New York – Tzniyus; At What Age?

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    File photo by Eli WohlNew York – For those of us following the Daf Yomi, an interesting recent Gemara (Brachos 24a) touched upon a sensitive topic; one which unfortunately has made waves in many a recent headline. I am referring to Tzniyus.

    Tzniyus represents the inherent dignity and self respect of the Jewish woman, and her desire to portray her essence. The more we focus on external appearance, the more we distract from our ability to see the inner dimension. The laws of tzniyus enable us to focus primarily on pnimiyus – inner spirituality, and our mission as Torah Jews. This article sets out to clear up any misconceptions and clarify the proper parameters of this overly obfuscated issue.

    Ages 3 and Up

    There is a famous dispute between the Mishna Berurah and the Chazon Ish as to what age the tzniyus parameters (more on that later) are halachically mandated. The Mishna Berurah (Biur Halacha 75 s.v. tefach, quoting the Shulchan Shlomo ad loc. 1, regarding the issue of from what age it is prohibited to say Krias Shma in front of ervas ketana) rules that they are required from age three. The Chazon Ish (Moed – O.C. 16, 8 s.v. Kasav b’Mishna Berurah) disagrees and maintains that they are not required until a girl’s body starts to mature, as that seems to be the Gemara’s conclusion in our Gemara. Although several authorities agree with the Mishna Berurah, nonetheless, the majority consensus of contemporary authorities, including the Maharam Brisk (Shu”t vol. 2, 70), Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld (Shu”t Salmas Chaim, new print, 87 – 89), Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe E”H vol. 2, 100, 6; see Shu”t Az Nidberu vol. 14, 49, footnote s.v. u’che’ais, who explains that this is Rav Moshe’s intent), Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky (Emes L’Yaakov on Shulchan Aruch O.C. 75, footnote 104), Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (Kovetz Teshuvos vol. 2, 8), Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul (Shu”t Ohr L’Tzion vol. 2, Ch. 6, 12), Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Shu”t Yabea Omer vol. 6, 14), and the Shaarim Metzuyanim B’Halacha (Klal 5, 10, and in Kuntress Acharon) concur with the Chazon Ish’s ruling. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo on Tefillah Ch. 20, 9) went as far as to state that even ‘yereim l’dvar Hashem’ do not have to follow the Mishna Berura on this point, but rather to be lenient and follow the Chazon Ish’s ruling.

    Nevertheless, it should be noted that several of these authorities feel that it is proper for chinuch purposes to start their daughters wearing tzniyus clothing younger, even though it is still permitted me’iker hadin.

    There is however, some dispute as to what age the Chazon Ish was referring to when the proper tznius guidelines should be instituted. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky (ibid.) opined that until age five, there is no doubt that there is no issue. After that, he maintained that it is not clear-cut and it would depend on each individual girl; he posited that one should therefore be stringent from age five. However, most poskim estimate that the Chazon Ish meant age 6 – 7, depending on the individual girl (see Halichos Bas Yisrael Ch. 4, end footnote 8). In fact, Rav Chaim Kanievsky is quoted (Orchos Rebbeinu (vol, 3 pg. 204), Ishei Yisrael Ch. 55, footnote 64) as saying that the Chazon Ish told him that he meant approximately age 7. Others assume that the Chazon Ish’s intent was even up to age 8 – 9, (see Yalkut Yosef vol. 1, Tefillah – pg. 126, 6 and Otzar Dinim L’Isha U’Lvas Ch. 37, 8).

    Tzniyus Requirements – The Great Shok Debate

    There is much halachic debate as to what the actual tzniyus requirements are. It is a given that the leg from the knee and above and the arm from the elbow and above need to be covered. On the other hand, the general halachic consensus is that the forearm itself does not need to be covered.

    Regarding the leg, from the bottom of the knee down to the ankle (calf), there is a difference of opinion based primarily on how to understand the words of our Gemara (Brachos 24a, and in Kesuvos 72a) “Shok B’Isha Ervah”. The basic translation is that the “Shok” needs to be covered. But which part of the leg is that referring to? Sometimes we find that Chazal use the term shok to refer to the thigh, and in other places it is used to refer to the calf. To further complicate matters, the terminology seems to vary when speaking about an animal (i.e. for korbanos) or a person.

    The Mishna Berura (75, 2), based on the Pri Megadim (ad loc. M.Z. 1), and Chayei Adam (Klal 4, 1 & 2), explicitly rules that by hilchos tzniyus, the “shok” that needs to be covered, refers to the thigh down to the knee; consequently, the calf (from the bottom of the knee down) does not need to be covered. He does, however, slightly qualify this ruling, saying that it only applies in a place where women customarily dress that way. Most decisors, as in most areas of halacha, follow the Mishna Berurah’s authoritative psak. For example, Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenefeld (Shu”t Salmas Chaim new print 66), Rav Shlomo Zlman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo Tefilla Ch. 20, dvar halacha 12 and footnote 22), and Rav Ovadiah Yosef (see Yalkut Yosef Otzar Dinim L’Isha U’lvas Ch. 37, footnote 4), all rule this way me’iker hadin. See also Kovetz Teshuvos (vol 1. O.C. 13) where although Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv brings down both sides of this debate, nevertheless, he still defends the Mishna Berura’s psak based on the Pri Megadim.

    Conversely, the Chazon Ish (O.C. 16, 8; see Shoneh Halachos vol. 1, 75, 9) remains uneasy about the Mishna Berurah’s proofs from these sources, and although not actually ruling, still maintains that the “shok” that needs to be covered refers to the whole leg down to the ankles. Several later authorities including the Shevet HaLevi (vol 1, 1; however see vol. 6, 78, 2 where he says there is what to be melamed zchus on those who rely on the Mishna Berurah), the Klausenberg Rebbe (Shu”t Divrei Yatziv E.H. 37), the Debreciner Rebbe (Shu”t Ba’er Moshe vol. 8, 101, based on a diyuk in the Shulchan Aruch HaRav), and Rav Binyamin Zilber (Shu”t Az Nidberu vol. 7, 83 and vol. 12, 49), actually rule to be stringent based on the Chazon Ish’s words, even though he himself was hesitant to rule definitively in a stringent manner.

    Taking Stock(ing)

    An interesting side point that comes up is the role of stockings in all this. For if one would be stringent with this halacha and mandate full leg covering, then stockings should in principle not be considered sufficient cover, as they are clingy and stick to the leg. Rabbi Avraham Blumenkrantz in his ‘Gefen Poriah’ (pg. 209) posits that the basic halacha follows the Mishna Berurah, but because of the strength of those proponents of the second view, a compromise custom has been enacted which requires that women cover their calves, though they may use a covering which may be tight, showing the physiology of the calf.
    There is also some halachic debate over whether sheer stockings would sufficiently fulfill this role of covering the calf.

    In the final analysis, one should consult their own personal halachic authority to ascertain which halachic opinions should be followed in their own community. But one thing is clear. From a strictly halachic standpoint, six and seven year old girls with skirts covering their knees, are within the proper tzniyus parameters (which they may not yet even be technically required to keep). In the merit of striving to keep the proper hilchos tzniyus, we should all be zocheh to the blessing of “Hashra’as HaShechina”.

    Rabbi Yehuda Spitz serves as the Shoel U’ Meishiv and Rosh Chabura of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim. He can be reached at yspitz@ohr.edu

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    78 COMMENTS

    1. I find it necessary to note right off the bat a major point. Tznius is not only confined to the way someone dresses, it applies to the way they act and the way they present themselves as Ovdei Hashem. In its most naked form (pun intended) to be Tzanua is merely being humble. Granted, the Gemara in Berachos is merely talking about the Ervah aspect, it is important to note that the Gemara does not mention the word Tzanua (or its form) there. Of course it applies to the way one dresses, but more emphasis must be put on the way we act. We must become Tzanua on the inside and not just focus how we are on the outside

      • “Tznius is not only confined to the way someone dresses, it applies to the way they act and the way they present themselves as Ovdei Hashem.”

        It’s nice that you have an opinion about things, but the גמרא in סוכה מ”ט ע”ב and also in מכות כ”ד ע”א tell us what צניעות is:

        עשות משפט זה הדין ואהבת חסד זו גמילות חסדים והצנע לכת עם א-לקיך זו הוצאת המת והכנסת כלה לחופה

        Nonetheless, it has become very fashionable in today’s world to take incredibly bravado liberties with the terminology of חז”ל, which can be very confusing!

          • I think there is a middle ground. If a woman wears for example, jeans and
            a tee-shirt, (as opposed to shorts and a halter top) what is the problem with that?
            You can see that she has two legs and a rear-end just like a man? So?
            If you have issues with that, get therapy. Dont impose Taliban restrictions on
            a whole population.

    2. Most chassidic poskim say a girl needs stockings by age 3. Satmar rebbe wouldnt mechavin to be yotzei people with shofar who’s wives and women didnt wear stockings.

      bchol inyan, rabbosai, we should strengthen our communities tznius. she may be covered, but if shes wearing Parisian fashion and a $5000 celebrity style shaytel shes not being tznius. Dressing tznius and still conversing and commingling is not tznius. Tznius is more behavior than appearance.

    3. “Tzniyus represents the inherent dignity and self respect of the Jewish woman”

      I stopped reading the article when I saw that. And I am a man.

      Does tzniyus have nothing to do with men? Don’t we men have halachos about our tzniyus too?

    4. “Tzniyus represents the inherent dignity and self respect of the Jewish woman, and her desire to portray her essence.”

      This is part of the problem we have today. Tzniyus is mandatory for ALL Jews, not just women! Stop obsessing about women and maybe you won’t have so much trouble with how they dress!

      • Do you know what never fails to amaze me on vin? when us commentors take major issue with one line an author writes and forget the rest of the article! perhaps someone is trying to teach us all a bissel halacha? this rabbi seems to be quoting an awful lot of maremkoimes for the oilum to just harp on womens lib! hes going on the daf – last i checked the heilige gemara didnt say shok b-ish ervah! so when you guys write your own gemara you can do it your way

    5. Is covering above the elbow and knee, up to a tefach really a given? While I would agree that this is the followed hanhaga, there are shitos that hold that up to a tefech is mutar lchatchila.

    6. “Satmar rebbe wouldnt mechavin to be yotzei people with shofar who’s wives and women didnt wear stockings. “

      You can’t be motzei someone with the mitzva of shofar, which is to hear the shofar.

    7. I don’t think that this is a subject to be dan on a news website, and sure not to leave it here open for comenters to post their opinion (das bal habyis). This is a subject to be discussed strictly by the rabbunim, and everybody should ask his rav for his opinion on tznius and follow what his rav says

        • I agree with you, in fact I think that we should also discuss various medical procedures and their health risks. I know I’m not a doctor, but I do know what a heart looks like (4 chambers, right?) so I should be qualified. Consulting my own doctor would be logical not Catholic

          • You really don’t understand, do you?

            There’s a huge gulf between discussing Halachos on a blog/news forum and Paskening Halacha L’ma’a’seh. The post I responded to stated that discussion should be forbidden, or at least discouraged. That’s ridiculous! Every Jew(ish male) is required to learn. Judaism, despite attempts to make it so, is not a religion that forbids discussion amongst the laity.

    8. As the mother of ka”h 4 bais yakov girls I applaud the clarification here — especially the part about Minhag Hamakom in respect of things that are not halachically mandated. However there’s “covered” and there’s “covered”. What was lost in the last generation was the idea of refinement and feinkeit — since when is covering a young child with clingy black microfiber tzanua? And the degree with which things that used to be way beyond acceptability are now OK just because someone puts a clingy shell underneath it — it just runs in the face of what tzniyus means. And yes, I agree — the most tzanua girl is not tzanua when she’s screaming in the street with her friends…

    9. Sechel Yoshor and Avi, no one disagrees that it applies to men. However since men are more base by nature, there is a stronger need to emphasize the Tznius requirement.

      And do we really obsess about women? No, we obsess about Tznius. We obsess about Mitzvos and Halacha. In the same way, when there are Shaylos with an Eiruv, it is not obsession with Boro Park and Flatbush, but with Hilchos Shabbos. If the Monsey Eruv is ok, you won’t hear anybody talking about it because its not an issue. When the Tznius issue is more prevalent by women we speak up about it. If it’s more prevalent by men it will be brought up too.

      Continued discussion about Tznius is not obsession – especially if the problem is still around. Stop obsessing about how the Rabonnim call attention to an issue.

      Besides this whole discussion is a non-starter, since he is clarifying a Halacha that was brought to the forefront in Daf. He focused on one part, like most people giving a Halacha Shiur would. No need to attack.

      • “However since men are more base by nature…”

        Anyone who truly believes that has never had a frank discussion about sex with a woman.

        Men are more visual, and concentrate more on appearances. That doesn’t make them more “base”.

        • Could not disagree with you more. No matter what discussions you may have had with women, this is a fact. If you can’t even agree on that we have no common ground for a discussion. Have a great afternoon/evening

          • On second thought…

            One of the definitions of “base” is “Without moral principles”. Given that men like to force women to dress and act in a certain way just so they don’t have to work on themselves, I guess you are right. Men have fewer moral principles.

            Granted, I am not sure you are making a particularly compelling argument.

      • I must respectfully disagree with your statement:

        “And do we really obsess about women? No, we obsess about Tznius. We obsess about Mitzvos and Halacha.”

        If that were true then the women & girls who have been assaulted by these obsessed men would never have been assaulted at all. That type of behavior is completely contrary to the mitzvos and halachos you refer to.

    10. This was nice Halachic piece. Now a little about what happens in the streets:

      The problem I have is that “tzinius” is often used as a club to keep women
      from any public forum. Just for example, you dont see women being
      maspid their parent — only men are allowed to do that. You dont see
      women speaking at public events — that would be evil. Not long ago
      there was a 15 minute phone shiur offered for Hilchos Shmiras Haloshon
      here in Chicago.When a woman joined the call, they terminated the call. You
      see, one couldn’t have a woman speak — or even attend — because
      that wouldnt be be tzinius..

      You see the problem?

    11. Amazing let’s only bring down the machmir sources.
      Bigger problem with shok being the calf is the fact the 2000 years ago
      1) they did not have sock or stocking!
      2) no one wore clothing more than mid calf except royalty since the hems would be destroyed and ruin their garment. remember in those day people had 1 -2 sets of clothes for the day and 1 for the night if they were lucky.
      3) when people went to the bais hamikdash they were bare foot

    12. i dont get all this kvetching – this post explains where the halachic issues and machloikesim are in tznis – in order so one should ask his ruv or dayin – the author put in besser english – he ends “In the final analysis, one should consult their own personal halachic authority to ascertain which halachic opinions should be followed in their own community.”
      so whats everybody going on about? some say this but i say ..blah blah yadda yadda – u got a problem – gripe to the rabbi who wrote it! or better do as he says and ask YOUR OWN rabbi

    13. I think it is important for young girls over the age of three (or five in some circles) to be taught about tsnius early on so they will be used to dressing properly and they should be taught it in a beautiful way, that they are princesses and therefore have to dress accordingly. It’s not enough that they wear proper length dresses, but that they should be taught to sit properly covering their legs, and act properly in a playground. (That’s why it is better for them to wear pants or tights under their dresses for active play, it’s not enough that the dresses are long enough for standing or walking.)

      • yeah, never let them be a child, never. every time they sit kvetch and critisize that its not tznius the way they sit bec. inevitable you will see their knees. when they laugh bec. they have fun tell them shshshe! Its not tznius ! dont let them live dont let them enjoy their youth. put in their head ocd from early on they should always always have in mind that you must be tznius! nothing is more important for a three year old or five year than this.

    14. It’s about time someone in the frum community will start adovocating about Tzniut obligations toward the men – not 24/7 about the women. This is really getting far-fetched even though it is for good intent. Reading this article made me feel we are rationalizing Halacha and turning into the Muslim nation, completely forgetting our Torah Values.

    15. My wife and I started our girls young to appreciate Tznius. they were wearing slinky skirts and theose kiki rikki shorts since 3 years old. We warn them of the dangers and how it can lead to mixed dancing

    16. Its sad that the fixation and almost mindless obcession with skirt lengths and sheitels versus snoods has taken precedence over the more fundamental yiddeshe values like tefillah and tzadakah and maasim tovim vis a vis those less fortunate. Every time someone posts here about the concept of tikun olam, he/she is ridiculed as an apikores promoting some type of goiyeshe concept. Well, sorry to tell you, but I’d much rather have my daughter providing some type of caring support and assistance for the sick, elderly, the poor or those unable to care for themselves, even if she c’v does such work in a short-sleeved blouse.

      • Excellent point!
        Comment 29 cites the Gemara which says that the passuk והצנע לכת עם ה’ אלקיך (walking with “tznius” with Hashem your G-D) refers to helping the less fortunate. The explanation might be that the essence of tznius is humility, which is best expressed by giving of one’s time, money, and efforts to help others.

      • No. The men are ridiculed (and very rightfully so) not for presnting the CONCEPT of tikkun oilam but for insisting that tikkun oilam is a MITZVAH, whereas everybody this side of conservativereform knows that there is no such mitzvah. Get the difference? You are welcome.

        • It is true that was a false dichotomy. But its not the only one. The usual
          frum argument for long skirts and long sleeves is that dressing
          “provocatively” is morally wrong. The problem with that argument
          is that there really is another option — a middle ground. If a woman
          wears say, jeans and tee shirt — or slacks and a blouse — that may
          not be Orthodox culture but its really not the same thing as shorts and
          a halter.

          Really though.. the whole discussion misses the point. All this talk
          about what women should and shouldn’t wear makes it seem
          that the only way women can be viewed is as sex objects. And that
          itself is a problem. Cant we just grow up and not obsess over such things?

    17. Regardless of exactly how you hold, clearly forcing little girls to wear long sleeves and tights is not only completely unnecessary, it’s probably doing more harm than good. Already at age 3, girls are forced to wear tights in the summer! They are not old enough to understand the point of tzniyus, nor the beauty. When rediculous chumros on small children are forced on them in the name of halachah, we are left with girls who resent the “halachos” and end up throwing away all of it!

      • a 3 year old child can’t understand the point of kashrus either .does that mean it’s OK to take them to mc donald’s? the foundation of yiddishkait is not what we understanf;it’s kabolos ol which is what early training in mitzvas imbues.

        • kashrus is 100% halacha! wearing tights is not halacha by any standards. It’s fine to be mechanech halacha, but chumros are taken on oneself when one is on the level to accept them. We don’t force chumros on others, especially not little kids who don’t understand. Tights and sleeves to the wrist are not halachikally required. simple as that.

    18. Todays girls dress in a way that shows that all they want is pepole looking at them 4 inch under the knee is not uncomfterbole at all and sleeves that cover most of the arms don’t bother In any way(and especially the modern cummuity does not respect 4 the jewish mentality that girl belong at home not bellydancing in the mens section at every givin opurtunity

      • Ah, the good old “she was asking for it” excuse.

        You do know that the Torah exhorts you, a man, not to stray after your eyes, right? You hopefully say it twice a day. Strangely enough, the Torah never once mentions that women should make sure not to look pretty or attractive.

    19. The women’s clothing stores in Brooklyn and the 5 Towns sell skirts that end above the knee and the shopkeepers are so desperate to make a buck that they tell the unsuspecting women that it is fine because there’s some made up heter of a tefach.
      A man IS michuyav in Tzniyus just like a woman.
      A man has a SECOND requirement in the area of Tzniyus and that is to monitor his wife’s Tzniyus adherence. Whatever a man’s competent orthodox Rav tells him is ok, he MUST not let his wife out of the house if she can’t keep to those guidelines. A woman walking around in the street in a short skirt is broadcasting to the world one thing, “My husband doesn’t love me.” Her husband wants everyone else to SEE what he has. Not only does it show how degenerate HE is, it also shows how low SHE is that she can’t get attention at home and has to exhibit herself to the public.
      If Tzniyus is adhered to even a little more than what is going on now, there will be many benefits to the community including lowering the divorce rate and helping the shidduchim problem because people won’t be looking elsewhere.

      • “… he MUST not let his wife out of the house if she can’t keep to those guidelines.”

        Come on, Mr. ComeOn, I have a question: If a man’s wife refuses to listen to him and he has to prevent her from leaving the house, what method should he use? Is it enough to handcuff her or should he also chain her up? Is it necessary to put bars on the windows? Please enlighten us.

        • The method he should use is to divorce her so that she will no longer be his wife and he won’t be responsible for her ruchniyus.
          Any Rov who knows anything about halacha will tell you that contrary to Commenter #51, a man IS responsible for his wife’s ruchniyus and her following of halacha and you can call it controlling or any other “women’s rights” talking point catchphrase you want, but it remains that the wife should keep Tzniyus (the husband as well) and the husband should make sure she does. There is nothing wrong with telling your wide to wait a few minutes before she goes outside dressed in saran wrap so thatyou can call your Rov to ask a shailah.

        • Handcuff her? Chain her up? Put bars on the windows?

          You have to be a man of very sick mind! How do things like this even occur to a normal man? Obviously, if a man’s wife refuses to listen to him l’gabei inyanei tznius, she is a meredes and he divorces her. Let her get a husband she deserves.

          • Mr. ShmuelG, could you please read comments carefully before you accuse anyone of having a sick mind.
            I was responding to this comment, “he MUST not let his wife out of the house if she can’t keep to those guidelines.” I was obviously using satire to show that the comment is absurd. Get it?

      • This has got to be the funniest comment I have seen on the internet in years! Kol HaKovod. (I just can’t decide if you are serious or not; the first word of your name makes me suspicious.)

      • I agree with what you say about man’s chiyuv to supervise women under his control: his wife and daughters. But at the start of your post you seem to be blaming storekeepers and not the stupid girls and women who get a psak from a storekeeper(!) about what’s mutar to wear in public. Or maybe not so stupid: Choderlos de Laclos said that you can only talk a woman into doing what she wants to do anyway.

    20. We agree, ok? Women and girls need to be more tznius. It’s disgusting and sad and upsetting. What bothers me though is that so many of these comments are made by men. For all of you arguing about whether it’s the fault of the girls who ask for it or the men who can’t control themselves, I just want to say this: You have NO right to judge one way or another. You have absolutely NO idea what us women are up against, every single day and every single hour. It’s a sick world out there, one that is creeping its way into our very foundation, and it takes tremendous courage, self awareness, control and confidence to push those influences away. I am in no way justifying pritzus, and not tzniusdik dress and behavior however passing judgement on the majority of us who are grappling with this mitzvah on some level every single day is really inexcusable. And yes, every single girl you’ve met today, from the slutty high school girl next door to the Rebbetzin of your shul is battling her own personal battle every day so be kind and just help that person along her path in a positive way.

    21. Hey…chew on this one a little: Why is it OK for men (you know, the yeshivishe chevra who wear black hats and long tcheiles tzitzis) to ride bikes and jog thru our communities – to be wearing the tightest spandex clothes which most disgustingly outline and reveal the “mius” of their anatomy?? Doesn’t that fall into tznius also??

      Why don’t the roshei hayeshiva admonish them, yet when their wives are seen wearing flip flops (clearly not asur by any piskei din) they’re children are threatened with expulsion….C’mon, someone please address this dilema….

      We are living in the sickest times of “double-standardism”…..

      And we wonder why our kids are going OTD???

    22. I dont get any of you! this seems to be a halacha article (and a clear and well written one at that) which is explaining the daf and why certain communities do one way and others another – ‘eili veili divrai eloikim chayim’ and concludes that everyone should ask their own ruv. what do men’s tzniis, flip flops, grappling with obsessions or even pedephilia have to do with a halacha article???? to my fellow commentors i say one thing – “GROW UP”!!!

    23. Tznius even extends after death. My parents and grandparents are buried in a Klausenberg cemetery, and the men and women are buried in separate areas. I can see separate seating at weddings and bar mitzvahs, but separate burials?

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