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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q11.1.7 TOC Q11.1.9 >

Question 11.1.8:
Dress: Are there any special dress rules or customs for women?


Traditionally, there are halachic rules and community customs that lead to a particular pattern of dress for those that observe the halacha regarding modesty. This is most typical among the Orthodox segment of Judaism, but is occasionally found elsewhere. It is good to keep these rules in mind if you visit traditional communities, especially in Israel. These dress rules/customs include:

Tzeni'us has come to mean dressing sexually modestly. The underlying concept, though, is far broader. It is also why a man who is offered to be chazan shouldn't jump at the honor unless no one else is available or the gabbai is getting desperate. Tzeni'us in its fundamental sense is not going through life trying to draw attention to oneself. Sex sells, so the distinction between looking good and dressing sexy is a significant piece of it. But not the only one.

Of the laws of dressing tzenu'ah, there are two basic categories:

A bikini violates das Moshe. A woman in Victorian England showing her ankles would be violating das Yehudis. Most hold that pants, by making it obvious where the crotch is, violate das Moshe, and therefore can't be worn in mixed company. (Some invoke, usually in addition to this idea, the prohibition against wearing men's clothing; but it seems to me that given today's fashions it is hard to make an argument that pants are still particularly masculine.) This is why you won't see very many Orthodox women in pants. However, the one or two who disagree do provide a basis for allowing a nurse or a woman EMT to wear scrubs without objecting to the dress code. In extreme cases, they provide "wiggle room" for one's halachic decisor.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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