From Academic Kids

Tzeniut (or Tznius) (Hebrew: צניעות, "modesty") is a term used within Judaism. It is used to describe both a character trait and a group of Jewish religious laws pertaining to conduct in general and especially between the sexes.

One of the ideals of Judaism is humility. Moses is referred to as "exceedingly humble, more than any man in the world" (Numeri 12:3). Shamedfacedness is mentioned explicitly by the Talmud as one of the cardinal traits of the Jewish people (Yevamot 79a).



Tzeniut includes a group of laws concerned with modesty, in both dress and behavior. It is first mentioned in this context by the prophet Micah (6:8): "[...] and to walk humbly (hatzne'a lechet) with your God".

In its wide definition, Tzeniut means placing limitations on arousing other's feelings, be it frustration, annoyance, anger or lust. In its limited sense, Tzeniut has come to mean a "dress code", especially as practiced within Orthodox Judaism.

One of the defining characteristics of the Jewish religious personality is Tzeniut which means, roughly, modesty. Normally, the problem of Tzeniut is discussed in rather technical terms: how low or how high a hemline, the length of sleeves, the form of dress, the number of square millimeters of skin that may be exposed, and so on. Indeed, these are important issues, but they are aspects or details of Tzeniut, not its "heart". It would be a pity to allow an understanding of Tzeniut to be restricted to merely that which can be measured by a ruler, while ignoring its "conceptual matrix". What is important is the classical world view of Judaism that informs the concept and the practice of Tzeniut, an exceedingly important Jewish principle and value that touches the very fundamentals of Judaism.

Practical applications

The principles of Jewish law and custom guiding the laws of Tzeniut comprise two areas: Standard laws that are considered normative, and practices determined by personal stringencies and local custom.

Examples of Tzeniut-laws are:

  1. The covering of hair by married women;
  2. The length of arm sleeves (below the elbow);
  3. Not showing the separation between the thighs (kept by wearing skirts) by women;
  4. Keeping a high neckline (to the collar bone);
  5. Avoiding tight or flashy clothing;
  6. Men and woman do not swim together, due to the revealing attire commonly worn during swimming.

Examples of Tzeniut-customs added as stringincies are:

  1. Refusing to gaze at a women's face;


Tzeniut is the subject of differing interpretations between various segments of Judaism. In many respects, previous "customs" have evolved into law, and deviations of custom are seen as breaches of law.

Issues that have received wide interpretation are:

  1. The degree to which a married women's hair is to be covered
  2. The exact requirement of covering the arm (the entire elbow or the top half of the elbow)

The principal guiding point is that a Jewish woman should not dress in a way that causes other men to stare at her. This does not mean dressing poorly; in fact, she is required to dress nicely. The only man who should be gazing at her is her husband, and she should make sure to dress extra nicely when at home.


Many feminists argue that these laws focus excessively on women, and claim that Jewish law is pessimistic about (male) human nature. According to Orthodox Judaism, it's simply being "realistic" (see the principle of yichud); because Jewish law is well aware that the sex drive is a powerful one, and therefore rules are set to avoid getting into a problematic situation in the first place.

From the 1960s to 1980s, this issue became a major topic of conversation within the non-Orthodox Jewish community. By the 1980s these issues began to publicly emerge within the Orthodox Jewish community as well.

However, several women (notably Gila Manolson) have written praisingly about the dress restrictions to the point that women feel more a person and less a sex object when dressed traditionally.

See also


  • Shmuley Boteach Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy Main Street Books, 2000, ISBN 0385494661. Written from a Modern Orthodox perspective.
  • Elliot N. Dorff This Is My Beloved: This Is My Friend: A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate Relations, The Rabbinical Assembly, 1996. Written from a Conservative Jewish perspective.
  • Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk: "Modesty: an adornment for life". Phillip Feldheim, 1998. ISBN 0873068742. Encyclopedic work on Tzeniut, although considered quite stringent by some. Written from a right-wing Orthodox perspective.
  • Michael Gold Does God Belong in the Bedroom? JPS, 1992. Written from a Conservative Jewish perspective.
  • Gila Manolson: "Outside/Inside". Targum Press. ISBN 1568711239.
  • Gila Manolson: "The Magic Touch". Targum Press. ISBN 158330102X.
  • Wendy Shalit A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue Free Press, 2004, ISBN 0684863170

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