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Tzniut (Hebrew: צניעות tzniut, Sephardi: Ṣni'ut, Ashkenazi: tznius; "modesty" or "privacy"; Yiddish: באשיידנקייט basheydnkeyt) describes both the character trait of modesty and discretion, as well as a group of Jewish laws pertaining to conduct. The concept is most important within Orthodox Judaism.


Tzniut includes a group of Jewish 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".[1]

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 code of conduct, character, and awareness,[citation needed] which in practice is more noticeable among women than men.[2]

Practical applications[edit]


The principal guiding point of tzniut regarding dress is that a Jew should not dress in ways that attract undue attention.[3] 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 tzniut, so people from different communities 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.[4][5]

In Haredi communities, men wear long trousers and usually long-sleeved shirts; most[6] 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 permit sandals at least outside of synagogue. Dress inside 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 red, as well as tight clothing. The prohibition on wearing red is Ashkenazic, originally formulated by Joseph Colon Trabotto, Moses Isserles, and Shabtai HaKohen.[7] In modern interpretation, Moshe Feinstein restricts the prohibition to women, while many other authorities apply it to both genders.[8] Many will only wear closed-toe shoes, and always wear stockings or tights, the thickness of which varies by community.

Modern Orthodox women also usually adhere to tzniut and dress in a modest fashion (as compared to general society),[9] but their communal definition does not necessarily include covering their elbows, collarbones, or knees, and may allow for wearing pants, although most 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 sometimes 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 modest dress.[10] While day-to-day dress often simply reflects trends in wider 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 also involves cultural considerations aside 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 more customary to their particular communities than a general religious requirement expected of all observant Jews.[6]

Further cultural considerations include increasing use of modest dress as an act of female empowerment and self-actualization, not directly related to religious observance.[11]

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 when in the presence of men other than their husband or close family members.[12][13] Such covering is common practice nowadays among Orthodox Jewish women.

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").[14] The Talmud classifies this as ervah (literally "nakedness"). The majority view of halakhic authorities[15] 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.[16] A minority view[17] holds that the prohibition of praying or studying in the presence of kol isha applies only while reciting the Shema Yisrael prayer.[16][18]

There is a debate between poskim whether the prohibition applies to a recorded female 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.[19]

There are also opinions,[19] 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.[20]

Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg[19] and Rabbi David Bigman[16] of Yeshivat Ma'ale Gilboa hold that the kol isha prohibition does not apply to women singing zemirot, songs to children, and lamentations for the dead, because in these contexts, men do not derive sexual pleasure from the woman's voice.

Other denominations[edit]

Conservative Judaism interprets the relevant passage of the Talmud as expressing a rabbi's opinion, rather than imposing a requirement.[21]

Reform Judaism fundamentally reconsidered 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 law as applicable to modern times.[22]


In Orthodox Judaism, men and women who are not married and not closely related are generally forbidden to touch each other sensually. A person who refrains from touching the opposite sex is said to be “shomer negiah”. Any touching, but especially in an affectionate manner ("b'derech chiba") is prohibited.

Opinions are divided regarding a quick handshake in a business setting: some authorities (mainly of Modern Orthodox background) permit it, while other people (nearly all Haredim, and many other Orthodox Jews) prohibit it. The question is, “What is sensual?” One may, however, touch certain relatives (parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren) to whom one is presumed not to be sexually attracted. Whether or not children adopted at a young age are included in this prohibition is a matter of dispute and varies from case to case. One may touch one's spouse, outside the niddah period; many married couples will also not publicly touch one another.

Conservative and Reform Judaism do not follow these laws.


In Orthodox Judaism, men and women who are not married to each other and not immediate blood relatives are forbidden to enter into a secluded situation (yichud), in a room or area that is locked and private. This measure is taken to prevent the possibility of sexual relations, which is prohibited outside of marriage. According to some authorities, this applies even between adoptive parents and adoptive children over the age of maturity, while others are more lenient with children adopted from a young age. Seclusion does not consist of merely being alone in a room together; only if the situation is private, with no one else expected to enter, does this restriction apply. Originally, this prohibition applied only to married women secluded with men other than their husbands, but it was later extended to include single women. According to the Talmud, this extension occurred in the time of King David, when his son Amnon raped his other son Absalom's sister, Tamar. On the issue of elevators, opinions vary; some allow yichud in an elevator for a time of no more than 30 seconds, while others forbid it under all circumstances, partly due to the possibility of an elevator getting stuck. The laws concerning yichud are complicated and detailed, and especially so for women in modern contexts,[23] promoting the suggestion to reread them as a nonspecific mandate for personal space at a time when society can generally acknowledge the darkest aspects of the human sexual psyche in today's social interactions.[24]

Conservative and Reform Judaism do not regard these rules as applicable.

Synagogue services[edit]

In Orthodox Judaism, men and women are not allowed to mingle during prayer services, and Orthodox synagogues generally include a divider, called a mechitza, creating separate men's and women's sections. This idea comes from the old Jewish practice when the Temple in Jerusalem stood: there was a women's balcony in the Ezrat Nashim to separate male and female spectators at the special Sukkot celebrations. There is also a prophecy in Zechariah (12:12) that mentions men and women mourning separately. The Talmud took this account and inferred that if men and women should be separate in times of mourning, then they certainly should be separate in times of happiness.

Mechitzot are usually seen in Orthodox synagogues but never in Reform ones. Original German Reform synagogues had balconies, although in modified form. While many Conservative synagogues also had balconies or separate seating for women in the past, most Conservative synagogues have switched to "family seating" (i.e., mixed seating of relatives) in the 1960s. Today, the Conservative movement puts a strong emphasis on egalitarianism, so that men and women have equal roles in prayer services. However, non-egalitarian services, separate seating, and the use of a mechitza are still considered valid options for Conservative congregations.[citation needed]


Orthodox Jews following the laws on negiah do not participate in mixed dancing, as this entails sensual touch and may also considered immodest in cases where there isn't any physical contact.

In 2013, the Rabbinical Court of the Ashkenazi Community in the Haredi city of Beitar Illit ruled against Zumba (a type of dance fitness) classes, although they were held with a female instructor and all-female participants.[25][26] The Court said, in part: "Both in form and manner, the activity [Zumba] is entirely at odds with both the ways of the Torah and the holiness of Israel, as are the songs associated with it."[27]


There are several levels to the observance of physical and personal tzniut according to Orthodox Judaism, as derived from various sources in halakha. Observance of these rules varies from aspirational to mandatory to routine across the spectrum of Orthodox stricture and observance.[citation needed]

  • Not dwelling on lascivious or immoral thoughts.
  • Not staring at members of the opposite sex, particularly any part of the opposite sex's "private" anatomy.
  • Keeping the majority of one's body covered in respectable clothing at all times.
  • Avoiding the company of uncouth individuals or situations where an atmosphere of levity and depravity prevails.
  • Avoiding pictures or scenes that are likely to be sexually arousing.
  • Refraining from touching a person of the opposite sex.
  • Not looking at animals copulating.
  • Not hugging or kissing one's spouse in public; among Haredim, all physical contact is avoided between spouses in public. The primary reason is not to arouse jealousy, and hence the evil eye, in those without a partner. This is a law between men, and not primarily between man and God.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sukkah 49b
  2. ^ "Parshat Vayishlach: Modesty in the Age of Abuse". OU Torah. 27 November 2017. Retrieved 22 March 2019. Traditional Judaism has long maintained that the onus of protection from inappropriate and damaging relations between men and women was on women; that the laws of tzniut landed heavier on them. [Yet] I have always taught that such an understanding is misleading, shortsighted, and wrong... Men are no less responsible – perhaps more so! – for all that tzniut is. We often associate it with women more because its practice is more obvious with women.
  3. ^ Jewish View of Modesty, Dress, Clothing
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Ask the Rabbi, » Skirts, Wigs, and Feminine Modesty". Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  6. ^ a b Modesty: Not Just For Women, Patheos
  7. ^ SA YD 178:3
  8. ^ Igros Moshe YD 1:181; Shevet HaLevi 6:24:2, Be'er Moshe 4:147:13, Darchei Teshuva 178:16, inter alia. This dispute is connected to one over the purpose of the ban, with some decisors arguing it was only to distinguish Jewish and gentile clothing and others arguing it is because red clothing is erotic.
  9. ^ Sherman, Joseph. "Sisters Revolutionize Fashion". FYI Magazine. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  10. ^ Booth, David; et al. (2 February 2017). "Modesty Inside and Out: A Contemporary Guide to Tzniut" (PDF). CJLS: 20. Retrieved 7 August 2018.
  11. ^ "Modest Dress in Contemporary Judaism and Islam". My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  12. ^ Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha'ezer 115, 4; Orach Chayim 75,2; Even Ha'ezer 21, 2
  13. ^ Schiller, Mayer (1995). "The Obligation of Married Women to Cover Their Hair" (PDF). JHCS. 30: 81–108. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 April 2008.
  14. ^ Berakhot 24a
  15. ^ 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
  16. ^ a b c "A New Analysis of "Kol B'Isha Erva" -".
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Cherney, Ben. Kol Isha Archived 15 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine. JHCS 10, pp. 57–75.
  19. ^ a b c "The Parameters of Kol Isha". Archived from the original on 7 March 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  20. ^ "Two voices cannot be heard simultaneously"; see Megilla 21b.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis pp. 14–22
  23. ^ "Contemporary Issues in the Laws of Yichud.pdf". Google Docs. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  24. ^ Chizhik-GoldschmidtOctober 17, Avital; Image, 2017Getty (18 October 2017). "No, modesty won't protect you from the Harvey Weinsteins. But this might". The Forward. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  25. ^ Sommer, Allison Kaplan (9 September 2013). "Haredi Rabbis Ban All-female Zumba Classes". Haaretz. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  26. ^ "Haredi Rabbis Outlaw Women-Only Zumba Classes". 9 September 2013. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  27. ^ "Haredi Rabbis Outlaw Women-Only Zumba Classes". 9 September 2013. Retrieved 8 March 2018.


  • 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