Oy Bay!

"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

Ladies, to your closets!

Posted by lchaimlover on May 30, 2007

As we all well know, in our society, modesty is not a virtue. Skin, gossip, and sex are commodities that are highly valued among Western Society. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good love scene as much as the next gal (my personal fav is from Cold Mountain, whew) but upon perusing 1500 pages of tomes all with the subtitle, “How to be a Jew”, I learned that Jewish values stand out from Western values in more ways than just bar mitzvahs.


Bette Davis as Queen Jezebel. Jezebel means “Chaste” and “Modest”.

The Torah tells us that when Hashem came to get us in Egypt, the only thing that made us different from the Egyptians was our clothes and names. This tells us that Hashem not only values Schwartzes, but also how they dress. Jews dressed different, it’s as simple as that, and this way of dress is called tznius. Now as a girl, I find that this is a bit more troublesome for me, than for baal teshuvah Matisyahu. He, along with all of the other Jewish males get button downs, kippahs, tzistzis, and some dockers, while I had the impression that I was in for turtlenecks and ankle length skirts. I was never very provocative in my dress. I grew up as a country bumpkin who preferred T-shirts and jeans to daisy dukes and tube tops, but still I liked having the choice. And, everyone knows, a woman’s most important weapon is her wardrobe.

Then I entered the “real world” known as the world outside of college. I found you don’t really get so much choice. Jeans give way to “business appropriate attire”. Second, the more I learned more about the laws of tznuis. These weren’t put in place to keep women down, but to elevate them to a level in which they would be respected, not degraded. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to one too many social events where my chest seemed much more interesting to men then anything I was saying, and I haven’t got anything particularly exciting in that department, I assure you. So, I decided to try it out a little at a time, first some skirts, then maybe some ¾ sleeve shirts, see how it went. I was pleasantly surprised at the response. Friends told me I looked great, much cuter than before (apparently I was plain back then). “Adults” seemed to take me more seriously. And I have never felt awkward in shul. So I “converted” to tznius.

Is this a secret ploy to make all of you Oy Bayettes frumsters? Not really. My personal philosophy is if you’re showing so much skin, you can’t really have anything to say or anything you want to be heard anyhow, but then again, Queen Esther’s motto was “if you’ve got it flaunt it”; then again this was Jezebel’s approach and she just went to the dogs didn’t she? But it appears, according to Newsweek, that people are getting sick of so much skin, and looking for ways to be cute without baring all. Your wardrobe choice is up to you, I just thought I’d share yet another chapter to my story of how I am “surviving” as an Orthodox Jew.


15 Responses to “Ladies, to your closets!”

  1. Oyster said

    I believe it was for these three things that HaShem redeemed the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt: the keeping of our names, our distinctive dress, and for speaking Hebrew. A very powerful metaphor for the bare minimum that a Jewish community must do in order to avoid assimilating completely…

  2. Oyster said

    Actually, I think it was ritual circumcision instead of speaking Hebrew. Reb Nakhum, care to help us out?

  3. gweitz said

    So why do Ultra-Orthodox Jews dress like 17th Century Polish peasants???

    I think there ain’t no more “distintive” Jewish clothing anymore… except for cool t-shirts like “I Love Hashem”…

  4. lchaimlover said

    Actually, I disagree about the 17th century peasant thing. I worked with some Lubavitcher girls last summer, and they always looked wicked cute, while I always looked woefully frumpy. I think it depends on the Jewess.

    I have also noticed that people take notice of me when I am wearing long skirts. I don’t know why, maybe it’s a middle of summer thing, or its different to see women in long skirts as opposed to minis.

  5. challahbackgirl said

    The mind is a powerful thing. My Grandpa’s philosophy has always been we should wear more rather then less, because the imagination (of the person looking at us) would construct something better then the actual goods.

  6. Oyster said


    Depends on the ultra-Orthdox. Some, like the Lubavitchers, can look quite dapper. Matisyahu, for example, always has on really fancy duds when he’s all decked out. The Satmar, on the other hand, are more particular about their dress, wearing stockings and buckled shoes.

    And I think you make a slight mistake. They (I’m talking about the men, here) dress to emulate 17th century Polish nobility. They want to dress nice, as if they’re Jewish royalty. Wearing black was a mark of distinction, since dyeing clothing pure black was very difficult. Plus, there was no one that Polish Jews of that era wanted to look like less than Polish peasants, who were often whipped up into a murderous frenzy. Those fur barrels that they wear on Shabbat and Yom Tov? The shtreimel? It’s extremely expensive if made from real fur. Upwards of 5 figures. Definite upper-crust look.

    Lastly, there’s nothing more distinctly Jewish-looking than a kippah. Even the pope rocks one! :-p

    As for “I HaShem” tees, I’m actually gonna buy the “Che Herzl” one.


    Women in long dresses are hella sexy. Why? It’s really feminine. It grabs a guy’s attention, saying, “this is really different than what most everyone wears, and is really *female*”.


    Excellent point.

  7. Adamama said

    My dear sista, bas melech daughter of the king. Tznius is about letting your inner essence show. its not about hiding. there are plenty of girls and women in skirts that may cover their knees that are too tight. Modesty is allowing for the true you to come out. I definitely struggle with it at times, wanting to dress like a tomboy. The inspiration I get comes from psalm 45, the honor of the daughter of the king comes from within. Its about being attractive, not attracting. Its wearing the outfit, not having the clothes wear you. and yes, you can be ‘frum’ (I don’t really like that word, we’e all from someplace not frumpy blessings to you in finding your style and letting the inner you shine through

  8. Oyster said

    Very beautifully put, Adamama. It reminds me of how I struggle to “dress up” for Shabbat. I’m very tempted to just dress casually, out of convenience in part. But also because I kinda resent when people get very done up for Shabbat. I wonder if they do it to honor the Shekhinah or to “be seen”. But “dress up” I do…

  9. Oyster said

    Randomly came across this today:


  10. Oyster said

    Okay, so, me being an ignorant Jew, I looked up this ‘Jezebel’ character.

    VERY interesting story, to say the least.

    LchaimLover, any d’var Torah on how the story of Jezebel relates to tznius?

  11. lchaimlover said

    Jezebel is exactly what today’s society is. Her name means “modesty, chastity”. While we inwardly preach this virtue, outwardly we are taken in by the media’s idea of what “beautiful” is and we succumb to that and become these caricatures of “women” in order to promote this idea of beauty. There is a great episode of Sex & the City where they discuss how all women are whores or saints, Jezebel is that dual face that we are struggling against in order to define ourselves.

    Did that make sense?

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  13. vortle said

    I’m also a recent (about 2 years now) convert to tznius. I have a slightly different take though- I don’t actually think HaShem cares what I wear but I do think He cares about willingness. Willingness to do something uncomfortable (I come from wife-beaters and jean cutoffs) and willingness to be obviously different.

  14. Oyster said


    When I think Jezebel, I think shiksa who slaughtered Jewish rabbis & prophets. Thank HaShem for Eliahu HaNavi!

  15. Squeedle said

    I’m glad to see someone else write about the value of more modest dress.

    The picture on the front page of JDate that advertises photography services is a particularly poignant illustration of what you are talking about, lchaimlover. The “before” picture, a backlit, fuzzy candid and amateur photo of just the woman’s head, is admittedly unflattering and a poor shot, but the “after” picture is of her in a very thin black silky camisole, and the photo is centered on her large breasts. She has a sultry smile looking into the camera. The caption says (paraphrased), “I got way more attention when I got a better photo!” My thought is always, “I’m sure you *did* – but is that the kind of attention you wanted?” I’m hoping that she at least realizes the difference between a guy who likes what he sees, and a guy who likes what you are.

    @Oyster – interesting you should bring the subject of dressing for services up – I certainly don’t dress to the nines for shul, but I feel clothing like sleeveless shirts, shorts and jeans are inappropriately casual and/or revealing, and don’t show proper respect for what you are doing. I also wish certain parents would quit letting their teenage girls come wearing low cut shirts and miniskirts. :/ My dad would have kicked my butt if I tried to wear some of that stuff. Anyway, I think it’s important that one recognizes whether one is dressing to impress or to show respect. For me, if I were to come dripping with jewelry and glitz, that would feel like showing off (and therefore it would be), but it seems that is entirely in the mind of the individual. I feel weird about wearing pants to shul, but that is completely about how I was raised and has zero rational basis.

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