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.”