Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
One of the ideals of Judaism is humility. Moses is referred to as "exceedingly humble, more than any man in the world" (Numeri 12:3). Shamedfacedness is mentioned explicitly by the Talmud as one of the cardinal traits of the Jewish people (Yevamot 79a).
Tzeniut is the group of laws concerned with modesty, in both dress and behaviour. It is first mentioned in this context by the prophet Micah (6:8): "[...] and to walk humbly (hatzne'a lechet) with your God".
In its wide definition, Tzeniut means placing limitations on arousing other's feelings, be it frustration, annoyance, anger or lust. In its limited sense, Tzeniut has come to mean Judaism's "dress code", as nowadays practiced by orthodox Jews.
The principles of Jewish law and custom guiding the laws of Tzeniut comprise two areas: Standard laws that are considered normative, and practices determined by personal stringencies and local custom.
Examples of Tzeniut-laws are:
- The covering of hair by married women;
- The length of arm sleeves (below the elbow);
- Not showing the separation between the thighs (kept by wearing skirts) by women;
- Keeping a high neckline (to the collar bone);
- Avoiding tight or flashy clothing;
- Men and woman are discouraged from swimming together, due to the revealing attire commonly worn during swimming.
Examples of Tzeniut-customs added as stringincies are:
- The shaving of a woman's hair by some groups (e.g. Satmar Hasidim);
- Refusing to look at a women's face;
Tzeniut is the subject of differing interpretations between various segments of Judaism. In many respects, previous "customs" have evolved into law, and deviations of custom are seen as breaches of law.
Issues that have received wide interpretation are:
- the degree to which a married women's hair is to be covered
- the exact requirement of covering the arm (including or excluding the elbow)
- mixed sex swimming (Conservative or Masorti Jews do not see it as forbidden, while Orthodox authorities on the whole disapprove of mixed swimming)
The principal guiding point is that a Jewish woman should not dress in a way that causes other men to stare at her. This does not mean dressing poorly; in fact, she is required to dress nicely, but not more then that. The only man who should be looking at her is her husband, and she should make sure to dress extra nicely when at home.
Many feminists argue that these laws focus excessively on women, and claim that Jewish law is pessimistic about (male) human nature. Orthodox Jews would argue it's simply being realistic (see the principle of yichud ); in their view Jewish law is well aware that the sex drive is a powerful one, and therefore sets rules to avoid getting into a problematic situation in the first place.
From the 1960s to 1980s, this issue became a major topic of conversation within the non-Orthodox Jewish community. By the 1980s these issues began to publicly emerge within the Orthodox Jewish community as well.
However, several women (notably Gila Manolson) have written praisingly about the dress restrictions to the point that women feel more a person and less a sex object when dressed traditionally.
- Shmuley Boteach Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy Main Street Books, 2000, ISBN 0385494661. Written from a Modern Orthodox perspective.
- Elliot N. Dorff This Is My Beloved: This Is My Friend: A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate Relations, The Rabbinical Assembly, 1996. Written from a Conservative Jewish perspective.
- Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk: "Modesty: an adornment for life". Phillip Feldheim, 1998. ISBN 0873068742. Encyclopedic work on Tzeniut, although considered quite stringent by some. Written from a right-wing Orthodox perspective.
- Michael Gold Does God Belong in the Bedroom? JPS, 1992. Written from a Conservative Jewish perspective.
- Gila Manolson: "Outside/Inside". Targum Press. ISBN 1568711239.
- Gila Manolson: "The Magic Touch". Targum Press. ISBN 158330102X.
- Wendy Shalit A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue Free Press, 2004, ISBN 0684863170
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