This is the tenth in a multi-part series called The Tzniut Project. Women from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of observances have volunteered to anonymously answer questions that I have written about their practices, people's assumptions, and more. For more information on the project, click here. Please continue to check back with The Tzniut Project to read more stories and comment abundantly!
Note: This post is contributed by a reader. It's a twist on the other posts in this series, and I think you'll find out why as your read. Keep an open mind, and please let me know what you think.
1. How do you affiliate Jewishly? Feel free to elaborate on the words people use to describe you and the words you use to describe yourself.
I am a proud product of the Reform movement. However, my personal praxis causes confusion to folks on both sides of the aisle. My parents raised us with the understanding that Reform Judaism is not an excuse to do nothing. Rather, they taught us that Reform theology and philosophy demands of us a Jewish behavior that is refracted through a modern lens. For example, did we drive on Shabbos? Yes. To shul. And as we grew older, we were able to participate in select activities after Shabbos dinner with the family. Unfortunately, most Reform Jews are not schooled in the core principles of Reform Judaism and opt out of nearly all rituals. But since my general outlook is progressive and egalitarian, I don’t really fit in communities to the right. As a result, I continuously feel out-of-step.
2. Growing up, did your mother or grandmother dress modestly in any way? Do you think modesty was something instilled in you by your family? Did you dress modestly growing up?
I do not believe that my Grandmother, z"l, EVER wore slacks to shul. She would wear them out of the house, but never any immodest style. Though there are certain boundaries as far as what she would at shul, most of her daily clothing choices are not ones that I would make and often make me uncomfortable. I've always dressed more on the conservative side. In the past few years, it has become more important for me to dress modestly. I have often been envious of others whose clothing identifies them religiously.
3. Are you married? How does your spouse feel about your choices for modest dress? Is it a dialogue or does your partner leave the mitzvah to you?
Not much of a dialogue. My husband, quite honestly, would prefer me to dress less modestly. His family is far less observant than mine and he has had to make a lot of adjustments these past fifteen years. Most of them, he has made quite readily. Like most American men, however, he has what I see as a superficial notion of beauty. Less is more. Though I don’t have necklines up to my collarbone, I do believe that more is more. As for head covering, I’d do it in a heartbeat! But for the sake of shalom bayit [peace at home, domestic peace], kissui rosh [head covering] continues to be a “not-yet” mitzvah.
4. What would you wear on a typical day? On Shabbos? If you dress differently on weekdays and Shabbos, why do you make this distinction and how?
Last August, I stopped wearing pants. I didn’t make a big deal about it. No announcement or proclamation. I cannot even say that it was as a result of anything other than I’d been thinking about it for a long time and just did it. I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration and support from some bloggers.
Interestingly, no one has noticed the absence of pants. So skirts are my weekday wear and either dresses or skirt suits for Shabbos.
5. What do you think other people infer from your clothing and hair covering choices? Has anyone ever said anything to you outright that expresses a judgment based on your appearance? (Ex: “You don’t cover your hair or wear skirts, so why do you keep kosher?”)
The few times I’ve covered my hair with a cute hat, I’ve received some comments from congregants. Definitely judgemental. “What, are you frum?” I just smile and remind them that Reform ideology allows for a wide range of practices. Which makes it particularly frustrating those times that I have had to defend my choice to some close-minded rabbinic colleagues who think dressing modestly is incongruous with Reform Judaism.
6. Have you ever surprised someone by dressing more or less modestly and making them rethink their stereotypes about what it means to be an observant Jew?
I think that by dressing modestly, I most definitely make folks rethink their stereotypes about what it means to be a liberal observant Jew. I’m a constant surprise.
7. When you see someone who observes tzniut differently than you, what are your initial thoughts? How do you deal with them?
I have yet to find anyone in my community who observes any level of tzniut. As a matter of course, I discuss issues of modesty with the girls in our seventh grade class as well as those in our 10th grade Confirmation class. Mostly in reaction to some of the shockingly short skirts they’ve been wearing.
8. I say modesty or tzniut … what does that mean to you?
It’s more than a simple choice in clothing. Tzniut dictates appearance, actions, and speech. An individual who expresses devotion to God by dressing and behaving in a way that brings honour to our people.
9. Anything else you’d like to add about your choices, experiences, and more!
Though this is not my impetus for dressing modestly, I have discovered that I feel more feminine when having to think about what and why I am wearing certain things.