Friday, April 1, 2011

Shabbat Shalom! The Tznius and Prejudice Edition

Happy April Fools' Day! Assuming you can call it a happy day. Personally, I'm not a fan because I'm a gullible person. Remembering that it's April Fools' Day is half the battle: I'm going to assume every person is a liar today.

Fridays have apparently become my soapbox day, where I write about whatever's on my mind.

Today, tznius is on my mind. The weather is getting warmer in California (yay!), which means that my tznius clothing is getting hotter (boo!). I've always been a very modest (aka, bodily self-conscious) dresser, so dressing tzniusly wasn't as big of a change as I had expected.

Honestly, my new concern with the heat makes no sense. I began dressing tzniusly full-time (as a conscious decision) last April, so I've dealt with the sweltering hot summer already. (Last summer had many days with 110+ degree weather!) I don't know why I'm worrying about this when I know better. I'll be just fine, despite the disbelief of my skin-bearing friends. I wondered whether anyone would notice or whether I would look unusual in the hot California weather in my sweater sets. Because it is relevant, you should know that I dress to a pretty strict tznius level: elbows covered, high necklines, and skirts below the knees and with no slits. (However, pantyhose are evil.)

So all this had me thinking, particularly when combined with a potential shomer negiah mindfield today. It didn't come up today, but people are often surprised that I am shomer negiah or purposely dressing tzniusly. (A key piece of advice: You don't have to be a jerk about it!) I thought about how differently people might treat me if I were male, and thus, wore a kippah (yarmulke) as I became observant. I think I would be viewed very differently on campus. Being on a law school campus and in professional employment, my tznius wardrobe isn't out of place at all. My classmates generally think I'm coming from work, and approximately 90% of my wardrobe is fine for business casual use. How would things be different if I lived a less "professional" lifestyle? I thought these changes would be huge, but they've been a blip on the radar. Your mileage can, and will, vary.

Perhaps as a reaction to these thoughts about how different things could be, I've worn my star of David to work for the first time this week. Normally, I avoid wearing anything to work that would identify me as a Jew in order to avoid any prejudices my clients may have. After all, a lawyer (and future lawyer) should appear neutral, and I have to do whatever I can to inspire my clients' trust. There's no reason to unnecessarily alienate a client based upon his or her prejudices. (On the other hand, do I really want the business of someone who hates me? I suppose I won't be able to be picky as a new lawyer.) As a future professional, I've seriously considered keeping my English name and maiden name as my professional name simply because it inspires little prejudice. It's even gender neutral! (Of course, already being published under that name is also a serious reason to keep it as a professional name.) These are the dilemmas that converts face, I suppose.

On the other hand, while my appearance and behavior isn't considered unusual in my school and employment, I was asked in Starbucks in NYC where the boundaries of the eruv are. From the perspective of another orthodox Jew, this total stranger looked like someone who would know the local eruv. To be fair, even though I don't live in the area, I could still answer the question :D

All very interesting to think about. To me, anyway. Perspective is everything, folks.

In other news, Pesach cleaning isn't going so well. Chametz eating, on the other hand, is going quite well. After several weeks, my appetite is finally back and the stress nausea is gone.

Shabbat shalom!


  1. All of your friends (I expect, unless you number a T-880 which has lost its organic covering among them) any you yourself are skin bearing. Some of your friends may also be skin-baring, while you yourself refrain from that in public.

  2. As for appearances, I suspect you know there are no absolute answers. One of our ER physicians is a frum, black hat and suit wearing Jew (on Shabbat) who does not wear a kippa or tzitzit out when working. I, on the other hand, wear a kippah in the ER and on flight duty. (Tzitzit can't be worn out of the flightsuit anyway.) Both work. You also have to consider time and place in such decisions. Personally, I can't see how you'd lose out by *not* wearing a bit of Jewish jewelry. There is lots of precedent, for instance, for men not covering their heads when 'in public'. As many frum professionals as I know, they split pretty evenly on what they choose to do. And some folks make compromises of their own in interesting ways. My wife often wears pants to work, yet always covers her hair with a hat or wig (more often a wig).

    As for your name, that one too has adherents on both sides. My wife, for instance, uses her English name professionally. I think her justification was it's easier to pronounce and appears on her diplomas and publications; but I suspect that it also makes her a tad less self-conscious in some circumstances. In any case, it makes sense to professionally use what appears on your papers. Nothing wrong with that. Your colleagues will figure out a nickname soon enough. And everyone at work certainly knows she's Jewish, since they have to cover for her during 'call' on Shabbat and Yom Tov. If you're lucky as she has been, you may well have colleagues who respect your religious identity and needs, and show it. It is very cute when they start pushing her out the door late on a Friday, knowing that she has to be 'home before sundown'. I had a frum Baptist charge nurse who always checked during the night to ensure that I had time to pray the evening service.

    These issues are, as you see, shared by many Jews; not only converts. BTW, you'll also have to decide what to do with your name (family name, at least) when you marry.

  3. As a man who wears a yarmulke to work, I think it would be really annoying not to. My understanding is that a Jewish man can't recite berachos or eat and drink with his head uncovered, so every time you want to eat or drink, you would have to put the yarmulke on. Also, there's a beracha after using the bathroom called "Asher Yatzar," and you would have to find a way to cover your head every time you needed to recite it.

  4. For me, the hardest part of tznius is not going mixed swimming, which basically means I don't go swimming. It also makes vacations less fun, as every hotel has a pool, and those pools usually look very inviting.

  5. The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

    I just got a tzanua swim suit! It's designed and made by a woman named Marci Rapp, who calls her company Mar-Sea. It has a tank-type under shirt (she can't put bra cup longsleeve items) that has a 3/4 length sleeve jacket, a pair of long shorts, and a skirt that fits over it. This sounds cumbersome, but it isn't, the fabric is light and her color selections are beautiful. You can SWIM in it too! She also has dress-style tunics made of similarly unobtrusive fabrics that you can swim in with your regular suit underneath.

    This has changed my life, although I find that. while I no longer grouse to myself about not being able to go swimming, I do find myself grousing about not being able to get to the pool...

    Seriously though, the outfit is great. I canctually walk home from the pool in my suit.

    It still doesn't solve the problem of not being able to go swimming with my husband, but as you can see, I have no problem thinking of the disadvantages to any solution.

  6. As a lawyer, letting people know you're Jewish generally only helps in this profession.

  7. I'm a consultant, and I wear a Chai or Mogen David during the week of Passover, from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, and from Chanukkah through Christmas (the last as sort of a signpost not to wish me a "Merry Christmas").

    I, too have wondered from time to time whether proclaiming myself Jewish through my jewelry would be a problem. So far, it hasn't been.

    Also, it's not unusual for me to eat with clients, which I bet will come up for you as a lawyer as well. Although I don't insist on a kosher restaurant, I don't eat pork, or shellfish, or meat with dairy, and I don't eat leavened foods on Passover. So it does come up.

    It was particularly obvious, I thought, when I had lunch with a client in a port town, where everything was seafood, (which I can't eat at all because I'm allergic to kosher fish and I don't eat non-kosher fish), plus it was Passover, so I couldn't eat the bread, which didn't leave me with a whole lot of menu choices.

    Again, it wasn't a problem, but then I live in California where people are pretty used to diversity.

    Best wishes to you in making choices that work well for you.

  8. Solution for summer heat and the modest woman: Linen and cotton. Baring skin does not necessarily make one cooler - just ask the Saudis. Besides, it's not classy to wear tank tops and halter tops and thigh bearing minis. It just isn't. We represent Hashem in this world and to the best of our ability we should dress modestly. You'll be rewarded for it.

    1. Who cares that it's "classy", though? It can look good, and long skirts also aren't considered classy in some places since roma wear it. "Classy" is more bigoted than anything.