I’m trying to sort out how I feel about this issue as I’m writing this, so bear with me if it’s not so coherent.
Last year, I was in an environment where part of the dresscode was that girls were required to cover their legs, either with a long skirt, or the more popular option, with tights. The head of the school’s wife taught a class on tznius, and this issue came up alot. The class was based around the book Hatznea Lechet, by Rabbi Getsel Ellinson. After going through the sources, it was clear that one is in no way obligated to cover the bottom part of the leg, unless one defines that as the shok, in which case the skirt would have to go all the way to the ankles. There is some discussion of minhag hamakom, and many people say that when one enters into a place where it is customary for women to wear tights, one must respect the people of the place and wear tights. My school was of the opinion held by Rav Elyashiv, that the minhag Yerushalyim was for girls to cover their legs.
So the obvious next question to this seminary leader was “what do we do when we get back to America?” In most communities in America, there is no clear minhag of all girls wearing tights. Her answer was “Look at the women you want to emulate. Even in these communities in America, the vast majority of them cover their legs. It’s not a minhag hamakom,per se, but its more like a minhag kedoshim.” (I thought about this and realized I don’t know any women that I would really like to emulate, period. I can think of a few men, and I highly doubt that they would wear tights year-round. But who knows. Maybe they would. Or maybe they’re just not kedoshim.) She told us that in no way can she tell us we must cover our legs. But she just can’t tell us NOT to, either.
Well, I don’t. And I don’t feel like I’m not a kadosh person for it, either. (Maybe for other reasons, but certainly not because of my lack of tights.) But, thats not really the issue here. The issue that I’ve been grappling with is, why do religous women wear skirts? There are three answers traditionally given for this question:
1. The Torah prohibits men wearing womens garments and women wearing mens. Pants are considered clothing of men.
2. The pants show the outline of the leg.
3. The pants show the split between the legs.
Out of the three, only the third is, in my opinion, somewhat valid. Black sweatpants with pink lettering are certainly not anything a man would wear. If the pants are loose enough, you can not actually see the outline. So loose, feminine pants should be OK, if not for number three.
However, I have a problem with both the second and third reasons. Where in the world do they come from? Is it just a general prohibition, like not wearing tight clothing, that violates the “essence” of tznius, without violating any actual halachos? I don’t know, I see plenty of girls walking around in very nice, professional pants that do not look especially immodest. So I turned to my guide, Hatznea Lechet, and I found the followings answers:
Avnei Tzedek responds to a question about women wearing pants under their skirts “Surely, pants under a girl’s clothing, or even on top of them, are permissible, since the woman will ultimately be recognized as such by her other clothing, and since she is only wearing this garment as protection from the cold.”
He obvioulsly is of the opinion that pants are neither beged ish, or promiscuos. If so, he would have outright prohibited them. The like “even on top of them” leads one to believe that he feels that in certain instances, it is OK for girls to wear pants in public, although he does not seem to be advising this on a constant basis.
The Yaskil Avdi (who, I must admit, I have never heard of) writes that women’s pants are certainly not k’li gever, but “should be forbidden for a different reason. Pants are immodest clothes for women, since the legs are seperated to the top. Someone who sees a girl wearing pants may be led to bad thoughts…”
I don’t have a copy of the yaskil avdi, so I could not read this inside. No sources (of the yaskil avdi) were quoted in Hatznea Lechet (sometimes sources are quoted.) I don’t know where he gets the idea that all pants lead to immoral ideas. They just don’t. He seems to be referring to specifically the pants that are cut to fit in a certain way, and this would fall into the general prohibiton of not wearing tight clothing because it arouses attention. I was reading this and thinking, it’s really not so bad to wear loose sweatpants. It would be so much more conveniant for rolling out of bed and going to class, and not wearing pants is not spelled out expicitly in halacha. (hehe, maybe my friends in israel were right…)
Then I read Rabbi Ellinson’s footnote. He wrote that
“Another factor which must be taken into account is the existence of a
community of modest Jewish girls with their own standard. The fact that they
are careful to wear only skirts, affords signifigant weight to this
stricture. By wearing a skirt, a Jewish girl identifies with this group and
seperates herself from other more permissive circles.
To a certain
extent, in the last few decades the skirt has become a sort of Yarmulke for the
scrupulously observant girl who strives to follow our sages ethical guidelines,
as reflected in their halachic rulings. By her refusal to wear trousers, she
demonstrably declares that she is unwilling to resign herself to the dictates of
modern style, and that she takes exception to the immorality so rampant these
days in society at large.”
He then quotes his daughter as once saying:
“Even if it could be proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is nothing
wrong with wearing trousers, I would still continue to avoid them.”
I though about the Orthodox people that I know that wear pants, and I realized he is right. I can think of one or two people I know that wear pants and that I respect as being very commited to torah and mitvah observance. But as a whole, there is this category of “people who are Orthodox but wear pants.” These are generally the same people who look forward to shabbos because of the “onegs” after dinner and don’t really care so much about being shomer negiah.
Then I though about what my seminary teacher had said about tights. For a minute there, I condsidered digging out my old knee socks. It seemed like exactly the same idea. But it’s not. Only because, for some reason, wearing skirts has become a UNIVERSAL sign of religiosity, where as wearing tights is only a universal sign of chareidism.
When I first got to college, I mentioned to a friend that if I was a guy, I would definately want to wear a yarmulke here, as opposed to a cap. It’s so nice and refreshing to see guys walk around stateing clearly “I’m proud to be Jewish.” I think that wearing a skirt is the girl’s equivalent. It’s not just a mere following of halacha, but a sign that says I am proud to follow halacha. And I am.
p.s. This post definately accomplished it’s purpose as stated in the first 2 lines. And the conclusion is in the title.