KELLY ROGERS VICTOR
Special to the Jewish News
f you re an average teenage guy,
how do you respond when a
young woman flits by you in
skintight hip-huggers and a shirt
that ends above her belly button?
If she's your younger sister, chances are you march
her right back to her room to change. At least that's
what happened at a recent Shabbat dinner in
Franklin. As the father of these teenagers suggested;
who better to understand the meaning of these fash-
ions than young men?
Popular teenage fashion leaves very little to young
males' imagination. We're all too familiar with the
miniature tops and plunging waistlines popularized
by singers Britney Spears and Beyonce. Is this sort of
dress appropriate for nice Jewish girls?
Most parents think not. And, increasingly, many
young Jewish women are starting to agree. They
may not realize it, but what they are embracing is
the ancient Jewish concept of tzniyut (modesty).
Once relegated to the Orthodox, less-observant Jews
are increasingly speaking out in defense of the tradi-
tional idea that less (exposure) is more.
According to Jewish law, female tzniyut requires
that elbows, knees and collarbones be covered and,
for married women, hair.
As Bayla Jacobovitz of Machon ETorah, the Oak
Park-based Jewish Learning Network of Michigan,
explains, the concept of covering the body arose
when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of
Knowledge. Previously, they were naked and
unashamed. But after their sin, "there • was a sudden
awareness that their body could be used against their
That isn't to say that Jewish women dress modest-
ly because their bodies are viewed as something
shameful — in fact, just the opposite. Judaism
reveres the female body as a source of awesome
power — not simply the power to attract and influ-
ence men, but also the ultimate spiritual and.God-
like power of giving birth.
Covering the body in accordance with the laws of
tzniyut is basically a sign of this respect, Jacobovitz
says. It is out of similar respect that we cover the ark
and the Torah. Far. from shunning and negating
these objects, coverage is a sign of great honor.
Perhaps the most important object of tzniyut,
though, is to maintain healthy and respectful rela-
tions between the sexes.
"If we would-present ourselves less as a body and
more like a human being, men would treat us more
like that," says Jacobovitz, who offered a daylong
session about tzniyut in May.
Conservative, Reform Discussions
In Conservative Jewish circles, where teenage girls
are more exposed -to mainstream fashion, there is
perhaps even greater need for discussing tzniyut.
Kelly Rogers Victor is a freelance writer and .
photographer in Bloomfield Hills.
Rabbi Jonathan Berkun of Congregation Shaarey
She laments that young Jewish women don't
Zedek in Southfield describes a session on modesty,
always appreciate the importance of respecting their
with a recent female confirmation class. -
bodies. At Camp Ramah in Ontario in recent years,
"It's hard to be a teenager and see these images
for example, she felt disturbed by what girls wore on
and not feel like either 'I should look like that' or
Shabbat. "It showed a lack of self-esteem and-a need
`that's what guys expect,'" he told 'them.
To 'quell this anxiety, he played them a song by
At Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, the
Dar Williams called "Once I was a Boy."
Reform congregation recently ended
Opposite pa de:
In it, Williams describes her carefree,
the requirement that b'nai mitzvah
Michelle A tt ar of
tomboyish childhood and contrasts it
wear robes. Now the temple is seriously
with the pressures she feels as a young
confronting the issue of appropriate
Above: Kati e Rosen o
woman: "And now I'm in a clothing
dress. While Rabbi Paul Yedwab doesn't
store, and the signs say less is more,
see the issue strictly in terms of mod-
The photo i
more that's tight means more to see,
esty — also at issue are such things as
tions of the two
more for them, not more for me."
comfort and community standards —
Says Rabbi Berkun: "We put this song Jewish Acad emy of
he still stresses that at synagogue, we
Metropolita n Detroit should dress to convey a certain mes-
into the context of being created in
students sho iw
God's image, that we each have holiness
opposing loo ks in the
in us and that's holy and valuable. We
"This isn't a party; it's more serious
don't need to try to impress the world by image wars.
than that. Modesty is only one of the
exposing our physical bodies because
issues, but I don't see any reason to be
what we have inside of us is infinitely
provocatiVe on the bimah. It doesn't
make any sense to me. What message are you giv-
Rabbi Lauren Berkun, a fellow with the Jewish
ing about the purpose you're here for?"
Theological Seminary of America and Rabbi
Jonathan Berkun's wife, put this idea in historical
Teens On Modesty
context. "Unlike the Christian concept of transcend-
ing the body and living the life of the spirit, Judaism
At a recent group discussion of tzniyut with several
stresses that body, mind and spirit are an integrated
female students from Hillel Day School of
whore," she said.
Metropolitan Detroit and several public schools,