Monday, April 4, 2011

Embarking On Modesty (Tzniut) -- On Your Own Terms

It could be worse, this could be our headgear!
I received a question on a recent blog post from a reader that I'm going to paraphrase and discuss here. The situation? Well, the reader is considering dressing/acting in a more modest way, from hair to clothes to what she says and what she doesn't say. The reader lives in a predominately non-Jewish area, she's married to a non-Jew, and she's a Reconstructionist Jew. The question? Do I (that's me, Chavi) think that non-Orthodox women can enjoy modest style, dress, mannerisms, and everything else, or is it somehow taboo?

My first thought regarding this question was BEWARE! Why? Well, being someone who came to Judaism via Reform avenues, snaked through Conservative Judaism and zipped on to Orthodox Judaism, I can tell you that once you take on a certain mitzvah -- whether superficially or otherwise -- you really tend to get hooked. For me, it was the realization that if I was going to do x, y, z, I wanted ... nay ... needed those around me to be doing the same thing. The pull of mitzvot like modesty meant that I ended up in a place I never thought I would, but here I am. And that, folks, is the danger. 

That being said, I think that all women -- Jewish or not -- can find an appreciation and enjoyment for tzniut. But you have to be acting, dressing, and carrying yourself modestly because of a personal conviction and understanding of what you're doing. I think that many Orthodox Jews who live or work in non-Jewish atmospheres will tell you about the painstaking moments when someone queries why long sleeves are necessary in August heat or why you suddenly are toting a hat or tichel atop your head, and I think that most of those individuals would tell you that ultimately your modest oddities will be a point of information and education. If, of course, you own it. 

There is a lot to be said for speaking and carrying yourself modestly in all you do, even if you don't take on skirts and elbow covering and hair covering -- we could all use a kick back to respect, shame, and holding back some things. There's no mystery in life anymore (says the blogger who tells her readers just about everything under the sun -- or so you think! Bwahahaha!) One of the biggest problems in the Jewish community, many rabbis will tell you, is lashon hara, or gossiping and bad-mouthing your friends and foes alike. We have loose lips, many of us, so I think we all can benefit from modest mouths.

Oh! And another warning: Those who will question your motives and changes the most will be other Jews, probably those of the non-Orthodox bent. So beware; you might get some really unpleasant reactions from those around you who either think you're "heading to the dark side" or who just don't get why someone would even want to go down that road. 

Ultimately, if you feel good about yourself and the image you're portraying while dressing or acting modestly, then by golly, you're doing something right, and whether you believe or don't believe, HaShem can respect that and those around you will, too. I observe tzniut for a multi-fold reason: because I'm an Orthodox Jew (it's how we roll); because I feel powerful and beautiful when I dress and cover my hair, because I'm making that choice and styling myself in a Chavi-specific way; because I gotta respect the fact that I'm married (that's for you Tuvia); and, well, because I feel like I've gained HaShem's respect for taking on tzniut. I'm not saying those of you who don't dabble in modest dress don't have HaShem's respect, we all have our own ties and vibes from HaShem, right? 

What do you guys think about this query?

My question to the reader who posed the question would then be (and maybe she can guest blog post for us) why do you want to dress modestly, with your own special circumstances that wouldn't otherwise dictate tzniut,? What inspired you to consider this step? 

PS: Modesty doesn't mean frumpy or ugly or out of fashion or oppressive ... mmk?