Monday, June 6, 2011

Men's Edition | The Tzniut Project 3: Behavior Around Women

This is the third 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.
In America I'd be called Modern-Orthodox, and in Israel I'd be categorized as Religious-Zionist. Overall, I'd say that I believe in strict adherence to Halacha, but realizing that sometimes different ideals, both sanctioned by the Torah, can clash and require you to make compromises in order to balance them out.

2. I say modesty or tzniut … as a man, what does that mean to you?
This means dressing in a manner that respects the people around me and the activity that I am partaking in.

An even bigger part of it is how you interact with women you meet, at work or socially.

I also believe, in general, in going a bit beyond that to make this issue more vivid in my day-to-day experience. Thus, while I will go on hikes in shorts, in general I will always leave the house in long pants.

3. Growing up, did your father or grandfather wear a kippah or any other “modest” or recognizable Jewish dress?
Yup. All my family, from both sides, is strongly Orthodox.

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?
For sure. However, the question, I believe, does not hit the mark for men as much as it does for women. Men hardly have any clear halachik restrictions in terms of dress code, and after discussing this with my wife in past years I realized that this is probably not a coincidence: men are simply more drawn to physical stimuli than women are (in general).

To me, in today's day and age, a man's modesty is not expressed so much in how he dresses --  a more important factor is how he behaves around women, or when exposed to indecent images on the street or on television. Once you are married, these issues become even more important. In this sense, I feel that these issues were instilled in me as a kid. However, I only have brothers but no sisters, and so some of these issues came up much later in the game than for others, I would assume.

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 as far as I know she is fine with my choices. When an issue comes up, I'll ask her if she thinks I should take extra precautions, and I will follow her advice unless I have a strong rational why not to do so.

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?
I wear a shirt (long/short sleeve) and long pants -- and a Kipa and Tzitzis, of course. On Shabbat, I'll dress in formal cloths. However, as I mentioned above, this question is much less relevant, I feel, for men than for women.

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”)
Actually, that DID happen to me a few months ago. I was walking around where I work and someone came up to me and said, "I knew there were religious people here, but its great to see someone walk with their Tzitzis out like that." It made me feel good --  I was just being me, but to this person, I was making a statement, that you can be proud of who you are and not feel the need to fit in to the point where you need to hide your Jewishness.

8. Have you ever surprised someone by way of tzniut, making them rethink their stereotypes about what it means to be an observant Jew?
Many non-observant Jews and non-Jewish people I've talked to were surprised to hear about Isur Negia and how my wife and I were never intimate or even close to that before we married. They usually find it unbelievable to think that one could decide to marry without having a physical relationship to build on first. Of course, the fact that their grandparents probably had no problem with this concept usually eludes them ...

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 respect people that go the extra mile to be modest, especially women, who have to work harder at it. On the other hand, extreme immodesty makes me uncomfortable, and when I'm exposed to it on the street I wish people would respect the public spaces we share and not force upon me this feeling. Of course, I live in this world, and if I have to interact with these people I put civility first -- they might make me uncomfortable, but I realize this is a culture thing, and they have a right to their opinion and style even if I think its morally problematic.

10. Anything else you’d like to add about your choices, experiences, and more!
Just to say that the most important thing I feel about modesty is to be honest with yourself about it. Especially for men, today's world is so full of immodest images and interactions that it takes a lot of work to maintain modesty on all these levels, and its important to always check yourself to make sure you are happy where you are on this spectrum.