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You are a baal/at teshuvah (returnee to Judaism), and the rest of your immediate family are secular. You are the only religious Jew they know, and they see you as different and a little strange. Your little niece loves to spend time with you and your family at your house. She is 10.

How do you teach her about modesty and how to dress when she comes to visit you? How do you explain to her to bring clothing that covers her up at all times, without hurting her feelings? That it isn’t appropriate for her to be running around the house in short shorts and tank tops, especially when you are trying to raise your children to dress modestly?

Speaking to her parents apparently does no good as they have not been around religious people much and really think this whole religious idea about dressing modest is cultish and strange.

Your niece loves to visit, she enjoys the vibe in your home, and loves the ritual of Judaism that she sees. It is quite possible that due to her visits a spark could be ignited within her and she could follow your path towards observance.

Is this worth addressing, or will the child, as she grows older, learn that at her aunt and uncle’s house we dress differently, and she will do that in her own time?


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26 responses to “Modesty

  1. It is quite possible that due to her visits a spark could be ignited within her and she could follow your path towards observance.

    That line is the major problem with the question posed. I’m sure this woman loves her niece, but instead of accepting her as she is, she’s seeing her as a potention BT when she gets older. Therefore, the entire question about tzniyut is suspect, even if the woman asking the question may not be fully aware of it. Is her motivation simply to avoid embarassment and avoid having what she feels to be an inappropriate example for her own kids? Or is her motivation some sort of junior kiruv? I think she needs to sort out what her motivations are before she takes any action on this.

    That aside, I’m not sure what the issue is with a 10 year old wearing a tank & shorts. She’s just a little girl. And the writer’s own children could benefit from understanding that not all Jews are the same as each other. Though I do understand why the writer might feel such dress to be inapproriate when the niece turns 14 or 15, especially if she has sons.

  2. Are their cousins that the neice is visiting – ie is this BT a mother herself? then that may pose a potential problem.

    as for that, i’m not sure auntie can do much here. She isn’t the parent. She can teach as much as she can to her neice, but she has to remember, ultimately she isn’t the parent. Whatever she tells the child, the parents may totally undo with a “your aunt is crazy, don’t listen to her”.

  3. I’m involved in kiruv, and I’m deeply uncomfortable with dealing with kids that arent at least atthe 16-18 stage, as they aren’t making informed decisions and it is child abuse in a way, whether well meaning or not.

    The second aspect is that in kiruv you don’t force anything on the students, they choose how fast they want to progress. This girl has to make these decisions when she’s older.

    Bottom line is, don’t say anything to her.

  4. I am in a similar situation and I would never, ever even attempt to tell my niece what to wear when she visits me.

    It’s part of her “civic rights” to dress the way she likes, and I love her enough not to stop inviting her because of a stupid clothes question.

    I think the tentative to influence her clothing is really abusive.

    And it is also hypocrite to act as if it was unbearable that she comes in shorts….

    My advice to BT: you have a bad RAbbi or are subject to bad influence. Change Rabbi.

  5. I think a ten year old is not generally clued in to modesty beyond “don’t show your underpants,” and in a few years she will be more aware of her body. Then SHE may ask why you guys dress that way and you can explain.

    Modesty is important for anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a person. I don’t think it’s missionary to explain to your neice why you choose to dress modestly.

  6. Similar but different situation: we have nieces whose parents are much more MO than we are. So they are likely to be in our house in tank tops too, even though the parents send the kids to yeshiva and are totally shomer shabbos, etc. I certainly wouldn’t speak up to my nieces (or to my SIL who would probably bite my head off). If the parents in the blog post feel that dressing a certain way for religious reasons is cultish, why would someone want to undermine the parents’ position?

  7. My own thoughts on this are *close* to Woman’s above.

    Am I inviting my niece in order to do kiruv? Then stop right there. I have nothing to add. Bad agenda.

    My family members are welcome in my home because they are my family members. As is. If I have little children at home, well they will simply learn that people vary in their behaviors. They will learn that we can love, respect, and relate to them even if on some or many things we disagree or even disapprove. So what?

    We have adult children come into the home like that. They care enough to stop by on their way home from a day of climbing/biking/whatever. They don’t need me to say ‘please cover your shoulders/legs while you are in my house’. Sometimes they think of it; sometimes they don’t. WE need to be grown up, respectful, and flexible enough to relate to them and value them as they are.

    But that goes back to: what is the real agenda? Is it to have someone over because I value them as a person? Or because they are targets of my kiruv efforts?

    It took me a while to realize that sometimes I was giving more respect to strangers than family. If a stranger came for a Shabbat meal, I didn’t set restrictions for them to meet. One day I learned I have to treat my relatives with the same consideration. Over time they’ll learn what’s important to me. Or not. Over time they *may* choose to accommodate my preferences in my home. Or not.

    So, do I value them for who they are and have them over for that reason alone? I think that answers everything.

    • If a stranger came for a Shabbat meal, I didn’t set restrictions for them to meet.

      I have eaten at folks homes where they had new guests for shabbat meals, and if the women were wearing a low cut top, they would ask them politely to put on a shawl that they provided – is this rude? (I personally would never do that…but then everyone is welcome in my home no matter what they wear)

      • lady lock and load

        Me too? I can come in my skants? Oh goody! 🙂

      • That’s a loaded question. I would hope that the woman in the low cut top realize herself that she may not be dressed appropriately for the situation. If explained properly, the offer for the shawl could be educational for her, but that could also blow up in everyone’s face.

        Generally, you adapt to the environment you are in.

        I think I am in agreement with most people on this issue. There may be a time when the niece should be educated on modesty, but at 10 years old she should be accepted as is, shorts and all. Later she can be educated on the reasons for longer skirts (in my opinion, knee length is modest enough), when she can appreciate the aunt’s suggestions, even if she doesn’t wear exactly the same clothing her aunt would prefer.

  8. When your kids visit her at her house, do they request that your kids wear shorts and tank-tops?

    If not, then why would it be appropriate for you to tell her what to wear when she comes to your house?

    My suggestion to very neatly solve this issue is that along with teaching your children how to dress modestly, teach them tolerance as well.

  9. lady lock and load

    This reminds me of something in my past….When I was twelve years old, I had to be tutored in a certain subject for the summer. My mother found a young lady who was staying at a bungalow colony for the summer and was able to tutor me. Since she was Chassidic, I realized right away that shorts would not be something appropriate to wear, so I used to wear this long sleeved black dress to her bungalow every week. She never asked me to, I just did it on my own. At the end of the summer, she gave me a beautiful siddur, and when I became religious a couple of years later and went to Israel, i took the siddur to the kotel with me. I still have this siddur till this day, although it is old and tattered and missing the cover, I refuse to part from it!

    • LLL, that probably illustrates the best policy. If you are in an environment where shorts are frowned upon, it may be best for you to adapt to where you are.

  10. The responses here are really heart warming, especially knowing most of them are coming from observant Jews.

    Anyone want to volunteer to talk to my family or my in laws? We would visit much more often if there weren’t so many conditions involved in our visits.

    • TO,

      That is really a sad commentary when “there are so many conditions involved in our visits.”

      It makes me curious just what conditions are involved, but if you consider it private, then I’ll respect that.

      I have been very lucky in the communities I have lived in (New Orleans, Washington, Memphis) or visited (Pittsburgh and others on vacations). Even though my wife and I are not totally observant, I have met many frum Jews who still respect us as Jews regardless of our level of observance. They know that we are not as observant as they are, but they still love us and are friendly with us. I think that the fact that we respect their observances (and acknowledge that we are still as bound by the mitzvot as they are) helps us to get along with all kinds of Jews.

      I found a yarmulke from an eBay merchant that reads “Ani ohev kol yehudi” (I love all Jews). I like that slogan because it reminds me that I must love both Jews who are more observant than I and those who are less observant (or secular). This is tough sometimes, but ultimately this is a requirement.

      “Chaverim kol yisrael” (All Israel is one fellowship). I have also loved this expression, and when I hear it during the blessing for the new month, it reminds me to live this everyday–even when the news drives me crazy in the Jewish world!

  11. I would teach my kids to dress modestly, and to accept the fact that not every one, and not even every Jew, lives by our understanding of God’s rules.

  12. I see no problem here. The kid visits and plays with her cousins and feels loved and accepted..because noone says anything. Why does she have to conform at all. Ya can’t change darker skinned relatives skin tone to make the whiter skinned kids feel more comfy, can you?

  13. Mike, Chav– The difference between your two comments is the critical factor. These relatives are not dark-skinned, it is not a fact of different genetics, it is a different choice of lifestyle. If my kid says, I want dark skin, then you laugh and tell her she can play in the sun but she won’t ever actually look like her cousin. But what it she says, I want a tank top. Do you say, your cousin is wrong, or do you say, your cousin made a different choice, but then she says, I want to be nonreligious too.

    I remember as a BT teenager asking the Rabbi how could I be nonjudgmental if I’m meant to think that not keeping Halacha is wrong, and he laughed and said I would understand as I got older but it really is difficult for a teenager, let alone a kid to do that.


  14. This is a very difficult thing to address and I say, good luck to you.
    In my opinion I will address the child and tell her that when she comes to visit, she have to dress the way you want her to because you want to set an example to your kids. Yes, she is 10 but she will understand what you are telling her. If she does not ably with your request then just tell her that she is not allow to come and visit unless the ablies with your rules. It is your home afterall and whenever an outsider do come into your home, they have to ably with your rules, adult and child. Good luck.

  15. I am comming at this from a Sephardi angle… we have never been makpid about what less religious members of our family wear when they visit. If my own children want to know why they dress in a certain fashion while their cousins don’t… if that is really your worry… then explain to them that your family places a very high value on what the Torah has to say, and that unfortunately their cousin’s family does not share the same value structure, as many people in the world don’t.

    Now if the girl honestly asks why you do things differently(though her own parents have probably already explained that in their own way), then I would explain first that these things are written in Torah, and that your family places a very high value on what the Torah has to say.

    If you want to kiruv the girl, honestly, your best bet would not be to force to wear things she doesn’t want to. It would be to invite her for Shabbat or Hagim, and let her experience the fun of those.

    There is a Hassid here in Jerusalem that has built a private kiruv empire around just that prinicple. Everytime arsim go through Meah Shearim on Shabbat, driving or whatever, trying to upset the people, he doesn’t yell, he doesn’t tell them what they are doing is wrong, he invites them for Shabbat. One of my own Rabbanim has an amazing story about how he came to Judaism through this tzaddik… I should post that on my blog sometime.

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