Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lessons in true Tzniut from a non-Jewish waitress

A friend forwarded a video (see below) of an "April Fool's" prank. But it wasn't so much a prank as a show of appreciation - and a "boost" - for someone who really deserved it. The woman, Chelsea Roff, is a struggling waitress who has supported her baby sister from the time she was a little girl, battled a severe eating disorder, and now runs a non-profit yoga center for helping other women overcome eating disorders. In the video, she is showered with lavish gifts from "customers" over the course of a shift - only to discover that the whole thing was set up by her friends. One of the first thoughts that came to my mind after watching it: Wow, that's tzniut.

The frum world tends to think about tzniut (modesty) in terms of skirt length and collar buttons. By that measure, Chelsea in her sleeveless shirt would hardly be held as a model of tzniut. She'd be looked down upon in many circles as crude and immodest, and in fact she'd potentially be in danger if she walked through certain "modesty-obsessed" communities in Israel dressed like that.

And yet Chelsea's whole demeanor bespeaks tzniut of a much more profound variety. She walks without the slightest air of self-importance or ego, without vanity or sexual provocativeness. She encounters gifts, appreciation and attention with a distinct feeling of awkwardness, a sense of "Me? I don't deserve all this." And that, I submit, is a sign of true modesty.

Compare that to the (unfortunately not small number of) frum Jews who walk around with the sense that the entire cosmos revolves around them, with a feeling (and indeed a whole religious philosophy) of superiority over non-Jews, a sense of arrogance in the absolute certainty that they're fulfilling the will of the Creator, whereas everyone else basically doesn't have a clue, is at best ultimately meant to serve them, and at worst is subject to Hashem's "wrath upon the nations". I don't care how many frocks or hats or sheitels you have on or how many buttons you have buttoned - if you think you're "the stuff" and everyone else is just "chaff", then not only do you not know what real modesty is about - you've turned the very concept on its head.


  1. Well that's the real challenge of tznius, being both modest in appearance and in behaviour. But which is more important? I'd say behaviour.

    1. Especially since clothing is much more culture-dependent rather than something which is either "modest" or "immodest" innately.

  2. Thank you for sharing the video and the good essay.