By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Lack of Tznius in the Office
Question: I work in a financial office where the pay is pretty decent. It’s enough to support a Kollel family, and that’s what matters to me. Lately, though, there are some tznius issues. I’d rather not go into all the details, but let’s just say that the way men and women in the office (they’re all Jewish) interact with each other is not what we were taught in Beis Yaakov how it should be. I shared this information with my husband, but he kind of brushed it off. He doesn’t think I should make an issue of it since “I know where I stand”. Of course I do know where I stand, but that doesn’t mean I am always going to be perfect when everyone around me is so frivolous about this. Do you think I should just leave it, or try to do something about it?
Answer: You are very fortunate that you have the sensitivity to ask such a question. It would be far worse a predicament if the situation would not even occur to you as being something to question.
In terms of what to do about it, this really is something that needs to be dealt with by whomever it is that provides your family with Daas Torah. This type of thing tends to be quite subtle. Slight nuances in terms of what precisely it is that is going on in your office can make a world of a difference in such a shailoh. For example, are you ever getting pressured to be like everyone else, or do your coworkers leave you alone? Is the behavior flagrantly inappropriate, or is it “simply” unacceptable? Where does the boss (or bosses) behavior and/or outlook about all this fall in? All these questions, and many more, can make a major impact on the response to an issue such as this.
Also, not any less significant is your own personality and how reasonable it is to expect that you will not be negatively affected by the environment. Some people are naturally very strong, independent, and aloof. Others are more impressionable and susceptible to being influenced by social pressure. Obviously, that will also figure very heavily into an equation such as what you describe.
A few points in general, though, do warrant mention.
First and foremost is that which the Rambam writes (in Hilchos Deios 6:1) that the nature of people is to be drawn after one’s friends in terms of how one thinks and acts, and that people conduct themselves in accordance with the social norms of the place in which they live. The Rambam goes on to explain that for this reason it is so important to be connected with tzaddikim, and to distance oneself from reshaim. In as much as that is the case, a question such as that which you have asked really does need to be given very serious consideration. It cannot just be brushed off or wished away.
The next point is essentially a continuation of the first. That is, the fact that your current job affords you the ability to support your family so that your husband can continue his full time learning should not impact the answer to this shailoh. The issue needs to be weighed irrespective of any extraneous considerations. Yes, enabling your husband to learn is a tremendous, tremendous zechus for you and your whole family (and Klal Yisrael). However, it cannot come at the expense of your ruchniyus. For two reasons. Number one, because that would be a plain old mitzvah ha’baah ba’aveirah, which is not a mitzvah.
In addition to that, your ruchniyus is not only your ruchniyus. It is yours, your husband’s, and your children’s. The woman is the akeres ha’bayis. That is not just a nice term we throw around to make women feel good. It is a fundamental reality of the Jewish home, and by extension the Jewish Nation. If a woman goes down, chas v’Shalom, her whole family goes down with her. Have you ever heard the expression, “Behind every great man there must stand an even greater woman”? Well, it’s not an exaggeration. Chazal tell us a little story (Medrash Rabbah, Breishis 17:7). A tzaddik was married to a tzadeikes. Many years went by without children so they got divorced. Eventually, the tzaddik married a reshaah, and the tzadeikes got married to rasha. What happened? The rasha eventually turned into a tzaddik, and the tzaddik eventually turned into a rasha. This demonstrates, concludes the Medrash, that “everything comes from the woman.” (Yes, you read that right. Chazal said everything!). So not only is dispensing with your own ruchniyus for the sake of your husband’s learning the wrong thing to do, it will also ultimately serve to undermine the very purpose for which you are doing it.
If the only way a woman can support her Kollel family is by being in an environment that is going to spiritually pull her down, that means that full time learning is no longer an option for that family. We cannot allow ourselves to become so dogmatic to the point that we lose touch with our essential dogma.
The last point that needs to be made is a general note about how severely Chazal relate to the issue of lack of tznius between men and women. Ein apotropus l’arayos. What that basically means is that a person can never think that “it will never happen to me.” The Torah’s rules of modesty and separation of the sexes are there for very practical reasons. At Mincha of Yom Kippur, when we are almost at the height of our spiritual state, and greatly weakened and purified by the fasting and davening, we lein the parsha that describes the list of forbidden relationships. This drives home the point that there is no such thing as being immune. The yeitzer hara works overtime when it comes to this particular area because so very much is at stake.
So, in summary, you definitely must consult with your family’s Rav or Rebbi about this. And when you do, do not spare any details. It is a shailoh of the utmost importance and needs to be treated as such.
If you have a question to submit to Rabbi Berman, email it to EmpoweringAdvice@gmail.com. There is no need to sign your letter, but for the most effective results, do try to include all relevant details of the situation.
The advice offered in this column is provided for informational purposes, and is not intended as a substitute for the responsible procurement of Rabbinic or professional advice where called for. The author and publisher of this column cannot be held responsible for any negative results of following any advice in any given situation.