Once in awhile I will see a news article about something unfortunate that has happened to someone, and I will think to myself that it wouldn’t have happened had that person been religiously Jewish, because the thing would have been prevented by adherence to a particular law related to behavior. Most recently, I read about Ines Sainz, a reporter for Spanish-language program DeporTV, who got some rather unwelcome comments from members of the New York Jets while reporting on a story. I was reminded of the Jewish obligation to dress in a manner that is considered tzniustic.

Can one say that Sainz dressed in a manner that made it more likely that she would get remarks from members of the football team?

On “The Early Show,” Tara Sullivan, a sports columnist for The Record, a New Jersey newspaper, and Lauren Streib, a reporter for The Daily Beast website, discussed issues surrounding Sainz’s attire and the way women of the press are treated in men’s locker rooms.

Streib said it’s about dressing appropriately.

“I personally have never been in an locker room, but in newsrooms, when you’re in interviews with sources, you have to dress the part. I think when it becomes distracting, and I don’t want to blame her and I, you know, I’m not personally involved in the situation, but when it becomes distracting, then you question, ‘Is she dressed appropriately?”‘

What does it mean to dress in a tzniustic manner? The thrust of the idea is that one is meant to dress in a manner that is as humble as possible — not flashy or attracting excessive attention to one’s body.

“Tzniut means deeply knowing who you are. It’s an internal self-definition that frees you from any need to flaunt yourself physically,” (Gila) Manolson explains. “Women who possess tzniut have their physical privacy protected; they are simply not on display for ogling or judgment by the public’s critical eye. The beauty industry feeds off women’s insecurities, so the biggest enemy to that industry is a woman who has a healthy soul image and who carries herself with modesty.”

Meanwhile, not long after a lawsuit was made, Sainz herself made it clear that she really wasn’t so offended by the remarks at all. “I want to make clear that in no moment did I even feel offended, much less at risk or in danger while there,” she said.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have the case of Brett Favre and Jenn Sterger — or maybe just someone who looks like Brett. Ms. Sterger said that she was used to getting silly drunk calls from players, but she started getting rather obscene photo messages from Mr. Favre.

If it is the case that it was Brett Favre who sent the rather disgusting and unwanted photos and videos of himself, then it is most certainly a different picture presented than the one we see at news conferences, smiling and waving and telling us every few years that he is really retiring only to un-retire a few months later.

What is the meaning of the public modest man who privately is as immodest as possible — when we know that any so-called private moment we share on the telephone can soon be seen around the world?

Could tznius clothing — or even thinking — have saved all this from happening? I can’t help but think that if Sainz had been wearing a shirt that was so low cut along with a looser fitting long skirt instead of tight jeans, none of the harassment would have happened. This is certainly not to say that it is okay to harass someone wearing tight jeans — just that a long skirt may be one way to avoid getting the harassment. If Favre (or the person pretending to be him) had been thinking with a modest mindset, this unfortunate series of events certainly would not have happened. A little modesty in our lives would do us well.

12 Comments

  1. I love your angle on this hot topic, Gordon. Well done!

    When I visited the davening site you linked, I read this:

    Female singing voice
    Men are not supposed to hear women sing, a prohibition called kol isha (Babylonian Talmud Tractate Berachot 24a). This is derived from Song of Solomon 2:14: “Let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful.” The Talmud classifies this as ervah (literally “nakedness”), and it is generally understood that this prohibition applies at all times, similarly to all prohibitions classified as ervah (Rosh Berachot 3:37, Shulkhan Arukh Even ha-Ezer 21:2)[1]. A minority view hypothesizes that the prohibition of kol isha applies only while reciting a single prayer, Shema Yisrael [2] (based on the opinion of Rav Hai Gaon, cited in Mordechai Berachot 80). There is debate between the poskim (authorities of Jewish law) 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.

    Do you follow that ban on the female singing voice? If so, how do you handle your admiration for, and listening to, Lady Gaga and Madonna and The Secret Sisters and Karen Elson and so on?

    1. Hi David,

      The difference between a live performance and any kind of recorded performance, video or otherwise, is that you don’t make the same person to person intimate connection when you are listening to a tape as when you are face to face with the singer.

      Similarly, when you have a group of people singing and you can’t pinpoint who is singing what, you don’t have the same sense of intimacy.

          1. David,

            We can listen to female children singing because we do not consider the singing of children to be sexual.

            I don’t know if I would say that she is banned from being heard singing (live), but rather that we as men are banned from listening — after all, women may listen to other women singing.

          2. Understood. I’m just asking for the age when a singing female is no longer allowed to be listened to by Jewish men because, it seems, the intention of the singing becomes sexualized by the men instead of just being entertaining, right?