Modesty (Tz’ni’ut)

Discretion in appearance and speech is designed to protect our souls from assault by a coarse world.

By

View as Single Page Single Page    Print this page Print this page

Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage (Jonathan David).

Modesty is the foundation of Jewish values and is one of the fundamental underpinnings of the Jewish family. It is popularly thought to apply primarily to women, but it is a desirable quality in men as well. Although the term is generally used for relations between men and women, it is meant to apply to people in all situations.bodies quiz 

Tz’ni’ut means modesty, simplicity, a touch of bashfulness, and reserve. But perhaps above these, it signifies privacy. It is the hallmark of Jewish marriage, and the rabbis refer to it as the specific quality to look for in the ideal mate.

The classical symbol of tz’ni’ut is the veil. It bespeaks privacy, a person apart; Isaiah (3:18) calls it tif’eret (“glory”). The Assyrians ruled that a harlot may not wear a veil, to imply that she is on public exhibit (Code of Hammurabi). The veil was instinctively donned by Rebecca as soon as she observed her future husband in the distance (Genesis 24:65). That is one reason why the ceremony immediately prior to the wedding celebration is the bedeken, or the veiling of the bride by the groom, who blesses the bride with the ancient words spoken to Rebecca.

The principle of tz’ni’ut rejects all nudity, not only in public, but also before family members at home. (Thus one must not pray or recite the Sh’ma prayer while one is naked or standing in the presence of a naked person.) The rejection of nudity recalls Adam and Eve who, after committing the first sin, realized they were naked and instinctively felt ashamed and hid (Genesis 2:25). The same attitude reappears when Noah curses Ham, who saw his father exposed (Genesis 9:21-27).

Tz’ni’ut also implies modesty in dress. Traditionally covered parts of the body should not be exposed, although one can dress stylishly. This attitude issues from a very highly refined sense of shame, an emotion often denigrated today in the name of freedom. Not only did the Bible prohibit removing all clothing, it did not permit wearing any garments belonging to the opposite sex (Deuteronomy 22:5), as this might lead to unnatural lusts, lascivious thoughts, and a freer intermingling between the sexes.

Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Maurice Lamm is the author of many books, including The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning. He is the president of the National Institute for Jewish Hospice, and Professor at Yeshiva University's Rabbinical Seminary in New York, where he holds the chair in Professional Rabbinics. For years he served as rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation, Beverly Hills, CA.

View as Single Page Single Page   

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning.com are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy