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Op-Ed: Judging the Standard of Judging Standards

Every year, as the summer sun reveals herself and beats down upon us, the essential matter of tznius – the unequivocal hallmark of a frum, Jewish woman – is discussed, encouraged, and demanded by our leaders and fellow community members. Tznius has kept our nation pure and exalted for generations.

What is undebatable is that specific tznius standards are debatable. While there are clear general requirements, frum communities set detailed standards for their members based on the times and circumstance resulting in varying expectations based on location, generation, and persuasion.

Schools’ Standard of Standards

And then, there are the educational institutions that establish tznius-based criteria for acceptance of children into their schools. Standards – not for the children enrolled in the school – but for the mothers of these children.

In a free country and market, schools have the right to create and enforce rules and parents have the ability to choose where to send their children. And, to be fair, the imposition of tznius standards on mothers of children is quite logical; ensuring the child observes consistent styles at both school and home.

However, while the enforcement of a student’s tznius style can be easily imposed from within the classroom, determining whether a child’s mother maintains the required standards is often based on sketchy observations, unintentional misunderstandings, hazy perceptions, distorted hearsay, and untrue gossip.

In short, the school’s administration employs assumptions and glorifies judgmentalism as the mechanism of implementing the key filter meant to set the course and tone of their school; an institution which they are confident will be a cut above the rest.

One can certainly wonder how this judgmental and elitist ‘tone from the top’ trickles down to the staff, teachers, and ultimately, students of the institution.

The broader issue, though, is that these administrators, who surely have the purest intentions at heart, fail to realize the potential pitfalls of their approach. The problem here is not the imposition of tznius standards but the process and method of determining which women adhere to them; the passing of judgment on others.

A Tale of Five Women

At the risk of sharing loshon horah, the following scandalous gossip was heard being shared among a group of close yentas:

Note: Due to the sensitive nature of the matter, the names and details of the women involved have been changed to protect them and their children – who still hope to be accepted by certain local schools.

  1. “Shprintza told me she saw Rachel by the Brooklyn Museum’s water fountain kissing a boy. Oy, what a shandeh…”

  2. “If you think that is bad, did you hear about of Ani Pells, a woman from our community, who was seen sitting on the porch of her bungalow with her tichel half off her head? I mean, she knew a group of men would be walking by right then and had no shame. A busha!!”

  3. “And did you hear about Chana who, I hear, has become an alcoholic? I shudder to think what kind of home she runs…”

  4. “Let’s talk in a whisper now. Hush… I heard through the grapevine that a particular woman, I think her name is Tamar, has mamesh gone off the derech. She was seen on a street corner selling herself… Oy, what t’zores in Klal Yisroel…”

  5. “Yenti, it’s so sad, but Chava has gone off the deep end. She wears such skimpy clothes; she’s practically walking around naked!”

Exposing the Women

Do the daughters of these “rotten” women have a chance of being admitted into the local school?

I hope they do! In fact, if these women’s children would not be accepted we would not have a Jewish nation today.

It’s time to pull down the curtain on these women. We have:

  1. Rochel – our foremother – who kissed Yaakov at the well (Bereishis 29:11).

  2. On Ben Peles’ wife – who saved her husband from Korach’s clutches (BaMidbar Rabbah 18:20).

  3. Chana – the mother of Shmuel Ha’Navi (Shmuel I 1:13).

  4. Tamar – who seduced Yehuda, a union which Moshiach descends from (Bereishis 38:14).

  5. Chava – the mother of mankind (Bereishis 3:7).

Each woman had her personal reasons based on the time and need and each was righteous and is venerated. On Ben Peles’ wife is regarded as the model wife on whom is attributed the often-quoted accolade: The wisest of women, each one built her house (Mishlei 14:1).

Each of these women was judged solely by the ultimate judge, Hashem, and so should every woman.

The same is true with the Sota, a woman accused of engaging in promiscuous activities, who is only judged by Hashem – not an anonymous Vaad – via the bitter potion. And, when all goes well, she is promised wonderful children (Bamidbar 5:28 Rashi); children who, I hope, would be accepted into the local school – despite the rumors.

It is telling that whenever men attempted to pass judgment on “rotten” women – as Yehuda attempted with Tamar and as Eli Ha’Kohen did with Chana – they quickly found that they were in way over their head and immediately regretted it. When Moshe Rabbeinu passed judgment on women’s tznius standards with regards to their mirrors, Hashem immediately corrected him and had those precious mirrors prominently integrated into the kiyor (Shemos 38:8 Rashi).

Some of these examples are, admittedly, extreme for the sake of highlighting the larger point. In the context of our realities, we’re talking about much narrower and subtle distinctions – a woman whose sheitel is an inch above or below her shoulder; makeup that “draws too much attention” versus a more “neutral” palette.

Should a child’s chinuch and future be determined based on a school administrator’s perception of her mother? If our forefathers utilized this approach, where would we be today? If we continue employing such methods, where will we be tomorrow?

None of this should cause anyone, Heaven forbid, to decrease their standards even an iota. On the contrary, every woman must do her job at glorifying herself and our nation by being modest and dignified.

And, school administrators should continue to perform their noble mission of focusing on the children – the future mothers; raising our next generation of yiddishe neshamas and uplifting them by infusing them with positive love and acceptance – not elitism and judgmentalism.

One can never know which special daughter will be the mother of royalty.

8 Comments

  • 3. busy bubby wrote:

    These schools are created for the children of certain parents rather then for the parents of certain children. What I mean is, they have created schools for a Chassidishe crowd who are unquestionably tznius rather than for children who may toe the line of tznius but are from families who don’t. Now, this article would have a point if very Chassidishe girls from modern families were asking to get into the school and were being turned down because of their families but that doesn’t seem to be what is realistically happening. It looks as though people are using these op-eds to take pot shots at the very notion of schools maintaining exclusivity, all the while asserting that they acknowledge a free market that allows it. I wonder how many parents who don’t fully observe tznius are attracted to these schools and how many really expect to be accepted. There are also exceptions such as family members of the hanhalla, regardless of their level of tznius observance. Remember that these schools are not community schools and are not obligated to be.

    Reply
  • 4. Yitzchok wrote:

    You have a choice:
    Either send your children to another school or (if you care that much for THIS specific school) abide by their rules. It’s as simple as that!

    Reply
  • 5. Moishe pipek wrote:

    the kangeroo is on the money judging from the comments the same people say the same thing over and over there is no diffrence between #3 and #4. It just jejune words and useless and empty phrases.Nobody 0ffers better logic than previously stated.

    Reply
  • 6. Ba'al Tosif wrote:

    Chazal bring down that tzinius applies to men’s clothing along with women’s lvush…e.g.

    •In Yoma (35b), Rav Elazar’s chevrah would not permit him to wear a finely-woven bekishe because it was too sheer and his form was visible through the translucent material;

    •In Shabbos (114a), clothes are referred to as, ” the things that honor a person” and chazal bring down that it’s considered shameful for a talmid chacham to wear stained or patched clothing, as such are beneath his dignity (Note: by that standard the lvush worn by kolel yungerleit in many kollels is a massive “tzinius” issue). Likewise a neatly kept beard is fine but its not meant to look like a habitat for endangered species or a broom stuck to the chin…

    •Also iin Shabbos, (113a), we are told that it is unseemly for a person to be overly concerned with fashion, except in the case of special lvush for Shabbos when such a fashion sense is an appropriate way of showing kavod for Shabbos kodesh

    Bottom line: (as the Dems would say) Stop the war on women (at least in relation to clothing and hairstyles)

    Reply
  • 7. Very well written but missing the point. wrote:

    You pick out a few phenomenal women who were essentially very holy and Tzniusdik, who had to act in a round about way.
    #1 was kissed by a tzadik who saw with ruach hakodesh
    #2 was sitting in her doorway, where no one could see in, and she did it to save her husband’s life
    #3 chas v’shalom! She didn’t drink. Eli thought she was drunk, because he never

    Reply

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