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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why Doesn't Someone Write a Tzniut Book for Men?

Most of the laws of modesty (Tzniut) pertain to a man's responsibilities regarding women, not the other way around.

Some obligations that men ought to abide by: Do not leer, do not gaze wantonly, do not fantasize, do not recite the Shema in front of one's wife if she is undressed.... (Cf. Berachot 24a; Shabbat 64b; Rambam Issurei Biah 21.2)

By way of comparison, the Tur (Rabbi Jacob ben Asher) devotes fourteen lines to a man's obligations to act modestly toward women (Even HaEzer 21.1) compared with just one line about how a woman should not visit the marketplace with her hair uncovered. (Ibid 21.2; Cf. Tur/Shulchan Aruch OH 75) One may add that there is also a notion that men should dress modestly as well. (Mishnah Berura 2:1; Igrot Moshe IV.3.68)

In light of all these laws, one would expect a few tomes for men that delineate "The Modest Way." Yet a perusal at the local Jewish bookstore finds that this is hardly the case. Here is an incomplete list of women's guides to staying under cover (with a few parenthetical comments):

1. Sometimes You Are What You Wear: A Guide to Tzniut" (Check out the catchy cover!)

2. Oz ve-hadar levushah: modesty, an adornment for life : halachos and attitudes concerning tznius of dress & conduct" (I am tired after the title, but it does cover everything.)
3. Reward of the Righteous Woman (A companion guide to 'The Merit of the Righteous Women'!)
4a. Just My Style: A Tznius Reader (Very posh.)
4b. Just My Style - New Edition - A Tznius Reader for Teens (So posh, it was republished.)
5. Outside/Inside: A Fresh Look at Tzniut (Tzniut is always fresh, for halacha is eternal.)
6. The Tznius Handbook: Education Diagrams for Women and Girls (Diagrams?!)
7. The Modest Way (With all the footnotes, this seems more of a guide for Rabbis. Note to rabbis: Vol III just came out.)
8. Daughters of Dignity - An Inspirational Learning Program of Hashkafa and Halachic Guidelines in the Noble Mitzvah of Tznius (Very dignified title.)
9.Seams and Souls - A Dressing, Altering, and Sewing Guide for the Modest Woman (Warning to Men: Do not give this as an engagement present or anniversary gift, it may cause an irreparable split.)
10. Halichos Bas Yisrael, 1 Vol. Edition: A Women's Guide to Jewish Observance (This one discusses laws besides modesty and comes with approbations from Gedolei Yisrael!)
11. The Wonder of Becoming You: How a Jewish Girl Grows Up

I should mention that I had some hope for finding a man's guide when I saw the title, "Finding the Woman of Valor"--but to my disappointment it turned out to be a commentary on the Song of Songs. But the matter is a serious one. Blog or not, let's finish with some sobriety.

Why is there this incredible stress on educating women vis-a-vis modesty, while so little energy is expended on educating men? Are Jewish men so good and valorous that they never leer or gaze or have inappropriate thoughts? Correspondingly, are Jewish women so lustful and risque that if they are not told repeatedly to cover up, well, that will be the end of Jewish ethics and Jewish values?

Fahkerht! One would think the opposite is more likely. It is probably much easier for a woman to dress modestly than for a man to keep his eyes focused on his New York Times and his mind clear of inappropriate thoughts. And it is for good reason that the Tur expends all that energy warning men to keep their eyes on their wives.... So how have we gotten to this point? I don't know, but here we are...


  1. Very funny! :) But anyone who thinks women don't leer has never sat around with a group of women during the men's olympic swimming events. Uh huh.

  2. You missed the obvious, which is that interpretations of halachah/Jewish religious were written by, and, if not entirely for, certainly from the viewpoint of, men. Why else would there be rulings prescribing the precise amount of a woman's hair that is permitted to peek out from under her head-scarf/tichel/mitpachat, measured right down to the centimeter (!), but not a word about how much "extra" fabric there should be in the "rise" of a man's pants (to the best of my admittedly-limited knowledge)? I can assure you that when a man enters a New York City subway car wearing a pair of pants that a former co-worker once indelicately described as "so tight, he looks like he has a six-piece set," even this 62-year-old can't not notice. Gents, please skip the "advertising" and save it for the bedroom. Tzniut/modesty is for you, too!

    Shira Salamone

  3. One of the most amusing pictures I saw was of a Jewish man, next to his wife and a friend. Wife and friend were in robes at the beach (pre-marriage he called his wife a slut because he felt she wasn't covered enough). What was he wearing? Nothing but short swim trunks...and I mean short. What was wrong with the picture? In my book, everything. Men have an obligation to act and dress modestly, and frankly I'm tired of having discussions of women's dress, how much hair may show etc. etc. etc. Can we have a new topic now?

  4. BS"D: Seriously speaking, the reason the majority of books are geared toward women is that the mitzvah of tzniut is incumbent upon women, and we are required to learn and put into practice those halachot. Men are required to learn Torah, and support (and expect) that their wives and daughters keep this important mitzvah. I do think that tznius guidelines for men to take responsibility for this mitzvah in the home (rather than leaving it for their wives, who follow the dictates of their school for girls, who follow a particular rav) would be very useful. But ravs vary...

    As for men, their part is, as you mention, shmirat haEinayim, and yes, there are tznius guidelines for men but they're pretty apparent and easily kept even without being aware of it - "professional attire" as opposed to a day in the sun, plus head covering.