Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Beyond Tznius


For some reason I seem to be having an unusually high number of conversations about tznius lately – which leads me to think that there is some confusion about some of the whats and whys out there.

I’ll begin with a conversation my wife had with a coworker that revolved around the difference in dress and appearance between the girls in various frum schools, and how the girls in school A – a large non-denominational chareidi school – looked very neat and mature even at the youngest ages, while at the other school they seemed to have loose uniform rules; they looked a bit unkempt, with shirts untucked, loud color tights, and all sorts of interesting hair styles from the youngest up to the oldest ages.

Now, while none of my children attend school A, my wife mentioned (they’re both teachers) how nice the children behave and look there, and that by raising children with such specific and clear a goal in mind – treating them as future mothers instead of children – one can understand why they are generally more successful producing simple, sincere, mature, responsible, knowledgeable girls who are ready and capable of being Jewish mothers in that model. My wife’s coworker, however, felt that school A (which the coworker had actually attended growing up) was stifling the children and taking away their ability to have any self-expression, while the other school was more normal and healthy. She also believed that this kind of repression is what causes children to go “off-the-derech.”

Without a doubt, we could discuss what causes people to “leave the derech” till the cows come home, and I don’t think that dress code plays much of a role at all (the biggest factors are probably bechira, time & place, abuse and ease), but I’d like to discuss what the dress-code thing is all about.

Why do chareidim come up with all kinds of rules for clothing in the first place – and what is baseline tznius anyway? I hear people say, “Shulchan Aruch says nothing about denim or four inches below the knee, dangling earrings, bun hairstyles or this or that – this is simple oppression of women!” Or, “Chareidim are so into clothing! They wear Shabbos clothing everyday – it’s simply materialistic!” Or, “What could be wrong with flairy skirts that reach the floor? That’s even more tzniusdik – yet they call me inappropriate?!” And other statements along those lines.

I could go on here, but I’ll get to the point: It’s about restraint.

Religion, and in our case Yiddishkeit, seeks to impart an essential value: that G-d wants us to practice restraint and self-control. One thing that I notice with my kids is that when they look wild, they act wild; and it does seem that the clothes we wear go a long way to defining who we are and how we act. Chareidi emphases on matters such as dress have this same intention in mind: To create an attitude of maturity, formality, self control and understatedness in dress and behavior. As one chossid once told me, “The clothes we wear are intended to restrain us; they remind us to act dignified.”

23 Comments:

At April 1, 2009 at 8:58:00 AM EDT, Blogger Shorty said...

Clothing - in the secular world, we are told how clothing tells people who you are...and in many ways, that is true. This is what the rest of the world sees of you. If a woman wears a short skirt, then people often make assumptions. Perhaps she wants to say she feels good "showing off" her legs or any other part of her body. I always ask - why? Why does she need/want that attention? What insecurities does she ultimately have of herself, that drives her to "show off" skin? I know that women will answer with a great deal of defensiveness on that one. Then i will ask - WHY? Why the "anger" tone? If they are that secure with themselves, then they can defend the skin showing with calm.

My theory (and from living in the secular world) - the showing of skin has a LOT to do with insecurity - women feel then need to look a certain way to get ahead - and in the secular world - that happens to be kind of true. Magazines, TV, movies - all show the same things - and the men going gaga over them only strengthens this point of view.

So men need to show restraint by NOT looking, and women need to "fight back" so to speak, by not conforming to the secular.

 
At April 1, 2009 at 10:10:00 AM EDT, Blogger Ezzie said...

I think that this post makes very broad statements in order to "show" why Charedi dress is better - unfortunately, that attitude is part of the problem.

The idea of using School A as the paragon of Charedi order while School B is some unkempt mess seems quite strange. Even if true, which is questionable, one could easily cite Charedi schools where the dress code aside, the students still look like dirty messes, with shirts untucked, payos or hair sticking out in strange ways, etc., while showing wonderful other schools where people are dressed nicely, properly, and cleanly.

(I'm also not sure what a "non-denominational Charedi school" is.)

It is very easy for someone who does not object to the stricter rules of a Charedi school to justify it. It is, however, easy to understand as well why someone who is shomrei Torah u'mitzvos would object to rules they find to be above and beyond what is necessary, and especially if it is something they went through, it seems unwise to dismiss someone's comments on the subject so readily. Most likely, this lady herself felt stifled when going through school A, as did her peers; and while she had the strength to remain frum, perhaps some of them did not or considered not doing so, partly because of that repressed feeling.

 
At April 1, 2009 at 10:41:00 AM EDT, Blogger Neil said...

I tend to agree w/ Ezzie.

"One thing that I notice with my kids is that when they look wild, they act wild; and it does seem that the clothes we wear go a long way to defining who we are and how we act."

It goes both ways. I've seen the best dressed kids run in shul show no middos at the playground on shabbos acting"vilt to the hilt".
I've also seen kids from day schools w/o a dress code show model middos and kavod for adults.

CE, you statement, "Yiddishkeit, seeks to impart an essential value: that G-d wants us to practice restraint and self-control." is brilliant and so true.
Restraint starts at home, I think. A uniform (required by a school or just yarmulka and following guideline for Tznius) indeed helps us with self-control.

BTW, I think a "non-denominational chareidi school" is probably your "average" Torah U'Mesora day school where 95-100% of the kids are Shomer Shabbos. Think Arie Crown (Chicago), Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, maybe YCQ (Yeshiva of Central Queens).

 
At April 1, 2009 at 10:53:00 AM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

Thanks for your comments!
First, I’m not trying to show why anything is better, I’m merely trying explain the reason for the perhaps “unnecessary” rules, and what they’re about – and obviously it’s not the only factor in the Chareidi view of education; it’s only a part of the puzzle.
Second, since we’re talking about girls schools, so you generally won’t find the things you mentioned. Also, I am not speaking about dirty faces; I’m talking about dress codes. Now, obviously these examples are anecdotal, and a school where this kind of system isn’t in place is really not relevant to the conversation (as far as I can tell).
A non-denomination chareidi school is a chareidi school that doesn’t belong to a specific group. So, for example, Bobov is a denominational school and a school like Beis Sara is not (neither school is the school I was talking about). This school has Litvishe and Chassidishe families that want a generally restrictive and what they consider “pure” environment – that’s what I’m talking about (no computers, no cell phones, no non-frum magazines, no TV’s, no dangling earrings, stuff like that).
For those who object there are other options, I am merely explaining the point of view. No doubt this lady did feel stifled as I’m sure some of her peers did – in fact I imagine that even in the most Modern Orthodox schools there are students who feel stifled – so? And do you really think that there is a direct correlation between “stifledness” and not remaining frum? Would you say that restrictive communities have more or less children who opt-out?

 
At April 1, 2009 at 11:13:00 AM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

Thanks, Neil – and I think that we pretty much agree actually - but while there are exceptions where we find "put together" kids that act wild, and "wild looking" kids that act with the best behavior, I still maintain that the general rule applies in most cases.

 
At April 1, 2009 at 11:25:00 AM EDT, Blogger Ezzie said...

CE - The question then is whether those same things can be taught without a dress code that can turn people off. The focus should be on how one carries themselves and how they use their dress, rather than about the specific dress.

Second, I don't know where the idea began that clothes are about restraint. Modesty is not restraint, but a proper balance of when to use that restraint. It is very easy to see how restraint can become restrictive.

That said, I did like the line: "treating them as future mothers instead of children" - That idea is certainly one that should be pushed and does well to defense certain aspects within the approach.

A non-denomination chareidi school is a chareidi school that doesn’t belong to a specific group.

Okay. Just for the future, most people read non-denominational differently.

And do you really think that there is a direct correlation between “stifledness” and not remaining frum? Would you say that restrictive communities have more or less children who opt-out?

More. Certainly it's not less (good piece on Cross-Currents a while back on it). And within those that do stay there is increased resentment on one side, and abuse of control on another by those less guided in their understanding of these concepts.

First, I’m not trying to show why anything is better,

For those who object there are other options, I am merely explaining the point of view. No doubt this lady did feel stifled


Understood what your point was, but the words and examples point to a "this is why it's better" by using examples that are not particularly good ones. (Sorry!) They seemed to make strawmen out of other approaches or criticize in ways that could easily be flipped back. I think there are better ways to make the case for a Charedi lifestyle and dress than implying that others don't have what Charedim do, when it just doesn't appear to be true.

For example, your last point: "wild looking" kids that act with the best behavior

I'm not sure why the assumption is that non-Charedi schools have "wild-looking" kids. Wearing clothes that are not the style of a Charedi does not make them "wild-looking".

 
At April 1, 2009 at 11:28:00 AM EDT, Blogger Neil said...

"And do you really think that there is a direct correlation between “stifledness” and not remaining frum? Would you say that restrictive communities have more or less children who opt-out?"

I though we were not going to discuss "OTD"? :)

I think Yiddishkeit that is explained and defined by "Don't" and "Adhere to these rules, or else" can be looked at as stifledness.
You mentioned tights, which is a great example. Just look at the crazy tights that girls wear with their uniforms. My 1st grade daughter is so into the most wild tights, but then again, this is really the only way (besides shoes) that she can express herself within her uniform.

I would add that "looking presentable" is only worthwhile if the children understand the responsibilty of being an Am Kodesh and the reality of Chillul Hashem. This was, in a way, one of the contributions of the Kelm derech of mussar to the Yeshiva world.

 
At April 1, 2009 at 11:51:00 AM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

Ezzie,

I dare say (in my expirience) that most aren't turned off, and they're generally proud (a problem in and of itself), but there are all kinds of people and each takes it their own way. Obviosuly, if a child is turned off they need to be reached, but I don't see why they would think of dropping the dress code to that end.

I'm not sure what you mean about modesty and it not being about restraint - many do view it as being about restraint (chareidim, for example).

I have lived in chreidi and non-chareidi communities, and I find that more worldly/open communities lose far more than chareidi communities. As a matter of fact, although I'm not really so chareidi, I've seen a direct correlation between worldliness and going off the derech. I would have to say that in my expirience, restrictive - with all its shortcomings - is probably the most successful system in that area.

I'm not making the case for "chreidism" - sorry if anyone understood it that way - I am merely discussing a single element, based on something that recently took place.

And finally, the issue here was that the more chareidi school controls the image of the children to a greater degree, while the other school allowed for more of a "motley crew." That's just teh way it is...

 
At April 1, 2009 at 11:53:00 AM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

Neil,

:-)

I think that we pretty-much agree.

 
At April 1, 2009 at 12:11:00 PM EDT, Blogger Ezzie said...

CE - Your experience has been lucky, then. :)

I've spent most of my life in charedi-leaning environments, and perception is not reality. I wish I had the link to the CC piece, but it demolishes the idea that Charedi life is better at keeping people within the fold; meanwhile, it makes a lot of people who choose to remain in it extremely unhappy with its restrictive nature.

And finally, the issue here was that the more chareidi school controls the image of the children to a greater degree, while the other school allowed for more of a "motley crew." That's just teh way it is...

That's just my point. It's not.

 
At April 1, 2009 at 12:22:00 PM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

I guess we hit a wall - there's no way, that I can see, that we'll resolve a disagreement about "metzius."

 
At April 1, 2009 at 12:31:00 PM EDT, Blogger Ezzie said...

Agreed, ish. :)

You can always check out good schools with more moderate dress codes and see whether they all look presentable as well, or see if other Charedi schools are less so despite their stricter codes.

I'm not objecting to the point that dress codes can serve a purpose, or even that Charedi dress codes can. I was merely objecting to the implication that such a thing only exists in the Charedi world and the rest of the world is wild and unkempt. (Implying also that that does not happen in the Charedi world.)

I was also objecting to the seeming dismissal of the restrictiveness found by others within that system. It's an important issue.

 
At April 1, 2009 at 1:08:00 PM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

:-)

I didn’t mean to imply that these things only exist in the chareidi world or that non-chareidi kids don’t look presentable, or anything like that. That wasn’t at all what I was trying to say.
I was addressing why the attitude exists among chreidim and what the underlying logic for going beyond tznius is about.
As far as my dismissal of the restrictiveness: I really don’t understand why we can’t allow people to set their own standards. I don’t have a problem with anyone doing what they want in their standards, be they Chareidim, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or whatever. I am fine with anyone doing as they see fit - and if someone doesn’t like it they can go elsewhere. Why is it an important issue for me if so-and-so is more, or less, restrictive?
I am simply trying to explain the logic for its existence, and I think that reasonable people can agree or disagree with the approach, but at least understand where its coming from.
Hatzlocha!

 
At April 1, 2009 at 1:10:00 PM EDT, Blogger Ezzie said...

Now that I agree with! :)

 
At April 1, 2009 at 1:31:00 PM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

Phew! I knew that if we tried hard enough that we would find some common ground!

 
At April 1, 2009 at 1:34:00 PM EDT, Blogger Ezzie said...

LOL - I think people *always* can, if they try hard enough. :)

 
At April 1, 2009 at 3:49:00 PM EDT, Blogger tea mad hatter said...

my three year old son told me the other day that "jews wear black pant and white shirts." didnt really know what to make of it hehe

 
At April 1, 2009 at 3:58:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil said...

When I was teaching Jewish teens (mostly non-affliated) I would ask them to draw a picture of "a Jew". Regardless of how many girls were in the group, almost everyone would draw a man w/ a hat, long beard, and payos.

 
At April 1, 2009 at 5:44:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Many A Mile said...

You are right, my wise mentor. "Hatzneya leches," a modest attitude about oneself, lies at the heart of tzniyus, not so much the details about haberdashery. If one "gets it," the clothing choices almost decide themselves.

 
At April 1, 2009 at 10:44:00 PM EDT, Blogger Menashe said...

Lchatchila the clothing, be they more respectable and less showy than jeans and t-shirts(the hat and jacket of the litvish/lubavitch world) or the long coat and shtreimel of the non-chabad chassidic world which is in addition associated with the kedusha of the rebbeim that wore them, are reflections of internal kavod and kedusha.

But at least then, bdieved, wear the clothes and be affected from the chitzonius to the pnimius. In other words, hopefully one will work at being the person that those clothes represent.

As far as it being restrictive, it would seem to me to very often be a reflection of larger problems and not just the clothes. The rebellion against the dress code is typically a symptom, not the problem.

 
At April 2, 2009 at 4:01:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blessings.
as a believing gentile, i do agree with the article about dressing. Inwards and outwards is equally important.
Where i live there are modern ones who use short skirts and all that, and the orthodox ones who cover their heads using jubas, and flowing garments. there is ofcourse on the orthodox coverings for some, a certain use of social force. and we have the chinese and indians too. Some kids who come from very strict families, dress very decently to school or college, once out of the home, they unpack their modern clothing , change their clothing and behave very freely. And until a policeman knocks on the family home door or they get caught, the family is most times completely unaware.
so while the outer covering is very important, so is the teachings , that must be taught to touch the kids and inspire them to want to dress in a modest way, in line with G-d's Laws. The jewish children must feel how special they are, telling in itself and they listening does not mean it has touched them. and the 70 nations too must feel (prayerfully soon) how blessed they are to have this holy nation as a light to all of them.

 
At June 13, 2009 at 3:03:00 PM EDT, Anonymous A Covered Sister said...

Shabbat Shalom! I am a Christian woman who was raised in a Holiness denominational church - the dress code was very similar to the one you wrote about. My parents held me too tight, controlling EVERYTHING. When I was able to leave home I went crazy - immodest dress, inappropriate language, partying, etc. I praise G-D for His mercy!

As of this point the Ruach HaKodesh has brought back to me the things that my parents taught me. I have done an almost complete 360 degree turn. I am striving to dress more modestly. I said all of that to say that as parents we are to train children up in the way that they are to go. Whatever decisions they make as an adult is between them and G-D and we are free from guilt.

 
At December 1, 2013 at 10:52:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"One thing that I notice with my kids is that when they look wild, they act wild; and it does seem that the clothes we wear go a long way to defining who we are and how we act."

This comic says it all:

http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.fr/2013/10/menace.html

 

Post a Comment

<< Home