Dear Jew in the City,
I really enjoyed watching your videos and found them to be quite informative. It’s very beautiful to see someone who makes a proactive move to make a Kidush Hashem and to clarify a lot of misconceptions that people have with Orthodox Jews. Since you are so open-minded and honest about the issues that exist in the world, I decided that maybe you would be able to answer this question that has been bugging me for some time now. Growing up, it was clear and obvious that wearing a tznius (modest) skirt was one that covered your knees at all times. This means that whether one is standing or sitting, the knees are covered. It didn’t take long to realize that the Rabbis knew what they were talking about when they made halachic guidelines as to what constitutes tznius since when one can rather expose parts of the body that is truly immodest when sitting down with a skirt that doesn’t cover the knees.
However, now it seems like more ‘religious’ women are wearing skirts that seem to expose more of their body than if they would have worn pants! At the very best, the skirt is not too tight, but will show skin and a little bit of the undergarment fabric. Now I try really hard to just focus on my own self-growth and not make it my business to look at what other people do. However, I just don’t understand how it became acceptable to simply overlook a black and white halacha. I feel that by asking you, either I can gain deeper insight as to why Orthodox women do dress that way, or at the very least, I will be able to keep a stronger defense not to do it myself.
Thanks for your kind words. In terms of your question, I believe the answer can be found in Pirkei Avos. Our sages teach: “asay l’cha rav, u’konay l’cha chaver, v’haveh dan es kol adam l’kaf z’chus (make for yourself a rabbi, acquire a friend, and judge all men favorably).” Until today, I never understood why these three things are listed together, but upon trying to answer your question, a beautiful connection hit me.
Let’s start with “judge all men favorably.” Is it easy to think badly of others when we see them doing things which we consider “wrong,” but judging others favorably is a foundational Torah idea and the way you can do it in this case is: a) assume these women learned a different opinion than you did, because there are a range of opinions when it comes to the laws of modesty (the range is not infinite, but there is a range, which means there is more “grey” and less “black and white” than you may realize), b) assume they learned the same opinion you did but were never shown the beauty of modesty and Jewish law like you were and therefore don’t feel compelled to keep it like you do, c) assume they believe in the idea in theory, but it’s such a big struggle for them – much bigger than it is for you – that they haven’t conquered it yet, d) assume they are doing whatever their parents taught them and never looked into it further to realize there was anything problematic about it.
But you can’t only judge others favorably without solidifying your own path. Just because these women have their reasons for doing what they do doesn’t (necessarily) mean that they should be your reasons. So “make for yourself a rabbi,” comes first. Find a rabbi (and rebbetzin) who are your speed that you trust as role models and stay close with them. Maintain a certain standard for yourself that your rabbi/community holds by.
“Acquire a friend” comes after that because while it’s important to have a guide who can you look up to, it’s equally important to have close friends who have shared values so you can support each other even as you see that different “options” exist. It is possible to accept that there are differing opinions to the ones we follow and that there are opinions which we simply disagree with (but reserve judgment on those who follow them), while simultaneously maintaining a high standard for ourselves. Such a balancing act does not come very easily, but then again, nothing worthwhile in life ever does. Hope that helps!
All the best,
Allison (aka Jew in the City)