Tznius is a great mitzvah.
The Vilna Gaon even wrote that Tznius is as important for a woman as Torah study is for a man (this issue is slightly obscure, but the sentiment remains). Personally, I consider both very important to me, but in all honesty, I couldn’t live an observant life without Torah study. This might seem out of line with Orthodox thinking, but I am sincerely thankful to live in a society where, as a woman, I am allowed to read and study the Torah, explore various interpretations of it, and even write my own insights on the Parsha. I understand that some Chassidic women don’t have this opportunity, and it makes me even more thankful that I do.
Let me explain. There’s a famous section in the Tanya which explains that we must attain love before wisdom, but also that we need to attain wisdom before love. This is explained as meaning that “lower level love” leads us to become wise, and only after we become wise can we attain “higher level love”. It’s slightly confusing, but not compared to the episode of Baalam’s donkey in this week’s Parsha!
I’m making the argument that a woman can only grasp the beauty and meaning of Tznius once she’s studied the Torah. I don’t mean “learning Chumash”. I mean “studying Torah”. They’re two very different things. Lots of Chassidic women (with the exception of Lubavitchers) are encouraged, as young girls, to learn Chumash at school. But actually studying the words, working to understand them, and forming one’s own opinions, is seen as a “male pursuit”.
How can we expect our daughters to embrace Tznius if they don’t embrace it’s origins?
In Chabad circles, women are encouraged to learn Torah and even Gemara, and to write and teach. We add to our Binah with knowledge garnered from Torah study. And, unsurprisingly, all the Chabad ladies I’ve met have been extremely tzniusdik and holy individuals. I’m not just talking about their skirt lengths and shaytels; they are, without a doubt, the most self-sacrificing and pious women on earth.
I’m not asking for anything radical. I don’t want female rabbis, or female poskim, or anything else of that sort. But I’m asking Chossidim worldwide to consider exactly how much their daughters’ lives will be improved by Torah study. Forget Tznius or Torah study. Let’s have Tznius and Torah study.