Yesterday, I had the privilege of reading a thought-provoking submission in Hevria, written by Chana Chava Perton. It came in the form of a poem named ‘I Am Unapologetically A Covered Woman’, in which Chana Chava writes of the struggles and joys she faces as a woman who chooses to observe the mitzvah of tznius. The struggles come mainly in the form of opposition; opposition from critics who don’t- and don’t want to- understand how she, an Orthodox Jewish woman, can be free, liberated, happy. Instead, they paint an image in their minds of an oppressed Chana Chava-and image which they apply not only to her, but to every other aishes chayill like her whom they come across. Chana writes,
”They don’t uncover their ears
so that they can hear
how we define that word and our lives.
They don’t know that we say each day
that G-D created us perfect”
But despite this backlash, she finds true joy in the mitzvah. It’s inspiring. Liberating.It reminds her, and every one of us, of what it truly means to be a covered woman. In short, it means being a role model. An outstanding member of the community. Someone who is confident in herself; someone to look up to.
‘‘From a young age I was told the stories of the Hebrew Bible.
While other girls identified with Barbie and Ariel and other pop culture representations
that people feared would set back a generation of women,
I was identifying with Women, capital Women, covered, but empowered women.
From their stories, I learned who I am.
From their stories I learned that I am not only me.
but a collection of women, covered, free.”
Upon reading these words, I related with Chana Chava in a way that is difficult to describe to one who hasn’t experienced it. All I can say is that tznius has provided me with the very opposite of what people like to think it’s provided me with. Tznius isn’t oppression. It’s liberation. It’s my way of being myself. Being me. Rather than constantly striving to fit into ideals which are decidedly unlike me- pop culture for example- I can be who I really want to be. I can be proud of my Yiddishkeit- my most defining feature. I can be true to my ideals, and true to the mitzvos. We’ve been commanded to dress modestly, and this mitzvah is in fact a terrific brocha. It enables us, as women, to be valued for our minds and our values, rather than what we look like. If those who criticised hilchos tznius tried following them just once, maybe they’d realise how truly liberating this mitzvah is.
With thanks to Chana Chava Perton, for allowing me to sample her poem.