Strictly Speaking

Jessie Fischbein

My 12-year-old daughter doesn't like to wear socks in the summer. When she became bas mitzvah, she began to scrupulously adhere to hilchos tznius, the laws of modesty. Her sleeves, neckline, and skirt lengths reflect this. But socks are a chumra, a stringency, and she won't wear them.

You cannot imagine the difficulty this is causing in summer plans.

Where can I send my daughter where she can dress according to the standards of halacha and no more, but not come home with a boyfriend? (You may argue that it is possible to be in a co-ed environment and not become romantically involved. I agree that each child is different. I don't want to put my precocious, curious daughter into a co-ed environment and expect "hands off.")

Everywhere is either co-ed, or socks required. She finally found a place that appeared to require only the halachic requirements, and she came home in tears. It turns out that they are required to wear socks that meet the level of the skirt. To console her, she was told that she is serving Hashem.

Is it serving Hashem to be machmir and resentful, rather than adhere to the letter of the law and be relaxed and happy? Do we not have enough difficulty teaching a true concept of tznius to our adolescent young ladies, without imposing extras on them? Can we afford not to make a distinction between halacha and chumra, and only require halacha? Why must we strive for stringencies, and not be satisfied with modest young ladies who focus on inner tznius and dress according to the strict letter of the law?

How is it possible that there is no place for a good, but strictly halachic and not machmir bas Yisroel to go? Why is my daughter being told that sticking to the letter of the law (which is no small struggle for an attractive young lady) is not good enough?

My daughter respects authority and wants to do the right thing. She does not need this kind of pressure. These types of expectations can have a profoundly negative effect on a person's relationship with Hashem.

I had a similar situation with the Daily Halacha email (a wonderful program that sends a daily halacha directly to your inbox), regarding the custom to refrain from marital obligations on Shavuos. This was sent out, not described as a custom, but with the words "one should" refrain.

When I went to look it up (Shulchan Aruch with Mishnah Berura 240:MB7), I read the following: "All of this is only for a person who is full of yirah [awe of Heaven] and will not sin, chas v'shalom – but those whose inclinations are strong on them, and they think it is like an issur Torah, and through this will come, chas v'shalom, to a number of stumbling blocks, it is a mitzvah for them to have relations, even on Rosh Hashanah, since from tzad hadin [the strict letter of the law] it is not forbidden except on Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av and during aveilus (mourning)."

This is a weighty point that the Mishna Berura makes, and we should think deeply about it. If we cannot distinguish between what is forbidden and what is machmir, then this will cause stumbling blocks. Particularly for those who have a strong inclination, if they are told that it is assur, there is a danger of them feeling that the entire Torah is too restrictive and stifling, and they may throw off the entire Torah. Whereas if they were aware of what was chumra and what was tzad hadin, they would not find it too stifling.

"Deracheha darchei noam," that the Torah's ways are ways of pleasantness, is a fundamental principle of the Torah. When did we become a society that seeks higher and higher stringencies, instead of admitting that many of us have strong inclinations and would find a more joyous relationship with Torah if we were encouraged to only keep the strict letter of the law?

Why are our schools encouraging adolescents and teenagers (and if they don't have strong inclinations, then I don't know who does) to be machmir, when we should be focusing on teaching the pleasantness and wisdom of the Torah lifestyle? How did it come to pass that the only "acceptable" role model is a counselor whose skirts touch her socks, and not a modest young lady who follows the tzad hadin requirements of hilchos tznius?