Tzniut and Modesty

Tzniut, or  Tznius, is the concept of modesty in speech and dress. Below is a selection of article from Institute Director, Rabbi Marc Angel, and guest contributor Lily Chapnik examining contemporary Modern Orthodox practice in regards to standards of modesty.


A Modesty Proposal: Rethinking Tseniut, by Rabbi Marc Angel

The Torah provides a framework for sexual morality. Its legal prescriptions specify forbidden relationships; its narratives describe behavior and dress that reflect attitudes relating to sexuality and modesty.

The Torah’s view of sexual relationships might best be seen as fulfilling the overarching command that we be a holy people (vaYikra 19:2). Indeed, Rashi, in his commentary on this verse, identifies holiness with separation from forbidden sexual relationships.
However, the Torah does not enumerate rules relating to modesty in thought, dress, and speech. For example, it does not state how much of a person’s body needs to be covered, and gives no measurements for sleeve lengths or skirt sizes. Nor does it present specific rules relating to “hirhurim”—erotic thoughts; nor to “mehitsot” separating men and women at public gatherings; nor to the general—non-sexual—interrelationships of men and women. Rather, these rules are inferred from the mandate to be holy—to separate ourselves from sin, including sin of a sexual nature. Continue reading


Guest Blog: Modesty As a Feminist Choice: A Frum Girl’s Guide to Loving Yourself, by Lily Chapnik

By the time I finally bought my first bikini, I was sixteen years old. As a chubby kid who had grown into a young adult with a curvy figure, I had never felt until that time that my body deserved to be seen. I grew into a tendency to hide myself behind baggy jeans and shapeless one-piece bathing suits, until by body grew into something that I thought that society would approve of. Once it did, I felt proud to parade it around in all of its glory. After all, I had made it. I was part of the club. Continue reading


Modesty...or a desecration of Torah? by Rabbi Marc Angel

A trusted friend recently sent me information and photographs relating to a group of hareidi Jews in Bet Shemesh, whose women and girls have begun to wear the Muslim women's garb that covers the entire body, including the head and face. A rabbinic supporter of the group says that these "modest" girls and women are hastening the arrival of the messiah.

 Does the Torah require such garb? Does halakha consider such clothing to be mandatory or even desirable for women? Continue reading


An Insult to Women--and to Men! by Rabbi Marc Angel,

We've all been reading of tensions in Israel due to the "Hareidization" of standards of conduct involving women and men. Serious problems have emerged in Bet Shemesh, because some Hareidim were disparaging and spitting at a modern Orthodox girl who was dressed modestly--but not according to Hareidi norms. There has been a long ongoing battle over public buses where the Hareidim demand that women sit in the back and the men in the front. They allow no intermingling of the genders, so they impose their values on everyone else. Continue reading