Saturday, November 23, 2013

Why Dress Modestly? Kakha! | Eliezer Melamed | Ops & Blogs | The Times of Israel

Why Dress Modestly? Kakha! | Eliezer Melamed | Ops & Blogs | The Times of Israel

This article rubs me the wrong way. Certainly not my derech in chinuch. Reminds me of the Rosh Yeshiva who sent an underling to tell me I had to change my yarmulke, but I was not allowed to know why. (Note: This is not a yeshiva that is on my resume. I was only there for 2.5 months for a summer zman.)

Why Dress Modestly?

NOVEMBER 10, 2013, 2:21 PM

Dealing with Immodest Dress in Ulpanot

Q: One of the problems bothering teachers in ulpanot (women’s seminaries) and
public religious high schools is how to deal with girls who come to school dressed immodestly.
The conventional approach is to deal with the problem through education and explaining. Believing
that our generation is an amazing generation, full of wonder, with lofty ideals, we discuss the
importance of modesty and its spiritual virtues with the girls, attempting to minimize disciplinary
comments which create an unpleasant atmosphere and a sense of remoteness and distrust by
the girls of the teachers. The problem is, it usually doesn’t work. The girls repeatedly ask: Why
aren’t we allowed to wear these clothes? Why do you always lecture us about tzniyut (modesty)?
We’re sick and tired of hearing the same thing all the time! What’s wrong with wearing short
sleeves or a short skirt?

How should we answer them?

The Answer Is: Kakha!

A: It appears that the most fitting answer to the question is: Kakha! In other words, this is the
halakha, without including any spiritual explanations. Teachers and parents must get used to
saying “kakha”.

In the framework of Torah study and emunah (faith), numerous foundations are explained, but
faith in God and Torah also includes difficult matters which are hard to understand. The basic
premise is that in spite of man’s intelligence, he cannot understand everything. And if he wishes to
connect with God, and with eternal values, he is required to say “na’say v’nishma” (first we will do,
and then we will listen). This does not make a person less intelligent; on the contrary, he is then
able to connect to Divine intellect which deepens his human understanding.

The Power of Halakha

When all the stores in the shopping malls are filled with tons of clothes that do not meet halakhic
standards, and it’s hard to find “kosher” clothes that can compete in beauty and style with the
immodest clothing, and furthermore, the winds blowing out of the Western fashion centers dictate
immodest styles – it is very difficult for a young girl exploring the limits to overcome the
temptations. Therefore, the only way to deal with this is through commitment to halakha.
And don’t underestimate the power of halakha. Try persuading a heavy smoker to stop smoking
one day a week. Use all the explanations, and see how difficult it is. But when halakha declares it
forbidden to smoke on Shabbat – people don’t smoke. And amazingly, even heavy smokers don’t
find it that difficult!

Most children and teenagers love playing on the computer, but on Shabbat – miraculously – they
don’t! Why? Is it because they were lectured on the importance of Shabbat, and given profound
explanations about how playing games on the computer harms the sanctity of Shabbat? No! They
don’t play because halakha forbids it. As time goes on, details about the sanctity of Shabbat can
also be discussed.

True, when the foundations of emunah are rickety, halakha gradually loses its power.
When the heart is weak, blood fails to properly reach the small capillaries. Therefore, a
person is constantly required to carefully study emunah and mussar (ethics) as well, and
strive to understand Am Yisrael’s mission in the world, and the unique destiny of each and every
one of us. This is the role of derashot (sermons).

But when dealing with the temptations of the yetzer (desires), the power of halakha is greater than
that of derashot.

The Role of Principals and Teachers in Religious Schools

It is not the job of principals and teachers to chase after the girls once school is out. That is the
responsibility of parents and the girls themselves. But during school hours, a religious institution
must resolve that the boundaries of halakha are binding, and enforce them vigorously and
consistently. Whoever comes to school not dressed according to the rules is sent home.
Discipline also carries an important educational message. It expresses commitment to halakha
and mussar. Incidentally, dress codes are now customary even in secular high schools, and
seeing as the rules are strictly enforced, rarely do incidents of disobedience.

Without any connection to this, the importance of family and modesty should be discussed, just
as the values of honesty, kindness, faith and redemption are also discussed.

The Role of Parents

Parents must also set boundaries and uphold them consistently. When this is done,
dealing with problems becomes relatively simple. Just as religious people can walk past
a non­kosher shwarma stand without buying one, in the same way, they can also refrain
from buying “non­kosher” clothes. Independently, it is important to discuss the role of Am Yisrael,
the importance of Torah and halakha, the Jewish way to start a family, and the immeasurable
advantage of living in a religious framework over a secular one, with regards to marital
relationships and true love.



  1. I think if the mothers of the daughters kept tznius in the proper fashion, gave their daughters (and sons for that matter) a hashkafah of tznius by example, then the problem would be much less. When the moms are wearing skirts just as short or twice as tight, with $1000 wigs that look better than their own hair, how can we expect their kids to be more tznius? Once the majority of families have tznius as part of their outlook and teach by example, the problems will be drastically reduced.

  2. do you really believe that you can rationalize everything? doesnt kacha have a place?
    with regard to the details of tznius i can surely see how kacha applies.

  3. I commented on R. Melamed's article two weeks ago:

    There is room for both approaches in life. Kiruv(outreach Judaism) certainly does not use the "Kakha" approach. R. Melamed wrote about "the role of derashot (sermons)" here and elsewhere("The Laws of Modesty: Analysis of a Basic Jewish Value"):

    "It is impossible to base the value of modesty solely on the details of the halachot, because halacha cannot go into specific instructions, such as at what volume one should speak, what issues ought to spoken about and in which forums, and which garment or color combination is modest for one woman, but not for another. To this end, one needs to acquire the attribute of modesty.

    Halakha sets fundamental boundaries which give expression to modesty, and create a proper distance between men and women, thereby reducing the risk of sinning in adultery. But this does not guarantee the attribute of modesty itself, nor does it assure complete control from thoughts of sin and acts of illicit sexual relations. In order to acquire the attribute of modesty itself, it is necessary to study and delve into the value of modesty and internalize it into one’s life.

    Learning the laws of modesty superficially can lead to an extremely serious mistake, as though modesty comes to say that the body is ugly and contemptible, and the halachot are intended to reduce the tangible joy and pleasure in life. In truth, modesty is designed to guard these tremendously vital forces for married life, and in order to enhance the joy of marriage, so it includes both the spiritual and the physical uniformly. This is the fundamental belief of Judaism – that there is no separation between the spiritual and the physical: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” – precisely when the spiritual and physical are in unison, the Divine purpose of complete unity between husband and wife can be successfully fulfilled."

  4. Many shiurim given by women which echoes Das Moshe and Das Yehudis should be listened to. Here are a few links to educate any Jew who is interested:

    Reb. Tehilla Abramov on Tzniut Today,

    Rabbanit Kochava Yitzchak on Tzniut,

    Rabbanit Margaretn on Tzniut,

  5. More of the same. The antithesis of what I profess. From an email I received:

    ...questions require more in-depth thinking and researching. I was brought up with an extreme emuna peshuta… When, as a child, I would want to ask any questions, my father would tell me the story of someone who had questions. So G-d called him up to his Heavenly Throne, (e.g took away his soul) to show him the truth of the world and how everything has a purpose. So I believe that certain events in history happened just because Hashem wanted it to be so, and I do not wish to think further than that.

  6. I also think that kacha is often the best answer. This is not mathematics. These are subjective cultural standards, just as the choice of dress varies from office to beach to mowing the lawn. It is a cultural artifact. One can choose which culture to adopt, but one cannot analyze the rationale of specific skirt length or hair exposure, unless you want to define tzniyus as the minimum for erva, which would be unfortunate.

  7. Barzilai,

    Can you please comment on the school of thought I cite in the comment that precedes your own?

  8. yes, of course you're right. The rationale needs to be explained and protected from twisting. The application is a matter of kacha.