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Tznius - the Hallmark of Jewish Women
by Rabbi Yosef Braun

Tznius (modesty) is often described as the way a person carries him/herself, in speech, action, dress, and all other areas. Although the details of how to be a refined, dignified person are not all clearly defined, we are nonetheless expected to act in such a manner. However, it is specifically modesty of dress which is one of the most funda­mental principles of tznius, for the aspect of tznius which is most readily discernible is with regard to clothing.

In the times of the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek, there was a shochet (ritual slaughterer) who was removed from his post because he wore galoshes. Surely there is no prohibition against wearing galoshes. However, because this was the fashion of the times, it served as an external sign and manifestation of that which was transpiring inwardly.
We are Different!

One of the things in whose merit the Jewish people were freed from Egyptian bondage was that "they did not change their mode of dress." Jewish men, and even more so Jewish women and daughters, retained their distinctly modest Jewish mode of dress, and were not at all influenced by the Egyptian styles of dress and conduct.

Notwithstanding that the Jewish people were dispersed among the Egyptians, their uniqueness as a people prevented and prohibited them from altering their Jewish dress code. To have done so would have meant lowering and demeaning themselves by chasing after Egyptian fashion: that because Egyptians are wearing such garments we must, Heaven forbid, imitate and copy them.
The Torah teaches us that not only are we not to change our mode of Jewish dress, but furthermore that retaining our Jewish dress code will not cause us to lose favour and respect among our non-Jewish neighbours. Quite the contrary: the nations among whom we find ourselves will realise that we are a people who 'stick to our principles'. Even if doing so may sometimes prove difficult, we are not frightened by this, for we realise that by observing our Jewish dress code, by observing the rules of tznius, we preserve our identity, guaranteeing our strength and existence as a nation and as individuals. This is the path that leads us out of exile.

Soon after the [previous] Rebbe arrived in the USA in the year 5700 (1940), he revealed that his Divine mission in this land was to transform it into a place of Torah. There were those who asked him, "This is, after all, America; it is not like the 'old home'?" The Rebbe replied, "America is no different; with regard to Torah and mitzvos, America is no exception!"

This saying has special significance for Jewish women, to a certain extent even more than for Jewish men. Women in general have a tendency to follow the latest "styles". Quite often the latest fashion and style may have a deleterious influence on tznius.
Jewish women must know that the very same Torah and mitzvos, and the very same principle of "the entire glory of the king's daughter is within" that applied in the "old home", apply in America as well.

One need not follow the modern trends. In fact, one should endeavour to affect one's children in such a manner that they recognise that their father and mother are "different". Whereas other women might dress in clothes that do not necessarily reflect a strong commitment to tznius, their mother dresses according to the highest standards of tznius!
Conduct of Chabad Women

Lately, with G-d's help, the Chabad community - especially Chabad women - have undertaken specific good matters of conduct and comportment, matters which until now for whatever reasons were not performed by all. When something new is achieved, it is unfortunately all too easy for it to, G-d forbid, fall apart. Therefore the merit of each and every one who does his or her share to strengthen these new positive manners of conduct is truly great.

On the other hand, even if until now one did not appreciate the true importance of such behaviour, one ought to realise that one's deportment is not a private matter, but has an effect, to a certain extent, on the whole community.

Therefore, irrespective of the factors that up till now constrained the practice of various matters within the homes of Anash, whether concerning the appropriate mode of dress or suitable education of children -

I want to once again draw your attention, that from now onwards, each and every woman without exception ought to join the women of the Chabad community who wear sheitlach (wigs), provide their children with a true Chassidic education, and conduct all aspects of their homes in a true Chassidic manner.

Source of Pride

May Hashem help you recognize the truth, that acting in this way is really not so difficult, nor is it something about which to be ashamed of, Heaven forbid. As regards to your writing that they may laugh at you and you will be embarrassed, etc: Recently even American youth have begun to honour and respect specifically those who stand firm in their faith. They do not feel embarrassed by those who scoff at them and their outlook on the world. To the contrary, they respond with scorn and derision to those who simply follow the majority without having any principles of their own. Surely you know that the entire four-part Shulchan Aruch opens with the statement that one should not be embarrassed by those people who scoff at one's service of G-d.

Moreover, and this too is quite simple and very understandable, "G-d fills heaven and earth," and finds Himself with man in all places and at all times. This is not so with regard to people. Even those who live extremely close are not always close at hand. Thus, how can it possibly be that one is not embarrassed, G-d forbid, before G-d, and rather is embarrassed by people who are flesh and blood!

On the contrary, this should serve as a source of pride that you have the strength of character to walk in the street unabashed while your friends and acquaintances perceive that here walks a Jewish woman who adheres to the "Laws of Moshe and Israel". So much so, that she has no desire to conceal it. Furthermore, you ought to be proud that your children know that they are different from all other nations because they have received the Torah, a "Torah of Life," and they study it as the only foundation of their education.

By conducting oneself in such a manner - when a person's conduct is based on kabbolas ol, in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch, which includes the principle of tznius - one merits to establish a generation of righteous children: one will be blessed with children and grandchildren who occupy themselves with Torah and mitzvos, to the extent that they can reach the highest level of purity within Yiddishkeit - verily High Priests. The Gemara and Zohar elaborate in many places that strengthening one's conduct of tznius is an infallible way to be blessed with good health, sustenance, and much nachas - true nachas from children and grandchildren.

Specifically on the issue of wearing a sheitel, let me quote here the words of the holy Zohar (III, 126a), which are quoted in Mishnah Brurah, and I will quote only the positive results mentioned there, omitting the negative aspects: "Her children will be superior... her husband will be blessed with spiritual and material blessings, with wealth, children and children's children".

Considering the great reward which is promised to the woman and mother who wears a sheitel, it should surely be worthwhile to do so even if the wearing of a sheitel would entail serious difficulties and conflicts.

Of course, you might point to this one or that one who does not wear a sheitel. However, it is surely unnecessary to point out that every person may have a particular weakness, and if one is to follow the principle "He is wise, who learns from every person," he will be wise to learn from only the person's strong and positive qualities and not from their weak ones. As I have heard that there has started to be some laxness in this matter, i.e., with regard to wearing a sheitel, therefore, it is of the greatest import that one be tenacious about this matter, to the extent that it is impossible otherwise 1.

This is, indeed, the response to your request for a blessing that it should be a "Chassidic home": wearing a sheitel is of primary importance to the general posture, comportment, establishment and fundament of the entire home, as this is something which is perceived by all. Particularly so, in the environs in which you live, since it is rumoured that the people there have become somewhat lax in their observance of wearing a sheitel, and where the conduct of wearing a sheitel has opponents, for which reason there has to be even greater firmness on your part in ensuring that your kallah wear a sheitel, and that covering her hair in any other manner is out of the question. It is obvious and self-understood that a non-negotiable condition that has to first be made prior to a shidduch is that of the young lady's taking upon herself to wear a sheitel.

Excuses, Excuses!

The evil inclination may however offer the following lure: True, he says, tznius must be observed with regard to permanent conduct, but with regard to temporary conduct it is not necessary to be so stringent with regard to tznius, to treat all aspects of tznius in the same critical manner.

Herein comes the lesson from the verse, "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob", concerning which Chazal comment, "He saw that their doorways were not facing one another". Even in temporary tent dwellings and in temporary situations, we are to scrupulously observe the same degree of tznius as in a permanent situation.

It2 is appropriate to emphasise here something pertinent to the summer season: There are those who are "less stringent" during the summer with regard to matters oftznius, especially if they are on "holidays", living in a temporary residence in the "country". Among them are those who say, "I shall sin and 'return' ", i.e. do teshuva when I return to the city." Although this is of great importance to the conduct of men as well, but it is particularly relevant to women, for each and every one of them is termed the "foundation of the home".

One should also seek to educate the children regarding tznius. According to the Shulchan Aruch, when a girl reaches the age of three years and a day she should already conduct herself in a manner of tznius. Surely so this applies to a girl ten years and older. But one should not be oppressive about this and should speak in a pleasant manner.

Guidelines

There are specific Halachic guidelines governing tznius. Regarding theproper length of dresses, my opinion is known: the proper length that applies equally to all Jewish daughters and in all places is that the length of the garment be such that the knees are covered even while sitting.

That which I mentioned above is the minimum amount that applies equally to all. However, there are places where this minimum amount is insufficient. For with regard to matters of tznius, in addition to the fact that there are observances of tznius that are not to be changed in different places, there are also details that depend on the custom of the place (i.e., they depend on the custom to be stringent, but not to be lenient). Therefore, it is incumbent on the local Rov who provides Halachic decisions, to clarify and rule with regard to that particular place.

Additionally - and this too is of primary importance - the necessity to be stringent in accordance with the conditions of the location, does not necessarily mean that this is a mere stringency. For it is also possible that the conditions of the place cause it to be a Torah prohibition.

Lately, the yetzer horo has come up with a new tactic: though long garments are worn as required by Halacha, the garments are extremely tight to the extent that it highlights the figure of the body. This is a breach of tznius. Garments are intended to cover up and conceal, not to reveal and expose. In fact, the more you tastefully cover in the physical realm, the more your spiritual energy and neshomo are revealed.

Tznius is part of a triumvirate of daily Jewish life, which includes kedushah (holiness), and taharah (purity).  Kedushah, taharah, and tznius are the foundations of the indwelling of the sanctuary and the Shechinah among Jews in general, and within every Jew, man and woman, in particular. In this area, especially, as in certain other areas of Jewish life, the Jewish woman and daughter set the tone and standard, as experience has shown.

May G-d grant that you implement the true ideals of Jewish womanhood in actual practice, and set in motion a far reaching drive to make tznius the pervading spirit in deed and in speech, which in turn depend on the sanctity of thought.

This is, obviously. only a small sampling of the Rebbe's talks and letters on this matter. Some of the references (aside from several, as of yet, unpublished private audiences with the Rebbe) include the following: Likkutei Sichos I pp. 109-110. Likkutei Sichos III p. 792. Likkutei Sichos VI p. 364. Likkutei Sichos VIII pp. 222-225. Likkutei Sichos VII pp. 360-361. Likkutei Sichos XIII p. 84. Likkutei Sichos XVIII pp. 447-448. Igros Kodesh V p. 232. Igros Kodesh VIII p. 204. Igros Kodesh VIII p. 217. Igros Kodesh. X p. 6. Igros Kodesh Vol. XV p. 198 Igros Kodesh IX p. 216. Igros Kodesh X p. 186. Igros Kodesh XIX p. 428. English Letter of the Rebbe, Chanukah 5721.


1 The purpose of a sheitel is that the hair be completely covered. If only a portion of the hair is covered then it does not accomplish this purpose. We verily observe that wearing a hat or even a kerchief leaves part of the hair uncovered, at least for a short while, i.e., causing one to transgress a major prohibition, as explained in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim ch. 75.

Also, when the hair is covered with a kerchief and one meets a non-religious friend or acquaintance, then quite often the kerchief "slides up" or disappears altogether into the pocket. This, of course, cannot be done with a sheitel. Ultimately, keeping the hair constantly covered then becomes second nature. Even if one were to say that it makes no difference to her how she will cover her hair, for at any rate the covering will be proper, it is self-understood that she cannot guarantee this with regard to others who if they don't wear a sheitel may well cover their hair in an improper fashion.

2 All the words in bold, appear that way in the original text.

 

 


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