What does Zniut mean to you?

Tzniut, modesty – what does it mean to you? Is it just a way to dress, or is it a way of behaving that encompasses dress, speech, behaviour, thoughts, actions?


I am having trouble with the whole thing – if my elbows are covered then apparently I am conforming to the laws of tzniut, however if I am flirting with the mailman at the same time, I am definitely behaving in a totally inappropriate manner. But at least my elbows are covered.


To me, being tzanua means acting in an appropriate fashion that doesn’t bring attention to me or my behaviour. It goes so much deeper than the way we dress. We have all seen the groups of teen girls in their long Stevenson denim skirts hanging out at the mall making a lot of noise. They draw attention to themselves, even though they look outwardly modest.


I know several women and men in various communities who are total religious hypocrites. They dress to conform, they go to shul, put tefillin, shockel in the right way, are seen at the kosher restaurants, etc. But away on vacation, off comes the sheitel, all of a sudden its ok to eat fish in a treife restaurant, to go dancing in the local club in a minidress. The thinking being that no one from back home is going to see them so it is ok. Tzniut is something for when they are around other religious Jews.


It’s not ok. G-d sees us all the time. He never takes a vacation. Following His laws – isn’t that something one does for Him, not for the community at large? I am more worried about how G-d perceives me, than if my neighbour caught sight of a bare elbow when I popped an arm out the get the newspaper.


I will say that there is a difference in behaviour based on how one dresses. I know that personally when I go out in my jeans and a tee I am not as aware of my comportment as I am when I am covered head to toe. When one dresses a certain way one tells others what kind of behaviour to expect. I was wearing an ankle length jean skirt today, sleeves covering my elbows and a headscarf – I know that by dressing that way people identify me as being a religious Jewess and as such I am representing my people. In jeans and a tee no one takes a second look because everyone else out there looks the same. Point of fact, one store I visited today, the owner looked at me, and commented that people from my country are always conservatively dressed and always so polite.


Is zniut these days kehalacha or is it a product of social engineering? Does zniut have the same connotations these days as it had back in the shtetl of eastern Europe? Should the parameters change with time, evolve, or stay the way they are? How are the laws of znuit observed where you live? Do people judge you / do you judge others based on your / their mode of dress?




One response to “What does Zniut mean to you?

  1. To me, tzniut is far more about how you act than what you wear. I live in a very religious community where a large segment of the younger population dress in manner that is what I would call the letter of the law, but definitely not the spirit of the law. If your long, knee covering skirt is skin tight, your long sleeve shirt so tight that everyone can see the pattern of your lacy bra, and your sheitel is Barbie doll sexy, you’re probably not really meeting the requirements intended by the laws of tzniut. The thing that always amuses me is wondering if they think they are fooling God. Do they think God so blind that he can’t see past the actual length of the skirt and sleeve?

    Personally I don’t believe that God cares how long your skirt is, whether you are even wearing a skirt, or if your hair is covered. If there is a god, I am convinced he cares far more for how one behaves and treats his other creations than the details of how one clothes their body. I really hope he has better things to worry about!

    I definitely know people like the ones you describe – modest at home, wild anywhere else, and I actually feel for them. I think deep inside they are too confused and frightened to even ask the questions and seek the answers they need to follow a path that is true to them and not the religious community at large.

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