Myth: Tzniut is only about how we dress.
Myth 2: Tzniut is only obligatory on women.
Truth: Tzniut also applies to behavior and it’s
as much for men as it is for women.
“We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you this message…” My social media feed has gotten flooded lately with things about a social issue that is related to tzniut.
Unfortunately, too many people still believe the above myths. That’s bad enough, but when they use these myths to take advantage and hurt others, it makes things worse. We have enemies trying to destroy us, so why are we doing it to ourselves?
From me, you get the truth.
Tzniut is loosely translated as modesty. Many of those who use that translation at least acknowledge that it’s a loose translation. I don’t like it entirely because the word modesty connotes hiding. I do understand that it does involve hiding to some extent. But I think a better word would be dignity. “Dignity” is defined as “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect” and as “a sense of pride in oneself; self-respect.” I think that definition fits the concept of tzniut much better than modesty or humility.
Tzniut/dignity is supposed to be part of everything we do. Most people think that it’s only about how we dress. It’s true that we’re supposed to dress with dignity, but we’re also supposed to behave and carry ourselves with dignity. That’s just as obligatory on men as it is on women. A mentsch is someone who treats others with seichel and derech eretz – that is, basic human dignity – and it applies to men and women.
Tzniut and mentschlichkeit is also not just about what people are allowed to see. We’re supposed to treat our loved ones with the same dignity or better than that with which we treat others. Spouses especially are supposed to treat each other with respect and dignity. It’s okay to disagree, but it’s important to communicate and try to understand each other and to be respectful no matter what. Even if, G-d forbid, the marriage has to end, it can end with dignity. In fact, the halachic pre-nuptial agreement was designed specifically to ensure that.
There are violations of tzniut that leave me annoyed, but then there are violations of tzniut and halachah that make my blood boil. One of those is when I hear of a woman who is held hostage in a dead marriage because her husband refuses to give her a get (Jewish writ of divorce). It used to be that the issue of agunot was that of men disappearing, usually at war or on travel. But the rabbis came up with solutions for that. Now most agunot are trapped because their husbands are violating halachah.
There are those who say I have a one-track mind. On some issues that’s true. When it comes to agunot, I definitely do. No one deserves to be held hostage. Period.
There are those who say that I should be more open-minded and that there are two sides to everything. When it comes to husbands divorcing their wives, there are two sides. Either the husband is a get-refuser and is a rasha with a “side” that has zero merit, or he gives the get, he’s not a rasha, and he has a side that deserves to be addressed and respected even if I don’t agree with it. Even if the wife is the abuser and is making unreasonable demands, the husband must not lower himself to her level by holding her hostage.
There are those who say that spreading the word about these things is itself a violation of tzniut and of shmirat halashon. Wrong. The real violation of halachah is that a woman is being held hostage.
Yes, your appearance counts, both in terms of covering up and in terms of flattering your unique body and expressing your style. But behavior counts at least as much. We need to remember that all human beings are created in the image of G-d and deserve nothing less than respect and dignity.
Dedicated to all agunot. May Hashem free you as soon as possible.