Modest = Privacy?

In modern judaism, there is a concept called 'tzinut'.  It applies in particular to women's clothing.  A dress that is too short, or does not cover the shoulders or shows too much decolletage is considered to not be tzanuah.  I was taught that this word meant modesty.

While learning gemara today, we can across this word in a different context.  A person does not want others to trespass on his property because it is not tzanuah.  The translation there is 'privacy'.  That is, you don't want people passing on your property because it violates your privacy.  Clearly, the term modesty is not a good translation.

If we take this translation, women should wear appropriate clothing not because they want to be modest, but because they want to preserve their privacy.  They should not expose portions of their body that they want to remain "private".

Consider the Amish.  They observe the concept of modesty.  Their clothing has no zippers because these would be immodest.  That is, they are fancy and show hubris.  A true amish man or women eschews fancy clothing because they are modest and humble.  At issue is not the amish man's privacy, since both a zipper and a button perform the same function.

This translation of Tzniut as privacy provided a new insight to me on judaism.  A man or woman who is not tzanuah is exposing themself, placing private areas on display.

One of the challenges with this approach is that modern concepts of privacy have changed.  Women's boots were popular in the late 1800's because it was immodest to show ones ankles.  Today, there is no such concern.  Even ultra-orthodox women expose their ankles, although they do wear stockings.

That's my food for thought today.


Popular Posts