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Tzniut (Hebrew: צניעותtzniut, Sephardi: tzeniut(h), Ashkenazi: tznius; "modesty" or "privacy"; Yiddish: באשיידנקייטbasheydnkeyt) describes both the character trait of modesty and discretion, as well as a group of Jewish laws pertaining to conduct. In modern times, the term has become more frequently used with regard to the rules of dress for women within Judaism.[1] The concept is most important within Orthodox Judaism.


Tzniut includes a group of laws concerned with modesty of both dress and behavior. In the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Elazar Bar Tzadok interprets the injunction at Micah 6:8 to "go discreetly with your God" as referring to discretion in conducting funerals and weddings. The Talmud then extends his interpretation: "If in matters that are generally performed in public, such as funerals and weddings, the Torah instructed us to go discreetly, matters that by their very nature should be performed discreetly, such as giving charity to a poor person, how much more so must one take care to do them discreetly, without publicity and fanfare" (Tractate Sukkah 49b).[2]

In the legal dimension of Orthodox Judaism, the issue of tzniut is discussed in more technical terms: how much skin may a person expose, and so on.[citation needed] These details underscore the concept of tzniut as a positive code of conduct, character, and awareness.[citation needed]

Practical applications[edit]


The principal guiding point of tzniut in regard to dress is that a Jew should not dress in a way that attracts undue attention.[citation needed] This does not mean dressing poorly, but that neither men nor women should dress in a way that overly emphasizes their physical appearance or attracts undue attention. There are many different interpretations of what tzniut means, so people from different communities will sometimes dress differently.

Orthodox Judaism requires both men and women to substantially cover their bodies. According to many opinions, this involves covering the elbows and knees.[3][4]

In Haredi communities, men wear long trousers and usually long-sleeved shirts; most[5] will not wear short sleeves at all. Haredi Ashkenazi practice discourages sandals without socks both in and out of the synagogue, whereas Haredi Sefardi communities tend to accept sandals at least outside of synagogue. Dress in a synagogue and, according to many, in public should be comparable to that worn by the community when meeting royalty or government.

Haredi women wear blouses covering the elbow and collarbone, and skirts that cover the knees while standing and sitting. The ideal sleeve and skirt length varies by community. Some women try not to follow fashion, while others wear fashionable, but modest, clothing. Haredi women avoid skirts with slits, preferring instead kick pleats. They also avoid overly eye-catching colors, especially bright red, as well as clothing that is tight. Many will only wear closed-toe shoes, and always wear stockings, the thickness of which varies by community.

Modern Orthodox women also usually adhere to tzniut and dress in a modest fashion (as compared to the general society),[6] but their communal definition does not necessarily include covering their elbows, collarbones, or knees, and may allow for wearing pants, although some Modern Orthodox women will, when in front of men or in public, wear skirts that cover their knees, preferably loose ones, and cover their elbows and cleavage.

Modern Orthodox men's dress is often indistinguishable from their non-Orthodox peers, apart from them wearing a skullcap. They may wear short-sleeved shirts and even shorts. Sandals without socks, while generally not worn in a synagogue, are usually accepted in Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist communities in Israel for daily dress, for both men and women.

Conservative Judaism formally encourages but does not require modest dress.[7] While day-to-day dress often simply reflects the general society, many Conservative synagogues expect somewhat more modest dress (although not necessarily as stringent as in Orthodox Judaism) for synagogue attendance, and may have specific dress requirements to receive synagogue honors (such as being called for a Torah reading).

Reform Judaism has no religious dress requirements.

Style of dress involves cultural considerations distinct from religious requirements. Members of Conservative and Reform synagogues may abide by dress codes generally ranging from business casual to informal. There are many Orthodox synagogues (especially in Israel), where dress, while meeting religious modesty requirements, is quite casual. Many Haredi and Hasidic communities have special customs and styles of dress that serve to identify members of their communities, but regard these special dress features as customs of their communities, rather than as general religious requirements expected of all observant Jews.[5]

Hair covering[edit]

Three styles of hair covering common among married Orthodox Jewish women. From left to right: snood , fall, and hat.

Jewish law governing tzniut requires married women to cover their hair;[8][9] according to the Talmud, this is a biblical requirement,[10][11] which in this context is called dat Moshe (the law of Moses).[12][13] The most common hair coverings in the Haredi community are the sheitel (wig), the snood, and the mitpachat (Hebrew for 'scarf') or tichel (Yiddish), as well as hats and berets.

The practice of covering hair with wigs is debated among halakhic authorities. Many authorities, including Rabbi Moshe Feinstein,[14] permitted it, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe actively encouraged it,[15] while many other authorities, especially Sephardi rabbis, forbid it.

Modern Orthodox Jewish women usually use hats, berets, baseball caps, bandanas, or scarves tied in a number of ways to accomplish the goal, depending on how casually they are dressed. Some modern Orthodox women cover their hair with wigs. A style of half wig known as a "fall" has become increasingly common in some segments of Modern and Haredi Orthodox communities. It is worn with either a hat or a headband.

In Yemen, unmarried girls covered their hair also, like the Muslims there;[16] however, upon Yemeni Jews' emigration to Israel and other places, this custom has been abandoned. While Rebbe Aharon Roth, founder of Shomer Emunim, praised this custom, no Ashkenazi community – including the most strict Haredi circles – have ever practiced such a custom.[17]

Conservative and Reform Judaism do not generally require women to wear head coverings. Some more traditional Conservative synagogues may ask that married women cover their heads during services. However, some more liberal Conservative synagogues suggest that women, married or not, wear head-coverings similar to those worn by men (the kippah/yarmulke); and some require it (or require it only for women receiving honors or leading services from the bimah) – not for modesty, but as a feminist gesture of egalitarianism.[citation needed] Almost all Conservative synagogues require men to wear a head covering (usually a kippah), but in Reform synagogues, there is no requirement.[18] However, kippot may be provided to anybody who wishes to wear them.

Female singing voice[edit]

Orthodox Judaism[edit]

In Orthodox Judaism, men are generally not allowed to hear women sing, a prohibition called kol isha (literally “a woman's voice”).[19] The Talmud classifies this as ervah (literally "nakedness"). The majority view of halakhic authorities[20] is that this prohibition applies at all times, and forbids a man to pray or study Torah in the presence of a woman who is singing, similar to other prohibitions classified as ervah.[21] A minority view[22] holds that the prohibition of praying or studying in the presence of kol isha applies only while reciting the Shema Yisrael prayer.[21][23]

There is debate between poskim whether the prohibition applies to a recorded voice, where the singer cannot be seen, where the woman is not known to the man who is listening, and where he has never seen her or a picture of her.

There are also opinions,[24] following Samson Raphael Hirsch and Azriel Hildesheimer, that exclude singing in mixed groups from this prohibition, such as synagogue prayer or dinner-table zemirot, based on the idea that the female voice is not distinctly heard as separate from the group in these cases (Trei Kali Lo Mishtamai, two voices cannot be heard simultaneously – Megila 21b).

Other denominations[edit]

Conservative Judaism interprets the relevant passage of the Talmud as expressing a rabbi's opinion, rather than imposing a requirement.[25]

Reform Judaism fundamentally rethought the status of women within Judaism in a series of synods from 1837 onward in both Europe and the United States, formally abolishing most distinctions between men and women in the observance of Jewish life, particularly concerning dress and public participation. It no longer regards this traditional law as applicable to modern times.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bloch, Emmanuel (2018). "Immodest Modesty: The Emergence of Halakhic Dress Codes". Studies in Judaism, Humanities, and the Social Sciences. 2 (1).
  2. ^ Yisroel Simcha Schorr and Chaim Malinowitz (eds.) (2005). Tractate Succah Vol. II p. 49b3. New York.
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Ask the Rabbi, » Skirts, Wigs, and Feminine Modesty". Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  5. ^ a b Modesty: Not Just For Women, Patheos
  6. ^ Sherman, Joseph. "Sisters Revolutionize Fashion". FYI Magazine. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  7. ^ Booth, David (et al.) (February 2, 2017). "Modesty Inside and Out: A Contemporary Guide to Tzniut" (PDF). CJLS: 20. Retrieved 7 August 2018.
  8. ^ Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha'ezer 115, 4; Orach Chayim 75,2; Even Ha'ezer 21, 2
  9. ^ Schiller, Mayer (1995). "The Obligation of Married Women to Cover Their Hair" (PDF). JHCS. 30: 81–108. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-04-07.
  10. ^ Ketubot 72a, bottom of the page
  11. ^ Yakov Yitzchak Fuks (1989). Halichot Bat Yisrael (in Hebrew). Jerusalem.
  12. ^ Maimonides, Mishneh Torah Ishut 24:9
  13. ^ Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha'ezer 115, 4 in Beit Shmu'el
  14. ^ Rav Moshe Feinstein. Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer chelek 2, siman 12.
  15. ^ All over his published correspondence
  16. ^ "Dress Codes: Revealing the Jewish Wardrobe" Archived 3 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine., An exhibition focusing on this collection was presented at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem 11 March 2014 – 18 October 2014
  17. ^ Sefer Shomer Emunim, Rav Aharon Roth zt"l
  18. ^ Lauterbach, Jacob (1928). "Worshiping with Covered Heads". CCAR Responsa: American Reform Responsa. XXXVIII: 589–603. Retrieved 7 August 2018.
  19. ^ Berakhot 24a
  20. ^ Or Zarua 1, hilkot taharat keriat shema utefilah, no. 133; Rashba; Hiddushei ha-Rashba, Berachot ibid.; Rosh Berachot 3:37, Tur-Shulkhan Arukh Even ha-Ezer 21:2 following Rambam/Maimonides, Hilhot Issurei Biah 21:2
  21. ^ a b "A New Analysis of "Kol B'Isha Erva" -".
  22. ^ Rav Hai Gaon, Rabbenu Hananel, and Halachot Gedolot (as cited in Mordechai Berakhot chapter Mi sheMeito 247:80). This opinion is also followed by the Ra'avya and the Ritva (in his chidushim to Berachot). However, Rashba – quoting Rabbenu Hananel – says that this leniency applies only to one's own wife's voice, not to that of another woman.
  23. ^ Cherney, Ben. Kol Isha Archived 15 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine.. JHCS 10, pp. 57–75.
  24. ^ "The Parameters of Kol Isha". Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  25. ^ Golinkin, David. "'Kol B'ishah Ervah' – Is it Really Forbidden for Jewish Men to Listen to Women Singing?" The Schechter Institutes. 18 November 2011. 27 March 2017.
  26. ^ Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis pp. 14–22


  • Saul J. Berman, "A History of the Law of Kol 'isha" In: Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein Memorial Volume. Leo Landman, Ed. Ktav, 1980.
  • Shmuley Boteach, Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy, Main Street Books, 2000, ISBN 0-385-49466-1. 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.
  • Elyakim Ellinson, Women and the Mitzvot: The modest way. An extensive review of the laws of modesty including synagogue separation, mingling of the sexes, and women's dress. ISBN 1-58330-148-8.
  • Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk: Modesty: an adornment for life. Phillip Feldheim, 1998. ISBN 0-87306-874-2. Encyclopedic work on Tzeniut, although considered quite stringent by some. Written from a Haredi 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 1-56871-123-9.
  • Gila Manolson: The Magic Touch. Targum Press. ISBN 1-58330-102-X.
  • Wendy Shalit, A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue, Free Press, 2004, ISBN 0-684-86317-0