Modesty

Question

What is the basic Jewish idea regarding modesty, especially regarding clothing?

, 11 months

Answers

  1. Modesty is an attitude to life that informs the way we speak, walk, think and dress. It dictates that we not put every quality on display; not flaunt our wealth, beauty or success; and recognize that the inner, spiritual world is more important than the external world. These ideas are mostly overtly expressed in the way we dress.

    Clothing is worn by people all over the world; it distinguishes humans from animals. It testifies to the inner dignity and honor of the human being, who possesses a Divine soul. That is why one Talmudic Sage used to refer to his clothing as that which gives honor.

    Clothing and appearance play important roles in society. They are used to identify the wearer with a particular group or ideology; they may express one’s status in society and they often serve to enhance the wearer’s beauty. When choosing clothing, a person may decide to emphasize the physical self and conceal his or her spiritual essence or to reveal more of the spiritual self by de-emphasizing the physical. The way a person dresses can either send the message, “Look at my body, this is me!” or it can declare, “Listen to what I say, I have spiritual presence.”

    Our clothing affects not only the way others perceive us, but also the way we perceive ourselves. Do we identify primarily as a body (e.g. “The Material Girl” and Jesse “the Body” Ventura) or as a soul with intellect and emotions?

    This is not to suggest that one should dress in an unattractive manner. On the contrary, the Torah instructs always to present a pleasant, neat and dignified appearance. In our interactions with other people, our clothing should serve to focus attention on the face and the personality, not the body.

    As the prophet says, “What does God require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk modestly with your God”? (Micah 6:8)

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team