Friday, July 18, 2008

Are Women's Shabbos Clothing Inherently Immodest?

There's an interesting item tucked away in this week's Machberes column in the Jewish Press.

Ultimate Coats by Modest Design announced, in chassidishe advertising weeklies, that it has two styles of coats for weddings or other occasions. The ad notes that the Rimanover Rebbe, in his city, had ordained that Jewish daughters should wear an oiber malbush, loosely translated as an upper [outer] garment or overcoat. Presumably, this is a light overcoat that covers dresses, etc. When women are elegantly dressed, on their way to or returning from smachos, the overcoat would cover their nice outfits and embrace them in modesty.

OK, seems nice. But why is it necessary?

Regarding Ultimate Coats, Rabbi Shraga Feivish Hager, Kosover Rebbe in Boro Park, writes that he has been troubled for years that when Jewish daughters go to smachos they are dressed in their finest Shabbos and Yom Tov outfits. Of course, they are going to a mitzvah in making their friend happy, especially kallos at their weddings. Nevertheless they are going through the streets or on the Boro Park/ Williamsburg bus, etc., where there are married men and bochurim. He has long been searching for a solution. Thank Heaven, the Kosover Rebbe writes, that righteous women have come up with an answer. A nice thin overcoat that will guard them well. Though it may be hot in warm weather, it is a good thing, he says. Rabbi Getzel Elyakim Berkowitz, Kiryas Yoel Dayan, in a letter written last year, also praises the new garment for street wear, especially when going to smachos.

What this says to me (and perhaps I'm reading it wrong) is that Shabbos and Yom Tov outfits are inherently immodest. After all, if they conform to the laws of modesty, then why the need for an additional cover? If they are inherently immodest, then why have women been walking in the streets in them until now?

Of course, we're all aware that there are women's outfits that may fit the technical definition of tznius but violate the spirit of the law. However, I'm inclined to believe (and again, please correct me if I'm wrong) that the followers fo the Kosover Rebbe already wear garments that are tznius according to both the letter and the spirit of the law. I don't think the Kosover Rebbe has too many "Hot Chanies" in his kehilla.

In addition, this leads to other questions as well. Once we've decided that a woman should not be seen by men in her Shabbos finery, then what does a hostess wear? Imagine if a couple wants to have his wife's sister and husband over for a Shabbos meal. What do they wear? Can they wear their Shabbos finery in front of their brothers-in-law? If so, then why not in the street? If not, then are they required to change into something less fine specifically for the meal? I'm sure that there are other perfectly legitimate social situations where similar questions could be asked.

Personally, I find this to be another symptom in our over obsession about tznius. Yes, modesty is important - but, as in all things, one has to find the happy medium.

The Wolf

UPDATE:  I just saw that Josh, over at Parsha, has a much better and extensive take on this.


Joseph said...

The Rabbonim are perhaps suggesting a chumra to their kehila, and perhaps likeminded people who desire to streghnthen their observance of tzinius.

Personally, I find this to be another symptom in our over obsession about tznius.

I would strongly offer than we suffer, as a rule, an under-obsession of fulfilling of this vital mitzvah. Unfortunately, all you have to do is walk down the public streets of some of our otherwise finest neighborhoods.

BrooklynWolf said...

The Rabbonim are perhaps suggesting a chumra

Is the chumra necessary? I'm not certain that it is. And can it do more harm than good? I think so. Check out the last paragraph of Josh's post (linked to on the bottom of my post).

Unfortunately, all you have to do is walk down the public streets of some of our otherwise finest neighborhoods.

And I addressed this point. But I also stated that the women in this particular community probably do not dress like this.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

This has nothing to do with the subject but with the general layout of this blog. Do you realize that you have an ad for Muslim marriages at the top, between the header and the first post? With a woman in headscarf.
A bit unsettling.

BrooklynWolf said...


The ads are generated by Google and are not entirely under my control. If you see an ad from a specific URL, feel free to email me and I can have it blocked.

The Wolf

G said...

Unfortunately, all you have to do is walk down the public streets of some of our otherwise finest neighborhoods.

So we are now setting rules for members of our community based on the actions of the general public?

That is a very slippery slope down which I wish guidance from a number of very wise and well informed leaders.

Anonymous said...

BW: This is obviously an overboard restriction for most Orthodox communities (I would venture to say even the "frummest" of the Lakewood Chareidi crowd), but I think you missed an important of Joseph's comment: "The Rabbonim are perhaps suggesting a chumra to their kehila". If you are going to criticize the Rimanover, Kosover, etc Rebbes for this ruling, is that any different from criticizing other modes of dress adopted by chassidim such as vasa zocken, shtreimels in the summer, etc?

Lion of Zion said...

i think we're on the way to the veil thing again. wasn't part of the RBS cult wearing extra layers of clothing?

in terms of women's shabbos clothing, i still want to know why the shabbos robe is mutar.

regarding the advs., do you really make any $ from them. i personally find them very distracting on a blog.

Anonymous said...

I can understand this if the Tznius they are trying to encourage relates to the display of wealth in public.This in fact would be a wonderful takana based on sensitivity toward those who might not be able to afford expensive clothes...If the matter,however,is tznius related to making the ladies less attractive,then may I suggest the basement boutiques of Buda Park,I mean Boro Park, start stocking burkas.

joshwaxman said...

"The Rabbonim are perhaps suggesting a chumra to their kehila,"

"If you are going to criticize the Rimanover, Kosover, etc Rebbes for this ruling"

Just to point out here something I pointed out in my blogpost. The initiation of this chumra is not from the Rabbonim. Rather, it seems to be from women who run a tznius business, Modest Designs. As the article states, "Thank Heaven, the Kosover Rebbe writes, that righteous women have come up with an answer." They then sought out rabbinic approbation from Rabbanim who might approve of it. The ads seem to be targeting the chassidic community in general.

Oh, and I would guess that the Rimanover Rebbe is the early 19th century one, but they are citing him from his own context (18th century Poland) to imply an obligation in a different setting.

Kol Tuv,

-suitepotato- said...

In almost the entire animal kingdom, it is the female who is plain while the man is not. Naturalists believe this is to protect the mother and young by making them less noticeable compared to the males.

Humans on the other hand since before we can remember, have tended towards the opposite. Plain men, and not so plain women. Are they trying to reverse G-d's own nature He designed for us where we are so different than animals?

It's an important thought. If there's a reason G-d made everything, then we might be messing that up by making women as plain as simple birds where normally they would not be.

Anonymous said...

Tznius is good and important.

You should realize, however, that that column by Gershon Tannenbaum, a man with a checkered past, is basically a weekly piece of Chassidishe propaganda, masquerading as news reporting (one wonders what it is doing in the Jewish Press, but that is another matter). Don't look there if you seek to question Chassidim and there practices. Did you see anything there about the Spinka scandal in CA? About all the inter-Chassidic conflict out there? In Tannenbaum's dreamworld, Chassidim are angelic beings, who are exemplars of true Judaism. The reality is somewhat different.

In New Square, there are separate sidewalks for men and women. So why is this shocking to you?

The Chassidim have their own ways of doing things and they don't lose much sleep over what MO bloggers think about them.

If you are looking for a project, maybe start a project to get Gershon Tannenbaum a shtreimel and bekeshe so he can dress in a Chassidishe manner.

Rafi G. said...

this obsessio with tznius issues is so un-tzanua. It is also tiring.

Zach Kessin said...

What a great sales idea, make a new product and then get a bunch of rabbis to require it.

Ahavah said...

Well, let's see. All we have to do now is lenghten them to floor lentgth, and add a ski-mask like hood...oh, wait, there's already a product like that. All we have to do is go online to burkhas-are-us and order one.

ProfK said...

All it will take is one woman who gets severe heat stroke due to being overdressed for the weather. If she dies, the Times and the Post will cover it extensively. If she becomes disabled the Times and the Post will cover it extensively. If either of these two things happen you are going to have a feminine rebellion fomenting, even in the chassidishe circles (not to mention that it is such an inconvenience for a man to be left with 8 kids and have to look for another wife again). OR, this will leave the door open for those so concerned about issues of tsnius to say that women should not leave their homes at all since leaving their homes is bad for their health, not to mention what it does to a man's libido.

Are there no more pressing issues that need to be dealt with then this one?

Pesky Settler said...

Would it surprise you that many of the Tzadikkos on Imamo would welcome this Chumra as they often feel self-conscious when going to a wedding during the week and they're all dressed up?

Anonymous said...

Everyone should follow their own rav. I welcome your comments on my tznius topics.

G said...

Are there no more pressing issues that need to be dealt with then this one?

Ah, but there's the rub...the more pressing issues are much harder to solve and have results much harder to quickly quantify.

Why waste time fixing the foundation when I can simply throw on a few quick coats of paint!

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't worry about hostesses at home. After all, the good family will have separate entrances for men and women and have their meals in separate rooms for each to avoid the chance of the man seeing his sister-in-law.

I don't think anyone should have a problem with a closed community creating a takana about this. It's when people from that community then go visiting elsewhere and say "No nu, you allow your women to walk around like prutzos without overcoats on?" that's when the problems begin.

Anonymous said...

I think that it is a matter of striking a balance. On the one hand you do not want women walking around in a manner that will cause automobile accidents from distracted male drivers. On the other hand you do not want to take away womens self esteem. Nor do you want to dampen enthusiasm between married couples.

I know that we are supposed to be spiritual and all but nature is nature. A woman should be attractive to her husband (and vise versa). For his sake and for hers. Whether or not most men realize it,they will have a better sense of well being if their wife is well dressed as opposed to in a burqa.

This is why I am against setting up a beit din with rules over these issues. Just because we have a verse that says sheker ha chen and hevel hayofi does not mea that we should be like the society in Oceana from the book 1984, which demeaned the whole concept of beauty because they felt that the distraction was dangerous for society.

I will even say that there is a torah president for what I am saying. The woman adorned themselves in Egypt in order to entice their husbands who were otherwise to warn down from the drudgery around them. This is one of the acts in which we merited yetzias mitzrayim. We are in galus with drudgery al around us whether from work or other stresses. Trying to be spiritual in todays world is very difficult. I do not mean because of the pritzos enviornment. I mean because it is that much harder for people to feel content and happy with their life.

There is no commandment that says "Thou shalt walk around with grey clothing and miserable facial expressions from the Soviet bread-line era." This is not going to get us out of galus. Just the opposite is true.

Down with drudgery!!!!!!!!!!

The Five + of Us said...

How about overcoats for the men.... over their faces.

Then they can focus their internal gaze on their own midot, without having to worry about exposing themselves to anything. Meanwhile, the Nashot Chayil of Klal Yisrael can continue their daily lives in modesty, as they have done for two millenia.

The guidelines of tzniut are meant to uplift our society as a whole, not to stifle and suffocate women with overcoats.

(Next thing you know, the rabbanim will outlaw flowers planted in the street because they remind some men of women in Shabbat dresses).

Where will it end?


Leah Goodman said...

As someone who sweats easily and profusely, I am constantly frustrated by the "tzniyus" situation.

I just don't see how my galdarn elbows are so enticing...

Anonymous said...

Did anyone notice that the Rabbis mentioned neither came up with the idea, nor gave a pasak that it is required? They just think it is a good idea.