The warped perspective on Tzniut

It seems that there has been much written about Tzniut over the years and, in most cases, it has to do with skirt length, head covering and various rabbis professing to know the thoughts of G-d. And yet, with all that has been written, so few seem to fully “get” what Tzniut is.

I know, that sounds a little disjointed, but if you will bear with me for a moment, you will see what I mean.

The prophet Micha says in Chapter 6: והצנע לכת, עם-אלוהיך, meaning that we are to “walk humbly with your G-d.” In the only usage in TaNaCh of the root צ-נ-ע it is critical to understand what the Navi is telling us in this Pasuk.

Tzniut is about a way of life. Tzniut is about how we relate to G-d and how we go through this world attempting to emulate his ways. Tnziut is about acting in concert with how Hashem has commanded us to act: humbly and modestly.

Yes, of course, we are to dress in a modest fashion–women AND men. But besides the obvious point of dressing in a modest fashion, the underlying message is that we are not to draw attention to ourselves. By doing so, we not only divert another’s attention, we then shift that person’s attention from his proper purpose in the world: service of Hashem.

Which leads to a very different perspective on tzniut. Besides clothing, tzniut extends to all that we have. People who throw lavish parties, weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzva celebrations that run into the tens of thousands of dollars –and hundreds of thousands of dollars; the cars that, in some cases, dwarf small boats; clothing that costs months’ salaries–and the list goes on and on–would be hard-pressed to refer to that as an act that is tzanua. A home that is large but is used as a place for constant hachnassat orchim or for Torah events indeed fulfills a purpose; but a home that is massive in order to “keep up with the Jonses” is the antithesis of tzniut. When a person lives a lifestyle that is lavish and/or drawing attention to himself, that is not in concert with living a life of tzniut.

And then, the inevitable happens: in the face of tragedy or emergency, so many profess to understand how G-d works in this world and blame all natural and unnatural disaster on the length of a woman’s skirt. A tsunami kills thousands? Must be because a woman in Monsey had a skirt too short! A child (G-d forbid) died? Must be that a little hair was sticking out from her sheitel over there in Dimona. And the list goes on and on. People make statements like this and presume to know WHY G-d does anything. And it is wrong to do so because רבות מחשבות בלב איש ועצת ה’ היא תקום. (“Man has many thoughts, but, ultimately, it is the ideas of Hashem that will come to fruition”)

And then there are the so-called Tzniut Police in various communities. How about a Bein Adam L’Chavero Police? Or perhaps an Achdut Police? A Lashon Hara Police?

We need to re-think our priorities to help us ALL determine what is a definition of Tzniut. Then again, perhaps all we need to do is to live a life based on the words of the Prophet Micha above: והצנע לכת, עם-אלוהיך

About the Author
After living in Chicago for 50 years, the last 10 of which Zev Shandalov served as a shul Rav and teacher in local Orthodox schools, his family made Aliya to Maale Adumim in July 2009. Shandalov currently works as a teacher, mostly interacting with individual students.
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