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Modesty

Modesty

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“Walk modestly with your G‑d”—Micah 6:8.

A staple of Jewish life is modesty. In the way we walk down the street, in the way we interact with others, and in the way we dress. As G‑d’s children, we must act and look the part, conducting ourselves with dignity and modesty.

The exact parameters of the requirement to dress modestly depend on the time and place. But the basic idea—for both men and women—is to wear self-respecting clothing, clothing that does not demean the person within by overly accentuating the body, as if it, rather than the soul and its character and qualities, is the primary element of personality.

Modesty creates a private area—a dignified space—in which we can work to excelWhen we refrain from calling undue attention to our external selves, our human core, the G‑dly spirit within each one of us, can shine through, unhindered by the flashing neon lights of external charisma. Modesty in dress and behavior allows us to interact with the world in truly powerful ways, as our inner selves come to fore.

Thus modesty does not mean a denial of self, nor does it force us into hiding. Rather, it creates a private area—a dignified space—in which we can work to excel, without concern for external judgment and approval.

And even when we are alone, in the most private of places, we must also be appropriately dressed, for there is no place where G‑d is not present.

Here are some basic guidelines for modest dress:

  • Skimpy clothes that that are cut to reveal parts of the body, or tight clothes that draw undue attention to body shape, are out.
  • Married women cover their hair. The Lubavitcher Rebbe urged women to do so with an attractive wig, as opposed to simply wearing a hat or a kerchief.
  • It is the accepted practice for Jewish women to wear skirts which are long enough to cover their knees, as opposed to trousers.
Illustrations by Yehuda Lang. To view more artwork by this artist, click here.
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Yeeta Raviva Florida via m.coralspringschabad.org February 28, 2016

I like the explanation of: "it creates a private area—a dignified space—in which we can work to excel, without concern for external judgment and approval." I am more comfortable not being looked at from my nose to my toes from men who are just looking for a good time . I get more respect and even compliments from people that I look lovely. It's much nicer. I am new to Chabad but feeling I am finding out who I am by concentrating on prayer and trying so hard to understand everything they are saying which is stressful. I feel amazing. I like my Chabad. Reply

Mario Gasparotto Shelby Twp Michigan May 4, 2015

I believe modesty has (for the most part) gone by the wayside. Many women dress inappropriately and call it "being in style". I call 'sin'. We don't hear much about sin anymore but sin is alive and thriving. We will stand before G_d someday. I especially appreciate this article because I am a man. A man who loves G_d and wants to serve Him. So ladies, please help me and other men not to lust, by not putting temptation in path. Let us admire and be attracted to 'you' and not your bodies. Reply

Sam October 12, 2014

Dina, I disagree. Tznius isn't about covering up, it's about showing the world the true queen that you are. Yes, concealment is a part of it, but it's not the bigger picture. Reply

Anonymous June 12, 2014

Thank you so much !
There are so much synthetic fabric used in clothing now , it is easy to forget.
I also saw some clever ideas where pieces of fabric are attached to the neckline or short sleeves to make the clothing /design more modest, which means you do not have to wear layers in summer. Reply

Cheryl Arizona June 12, 2014

Almost forgot: Tencel and bamboo are also natural fibers that can keep you cool. (My preference is always natural fabrics, but some people prefer synthetics. Your choice entirely -- some "traveler" materials are supposed to wick away sweat and make you smell cleaner longer.)

Look for woven fabrics like oxford shirting, rather than jersey and other clingy knits. And always go for white and pastels. Reply

Cheryl Arizona May 29, 2014

To deal with the heat of summer and dress modestly yet look neat and tidy, look at the fabric content of your tops. The best summer material is linen, but it has a tendency to wrinkle. Do not worry overmuch about that -- most people know that wrinkling is a hallmark of fine fabrics. You can also look for cotton, silk, ramie and rayon. None of the fabrics I have mentioned will cling, and they all let your skin breathe. Stay away from stretch fabrics such as spandex and elastane, and you will look modest and feel cool. Reply

Anonymous April 9, 2014

I have never worn shorts or short skirts. I makes me feel very exposed. I don't like the way some men think of women as objects. Reply

Michali Baltimore March 23, 2014

I also will wear a long-sleeve t-shirt/shell under a regular shirt, but only if the reg. shirt is loose, not tight-fitting. Reply

Sophia Ashland February 18, 2014

Where can one look up the origins of this halachah? How it originated and how it has been applied through Rabbinical times. What is the Torah or Tanach teaching and where does the midrash, talmud, gemorah discuss. Thank you. Reply

Anonymous February 12, 2014

How do the observant women deal with the heat of the summer and trying to dress modestly yet look neat and tidy - Any tips?
My issue is mainly with the upper garments.
I seem to have less tolerance to heat than when I was in my 20s! Reply

Samantha Leon February 10, 2014

for the newly religious, a tip: if you have a long skirt and a matching long sleeved t-shirt, find a regular shirt and put it on over the long sleeved tee. That's what I did this morning. Reply

Mrs. Chana Benjaminson January 7, 2014

We are not permitted to use hair that is used for idolatry. Most of the hair comes from eastern european cities, south america and china from what I understand and is purchased from women who choose to sell their hair.

It is certainly not ok to wear an immodest wig, just as it's not ok to wear immodest dresses or skirts.

It's great that you cover your hair, keep it up! Reply

Anonymous January 7, 2014

Are Jewish widows required to cover their hair ?
And do post-menopausal women still go to the mikveh?

Thank you Reply

Bronya Shaffer January 2, 2014

Let's just make some clarification here: there is no mitzvah, no halachic obligation, for a woman to wear a wig; she is required,by halacha, to cover her hair just as she is required to cover her body. What she uses as covering - for her body or her hair - is entirely personal. Sometimes there are cultural norms (i.e. fashion or social mores), but essentially it is her own personal sense of self that determines how she will cover her hair. A wig is one of the many alternatives, one which the Lubavitcher Rebbe recommended.
As for being more attractive - well, most people are decidedly more attractive clothed than not; that doesn't mean we should shun clothing! If she looks more attractive in a hat or wig or saran wrap, it's not of issue. Of issue is that her hair is covered.
Reply

Moonglowalso Arkansas December 31, 2013

So, then it's okay for men to run around in revealing t-shirts, tank tops, and shorts?

I repeat, what are the guidelines for men?

Thank you.

Reply

Lesiel Oceanside, a December 28, 2013

Horrid...too much time spent by men on regulating and watching women....it is best in life to monitor yourself. I would strongly suggest the next article address the cleanliness of men. Reply

Anonymous Ramat Beit Shemesh December 27, 2013

There are more practical guidelines for women because, the fact is, human beings tend to put a lot of focus on the female body. The guides aid women in reinforcing the idea that females are not primarily physical objects. Reply

Liorit December 27, 2013

Where is the hair coming from that we use for our wigs? In some countries the hair is shaved to make appeasement to deities, especially in India. Sometimes the hair is shaved off from poor impoverished women.

Also some wigs are immodest for they do attract attention. They do not give off the impression of personal holiness.

Did I struggle at points with covering my hair...yes...but now I am at peace.

This is why I as a married woman, I cover my hair with a hat or scarf. Reply

Sophia Joshua Ashland December 26, 2013

I have difficulty accepting the wig idea. My understanding about modesty has been that a woman should not arouse the attention of a man who is not her husband. In that way ones hair is considered an attribute for beauty, being that men have to control their lustful thoughts, a women assists him with that control by dressing modestly and covering her hair. In that way, a wig defeats the purpose. A wig may cover ones real hair, but defeats the purpose of modesty by making her draw attention with a fancy hair style, fake though it may be. Seems to me this is just another obsessive compulsive rabbinical rule that makes Judaism have more levels of separatism. Reply

Paul Nelson PA December 26, 2013

I wish all women would follow these guidelines, then when we are looking for our Zivug, we would put more effort into appreciating the soul. Reply