Context

        We’ve already seen that tznius is mentioned in many different discussions throughout the gemora, sometimes rather surprisingly. There are other places, however, where one would expect tznius to be mentioned but in fact it is not. Of course, tznius could still be an implicit concern within these discussions, as evidenced by the fact that occasionally Rishonim or Achronim will articulate a connection to tznius in their discussions of the sugya. Still, the Talmud itself chooses not to articulate such a connection. Are there conclusions to be drawn from observing where and when tznius is, or is not, explicitly mentioned?

  • See T.B. Brachot 62a. There we are told a tznua is one who defecates at night in the same manner as he does during the day. However, we are not told the specifics of the daytime habits to which the gemora is referring. Is this omission significant? We can draw one of two conclusions, either these actions during the day do not indicate a concern for tznius, but only their continued practice during the night is due to tznius -- or -- how one acts during the day is also due to a generic level of tznius but the gemora is concerned only with defining the tznua, the one who exemplifies tznius behavior/character by going beyond the norm.
  • Rashi explains that the daytime habits being referenced are those discussed previously on the same page and on T.B. Brachot 23b.
  • Follow Rashi and learn the top of the page. Three bathroom habits performed by scholars are discussed. The one Rashi connects with the tznua is the habit of sitting instead of standing. Notice at this point no reason is given for why these habits are preferred and even Rashi does not comment on it. What other possible motivation, if not tznius, could there be for this action?
  • Likewise, see T.B. Brachot 23b, which discusses how much one should reveal of one’s self while defecating. Tznius is not mentioned in the context of this gemora but as above, the gemora is not focusing on the goal of the action but the action itself. However, Rashi does here explain that the purpose of acting in such a manner is tznius, supporting the assumption that when the gemora defines the tznua it is referring to a person who maintains general tznius practices even when they no longer seem necessary to the average person.
  • Study T.B. Brachot 24a, a very famous gemora in the contemporary discussion of tznius. This gemora expresses two important ideas: 1) if a man looks lustfully at any part of a woman it is considered erva, and 2) the thigh, the hair and the voice of a woman are erva. Of course, these two points are neither simple nor self-explanatory and the whole sugya must be studied in depth before it can be understood. But just with a glance one will immediately realize tznius is not explicitly mentioned in the gemora’s discussion.
  • The Ein Mishpat cites two halachas in the Rambam relevant to the above discussion: Hilchot Issurei Biah 21:2 and Hilchot Kriat Shema 3:16. Neither halacha mentions tznius either.

These observations provoke us to question why it is that some discussions are associated explicitly with tznius while others are not? What is the significance of the heading tznius and what does it add to the actions which it categorizes? One option we can suggest is that tznius is a halachik category whose usefulness is in organizing like-mitzvoth into a single group? An example of a similar categorical heading would be kashrus.  This type of labeling does not necessarily illuminate anything about the objectives of the halachot with which it deals.

Alternatively, tznius could be the shared objective of numerous, otherwise unconnected, halachos. If this second option is indeed true there are still two possibilities to consider. One is that, as an objective, tznius has halachik significance. For example, standing for one’s parents falls under the greater objective of honoring one’s parent. Therefore, if one’s parents do not feel honored by this action it is not necessary to perform it for them. We could say in these cases that there is a greater conceptual mitzvah, such as tznius or respectfulness, which is accomplished through numerous diverse actions. But, it is also possible that a mitzvah can have an objective from a philosophical or moral perspective that does not affect in any way the manner in which this commandment is fulfilled. The classic example of this is found in the Rambam, who explains korbanot as a necessary tool to wean us off idol worship, but nonetheless teaches that the commandment to offer korbanot is not dependent on whether or not this objective has been fulfilled. The objective is derived from studying the commandment so that we will hopefully come to understand a greater life lesson, but in the practical realm it is divorced from the action and therefore insignificant in a purely halachik discussion. 

How are we supposed to look at tznius? Tznius is often presented as a moral character trait and it is traditionally viewed as the latter option, as an objective, not simply as the former option, a categorical heading. Of course, even if we accept that tznius is an objective, is it an objective that affects certain halachot or does it only explain the philosophic goal of them? Further research is necessary before we can begin to answer this question.

© 2005 NISHMA