New 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.
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 email@example.com