Sunday, June 5, 2011

Men's Edition | The Tzniut Project 2: Compassion, Shame, Benevolence

This is the second in the Men's Edition of a multi-part series called The Tzniut Project. For the Men's Edition, men 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 and the Men's Edition to read more stories!

Note: This post is contributed by a reader. 

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.
Modern Orthodox or Centrist Orthodox. The elaboration: I use those terms as R Aharon Lichtenstein and R Lamm taught me to define and embrace them.

Although the approach of R Jonathan Sachs to shun all limiting labels or R Josh Yuter's Shomer Torah are attractive, I am still influenced by R Lichtenstien and R Lamm definitions/terminology from my formative years

2. I say modesty or tzniut … as a man, what does that mean to you?How one acts and dresses. Dress: I rarely wear shorts in public. To the extant my kids express shock if I ever do. My clothes for the most part are not loud (a lot of fall colors, toward the end of fall).

It means dressing and acting appropriately. Tzniut is not an objective but a subjective, right time and right place for some things.

3. Growing up, did your father or grandfather wear a kippah or any other “modest” or recognizable Jewish dress?One of my grandfather's did in public. My father was more comfortable without one at work or at a ball game.

I always wore one. I was at a trade show in France and on the first day wore a kippah. WOW did I fee uncomfortable. I did not wear one at subsequent shows.

My mother never wanted me to wear my tzizit hanging out. I subsequently learned that that is preferred by some.

I taught my son that kippah and tzizit is how a Jew dresses at all times (not bathing/swimming). BUT tzizit was more important.

4. Do you think tzniut was something instilled in you by your family? Did you dress with any type of modest or recognizable Jewish dress growing up?I did wear kippah and tzizit growing up. In Israel I did not like being in a large institution with everyone knowing my name but I did not know their’s. So I stopped wearing a kippah with a name. I started wearing a plain black knit kippah.

By the by, I do not consider kippah part of tzniut but the questions are pointing in that direction

A kippah should remind one how to act and is at the heart of tzniut. I guess I need to work on that -- not the wearing part, which I do wear one, but the message.

5. Are you married? How does your spouse feel about your choices regarding tzniut? Is it a dialogue or does your partner leave the mitzvah to you?I am married and my wife does it to me, and I know she would be very comfortable if I wore more colors, shorts, jeans. But I don’t.

My grandmother decided to cover her hair after being married for more than 20 years. Her husband went to very traditional yeshivot. Take what you want from the story. It is a good model of doing things because of motivation and mutual respect.

6. What would you wear on a typical day? On Shabbos? If you dress or carry yourself differently on weekdays and Shabbos, why do you make this distinction and how?Shabbos: white long-sleeve pressed shirt, slacks, jacket in shul (or suit). Tie depends if I am on time or not). Going to the park with the kids I also will only go when wearing a white long-sleeve pressed shirt.

During the week: black shoes, black knit kippah, black pants, grey shirt.

As I said about I think Tzniut is subjective. What is right for Wednesday is not right for Shabbat.

7. What do you think other people infer from your clothing and head-covering choices? Has anyone ever said anything to you outright that expresses a judgment based on your appearance? (Ex: “You wear a kippah, so you must be x,y,z”)I guess when I am at the Shabbos park in my white shirt I think the contrast to those who don’t is stark. I do want to somehow -- through what I wear -- portray a “Shabbos atmosphere.”

8. Have you ever surprised someone by way of tzniut, making them rethink their stereotypes about what it means to be an observant Jew?I heard the following this year in the context of sex ed in school: We should not judge young women by what is their hardest challenge. We tend to judge based on dress, but it is a very difficult challenge as they are evaluating their appearance, fashion sense, fitting in with friends, their new body, their sex appeal and how to use it and how NOT to.

"This nation is characterized by three things: they are compassionate, bashful/shameful, and benevolent [rachmanim, baishanim, ve-gomlei chasadim]." (Yevamot 79a)

So for me when someone has these characteristics that is what should strike people and say WOW. (Working on that, too.)

9. When you see someone who observes tzniut or dresses differently than you, what are your initial thoughts? How do you deal with them?I am very impressed by the way people act and speak. I am sure to some it comes easy but many people regardless of how they dress do speak and act in a refined way. See Talmud Yevamot 79a cited above.

10. Anything else you’d like to add about your choices, experiences, and more!