Written by Shayna Abramson. Shayna is a frequent Jewrotica contributor. To read Shayna’s essay on the the practice of shomer negiah within the Orthodox Jewish community, check out her article in the Jewrotica Reflections section. For those unfamiliar with Jewish terms, please consult the Jewrotica Glossary.
As a pants-wearing Orthodox Jew, my heretical jeans-wearing ways often become the topic of conversation. I admit, this might be because somewhere between the kiddush wine and the challah, I start fishing for controversy. So here I am, in the minutes between my coffee and my bagel, casting my net:
The rabbinic consensus is that pants do not violate the Biblical prohibition against cross-dressing, but that there is a modesty issue in terms of exposing the shape of the leg. A traditional rabbinic source* explains that women’s pants look different from men’s, and that a woman who wears them has no intention of resembling a man. He also adds that “even pious, modest women have long practiced” pant-wearing. What a shande!
Now that the licentious ways of my foremothers have been revealed, I have to ask: Does this rabbi’s statement apply to my skinny jeans? I often ponder that question, especially when I pass the Castro store on my way to the Kotel – after all, how will I pray to God if I’m not full of guilt about having just spent 250 shekels on denim?
At the end of the day, I feel that a large part of skirt-wearing is societal. A skirt-clad Jewish educator once admitted to me, “If I were hiking in China, maybe I’d wear pants. But I’m in Israel, in a society where Orthodox women wear skirts, and I want to identify with that group.”
Rabbi Getsel Ellinson, whose compendium “Women and the Mitzvot: The Modest Way,” is a seminary classic, says, “By wearing a skirt, a Jewish girl identifies with this group and separates herself from more permissive circles. To a certain extent, in the last few decades the skirt has become a sort of yarmulka for the scrupulously observant girl…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.”