Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is Blogging Tzniusdik?

There's a question going around the Jewish social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook): Is blogging tzni'usdik?* It seems to me that the question shows a misunderstanding of blogging but a good understanding of tzeni'us.

Blogging is a generic term for a medium and does not describe the written content. For example, you can blog about economics or about your dating life. The former is perfectly tzni'usdik, the latter might not be if too explicit. Blogging can be done in many different styles and about many different topics. I can't see how anyone can make a general statement about blogging without differentiating between topics and style. Content is what counts.

Click here to read moreRegarding tzeni'us, however, I find the question perceptive. Tzeni'us is not just about how much skin a woman is showing. As R. Jack Abramowitz writes, in his recently published The Tzniyus Book (pp. 19-20):

Literally, tzniyus means "hidden." The meaning is that certain things are private. Not dirty or shameful, but private. Privacy is a good thing and an important thing...

Similarly, tzniyus means more than just the secular concepts of modesty and privacy. There are major aspects of modest and privacy to be sure, but tzniyus also includes an aspect of humility and an aspect of dignity. Tzniyus refers not only to dress, but also to speech, actions and comportment.
Tzeni'us is about acting dignified and keeping private matters private. Even if you sit in front of your computer with every single inch of your skin covered with baggy clothes, you can still act un-tzni'usdik if you broadcast private things to the world.

In the book, R. Abramowitz speaks directly to high school girls. I'm not in that demographic so the language and tone was not what I am used to, but I still found it useful. The book addresses all the issues of contention -- girls wearing pants, kol ishah, "negi'ah" and more.

But most importantly, R. Abramowitz doesn't tell you what to do. He allows for different practices in different communities. As he says time and again, there are multiple legitimate ways to observe Judaism. His book is not about setting a standard but about making readers aware of the issues so they can ask their own rabbis. Much of the book consists of quoting primary sources and commenting about their meanings.

For example, how does he deal with the pants issue? He discusses the primary sources, up to recent responsa (in a detailed section that you can skip and then in bullet points for the browser) and then encourages people to follow the halakhic process. He doesn't say "no" to pants and he doesn't say "yes". He says to follow a legitimate halakhic opinion. In another context, he writes (p. 46):
So who's right? All of them, as long as they base their opinions on accepted Torah opinions, the word of the Torah as explained by the Rabbis.
Throughout the book he discusses how tzeni'us applies to both males and females. And most importantly, he continuously emphasizes that tzeni'us is a way of comportment and not just about a dress code. In a sense, this is a feminist book, because it is about tzeni'us empowering women rather than objectifying them.

So what does R. Abramowitz think about the tzeni'us of blogging? He doesn't say, but I suspect he would say that it all depends whether you are putting your private matters into the public domain. If you are -- problem. But if you are just discussing general issues, there's nothing un-tzniusdik about it.

UPDATE: R. Abramowitz sent me the following, in response to my request, about blogging on personal issues:
Tzniyus isn't just about what we wear; it's also about what we say and how we act. Tzniyus is a sense of personal pride and knowing when to keep some things private. Sadly, because of the emotional wall that online communication affords us, many people are comfortable saying things online that they would think twice about before saying in a real-life venue. (It goes without saying that many pictures posted online are not appropriate for the universal access that the Internet facilitates.) Many people have later been "bitten" by their ill-conceived web postings, a fate that could have been avoided with a greater sensitivity to "virtual" tzniyus.

* Tzenius is a noun -- modesty. Tzniusdik is an adjective -- modest.

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