Recently, two students had their pieces accepted and published in Kol Ha-Mevaser, Yeshiva University's magazine of Jewish Thought. Below is 11th grader Jamie Epstein's piece on tzniut, or the laws of modesty (I will post Zahava's article separately). As anyone who has attended, taught, or sent their daughter to an Orthodox high school can attest, there are few issues that are thornier, more sensitive, and more difficult to grapple with than tzniut. Yet, by weaving together interviews with others and her own personal tale of growth, Jamie manages to tackle the topic in a way that is delicate yet thought provoking, balanced yet inspiring.
Kol ha-kavod both to Jamie and to Rabbi Stein.
The Real Challenge of Tsniut
Many non-Jews are puzzled when they see a woman walking with long sleeves in the summer. I have experienced this myself multiple times. When walking around on a summer day, I always feel like people are looking at me strangely, almost as if to say, “Is she insane?” Although covering up more, even in such hot weather, may seem odd to those unfamiliar with the practice, after discovering the meaning behind modest dress many are fascinated by it. However, many Orthodox women are not as fascinated. Especially for young women, tsniut is a very restrictive and troubling rule. As Jews, we have many practices that are different from general society, but they are not all as troubling as the idea of tsniut. Tsniut is very different from other practices in that it is an immediate way to peg someone as a religious Jew. The idea of dressing in a way that obviously sets us apart from the rest of society is especially troubling to many young women. However, being different from the society around us is not the real challenge. The real challenge is taking the “restriction” and revealing its true meaning and benefit.
In the modern, secular world we look to the surrounding culture to define standards of dress and fashion. When you flip through a magazine, through channels on the TV, or even walk through a mall, it is very rare to see a model or celebrity wearing modest clothing. Despite the recent trend of maxi dresses, dresses that go to the floor, the majority of the fashion that is on display is not considered modest by the halakhic standard, and even by completely secular people. Furthermore, it is difficult to take yourself out of popular culture and stray from the group. When religion is pitted against popular culture, it is very hard for many to choose religion. However, paradoxically, the same situation that creates the challenge of following the laws of tsniut becomes part of the importance of doing so. Tsniut is an opportunity to go against trends and live a life dedicated to a higher standard. When one differs from the popular culture, it will sometimes result in strange, puzzled looks, but ultimately it leads to more respect. People respect those who do what they believe is right instead of giving into the pressure of popular culture...
Read the rest of her article here.