Over at her fantastic blog, Chaviva Galatz is running The Tzniut Project, which is really worth a read. The responses she’s gotten from different women regarding their perspectives on and experiences with tznius are completely fascinating.
Reading the survey responses, one point kept popping up again and again, and it really struck a chord with me. Several women mentioned that within the observant community, people often use standards of tsnius to categorize a woman’s entire observance. I’m definitely guilty of this. I’ve often assumed things like: “She doesn’t keep hilchos tznius at all, so she’s probably not fasting for Asara b’Teves today.”
Obviously, this is ridiculous for a whole bunch of reasons. First and foremost, how is that any of my business? Second, in my community many people are somewhat incongruous in their spiritual life, and that’s one of the things I love about my shul: if you’re totally frum when it comes to Shabbos and kashrus, but you’re still working on giving tzdaka or not speaking lashon hara – that’s okay. I know one guy who keeps chalav yisrael and eats only bais yosef but doesn’t wear a kippah. What I’m trying to get at is that different mitzvos speak to different people. We should strive to be doing our best in each area, but I think it’s perfectly wonderful to go above and beyond in that one mitzvah that’s especially meaningful to you.
But this leads us to an interesting problem: the intersection of tznius and kashrus, that murky area where, perhaps, the way you choose to dress does become my business.
In my experience, people tend to make assumptions about a woman’s (or her entire family’s) kashrus standards based on her standards of tznius. This assumption leap from tznius to kashrus seems to be much more prevalent than extrapolating from tznius to Shabbos or to any other mitzvah. Given that people will make assumptions about my kashrus based on the way I dress, is it misleading for me to keep “higher” standards of tznius than I do of kashrus? If I meet a girl in shul wearing black socks under her pleated black skirt, and she invites me to her family for lunch, I would assume that their kashrus standards include chalav Yisrael. (Of course, I would also assume that they wouldn’t be serving dairy on Shabbos…) My own standards of tznius are quite different from those of most women in my shul, so perhaps when I invite someone for a meal, I ought to clarify: “Even though I am wearing stockings, I do not keep chalav yisrael.”
And the spillover of other mitzvos into kashrus goes both ways. I have, on more than one occasion, politely declined an invitation for a Shabbos meal because I was unsure about the kashrus of the individual or family who invited me. My hesitation wasn’t based solely on the tznius standards of the women in question, but it was based on a general calculation of hashkafa, in which tznius certainly played a role. One could make the argument that it’s wrong to make such assumptions based on anything other than a thorough examination of this person’s kitchen, but I’m not so sure about that. To me, trusting someone’s kashrus doesn’t just mean trusting that she buys the right hechshers – it means trusting that she cares enough about halacha, about God’s holy law, to be painstaking, exacting, precise about putting the leftovers away in the right tupperware, washing the dishes with the right sponge, remembering that this onion was cut with a dairy knife. If I know that my friend is a little lax about warming up food on Shabbos, or that she eats vegetarian food in treif restaurants, I think I can reasonably question whether her respect for halacha is deep enough that I can trust her kashrus. The same goes for tznius – yes, it’s a highly personal mitzvah, but tznius is just as much a part of halacha as Shabbos or kashrus or anything else, so the spillover phenomenon is much the same: if you are not in awe of this portion of God’s law, how can I trust that you are in awe of that portion of God’s law?
One participant in the Tzniut Project wrote that she had encountered women who wouldn’t allow their children to eat in the home of a woman who doesn’t cover her hair. “I find this totally preposterous!” she commented. I used to feel the same way, but lately I’m uncomfortable with compartmentalizing halacha in this way. There is spillover from one area to another – how can there not be? What we each need to find, I think, is that fine line between making a hashkafic calculation for the sake of convenience (she covers her hair and wears skirts + he davens with a minyan and learned at Yeshiva X + kids go to Orthodox day school = kashrus I trust) and just being judgmental.
All words in italics can be found in the Glossary.