This appeared on Rabbi Josh Waxman’s site, Parshablog:
Mother In Israel on a sign urging modest dress in Petach Tikvah, and why it bothers her. One misguided (IMHO) commenter advises:
“Don’t feel threatened if you feel that you do your best in your modesty level (for the time being). It’s something you need to be comfortable with too or you might throw it out of the window one day when fed up.”
I think that this commenter unwittingly hits upon the very problem with the sign — the assumption that there are “levels” of modesty, and that women dressing in accordance with a certain “level” are not yet reaching the truly best “level” of tznius. This is just not so. For example, shok be’isha erva, and the shok is either the calf or the thigh. For those who maintain it is the thigh, a woman may wear a knee-length skirt and need no stockings covering the lower leg. And this is the community tznius norm, in some communities. Women who conform to this halachically-based tznius norm are not dressing immodestly. And in keeping with the halachot of tzniut as defined by their poskim and their community, they are at tznius.
It is not that they are tznius “at their level”. Just because other communities follow different piskei halacha such that they reach other conclusions, or just because they developed different communal norms does not mean that those other communities are keeping a better, higher level of tznius. Rather, both communities are following halacha and are tznius. It is not that women with less draconian measures of tznius will some day attain a higher spiritual level and accept the “better” levels of tznius, and the only reason that they don’t now is that it is too much for them.
We wouldn’t say that Ashkenazim are keeping a “higher” level of kashrut on Pesach than Sefardim because they don’t eat kitniyot. We don’t say that mitnagdim are keeping a “higher” level of tefillin by wearing it on chol haMoed Sukkot. The same applies, in many cases, to tznius.
shok be’isha erva: a woman’s calf (or thigh) is considered nakedness)
halachically: related to Jewish law.
mitnagdim: ashkenazi Jews who are not chassidic. Chassidim and mitnagdim have different customs regarding wearing tefillin during the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot.