Project Genesis

Women's Issues

Ritual Purity

Modesty in Clothing and Marriage

What is the reason for the Jewish Laws of modest dress? Why is it so important? Why cant we just express modesty in the way we act rather than externally? I’m getting married soon and this issue has been on my mind.

The reason for the laws of modesty (“Tzniut”) has everything to do with the power of the Jewish woman and the secret bond that a husband and wife have within their relationship. In our society we have come to the point where men and women barely get dressed before walking out of their house. Why? The basic reason, according to modern day psychologists, is that women do not feel as loved by their spouses as they used to. They do not feel as important. The evidence of this is the 40% infidelity that is plaguing our society. A recent study showed that in America 1 out of every 4 men have some sort of extramarital affair over the course of their marriage. Is that not astounding?Now ask yourself, if you were in a relationship where each month you and your husband had a honeymoon, he knew that you were for his eyes only (which by the way is a male problem, not as much a female one), and there were certain times of the month where the physical relationship was on hold, the power that would be unleashed after that would be amazing. That is what the Torah observant families have in their homes each month. If you observe the laws of family purity correctly, you are basically guaranteed a honeymoon each month. The rest of the world is missing out! As a matter of fact I know Psychologists who prescribe the laws of family purity to non-Jewish families that are having marital problems. They separate for a few days and after a while the passion is new and exciting. With that built in, and having a modesty foundation to your life, the passion in your marriage will be limitless.

In terms of the clothing specifically, this obviously only applies to when you are in public. When you are home those laws are not applicable, as long as there are no outside visitors over. Also, this applies to men as well. We do not get off scott free, you know. The underlying concept of what it means to present oneself as a Jew and dress immodestly is another reason why dressing appropriately is so important. As a Jew (whether you are a man wearing a kippa, or a woman buying kosher stuff at the grocery) you represent the Torah. You are a walking Torah. Given that it is all of our responsibilities to represent Torah and G-d’s people in the most respectable way possible. I hope this clarifies this question.

In terms of being a modest person by the way we act, – this is also vital. It is more vital – you are right! If we look the part, but do not walk the walk, who are we fooling? If a person wears Chasidic garb, but steals from the store, he might as well be teaching people to hate Jews! A person needs to be consistent internally and externally in terms of their religious expression.

My prayer is that you should find inner happiness and sanctity in your marriage and the blessing that I like to give all new Jewish couples is, “May this be the day you love each other the least!”

Be Well,
Rabbi Gershon Litt

I have been learning about the concept of seperation during menstration and of course
about the meaning of not touching during that time and how it enhances your marriage. I fully agree with this, however I do not clearly understand how this fits into modesty.

I appreciate your replying. That means to me that you are really interested in finding out the truth about this issue.

The answer to the relationship between the laws of family purity and modesty is that by being modest with clothing you and your husband are sending messages to each other that, “I am for you only.” By sending that message it makes the time of month where you can be together much more powerful. Imagine what it would be like for two people who are crazy about each other, living in the same house, not being able to touch each other for a period of time. If both spouses feel as though the other is “waiting eagerly” for the time to come, displaying this by not sharing their personal physicality with other people, then it becomes stronger yet. Don’t think that this is not true. It is definitely true.

There are certain things that are OK to be selfish about. There is no reason why a husband and wife should have to share each other with anyone else. It may not seem like wearing a sleeveless shirt is sharing you with someone else, but think it through. What would it mean to a man to know that his wife is wearing modest dress because she cares about the sanctity of her body and wants to save that beauty for her husband. Likewise a man to a woman in other areas.

The relationship to the laws of family purity is one aspect to modesty, but the bottom line is that the old saying that, “Clothes make the man,” is true. People judge and respect you based on how you look. No matter what people say about religious Jews the one thing that I have never heard is that we do not have self respect. People respect those who respect themselves. There have been studies done to show that when a person puts on a suit and goes to work he or she is more productive than if they wear shorts and a T-shirt. The same person, same job, same tasks. Why? Because when you dress a certain way you act that same way. Modesty is not an old school way of life. It is a way of life that brings self respect, self dignity, honor to relationships, and honor to our holy religion. I hope that this helps.

Be Well,
Rabbi Litt

1 Follow-up »

  1. just curious, what are the specific laws (if any outright in the torah) about mens’ tznius obligations and expectations…

    Offhand, there isn’t all that much on the subject that I can think of in black and white halachic terms (besides the fact that someone who is
    absolutely naked may not make brachos), but there are strong indications that being uncovered is certainly not recommended. For instance, the
    Gemara (Megila) rules that one may not call a barefoot (or bare-legged) man for an aliya in shul because it’s considered a disgrace for the
    congregation, one who walks with torn clothing is considered clinically insane and proper clothes are considered integral to a person’s honor
    (Gemara Shabbos).

    If, on the other hand, you were thinking of the word tznius in its broader definition (as an attitude – see Micha 6: 8), then books can be
    written in vain attempts to cover the relevant material.

    I hope this helps.

    With regards,

    Rabbi Boruch Clinton

    Comment by ATR — December 22, 2007 @ 11:22 pm

We respond to every follow-up question submitted, but only publish selected ones. In order to be considered for publication, questions must be on-topic, polite, and address ideas rather than personalities.


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