By Nison Gordon, z’l
Translated by P. Samuels
Translator’s Note: The following is a translation of an article written by Nison Gordon, z’l, probably in Der Morgen Journal. The clipping came to us without a date. While trying to get information as to when this took place, I contacted the venue, The Brooklyn Academy of Music. They had a flood in 1977, so all rental records prior to that date were lost. I finally tracked down someone who was an 11th-grader in 1969 when this rally took place. She told me that it was quite impressive, as there hadn’t been too many mass meetings of religious Jews at that time. She also remembered that Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan, a’h, the legendary founder of the first Bais Yaakov high school and seminary, was another featured speaker. If any reader has any more information, please contact the editor.
Tzniyus is usually translated as “modesty.” It also encompassesÂ distancing oneself from anything that can be construed as immoral or provocative.
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A study in contrasts took place in New York last Monday. Two diverse groups, more different and distant in philosophy and outlook than east and west, both took action against the newest styles. In New York, the Screen Actors Guild held a press conference to protest against some immoral ways they were forced to act as part of their jobs. They must be depraved if it invoked the ire of the actors who in effect are complaining of heat after they are to blame for igniting the fire.
At the same time, in Brooklyn, a group of around 5,000 religious Jewish high-school girls attended what was dubbed a Tzniyus Rally held in the Brooklyn Academy of Music. They met to affirm that they will not be talked into wearing the newly stylish short skirts, which, as was explained at length, is contrary to all the laws of modesty. The yetzer ha’ra sits in Paris and from his perch there, tries to corrupt the world.
That 5,000 American-born young ladies, from the most religious schools in the New York area and surrounding communities, attended this rally is praiseworthy. It shows that the true religious education is not just limited to the boys and young men, but emphasis is also placed on raising well-informed, devout young ladies. These young ladies can be considered equal in religious devotion and knowledge to the women of their mothers’ and grandmothers’ generation.
The main point of this rally was to strengthen themselves and each other in their resolve not to be swept along with the flow, and not be influenced by current fashions. Not one of the speakers attempted to sugarcoat the message with fancy phrases and euphemisms. They quite bluntly called today’s styles ugly and immodest.
As the girls entered the auditorium of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, they were handed a leaflet signed by nine prominent rabbinical personalities. Some are rabbis with large followings. Some are heads of major educational institutions. The leaflet was titled “A Call to All Observant Jewish Women and Girls” and it was written in Hebrew and in English. Following is a translation of the leaflet.
The tzniyusdik clothing that a Jewish woman wears serves as her crown of glory. Thanks to her tzniyusdik manner of dress, she merits to have the Shechinah (spirit of Hashem) rest in her home, while raising worthy, devout generations. Those who keep the laws of tzniyus scrupulously merit having their attire considered loftier than the golden vestments of the Kohen Gadol (high priest). (See Rashi on Tehillim 45. Folio14.)
On the other hand, a woman who wears provocative clothing, besides losing out on the above mentioned lofty attainments, is considered not only to sin herself, but to be the cause of others’ sins, for which she will be punished. She may also be the cause, chas v’shalom, of the Shechinah turning away from the Jewish people. As it states: “That Hashem should not see any abomination which would cause him to turn away from you.”
Lately, this anathema has appeared in the most devout homes, with the unfortunate appearance of short clothing.
It’s the responsibility of every Jewish woman to wear clothing that does not expose the knee at all, whether while walking or while sitting. It’s also the duty of every husband and father to make sure that their family is not lured into wearing short clothing, chas v’shalom. Thus you will merit, as the pasuk states, “And your camp shall be holy.” You shall be rewarded with G—d-fearing, sincere children, well-versed in Torah, and diligent in the observance of mitzvos.
We are also appealing to the heads of our religious girls’ schools to be firm in this battle and not allow their students to come to school in short clothing. Thus they will realize that it is forbidden.
In the merit of observing tzniyus and the holiness of the Jewish people, may we merit, soon, to see the coming of Mashiach.
The leaflet was signed by the following dignitaries: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, rosh yeshiva of Tiferes Yerushalayim; Rabbi Mordechai Shlomo Friedman, Boyaner Rebbe; Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok HaLevi Ruderman, rosh yeshiva Ner Yisroel in Baltimore; Rabbi Shmuel Ehrenfeld, Mattesdorfer Rav; Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, rosh yeshiva Torah Vodaath; Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam, Bobover Rebbe; Rabbi Yosef Grunwald, Pupa Rebbe; Rabbi Yosef Breuer and Rabbi Shimon Schwab of the Frankfurter Congregation in Washington Heights.
These prominent rabbis would not have signed such a letter, nor would the rebbetzins who head the seminaries and high schools have organized such a rally, if the new short styles would not have begun appearing in our homes and neighborhoods.
The issue of the rally for tzniyus was taken so seriously, that they actually had a rebbetzin fly in all the way from London to address the gathering. Rebbetzin Yehudis Schlesinger, a well-educated, erudite speaker, flew in last Sunday evening, and left after the rally to be back home in time for Shavuos. Rebbetzin Schlesinger is the daughter of Rav Moshe Blau, zt’l, who was the head of the Jerusalem branch of Agudas Yisroel prior to 1948. Her husband, Reb Elyokim Schlesinger, a rosh yeshiva, is a grandson of Reb Yaakov Rosenheim, zt’l, who served for many years as worldwide president of the Agudah.
The girls were deeply impressed by Rebbetzin Schlesinger. The combination of her Jerusalem-style tzniyusdik clothing, her calm London demeanor, and her charming British accent awed the American girls. When a CBS TV reporter with a camera asked for permission to film her speech, she categorically refused, saying that filming her would be the antithesis of tzniyus.
The rally was attended by students of Beth Jacob, Beth Rivkah (Lubavitch), Bais Ruchel (Satmar), Breuer High School from Washington Heights, Torah Academy for Girls from Far Rockaway (TAG), and the girls’ school of the Pupa congregation from Williamsburg. Members of Bnos Agudas Yisroel as well as girls from the religious schools in Monsey, NY, Baltimore, and New Jersey also took part.
One of the speakers asked the girls rhetorically what they would do if a style would require wearing a piece of shatnez (a combination of wool and linen, which is forbidden by the Torah).
“I want you to know,” she exclaimed with pathos in her voice “that wearing a short dress is a thousand times worse than wearing shatnez!” The girls sat and listened to the speeches with the same seriousness that a yeshiva student shows when listening to a Mussar speech from his rebbe.
The girls did not hide their satisfaction in the knowledge that the greatest minds of our era understand and sympathize with the trials and temptations of their generation. They were also gratified to see that theirs is not the only school whose students dress in a tzniyusdik manner. [Translator’s note: At that time the only schools that had required official uniforms were the Catholic schools.] They actually realized that they are part of a group adhering to the tradition of “Kol kevudah bas melech penimah”–the honor of a princess is expressed by not being in the limelight. [Translator’s note: The whole concept of tzniyus is encapsulated in these five words.]
How do you think this rally ended? Were the girls given a treat of ice-cream cones? Did they even break out in a lively dance–tzniyusdik, of course? No. The girls, with utmost concentration, recited chapter 20 of Tehillim–Ya’ancha Hashem b’eis tzarah–Hashem should answer your prayers when you are having difficulties in your life. This chapter is customarily said on behalf of an ill person.
They davened for a speedy recovery for the ills of today’s youth, who have abandoned all semblance of decency, while beseeching Hashem that at least they should not be afflicted by those same ills.