You don't have to signal a social conscience by looking like a frump. Lace knickers won't hasten the holocaust, you can ban the bomb in a feather boa just as well as without, and a mild interest in the length of hemlines doesn't necessarily disqualify you from reading Das Kapital and agreeing with every word. --Elizabeth Bibesco

Friday, February 18, 2011

"That doesn't tell me anything": Further explanation

So, I figured I'd dedicate this particular post to explaining various versions of religious modesty as I understand them, in order to explain why I picked tzniut, as well as highlight as many of the tzniut rules (guidelines?) as I can. Since this is all rather controversial (ask 5 Orthodox Jews what the rules for tzniut are and you'll get 6 opinions), I'm citing my sources. (Yes, I know I'm a dork.)

First, some thoughts about Christian modesty laws.
Pope Pius XII (think 1940's-1950's Catholicism) declared that good Catholic women should cover their upper arms and shoulders and they shouldn't wear "men's clothing," under which he included both "trousers" and tights. Tights?!? Tights?!?! When was the last time tights were primarily men's clothing?? Anyway, he also said that skirts should cover a woman's knees and necklines should not reveal "anything" (whatever that means).
The Magisterium on Christian Modesty (from 1998) says clothes should hide the shape of the body, rather than accentuate it. Women shouldn't wear "slacks or culottes." A woman's skirt should cover her knees when she is seated. Also, they say that women should cover their hair when they pray. Why? "It is a sign of humility and submission for a woman to cover her head, and draws down God's graces and blessings upon her."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) "discourages" extremes in clothing or hairstyles (again, whatever that means), and "clothing which can stimulate sexual desires" under which they include short shorts, mini skirts, tight clothing, strapless things and shirts that don't cover the stomach. Also, they "discourage" women wearing more than one pair of earrings.
Seventh-Day Adventists:
 The Adventists, as far as I can tell, advocate "simple, modest and neat" manners of dress and women wearing skirts (although I don't know how global either of these are to the denomination).
I'm not including the Mennonites, Amish, Quakers and Brethren (and probably many others), because many of them wear a "uniform" rather than having a "dress code."
That's not to mention priests who, at least in the Catholic church, are required to wear clerical vestements (the black pants, black shirt and collar).
Episcopal priest are, as far as I can tell, not required to wear the collar, but can and many do. (There's a surprise-- something in the Epsicopal Church that's optional!)
Then there are nuns, who often have uniforms too...

Oh man, that was a digression.
Anyway, I'm Episcopalian and the Episcopal Church doesn't have a dress code (even an optional one in most churches), so going with my own denomination's wasn't an option. And Christianity seems SO variable. The only dress requirements in the New Testament are in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, where women are required (by Paul) to cover their heads when they pray.
1 Corinthians 11:4-6
Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.  But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.
However,  a few lines later, Paul explains that "long hair is given to her [woman] as a covering." So maybe that's only a commandment not to shave your head? And does that mean all men should be shaving their heads before coming to church? And anyway, Paul rationalizes this all by saying
"the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man," which I think is crap, so... throwing that one out the window.

Anyway, so then I moved on to other Abrahamic religions, because we are brothers, in a sense. However, Muslim modesty rules have always irked me. Not necessarily because of anything inherent about them, but more in how I've heard them presented.
While I was studying in Senegal, one of the people in my Islam in Senegal class brought up the headscarf. (Now, certainly not all Senegalese women wear headscarves, but many of the very religious Muslim ones do.) The professor proceeded with this explanation, thinking it was the most logical thing in the world. "If I leave my meat uncovered outside and the dogs and the flies get at it, who's fault is it?" Ew. I realize that that would probably not be the Prophet Mohammed's response, but I've heard that kind of thing enough that it really irks me.

Next! Jewish modesty rules. Well this is interesting. I'm pretty sure when I was little, I thought all Jews followed these rules (clearly, I didn't know many Jews). I really liked them then, PARTICULARLY because in my understanding at the time, both men and women followed pretty much the same rules. As an adult, I was attracted to them because one  of the first rationales I found for tzniut was Micah 6:8 where we are commissioned to "Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God." That last part, "walk humbly with your God," eventually became translated into a dress code for all Orthodox people.

Now, in an effort to get the best explanation about what tzniut actually entails, I spent a lot of time on the internet. :) This might be an oxy moron, because many Orthodox Jews eschew the internet. Oh, well. So here are the various rules I've found and where they come from.
  • Sleeves should cover the elbows
  • Shirts should cover the collarbone
  • Skirts should cover the knees with or without tights
  • No pants in the presence of men.
  • Some Modern Orthodox women will wear sleeves up to a fist's length (tefach) above their elbows or even wear short sleeves, and some do not cover their collarbones. In left wing Modern Orthodox Judaism, some women will also wear loose pants, as long as they are loose and cover the knees.
  • In Haredi communities, men generally wear long trousers and often long-sleeve shirts (covering the same parts that women do).
    • Wikipedia/
  • Skirts should cover the knees, even when women sit down
  • Shirts must cover elbows, even when women reach up
  • Legs should be covered with stockings or tights
  • Open-toed shoes are not allowed
  • Colors should be subdued
  •  Unmarried women should keep their hair short (shoulder length) or keep it tied back.
  • The idea is called kol kevuda bas melech penimah, which means that Jewish women should look like royalty, as far as I can tell.
Phew! Busy women! For my Lenten exercise, I decided to pick a moderate level of tzniut, one that I could manage, but would be a challenge. (For those who don't know my philosophy about Lent, I'm generally of the opinion that a Lenten discipline's primary job is to be a pain in the ____ in the name of God. That way, when you're grumpy and like "Why did I decide to do this, for Heaven's sake?", it's a mental reminder to pray.)

The rules I'm applying are: Tops will cover my elbows and collarbones. I will wear skirts or dresses in front of men. My skirts or dresses will cover my knees. Since I'm not married, I'm not worrying about covering my hair and it's not even long enough to pull back so I'm not doing that either. I hope to be good enough about blogging that I can keep the internets updated with how my life, and especially my prayer life, ends up going.


Mary Harvest Kitchen said...

I think you're really missing out by not researching the plain dress of Quakers/Mennonites. I have several modern (male) Friends who follow it, and for men it is quite reasonable, though interesting in the modern world. Next year, perhaps!

Allie said...

The trouble I have with most Christian forms of dress is twofold. One, it seems to be all about the woman, much like Islam. (Although it’s really cool that you have male friends who do it.) Two (and this is related), it often comes back to that silly part about head-covering in Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 13:3, 7 I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 7A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.
That just rubs me the wrong way. It’s also particularly inapplicable, because I don’t have a man who is in charge of me. Tzniut has similar problems, but they only apply to married women, so I didn’t have to deal with it this year.
Although, I suppose something like this might be worth trying one Lent:

Mary Harvest Kitchen said...

The men I know who do plain dress do it for the reasons above. The reason many quaker women do NOT, is exactly your complaint--women's plain dress tends to emphasize a submission to men first and God second. That said, Carl and Kodi have a fascinating experience wandering through this world in grey woolen waistcoats, collarless shirts, suspenders, etc. They walk in the guise of another world...

Allie said...

I do think that's very cool-- and I'm particularly impressed by the idea that you know who is making your clothes and that they're getting a fair wage for doing it...

I shall have to do a whole post on Plain dress one of these days. It's very intriguing.

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