My Skirt is My Korban Todah

Today I’m wearing a new skirt. That isn’t really enough of a subject for a column except that this particular skirt is long, falling well below my knees, midcalf. Rather than slinky, it’s got substance, wide flaring pleats and in this age of impossibly flimsy ladies wear, a real honest to goodness lining.

My fashionable self would call it retro, something that might have been worn on the Vassar campus in the fifties, but that isn’t why I bought it. I bought it because its tsniusdig, Glatt Kosher 100 per cent okay according to all Rabbinical opinions.

This skirt is my Korban Todah (thankfulness offering), my own way of saying thank you to the Ribono Shel Olom for certain favors He’s done for me. I’ve been told, that tsnius is the ultimate women’s mitzvah, the point of her ultimate testing. Frankly, it hasn’t been my strong point. Ever since I ditched my blue jeans back in the mid eighties, I’ve been at war with myself, over my image about how I want to look. Tsniusdig, yes, of course, but not overly so because that would be frumpy, frumak, Farchnyucked, Yachne.

For years, I walked on a tightrope between the two, until now buying clothes that were good enough, just barely kosher, not kosher lemehadrin. Why? I didn’t buy foods with dubious hechsherim. Why was I letting myself be so sloppy with this. It just didn’t make a lot of sense to let a few inches of fabric come between me and the Ribono Shel Olom.

Today I put the skirt on for the very first time, as is. There was no need for alterations because it was perfect as is and now I’m wearing it. It fits nicely. No reason why tsniusdig can’t mean pretty but so far nobody has noticed, not my husband until I pointed it out to him, not my next door neighbor who came by to borrow an electric pump, not my upstairs neighbor, and not the young mother of my son’s classmate whom I passed as she was pushing her baby carriage down the block. Not anyone I met at the grocery store either. Not at the vegetable bins, the canned goods section, the dairy case. As the matter stands, no one in my 100 per cent orthodox neighborhood has seen fit to compliment me on my brand new 100 per cent tsniusdig skirt.

And I desperately want somebody to say something nice. This is a major step in my life— as big as a beginning BT walking away from a Big Mac and I want it to be acknowledged. Not with fireworks, a parade, a hand coming down from heaven. All I need is a good word and a smile.

The silence makes me worry. Maybe my fashion sense was off. Maybe the skirt is really ugly. Maybe I should skip this frummy stuff and go back to my old way. This is the sitra achra, I tell myself, that undertow of negativity that bubbles up whenever we undertake some small improvement. I give myself a pep talk.

Yes, you are doing the right thing standing up for modesty in a world where Britany Spears and Beyonce rule. No you don’t need a 100 gun salute or a Congressional Medal of Honor or a Nobel Prize and besides you are getting one in shomayim.

But deep down, I still don’t believe it. I still want someone to notice me. Oh Hashem, please I beg, A compliment. A good word.

Toward evening I meet my friend Pearly. Pearly with her nose ring and tattoo, (hennaed and temporary, thank G-d, not the permanent assur kind). Pearly who spends her Shabboses walking her dogs in the park.

“New skirt,” she asks. “C’mon then. Give it a turn. Very nice,” and then she smiles.

Originally Posted Jun 25, 2008

34 comments on “My Skirt is My Korban Todah

  1. Ah, maybe it’s a Conservative/Orthodox difference–plenty of 30something Conservative men do chat about this sort of stuff (except #1) at shul kiddushes, or while keeping an eye on the children at the playground after kiddush (though I’ve seen a few of the Modern Orthodox guys joining in the conversation at the playground).

  2. To anon #31: No, it’s not something out of the Brady Bunch or Ozzie and Harriet. Drop in on a group of young Orthodox Jewish mothers following a Shabbos shiur or a gala Kiddush at shul (the ones inside the ring of strollers) and listen in on the conversation for about fifteen minutes. I guarantee you it will somehow swing around to one of the following topics:
    1) hours of hard back labor endured on the last childbirth;
    2) number of months before the youngest child was completely out of diapers;
    3) best pareve frozen dessert recipe;
    4) practical solutions for not losing little boys’ yarmulkes, socks and Crocs;
    5) practical solutions for washing out Tzitzis without making them Posul;
    6) best challah dough recipe;
    7) suggestions for cheaply entertaining kids who whine that they’re going to be bored (not that they’re presently bored: they’re worried now that they are GOING TO BE bored; there is a difference).

    Of course, such mundane topics of conversation do gain a measure of sanctity in that they are usually free of Lashon Hara and R’chilus and Onaas D’vorim (although it may be incredibly painful listening for any woman struggling through fertility issues). I’m not putting down this kind of conversation; I’ve been one of the most enthusiastic participants in “veibishe talk.” However, I can’t imagine most Orthodox Jewish men participating in this kind of conversation; they’re usually better off tackling a sugya in the Daf Yomi.

  3. @Judy R

    Maybe a generational thing? I’m 30 and my experience is like wife’s. Yours sounds to me like something from TV and movies.

  4. To wife #29: I must be living in a community filled with male misogynists and female misanthropists, or maybe it’s just that everybody can’t stand everyone else.

    My experience has been that when a group of young frum women get together and start talking about their childbirth and toilet training experiences, any male in the vicinity rolls his eyeballs and walks off in disgust.

    Ditto for when a bunch of frum guys get together and start talking about the World Series and the Super Bowl: all the women walk away, even those with some interest in sports.

    Yes, I’ve been in the working world among men and women who talk to each other, but there really are gender differences in what men and women casually talk about.

    I can remember in court once hearing the judge and the government attorney (both men) talking about their fantasy football teams, while I stood there bored and totally out of it.

    On another occasion, when we were all women, (judge, govt atty, me, client and translator) we started talking about the really great pair of shoes that the govt atty was wearing. (They were very attractive and fashionable). Now seriously, when do you ever hear men talking about a pair of shoes?

    Of course, if there’s a really important neighborhood issue (a popular educator leaves town; a new shul opens up; a local rabbi is giving a Kashrus shiur motzaei Shabbos), it will be talked about by everyone.

  5. Judy, why do you think that ‘men and women don’t really talk to each other even in the non-Jewish outside world’ or that ‘men hate listening to women talk, and women hate listening to men talk’?

    My experience (as a woman who lives in a mixed neighborhood, and works in a secular environment), is that men and woman have a great deal to talk about–many women follow sports nowadays, many men are interested in cooking, both men and women talk about their children’s activities and how they coordinate them, both men and women talk about their home maintence issues, road construction, bus and train problems, civic issues, and so forth!

  6. Reading this 2008 ‘blog entry, recently republished by Beyond BT, I found my first-reaction thought in the 2nd paragraph of Sam (#3)’s response. Tznius means _not_ calling attention to yourself, so why would a tzanua be disappointed, rather than sameach b’chelqah, at a lack of reaction to something she’s specifically doing under the label of tznius?!

  7. I would disagree with shmuel’s comment of four years ago, #26. A woman CEO or judge or Congressperson dresses with Tznius because that allows others to focus on her knowledge and intellect rather than on her physical attributes. The “Dress For Success” guides all recommend long skirts, high necklines and long sleeves for professional women out in the business world, in order that their abilities should be what gets noticed, not anything else.

    Certainly it is vitally important that women should learn Torah, not to prove equality with men, but because Our Creator wants us all to find out how to become better Jews.

    As far as “casual conversation with the opposite sex” goes, men and women don’t really talk to each other even in the non-Jewish outside world. Men discuss the latest news about their favorite sports teams, and women talk about shopping and diets and fashions. IMHO, men hate listening to women talk, and women hate listening to men talk. The genders tend to naturally separate even when there are no religious or cultural barriers.

  8. Shmuel Simenowitz, I’m not sure what community you are from but in most of the charedi world chassidic or litvish there is a strong social taboo against men and women engaging in causal conversation with the opposite sex. Even if some more modern communities this is the case. But that is not even what I’m concerned about. I’m concerned about the fact the by emphasing tznius above all else, we are teaching girls that they should not only dress in a way so as not to be noticable but also that she should not display their knowledge or intellect. This devalues the tremendous importance of women learning.

  9. Kol Hakavod AI! as Sam mentioned there is something alsmost Paradoxical about tsnuis – it’s like the Hounds of Baskerville (or is it The Hounds of Brisketville:) – the twist was that the hounds DIDN’T bark – the fact that no one commented was actually the biggest compliment you could have gotten!
    shmuel’s concern that women will become “invisible” not just in dress but in all respects is a bit much. We read “Al tarbeh sicha im haisha” “don’t engage excessively in conversation with women” – in chassiduc we explain that to mean dnot to dwell on the womanness aspect – thus while conversations socially with women are not frowned upon, there is certainly nothing ever resembling flirting or complimenting one on one’s dress, hair, nails, etc. The tsnius far from marginalizing the woman, actually frees her up from the fetters of fashion (take that all you nattering nabobs of negativity) and allows her to fulfill her potential.
    My daughter’s school had a vote as to whether the girls should wear uniforms – the vote was 27-1 against (Tova was the lone voice in favor)
    B’H next year, they’ve instituted the uniform! Mah rabu ma’asecha!

  10. thanx for your honesty abt grappling w/ the concept of modesty, Jaded. I think alot of people don’t fully get it, while accepting the fact that Halacha is wiser than them and is emphatic abt it!

    u said ealier: “Clothing is so minor a variable in the attraction equation.” As debatable as that may be, surely ur letting us know, in connection to many of ur other comments, abt a powerful need to be appreciated on a deep level. Thank u for that. I agree that w/ all this emphasis on surface religiosity, the deeper religiousity gets neglected or even forgotten, ch”v.

    The trick, I believe, is to view this whole business thru our author’s paradigm of a Korban. Just like the Korban is not the ikkar of av’ H’, but the begginning, so too our clothing and derech Eretz and even basic discipline to daven on time and not eat treif, etc, is all meant as a spring board for chovot HaLevavot (heart level Service).

    The problem is that the heart contains both Yeiters. Hence we need the Kobanos to purge us of the lower stuff SO THAT WHEN WE DO GIVE OF OUR HEARTS, ONLY THE DIVINE WILL EMERGE.

    So speaketh yy.

  11. Ron, “agreements” are the building blocks for tortious interference with prospective skeptic/ anti orthodox/anti modesty growth claims.

    Bas Yisroel, I used to read stories like that, I don’t know how to anymore.

    Yy , I’m not that agreeable these days ;-)

    Anxious Ima, I wasn’t suggesting that my pants & skirts & sequined tank tops dress-code was better/trendier and smarter than your skirts only dress-code. It’s just that I don’t really understand the concept of modesty very well.

  12. “Sometimes a post can just be enjoyed”

    As I imagine Jaded and Ron would say: Agreed!

    Yet s-o-m-e-t-i-m-e-s… a friendly, Toradig microscope does wonders!

  13. Okay, what I will say is this. Anxious Ima wrote this nice little story that happened to her, and it doesn’t need to be examined under the microscope and picked apart. Sometimes a post can just be enjoyed, that’s all I am saying.

  14. amazing how certain topics stimulate wild associations. Obviously one function of this blog is in providing a format for commentators to interract – hopefully in a constuctive and meaningful spirit of Torah – but not necssarily in direct relation to the post.

    Bas, be careful with such wide open accusations, as diplomatic as they first appear. “some of you”? “too much”? “chill out”?

    If you can’t pin it down, don’t say it!

  15. Bas Yisroel ,

    “chill out” , in this weather ?


    “Agree” is a great word. It was the name of a Shampoo line when I was a kid. When used in a sentence, It’s just got this refreshing/congenial/ non-condescending / resolution like ring to it.

    I generally find that the word “Agree” just radiates with these vivid vibes of versatile flexibility and cordial like niceties , while still affording the stance being taken, the coveted state of crystal sheer ambiguity.

  16. Very sweet little story. Some of you are reading into it too much, we need to chill out sometimes.

  17. Ron,

    “in my jaded opinion” should have preceded my opinion.I staunchly stand by my opinions and starched stances. I also never allow any circular, jocular and or rhetorical attitudes and platitudes to step on them unecessarily.

  18. Anxious Ima, I just want to give you three cheers! Tzniut is hard to keep in our society, especially in the summer, and “according to the difficulty is the reward”. Be assured, even if you don’t hear comments from people, Hashem is taking note of what you are doing. More power to you!

  19. I agree w/ David. Pearly is quite the heroine.

    Yet there is a nagging feeling (as A-I did such a good job of insinuating between the lines) that the big Korban Reciever in the sky was using her to teach even deeper lessons than the author let on to:

    1) An apparent “rechoka” was Chosen as a “mekarev.” I.e. NEVER judge a Yid by her cover. Certainly not a friendly one.

    2) Tsnius is NOT only about clothing. While A-I did such an excellent job in sharing with us her process in not letting a few inches of fabric make a Mechitza between her and her Maker, she was nonetheless exposing the fact that EMOTIONALLY she was suffering from non-tsniusitis. That H’ had to send her a non-tsnius lady to attend to her emotionally (which WAS a chessed) seems to signal that there may still be an uphill battle until internalizing the spirit of tsnius.

    3) We all need peer support, but especially BT’s trying to change their ski.

    As for Shmuel’s and Jaded’s concern over tsnius fixations stifling deeper female religious experiences, they’ve got a point – like with EVERY fixation. But as others are pointing out, Halacha teaches that it is an indispensable passageway.

    A woman growing in Torah without bona fide attention to tsnius is like doing the spirit of Shabbos with a Melacha. Or in the lashon of chaz”l: dunking in a Mikvah with a reptile!

  20. The other side of the coin is that there are women who want to make these changes quietly and with as little external commotion as possible. We can’t really blame people who might not say anything for fear of the comment being unwelcome.

    I remember when I first chose to cover my hair (with a hat). I was already working in an office with frum men, and was actually hoping they wouldn’t say anything and just let me blend in. But one of them did—he said he noticed that I began covering my hair and wanted to thank me. I guess it was OK, since he introduced the idea to me that I was actually helping him, by covering my hair.

  21. Shmuel, you may very well have a good point in there along with the baggage, but it is not necessary to devalue AI’s experience by relegating it to a “fitting in” issue. Her essay is an expression of her bona fide understanding of an important part of Yiddishkeit, and of what particular, personal tests she has to pass in order to realize her spiritual goals. It is not fair for you to demean her accomplishment by tarring it with the brush of “mere integration.”

  22. While as a BT I understand the tremendous relief that one feels when the finally feel like they simply “fit” into the frum community I also find this post and some of the messages somewhat disturbing. For starters the notion that, “tsnius is the ultimate women’s mitzvah, the point of her ultimate testing.” Is not only wrong it is harmful.

    Out of a fear disconnected from reality some in Frum world have prioritized Tzniut, as the main Mitzvah for women, above nearly all else. This has little to do with halacha and or Torah ideals and more with a fear that modern views regarding women will infiltrate the frum world. Therefore certain people are the main goal of a woman should be to be as invisible as possible not just in dress but in all areas of life. This stifles the religious experience open to women and will ultimately be counterproductive.

    Though tzniut is important is should also be one mitzvah among men emphasizing Torah ideals such as learning will enable women to have a far greater ranger of religious experiences and will bring more people to orthodoxy.

  23. It’s just as hard to be a good disciplined person in skirts and no plunging neckline as it is to be disciplined in pants and a plunging neckline or a skirt and a plunging neckline.

    Jaded, even accepting this as true — and you know me, I hate assertions like these without solid metrics! — you are making the mistake of ignoring the effect of a woman’s dress on the other people around her.

    Ima, remember, half the frum world is unlikely to say anything at all, because it’s of questionable propriety for men even to notice, much less comment. So give yourself a break — you’re way ahead of the game!

    Pearly sounds like a keeper, by the way!

  24. My pants of all threads stripes and colors styles are my Korbon Todah.
    So are my skirts of many colors.
    I have a lot to thank G-d for these days.
    I’ve come to understand, that it’s so not the material you wear in life that matters most.
    Temptation is always around the corner and in the most surprising of places.
    And definitely doesn’t discriminate when it comes to clothing.
    Clothing is so minor a variable in the attraction equation.
    I have no idea why many think otherwise.
    It’s just as hard to be a good disciplined person in skirts and no plunging neckline as it is to be disciplined in pants and a plunging neckline or a skirt and a plunging neckline.
    The pink sequined tank top, the one I’ve been I’ve been waiting since forever to go on sale, I’m going purchase that today after work- Wednesday’s in remembrance of the Korbon Minchah and when I used to do minchah.
    Maybe I will then merit a front row seat at a nearby talmud n lunch learning group or something.

  25. Great post! I would suggest that a contemporary understanding of the Hashkafa of Tznius is that it demands that men and women view each other as people and deobjectifies them solely on the basis of a superficial physical attraction that cannot be the basis of a lasting relationship.

  26. I don’t have much knowledge of what goes on in the higher realms, but I’m willing to bet that the heavens are taking notice of your choice and are bubbling with excitement.

    Another thought that came to mind is that Tznius is about not drawing attention to what should be private. As humans we do want to be recognized, but isn’t it contradictory to be expecting people to notice and pay attention to that which you’re hiding and not drawing attention to? Maybe the fact that your actions are not noteworthy to those around you is the greatest testimony to its level of Tznius! I actually know of a woman (OK it was my wife) who in her youth made the decision to sew up the slits in her skirts. The day she ventured out with her non-slitted skirt she was HOPING NO ONE would notice. To her chagrin a friend of hers commented on her skirts and it did make her new choice a bit more difficult. That might just be a matter of personality, but I think it’s a perspective to consider.

    Congratulations on this step forward, but you don’t need my approval – you’ve already stormed the heavens with your Korban Todah!

  27. Maybe no one in the ‘hood complimented you (except for Pearly), but I’d like to take this opportunity to say Yasher Koach! As women, fashion is a big part of our identity. It makes a statement about who we are and how we comport ourselves. I’ve followed much the same path as you have – it’s always amusing to watch the sleeve transition when I look at my children’s baby albums.

    It’s always amusing to me about how, every few years, the mainstream world seems to follow our sense of style. Last year in particular, 3/4 sleeves were very in style (although not necessarily with appropriate necklines, but we’re good at layering). A few years back, boho skirts, loose and long, were in.

    Back in the late ’80’s I attended an OU Convention, and still recall Rabbi Ralph Pelcovitz talking about how the secular world has often followed the frum world in terms of style. At that time, black stockings were in vogue, and he pointed out that prior to that change in style, only frum women ever thought of wearing them. And now our look belonged to the masses.

  28. superb!

    A-I, I’m impressed by your increasingly pointed, edifying and of course well-written pieces. Your honest effort to stare down the sitra achra within and share the wealth of your insights is inspiring and encouraging.

    But then again, I wouldn’t want you to take this as too quick a complement from a fellow frumie! Apparently the nisayon of having to rely on Shomaym’s smile is serving you well.

    “to let a few inches of fabric come between me and the Ribono Shel Olom.” – wonderful line. HaRav Bulman zts”l once said something similar to a fine lady who was interviewing with her husband to join his community in Migdal HaEmek.

    They had been travelling in more moderfn circles and respectively had not been challenged on the fact of her shirtsleeves going slightly above her elbows. The Rav explained that they’d be very welcome in the community but would need to be clear about keeping all the Halachic standards, incl shirtsleeves. She balked.

    “Isn’t that a little picayune?,” she genuinely questioned. “I am, afterall, very tsanua in all other ways.”

    “I agree”, replied the Rav. “But Halacha is wiser than us….”

    Then he smiled and held up his index finger and thumb, saying: “you know, there’s only THIS much holding you back!”

    She told me that story at his first Yahrzeit (coming again soon, in Tammuz). She said it made a giant difference in her Tshuva process.

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