Tznius as its own religion

Let me clarify: I dress according to pretty strict tznius standards and tend to wear "Mommy" clothes that are comfortable and easy care rather than stylish. I favor skirts with length to spare way below the knee, and do not wear halter or tank tops over skin-tight shells. My shoe wardrobe is devoid of stilettos, gladiator sandals, or high and tall boots. So, I admit it, I err on the side of dowdiness in dress, and I do consider it wrong for frum-owned stores to peddle inappropriate clothing styles to their Jewish customer base. Still, I don't consider my standards for dress to be my entire religious raison d'etre. However, in the push for tznius, some seem to magnify modest dress into its own religion. constructing the the entire identity of a Jewish female on the basis of tznius.

Here's a practical take on the subject -- a guide to sewing tznius clothes:
Seams and Souls A Dressing, Altering, and Sewing Guide for the Modest Woman
By Rivka Glazer published by Feldheim and probably available in a seforim store near you.


  • An uplifting hashkofah section on the topic of modesty.
  • A thorough explanation of sewing terms along with detailed, step-by-step, alteration instructions.
  • A wide variety of creative tips and techniques for tznius solutions for sewers at all levels.
  • Over 250 modest, easy-to-follow diagrams for altering the most problematic parts of garments.

    Open Seams and Souls and discover the joy of creating a delightful, great-looking wardrobe that meets every measure of modesty. Ideal for every Jewish home and classroom, and a must for every Bas Yisroel.

  • In fact, when I thumbed through the book at Eichler's I saw that it constantly uses this construct of the "Bas Yisroel" in its directives. For example, it warns that a shirt may be too big; the problem with that is that the opening around the neck will be too big, and hence untzniusdik. The author solemnly states that some shirts are too big for a Bas Yisroel. I am not making this up. You can see the official book description here.


    SephardiLady said…
    The other item as its own religion would be dan l'chaf zechut. If only as much energy could be put into becoming a straightforward and upright person as energy is put into figuring out why certain behaviors are perfectly fine, perhaps we could have a return of not-so-common sense.
    Samuel said…
    "For example, it warns that a shirt may be too big; the problem with that is that the opening around the neck will be too big, and hence untzniusdik. The author solemnly states that some shirts are too big for a Bas Yisroel."

    And you disagree with what exactly; that in reality a large opening won't expose the collarbone, or that this isn't a problem 'l'halacha'?
    Ariella said…
    Samuel, you are deliberately misconstruing the point here. As I clarified, I am all for observing tznius. What I am pointing out is that some make it THE definitive construct of Jewish female identity when it is only one of the myriad aspects of Torah observance. Obviously, if one's clothes are too tight or too open, they will reveal too much. So the rule is: consider fit. Instead, this is cast as a religious label "too big for a Bas Yisroel."
    Why this label for clothing only? How about, eating in public on a fast day because you consider women to be exempt always (even if not nursing or pregaant) is not for a "Bas Yisroel"? Now that is clearly a breach of tznius if you think of what the word means and the directive to eat only betzina on public fast days.
    And why not then apply it to other halachos? You could declare, cookbooks and magazines containing recipes on Shabbos are "not for a Bas Yisroel." Eating milk right after meat is "not for a Bas Yisroel."

    Let's go even further, Samuel. How would you like to be instructed in halacha with something like, "delaying payment of wages is not for a Ben Yisroel." Do you grasp how absurd that sounds? What about the other 612 mitzvos? They are not part of what makes a "Ben Yisroel" or what are not for him. But you know that the term would not be a "Ben Yisroel" but a "Ben Torah" because men are recognized as having their role defined by Torah itself. Females should not be given any such ideas. In fact, people like R' Falk (and I believe his wife gives a type of haskama to this book) have actually declared that tznius does for a woman what Torah does for a man. Look, I've heard of Talmud Torah keneged kulam, but I've never heard a Chazal that equates anything else to Torah.
    Halacha is what it is, and the emphasis placed on defining what is a "Bas Yisroel" solely on one aspect is raising it its own religion.
    Isaac יצחק said…
    I agree with Ariella completely. I have coined the term, "the cloned generation" to describe the manifestation of a philosophy that effectively decrees that each gender, male or female, must be cloned --- bemachshava, dibbur and maaseh, but especially in those areas of "visibility".

    I subscribe to a pluralism within daled amos shel halocho whose aim is veholachto bidrachav.

    An outcome of this attempted cloning is labeling, of course. Both cloning and the inevitable labelling serve to drive a wedge between people. Some say that it gives birth to false or shallow frumkeit.

    In my estimation, Artscroll and similar are very much responsible for cloning in the english speaking world.

    A good example in the Tzniyus arena is "open-toed" shoes. It's now "halacha lemoshe misinai" (although moshe was probably wearing sandals rachmana litzlan) that this is "assur". I am not talking about "above" the ankle. Let's start below the ankle.

    In a cloned world, where there is no room for machlokes, the "bas yisroel" could never wear such. Toes are not like fingers. They must be hidden if you are a Bas Yisroel.

    I have tried to understand, but have been unable to date. This is one example of many, and Tzniyus is a popular target because it's visible, and the cloned need to have uniforms.
    Ariella said…
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Ariella said…
    There seems to be a great deal of confusion about tznius. One girl we had over on Shabbos truly believed that socks were required, though her stockings were so sheer that they were indistinguishable from bar legs when she had her shoes on. When confronted with the absurdity of covering with something completely sheer, she had no answer but still considered that is the standard -- which consistent with the dress style approved in the school. I send my daughters to a BY type school but see that some of the girls wear short sleeves and short skirts (even when they are over bas mitzvah age). All the emphasis given to tznius is of little avail if their wardrobe will still include clothing that errs on the side of fashion rather than modesty.
    Isaac יצחק said…
    Two comments:

    a) There can be discussion about the area below the shok (whichever way one defines it). I believe that those discussions are a matter of "minhag hamakom". This in of itself is a proof that there ought not be such a thing as cloning. The fact that one makom can do things one way and another a different way surely says that it is not also the case that one person is a Bas Yisrael and other is not!

    b) Even according to those whose minhag is for some form of sock covering below the "shok", I am not aware of any source that says that from the ankle and below (ie open shoes) has a mekor which would suggest that it is a makom erva. Happy to stand corrected. As such, I think it was always common to see ladies who are tzanua in every sense of the word, wearing long skirts but also wearing sandals and the like.

    Now, if someone wants to decree that feet are more chamur than hands, then that is their business but to even suggest that anyone who doesn't do so is not a Bat Yisrael is something I simply don't understand.

    And yes, this type of thing seems to be a pre-occupation and how such a concept plays an important part in describing a Bat Yisrael is something I do not understand. As Ariella points out, there are many things that are not even a matter of minor dispute or "minhag hamakom" which somehow are elided.

    Ironically, if minhag hamakom is not to wear a fedora when in the presence of royalty, the male still needs to wear one in some circles in order to be considered a "Ben Torah". Another anachronism.

    I wouldn't be too hard on your guest. It may be the case that for the area below the shok her minhag hamakom was not to be bare legged (on Shabbos). At the same time, people should understand the parameters and not allow themselves to be cloned in order to attract an artscroll or feldheim "title".

    והחכם עיניו בראשו
    Ariella said…
    You're right about this being a matter of preoccupation, Issac. The way this topic came up on Shabbos was that one daughter told her friend that her top was not completely tznius because the sleeves shift above the elbow. For the record, I did not start this. Then there was a counter attack about the issue of socks. While my daughters have to wear knee socks for school, they wear short socks outside of school. For some reason they think knee socks are a fashion faux pas. In my eyes it is not a big deal. But I am uncompromising on skirt and sleeve length. I also steer clear of loud colors or patterns and tight fitting clothes. As I said, I am not at all convinced that stockings cover erva, for if that is the standard, we would all have to opt for the thick type of tights. After all, I wouldn't consider sheer sleeves to be adequate covering for arms. I can see a point about the greater formality of stockings making them preferable for Shabbos than bare legs. Clearly, that is not the minhag hamakom in this neighborhood., though. The bare leg look came into fashion some years ago, so women spend on waxing what they would have spent on stockings. There are even toeless stockings to allow bare toes to be seen in the open-toed shoes you referred to.
    Lvnsm27 said…
    On the other hand, I understand why someone might say that a bas yisrael shouldn't wear or a ben torah shouldn't....
    It's because some things are not befiting for us. -
    Yes, it might be better to just mention to be modest. - I think the reason why people say bas yisrael and ben torah is so we remember who we are. They are not just saying, be modest, they are saying do it because you are Jewish
    Ariella said…
    As I commented on Actually, what I didn't like in particular was what I see as a "dumbing down" of individuals who take dictation from books like these. Don't mistake me: I am all for tznius and dress very modestly myself. However, that is because I can judge for myself that something is too short, too open, too sheer, or too loud based on my understanding of the actual halachos involved. I find it utterly condescending to have a book tell me that a certain shirt should be passed over because it is not for a "bas Yisroel." And BTW, I don't wear nailpolish myself but would not make such a statement about it either. The value of tznius has to be internalized to an extend that you can realize for yourself if crimson talons fit a modest appearance. But there are certainly shades of gray, or in the case of nail polish, pink, that may indeed fit a modest look.

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