Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tzniut (modesty) for *men,* for a change

I just finished reading Rabbi Yehuda Henkin's Understand Tzniut: Modern Controversies in the Jewish Community. On the one hand, I applaud him for taking a stand against the more extreme view of modesty rules expressed by Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk in his Oz ve-Hadar Levushah: Modesty, an Adornment for Life—Halachos and Attitudes Concerning Tznius of Dress and Conduct. Falk seems to think that just about any movement by a woman that would be even remotely attention-getting, such as playing the violin, is immodest, a view that Henkin disputes.

On the other hand, perhaps it's because I have no yeshivah education at all and am unaccustomed to rabbinic argumentation, but I was absolutely floored by the attention paid (in the opening chapter) to the most minute details of permissible dress for women. The rabbis actually measured the permissible amount of a married woman's hair that can be left uncovered right down to the exact number of centimeters?!!!!

My visceral reactions:

  • It’s an insult that the rabbis think that even those women raised in Orthodox homes don’t have the common sense to know how to dress modestly without detailed guidelines. In fact, the guidelines themselves sometimes lead to absurd situations—I have occasionally seen Orthodox women wearing tops that cover their elbows but expose a hint of cleavage, and I dare anyone to find me a man who’s more turned on by a woman’s elbows than by her breasts! Let's make it simple and to the point: Don’t wear anything so short that a man can see halfway up your thighs, or anything so low-cut that a man can see your cleavage.
  • I've said it before and I'll say it again—the way the rabbis speak of men, one would think that males have no self-control whatsoever. An extra half-inch of exposed hair is going to cause uncontrollable sexual desire? What world are these people living in?
  • I've been writing this blog for just over four years, and I've never once seen a post about how Jewish men are supposed to dress modestly. Why are conversations about tzniut never about guys? At the other extreme from the rabbis' apparent opinion that, in matters concerning sex, men are animals, do the rabbis think that we women are made of stone?

So, here are my proposed rules for modest dress for men:

  • Women, according to halachah (Jewish religious law) have to have our upper arms (or, at least, our shoulders) and knees (or, minimally, thighs) covered, so what makes men exempt? Why should we be the only ones schvitzing (sweating) on 90-degree days? Ditch the muscle shirts and the short shorts, guys—fair is fair!
  • Speaking of centimeters, a little more cloth in the seat of the pants wouldn’t hurt. I think that men’s speedo bathing trunks and skin-tight pants are thoroughly immodest. Save it for the bedroom, where it belongs, buster!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shira, there are standards of modesty for men, although I don't know if I can give you sources. My sons cannot wear shorts to school starting in 7th grade (we are dati-leumi "Israeli modern Orthodox"). They are also prohibited from wearing "muscle shirts" - shirts with no sleeves. I also know of men who wear socks with their sandals, although this is not common. There are other more subtle modesty issues too. I personally will not let my kids wear jeans that look "pre-worn" - and it is sometimes really hard to find regular blue jeans, but I insist. I am also careful about what messages are on their t-shirts.

Wed Aug 27, 11:18:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I hadn't thought about the messages on t-shirts, but that's certainly a problem for both genders. I've seen some pretty gross t-shirts in my day.

As for the pre-worn jeans, oy: Decades ago, a co-worker of my used to come to work in pants so well worn that they had holes in places too close to X-marks-the-spot to be decent. It still amazes me that no one ever told him to go home and change into something less vulgar.

Wed Aug 27, 06:01:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

does "pre-worn" mean having holes? if it just means faded, what's the objection to that?

Thu Aug 28, 12:17:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Steg, I agree that there are various levels of "pre-worn." Personally, I don't have a problem with faded jeans. But when the jeans are so beat up--naturally or via the current fad of deliberately "aging" them--that they're shredded, torn, or have holes in them above the knees, especially in the "short shorts" area, they're indecent, in my opinion. If the tears are below the knee, they're just sloppy, again in my opinion, and I'm old-fashioned enough to wonder why the heck anyone would go out of his or her way to dress like a slob.

Thu Aug 28, 01:55:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Based on your interpretation of tznius, you are corect in saying that the coverage halachos are ridiculous. However, I would just like to suggest a different perspective:

Maybe tznius isn't a practical concern that a man will see something and begin entertaining sexual ideas. If that were true then clearly the theory would be completely incongruous with the application: it's crazy to assume a man who sees a bit of a woman's arm uncovered will be sexually aroused.

Perhaps the concern is more of a sensitivity issue. As an am kadosh, we have the responsibility to be more sensitive to issues in the areas of sexuality and modesty. Therefore the Rabbis or the Torah (I think there are varying opinions to the nature of hilchos tznius) felt that covering areas that are close in proximity to the objectively sexual areas of the female body would address this sensitivity. (I think covering hair is a separate discussion.)

Simply put, the areas don't need to be covered b/c they may cause sexual feelings, they need to be covered b/c they are linked to sexuality (albeit a bit secondhand).

I believe that many rabbinic decrees are similarly labeled as being outlandish, but are just misunderstood.

Fri Aug 29, 11:59:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

YD, my main object to the tzniut rules is not only that they appear obsessive, but that they *appear* to be aimed at women only. Mind you, I've seen enough Orthodox men and boys in knee-covering shorts to know that that's not the case. But no one ever *talks* about tzniut for men with the same pound-'em-over-the-head obsessiveness with which they discuss and/or write about tzniut for women. And I've never heard of a *man* being sprayed with bleach by the local "kanaim" ("zealots," or, in my opinion, fanatics) for going into a Chareidi neighborhood in clothing that didn't meet the local modesty standards. Nor have I ever heard of a *man* getting beaten up for sitting in the wrong section of a bus in Israel. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that a fanatical obsession with the rules of tzniut is currently being used as a weapon against women, and some of us are quite sick of it.

Fri Aug 29, 02:54:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed. I'm just taking up a different point you made.

Fri Aug 29, 03:49:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Yes, but your comment made *my* point: "As an am kadosh, we have the responsibility to be more sensitive to issues in the areas of sexuality and modesty. Therefore the Rabbis or the Torah . . . felt that covering areas that are close in proximity to the objectively sexual areas of the female body would address this sensitivity." Notice that your comment addressed *only* the *female* body--which is my point precisely!

Again, have you ever heard of a *man* being sprayed with bleach for walking through a Chareidi (fervently right-wing Orthodox) neighborhood in what Chareidim consider immodest clothing? I repeat: The halachot (Jewish religious laws) of tzniut are being used as a weapon against women.

Fri Aug 29, 07:02:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

YD, I have a further response to your comment here.

Tue Sep 02, 06:19:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Joshua said...

This observation is exactly what is expected from someone uneducated about these issues...we need to care enough to actually research and try to understand from the other persons point of view (the rabbis in this case), which is part of tolerance, and not spout off according to our own ignorance...If we don't put in the time and effort to at least understand the others point of view, then we don't care. If we love Hashem, then we love His laws, then we'll try our very best to make sure that we are not only covering the bare minimum (pun) required, but pursuing holiness beyond the requirement to the extent that we are more pleasing to Him.

Thu May 21, 11:00:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i wanted to add to this discussion (found while googling the book)

a nominal defense in two areas:

a) The reason why for men it is not discussed is simply that it SEEMS that it isn't an issue that men have problems with. Orthodox men for the most part adhere to the laws without extra encouragement. Societies push towards revealing the human body for the most part is directed towards women (in western culture, most likely as a backlash against male dominance etc etc)

Although it happens, it really is not common, nor acceptable in our society for men to wear non-tznius clothing, whereas for women, a short skirt (not even min) or sleeveless dress is fairly par-for-the-course.

do, indeed, the discussion focuses on women. one can argue about fairness, but reality seems to dictate the discussion.

b) about exacting measurements. this seems to be a cross-referencing issue.

rabbis say that one cannot reveal more than a "tefach"
and in other areas of halacha (such as eruv) the exacting definition and size of a tefach is discussed at length, and that discussion and conclusion of an exacting measurement simply applied here.

did the rabbis mean that women can only reveal x cm and no more, perhaps not, and perhaps only meant that it cannot be revealed more than a "little."

however, in either case, chatzi shiur assur, its generally accepted that "any" amount of skin (in areas supposed to be covered) cannot be revealed, and the exacting amount is more for technical legal shenanigans. (eg less than a kzayis treif is not transgressing, and that kzayis is a size known down to the gram, but really? any pork is not kosher, no matter how small)

Tue Jul 12, 05:56:00 PM 2011  

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