she’s having an extramarital affair with a yeshiva student and is pregnant with his child. “Well,” I thought, “at least she wears tights.”<

That story just sounds so far-fetched (thankfully) and yet so convenient for the point being made. Just saying!

>I am ‘Hareidi’, I wear longer skirts, sleeves and higher necklines and I live a full, meaningful religious life that is not defined nor characterized by the clothes I wear. I find it highly insulting and a reflection of the ignorance of any speaker who dares to group the Hareidi world into one large mass. The ‘hareidi’ world is a tremendously diverse, nuanced group–and I am proud to belong to a a part of this world that respects both women and halacha. I welcome you to look just a little farther outside of the petty world to which you have been exposed and find the strictly orthodox communities that celebrate a rich, productive religious experience. It is exciting to write about the pitfalls and prejudices of a self-righteous people, it is far less exciting to write about genuine, happy and thinking religious communities. I challenge the author to look around and perhaps make these communities the focus of her next article.<

Give it a break, Leah. Much of frum society is dysfunctional I know that because I've lived in it for much of my sixty years. When one must dress like a penguin, and the shape or angle of a hat brim carries great significance or whether somone works for a living or not can destroy shidduchim, something has gone totally awry!

joanne perelman says:

Anything good here?

Kol hakavod to Avital who really get’s what it is all about. Thank you for being understanding and grateful about your upbringing and the people you left behind, but also realizing that moderation in everything is the shvil hazahav. Modern American society is really not modest, but vigilante enforcement of modesty is a hillul hashem. Just look at the negative publicity it has generated in Israel. Good luck finding your way in life.
JJ Class of YC ’79.

laura says:

Wow…had I had it wrong; thank-you for opening my eyes! I had been foolishly admiring people who challenged themselves with more difficult stringencies than I could handle. Being someone who is probably guilty of both immodesty and attempts to appear more pious than I really am, I’ve been wasting a lot of time with my piddly focus on my own failings and inadequacies, trying to correct myself. Clearly, I’ve been missing the greater opportunity to perfect everyone else around me .

Bat Sheva says:

“I sleep with my head covered, girls. Always.” Maybe you should have asked her how she has relations with her husband. Does she wear her knickers all the time as well for surely that place needs to be kept covered always. Do they even have sex with their heads covered?

chocolatier says:

“So what`s your point woman?

Trying to indicate that women should be more whorelike?”

Good luck ever having sex in your lifetime, Gabriel. Misogynist jerk.

Michael says:

Interestingly, an article was just published in which it was found that “clothes define the person.” Individuals were asked to perform certain tasks, some individuals were wearing a doctor’s coat, others were not. The individuals wearing the coat tended, overall, to perform better – increased attention to detail and such. There is, accordingly, some point to this attention to style of dress.

However, Judaism also contains doctrines of judging people favourably (Dan l’khaf zchut), greeting people with a smile (literally beautiful face – shever panim yafot), and avoiding evil language (shmirat halashon or loshon hora).

Avital, I would encourage you to continue exploring your Judaism and incorporating its teachings into your life, and not to listen to those who seem to say your efforts are worthless/meaningless, because they are not. At the same time, understand that these people are trying (albeit in a misguided and inappropriate way) to encourage you to do that which is right (in their eyes).

Ultimately, they are responsible for themselves and you are responsible for you. So, follow the teachings of Pirkei Avot and find yourself a Rabbi whom you trust and who will assist you in your journey.

nevilleross says:

Looking at the picture, I wondered what it would look like if the legs and feet in question were bare?

Rebecca Sareff says:

Thank-you for this very brave article. It is so important for our community to be accepting of different levels of observance, especially when it comes to things that are a custom and not even mandated. I’m by no means any form of scholar, but I’m pretty sure it’s more important not to embarrass someone or turn her away from Judaism then to criticise the thickness of her tights.

Rebecca Sareff says:

Thank-you so much for this very brave article. It is so important for Jews of any level of Orthodoxy to be accepting, especially when it comes to things that are customs and are not even mandated. I’m not a scholar by any definition, but it seems to me that even if you believe in wearing the equivalent of a burqa it is surely more important to not be judgemental and worst of all, not run the risk of actually pushing someone away from Judaism which is more likely to be the case in the examples you mentioned. That kind of conduct is not religious at all.

BeccaJaneS says:

Thank-you so much for this very brave article. It is so important for Jews of any level of Orthodoxy to be accepting, especially when it comes to things that are customs and are not even mandated. I’m not a scholar by any definition, but it seems to me that even if you believe in wearing the equivalent of a burqa it is surely more important to not be judgemental and worst of all, not run the risk of actually pushing someone away from Judaism which is more likely to be the case in the examples you mentioned. That kind of conduct is not religious at all.

Avital, thank you so much for writing this.  I feel so many of the same things.  I would love speak to you sometime… feel free to contact me via my website, andreagrinberg (dot) com

Your article gives me so much hope for the future of the Jewish people.  We have lost so much, but with enough honesty and bravery, we can really move forward and reconnect.

Orthodox women are not ALWAYS looked at like this. Many times, it is quite the opposite. Women have the honor of lighting the shabbos candles, something that feels quite weird to single men when they do so. Women are seen as the most important people in jewish society, as they create life. It is for this reason,that they follow the laws of modesty, so as not to become less in the eyes of G-d. I am 16 years old, and I choose to dress modestly, I live in a secular family, but it makes me happy to live in G-d’s image, and I do not feel that orthodox judaism treats me or other women like scum (I belong to both conservative & orthodox shuls, and bothare very different, but respect women in their own ways.)

This was a great piece. I have close friends who are Lubavitch and am often confused by some of the outfits the 20 something women wear – as well as pedicured toenails with bright red polish. It is my faith but not my position on it. I ask lots of questions and I get good answers that are rote as well. At a recent pre-wedding celebration that included men and women – I saw serious drinking, mingling of genders and a contrast between the older and the younger folks there. I was told it was a very new concept and that it seemed to be working out to the delight of everyone. As it wound down all the males had gathered in age defined groups and so did the women.
A good time though was had by all. Welcome to a new century.

Nylon Hosiery says:

I honestly prefer Women who wear Tights/Stockings as well, & im not Jewish, im Christian. I believe Nylon hosiery was an invention by GOD for Man to dress his Women in to enjoy them more.
Stockings/Tights show Modesty & at the same time show Sensuality/Sexiness.

Nylon Hosiery says:

I WISH I could see you wearing Tights at the Beach ;)

Nylon Hosiery says:

They wear Tights/Stockings in Saudi Arabia?

Nylon Hosiery says:

ALL Women should wear Tights/Pantyhose

Nylon Hosiery says:

ALL Women should wear Tights (Stockings/Pantyhose)

And sometimes the most articulate among us is simply taken aback.

no one should yell at a woman with uncovered hair or elbows at the kotel. If she were wearing short shorts and a belly shirt, they might have room to request that she cover up, but not to call ‘erva erva.’ Erva is the pubic area. Period.

The question is whether you dress tzanua to keep yourself private and walk modestly with G-d, or whether you do it as a signal to your neighbors of how holy you are… I’ve met enough of the latter that it really troubles me.

I completely disagree. When I see my children around the Shabbat table, all clean, saying Kiddush with my husband, pouring grape juice for me, there’s nothing shallow, superficial, or sad about it. When you’re obsessing about the details, sometimes you lose sight of the beauty. No reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

ajweberman says:

Check out the wet burka contest at the Yippie Museum 9 Bleecker St

Joseph Grazi says:

Thank you for reclaiming what Judasim is supposed to be. Micah 6:8 is our family motto….told at all of our simchas. This new brand of stringent practice has hijacked our religion and we must all speak loudly and take it back.

Shalom Avital:
This is an excellent and well written article, both to subject and self-exploration.

Please keep exploring your inner and the outer world, and please keep writing. Yours is an important voice that needs to be heard. You will be a shining example to those who wish to celebrate their Judaism, without the mishagaus you describe.

ROSANNE says:

I’m so sick of “wardrobe ” Judaism!

nevilleross says:

Why the frack would anybody want to wear tight stockings all of the time, even in hot weather? Even Muslim women wear sandals.

Miriam says:

I couldn’t agree more. The “image” means more than the person inside. Judging is against Torah, except for oneself. BUT, I have to add with a chuckle, I recently read an article that “beastiality brothels” are turning up in Europe, so that teacher may have been right!

SOOOO TRUE!!!!!!!!!!! OMG YOU READ MY MIND! From a business perspective, I originally had shirts that were less than a tefach from the collarbone, which my rav said was fine and showed me sources for. I got calls reprimanding me saying that my clothes are not tznius and how could I be selling them as tznius.
Personally, I was so frustrated with people thinking I wasn’t frum because I didn’t wear tights that I started wearing them, even after the poskim I asked said there’s no halacha that favors them. In fact, my rav said that they make womens’ legs look sexier!
Oye vey.

Malka says:

I believe what you are looking for in life is Hasidism.

Erica says:

Thank you! As a young woman beginning the conversion process to orthodox judaism, I have a strong opinion of modesty. Growing up in this over-sexualized community and then seeing the tznius girls in the orthodox community, I consider both to be extreme. I think I’ve always wanted to be modest, in the way the women were in the 40′s and 50′s, still fashionable as long as my cleavage isn’t busting out of my shirt and my skirts aren’t so short I can’t bend down without fear of being exposed somehow, I think I’m in the clear… I want to maintain my individuality and I refuse to wear those typical long sleeve shirts under a cute top… why would you buy the shirt if you’re gonna ruin it by putting that shirt under it?

I’m so sorry you had to deal with such ignorance, persecution, and utter disrespect. I truly agree with what you said, “she’s having an affair but at least she’s wearing tights”. I find that when there are so many restrictions in any religion, the people who follow it are extremely hypocritical and following it blindly due to upbringing.. they may dress frum to show everyone they’re jewish, but they don’t actually follow anything… they way they judged you and look down on you is a big no-no when it comes to the moral code. It’s hard to fashionably do what I want right now because it’s a big transition, besides, I need to change my whole wardrobe which takes a whole lot of time and money that I don’t have right now… so, when I get older, I will dress modestly because I want to, NOT because Judaism says I have to, and by that, I will not care if my collarbone is showing, or my arms,… my main concern is my cleavage and my thighs… but I remain an individual with a brain that tells me what’s appropriate. Such a shame for people to assume and judge you so harshly without knowing the anything, they just think they’re better because they hid their bodies? I’m proud of what God gave me and while I won’t pose in Playboy, I am proud, not ashamed of who i am

Erica says:

I believe it is more than possible to be respectful and modest without being super strict about it. It’s a “fence” rule to wear sleeves to the elbows. And you can find classy women’s clothing from the 1940′s and 1950′s and try to mimic that in a modern sense and still be classy and elegant. Go for feminine, not frumpy. God made you a woman with boobs and hips, something that you should be proud of and celebrate, not be ashamed of and hide. Not saying you should dress like a street-walker, or Miley Cyrus, but women have so many body image issues as it is, and then for the Jewish community to condemn you for show the tiniest bit of skin or human form… it’s enough to really mess up a person psychologically. It’s just as bad as ignorant Catholics who think all Jews are evil and will go to hell (some even think we have horns)… “if you don’t believe what I believe, you must be wrong” I don’t think so! God gave me a brain that has different thoughts and ideas than everyone else, even those who created the bible thousands of years ago, and so do you, there is no way that any one person says they can agree with everything written in the bible, so if I don’t agree with something you believe in, now I’m automatically wrong? I’m sorry but I don’t think being modest is the same as being so ashamed of your body you have to hide it… and tell me, if it’s wrong to be sexual, why is there so much pressure to get married realllyyyy young and pop out as any babies as possible? I get you wanna spread the religion through lineage, but married and pregnant high schoolers are unnecessary, and yes, in fact it is very sexual. So, I say, fashion is a form of expression used to take pride in your individuality and that should include being true to yourself and your beliefs. If you feel like wearing jeans, go for it, don’t lie to yourself and your peers about who you are just because you’re afraid of what others may think. It’s YOUR life, you should atleast respect and honor yourself.

Nathan says:

Meh. A dead horse.

micheal says:

i am male, and i am at the process of doing teshuvah,i started because of chabad and i am still hanging with chabad, i have been to a few chabad locations, and i never encountered any of the thing you wrote. women are respected by males and females, alike, when we eat we all seat at the same table,with no mekhiza.
yes there is zniut and men don’t even shake a woman’s hand, but it is all done with respect for anyone and everyone, men women, and and even people of other goyim(nations), whether they are working or just walked in or were invited by someone.
when we do kiddush on erev shabbat,we always have a meal, and the rabbi and rabbitzon always put food for the non-jewish worker first before anyone of the community eats (that the halacha, and it a respectful halacha)all halacot are respectful when we disrespect each other in the name of torah, whether man, woman, child or someone of another nation, it because we are a disrespectful person or, we misunderstood the halacha

Mindy Schaper says:

Thanks for this great article. I come from a Basi Yaakov school and currently live a more MO life, and I completely relate to all you said. Except the married woman having an affair- never seen that and hope never to. That is horrifying. So much for concern about her child, let alone her religion. It’s a problem when the big is made into the small and the small is made into the big.

I agree with you on what the message of tznius is, but the problem here is not that people are flaunting their holy was its that people are judging others
Unfortunately even frum Jews can be judgmental. we see that in every society there are those people who judge or have a hard tome with ithers not holding by their own ideals and standarda. obviously this is not right, they should respect every person at their level and even give the benefit of the doubt ( as we saw you were clearly unmarried)
But isn’t it nice at least that in this society what people look at is something meaningful and holy- admiring and not- admiring levels of modestly rather than focusing in style and good looks, money etc

I think your message is nice but what will come from this article is demonization of the orthodox community which is an unbalanced and iuntrue picture to those unfamiliar
I am sure that that is not what you intended to do and I hope it does not cause too much damage
Baalei teshuva like you and me suffer the most from the bad name that Orthodox Jews get from such articles, especially heated statements about women in the back etc which in all my years in Israel has never been an issue
All the best. You are a good writer

The writer offers an honest view on the confounding of Jewish values in the name of modesty in clothing. What about modesty in action? Also, it’s just not the girls.

There is a creeping acceptance of gentile fashions in our Torah u’Mada circles. At my modern Orthodox shul, many girls wear skirts that skim the knee–but have leggings underneath. In my book that crosses the line. The knee is the limit. What are these girls trying to express?
At the same time, by society’s yardstick, they are covered up. What a schizophrenic world.

I don’t want to be judged by my clothing but I’m too covered up for my (non-religious) family’s taste while not covered enough for Chassidim. In the workplace I stick out because I wear skirts. But that is not ME. I am the person within. Recognize me for what I do, how I relate to the world, see my inner value. Don’t focus on my surface.

I want my children to choose spouses on the basis of their values and actions… and not on their wardrobes. But if the girls they date show up in skinny jeans I’ll know that they’ve failed to glean something important. Conservation of (modest) Jewish values is meaningful and the clothes DO make the man (so to speak). Why else do they wear team shirts?

I’m not the tznius police. I don’t want to be policed either. By the same token however there are norms that have been lost in our society. It used to be that you knew what was appropriate to wear and when. That went the way of President Kennedy’s hat, and now anything goes.

If the goyim wear blue jeans to church services, why can’t I wear flip flops some might say? My inner rules say jeans and flip flops don’t belong in shul. That is WAY different than prescribing thick tights under floor length skirts and measuring collar bone coverage.

Our society is all about rule-breaking and pushing limits. Our Jewish society is all about expressing ourselves according to Torah mores. Where the two societies intersect there is bound to be confusion.

A couple of years ago my mother, who started wearing skirts at the time walked into a butcher in lakewood and was yelled at by some random women infront of 30 people that her skirt was too tight. She was beyond embarrassed, left and never wore skirts again. Who did this women think she is? What gave her the right to voice her uneducated opinion and publicy humilate someone? All in the name of piety? G-d didn’t appoint you to be the tznius police, look in the mirror and fix yourself first. I used to be part of this world until I opened my eyes and saw the falsehood in it. It’s not ok for women to show her *GASP* ankles but lets shove the child molesting and homosexuality that goes on in all yeshivas under the rug. G-d gave us mitzvot to keep, yet these ultra orthordox communities take it to the extreme and try to re-write them. This is not judiasm, this is control. And for all the ignorant people who look up to cults like the haredi burqua sect, OPEN YOUR EYES. The amount of child abuse and neglect that goes on in these sects are horrifying and an embarrassment to the jewish people.

Wow! Kol hakavod!
My thoughts exactly!

Caroline Levy says:

Avital, Brava! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. I believe true piety works from inside out not outside in. The more I learn Torah, the more my love for Hashem grows and the more I embrace his laws. I think what has happened over the years Orthodox schools teach the kids that piety works from outside in, i.e. if you dress tzniut then you will act tzniut. The problem is when they are not taught properly why they are doing things then the kids never end up embracing the laws just living a lifestyle.
Good job.

Would someone please explain to me why covering hair with a gorgeous wig that often looks better than the woman’s real hair is the Orthodox thing to do? How is this being modest? I was appalled the the stories of abuse in the comments section. Sometimes as Jews, we are our own worst enemies! That is very sad…

Rachel Esther says:

Hi there!
I really enjoyed your text, that reflects many of my concerns about the Orthodox habitat, that angst for not being like the girls born and rose in this kind of environment – and I truly think that’s never going to happen.
I also come from a non-Orthodox home and feel the same odd things when it comes to comparison between girls. All spins around our kavod: the bad instinct won’t only plead you to wear pants, or to eat a cheese burguer, it’ll make you show off anything you think is better than someone else’s. Tznius is just another example.
Agree also with the error about inserting so much guilt in our brains and all this fear that makes us struggle and, instead of improving our avodat h’, makes us keel over. I think it is a very complicated issue and I’m not so sure even FFBs wouldn’t feel the same in their own classrooms. Anyway, too long topic for my 2,000 characters, but I’d really like to talk to you. Mail me if you please!
Shabat shal’!

Devorah Altman says:

This is a great article. I think it is so unfortunate that outside dress defines a person instead of their Middos or character.

Here is a woman who values being “modern and progressive”, and seems to think that Yeshivish Orthodoxy is not those things. At the very least her education was not what it should have been. It might however have been the best it could have been under the circumstances. Othodoxy needs critics, but it needs critics that understand the impact of their words. Criticism that does not rip Orthodoxy down, but criticism that builds it up.Just like criticism that would lower a students self esteem is not something we should be encouraging in our schools, criticism that rips down orthodoxy without looking at the consequences of that positions should not be encouraged in the blogosphere.

L moss says:

Funny how some people can take the traits of the non-frum and make them frum. These people are exhibiting the trait of being excessive. We are given halachas and doing them more than they needed to be done is not always “meshubach”. We even have halachas about not doing more than is necessary (such as ma’aser). These people are behaving like everyone else who feel the need to be better than others. These people have competitive natures and would do it with other things if those around them did. This is not Torah. They are not doing this for Gd. They just act as if they do. If someone came up with something, such has how long they wait between meat and milk and decided that the longer one waits the better, everyone would go ahead and do that too. The woman who screamed at you”Erva”, must’ve forgotten the halachas about embarrassment as did your hostess. I have found many people to concentrate more on one mitzvah or another, those that THEY deem to be important, and completely disregard others. Who are they to determine which halachas are more important than others?

Ken Besig says:

While I too find the ultra Orthodox and their modesty fanatacism to be on the silly, stupid, and crazy side, I am unable to take seriously any person who would write for the anti Israel, badly informed, insufferably arrogant, and ridiculously secular Jew hating Haaretz newspaper. Yeah the ultra Orthodox have their shortcomings and if you choose to live in that bizarre world you have to put up with it, but the Haaretz rag is a disgrace to Israel and the Jewish People and is used by the worst anti Semites to help smear Israel and the Jewish People and I have no choice but to put up with the sewage published in that rag.

Shunrata says:

Ah, Ken…

Who exactly is tying you down and forcing you to read it?

Z'ev Rosenberg says:

I learned recently from two Sephardic rabbis (one being Mark Angel in NY) that if one wants to hold more strictly than the Shulchan Aruch on any halachah, one should do it privately, with modesty, and not judge anyone who is less stringent. Basic Jewish observance is very simple and not burdensome, and the haredi derech specifically has distorted the Jewish peoples’ relationship to Torah in many ways.

I remember one time many years ago for the first time in a new ultra-orthodox synagogue where my wife and I went for Shabbat, newly married. After services, I overheard a few of the men commenting on her open toed shoes as a measure of her ‘tsniut’. Why were these men looking at my wife’s feet in the first place?

very well written….

Avital,

What an honest an beautiful article!

Carol M says:

If Orthodox Judaism had suddenly appeared in the mid-20th C it would be defined as a “cult.” Because it is ancient we must be respectful and agree to call it a Religion.
The degree of intense, restrictive Social/Emotional Control exerted over followers by the Power Elite, all of them male, suggests to me that they are infantile, frightened and surely demonstrating feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and inferiority.
Given what I have observed its apparently mainly females who make them feel insecure and inadequate and that’s why women are so badly treated buy Orthodox men.
God did noty intend this – females, ladies, women, girls – you all deserve much better!

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Tights Squeeze

While Orthodox girls obsess about skirt length and hosiery choices, are we overlooking Judaism’s most important lessons about modesty?