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TZNIUT – IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT CLOTHES

By: Ellen Geller Kamaras



What do you think of when you hear the word tzniut[U1] ?

For most of my life, I thought tzniut only pertained to clothes.  Growing up in Boro Park, I first learned about tzniut, modesty, as it related to how Jewish women were expected to dress.  That meant a girl of bat mitzvah age was taught to wear modest clothes covering her knees, elbows, and collarbone.  Wearing loose fitting outfits versus skin tight ones was also a requirement of a modest dress mode. These guidelines were reinforced in yeshiva grade school and later during high school.

As Jews, we learn that dressing modestly and avoiding unnecessary attention to our external selves allows our spiritual selves to stand out. One young woman articulates her position on dressing modestly in a beautiful and spiritual way: “As the daughter of Gd, I am to make sure that what I wear on my body reflects my soul and guards my dignity.  By dressing modestly, I am telling people to look deeper and to see my true inner beauty.”

It can be challenging for Orthodox Jewish women to dress modestly, yet fashionably or trendy.  Thanks to today’s designers, including several in our own community such as June Aboxsis, the creator of Junee, and Candice Safdieh, the founder of Snoga Athletics,we can wear attire that is both modest and stylish.

Tzinutin our dress and behavior

There is another facet of tzniut that is unrelated to dressing modestly - it’s about our character - how we speak and how we conduct ourselves.  Tzniut is not just about clothes, but is also about behavior and actions too!  By the way, dressing modestly also applies to men.

Let’s look at the root and sources for this Jewish tenet of dress and conduct to better understand it, and practice tzniut on a daily basis and in all of our relationships!

The[U2] Hebrew word, tzniut, or in Yiddish, tznius, is defined as modesty or privacy. In Micah Chapter 6, Verse 8, we read: “Walk modestly [or discreetly] with your Gd.”

What does this mean? We do not literally walk with Hashem.  However, as Hashem’s children we have a responsibility to act and carry ourselves accordingly.

Tzniutand Walking the Walk

One of my favorite songs that I learned at High School Yeshiva University seminars includes the lines, “Don’t walk ahead of me I may not follow, don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend, and together we will walk in the way of Hashem.”  When I carried my children as babies, or now hold my infant grandson more recently, I would sing this tune.

Why did this verse resonate with me for so many years?

May I suggest that this prose is at the core of walking modestly and in the way of Hashem.  As Jews and as children of Hashem, we are role models for others with respect to Torah values, including derech eretz, hesed, compassion, and kindness.  We follow not only mitzvot ben adam liMakom, between man and Gd, but also practice mitzvot ben adam lichavero, between man and his friend.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe also viewed modesty as a fundamental value of Jewish life.  An insightful commentary he wrote on tzniut says: “Dressing and acting modestly creates a private area or a dignified space, in which we can work to excel, without concern for external judgment and approval.”

Tzniut  in Our Daily Lives

So how can we incorporate our rabbis’ teachings about tzniut into our daily lives?

First of all, we work on remembering that we are Hashem’s children and are his ambassadors to the world at large. We try to dress in a tzanuah fashion and manner that is appropriate for the venue and occasion.

We avoid rowdy behavior, especially in public, and carry ourselves with dignity, poise, and even a touch of reserve.  We demonstrate to our children and others how to exercise our kindness muscle and commit to taking care of our loved ones, our community, and others in need of our support. And, we practice lashon hatov and avoid hurtful language.

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching.   Ellen works part-time as an entitlement specialist at Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services. She can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com(www.lifecoachellen.com).


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