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Makeup

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Rabbi Moshe Leib Halberstadt

Elul 7, 5770
Question
Are there any Halachic restrictions in regard to makeup and/or earrings for married or umarrried women?
Answer
On one hand we find the Talmud in Tractate Yoma 9b (also in Shabbat 62b) with a negative approach to makeup and being over dressy: Why was the first Sanctuary destroyed? Because of three [evil] things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed… Immorality [prevailed] as it is written: “Moreover the Lord said: Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched-forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and make a tinkling with their feet” (Isaiah III, 16). ‘Because the daughters of Zion are haughty’, i.e., they used to walk with proud carriage. ‘And wanton eyes’ i.e., they filled their eyes with kohl (a powder used for painting the eyelids). ‘Walking and mincing as they go’, i.e., they used to walk with the heel touching the toe. ‘And make a tinkling with their feet’, R. Isaac said: They would take myrrh and balsam and place it in their shoes and they would walk around the streets of Jerusalem and when they came near the young men of Israel they would kick, causing the balsam to squirt at them and would thus cause the evil desire to enter them like an adder's poison. (Rashi in Tractate Shabbat notes that they were married women and therefore the Talmud talks about their defamation). On the other hand we find in Tractate Taanit (23a & b) a positive approach to a woman who came out dressy: Abba Hilkiah was a grandson of Honi the Circle-Drawer, and whenever the world was in need of rain the Rabbis sent a message to him and he prayed and rain fell. Once there was an urgent need for rain and the Rabbis sent to him a couple of scholars [to ask him] to pray for rain. They came to his house but they did not find him there. They then proceeded to the fields and they found him there hoeing… when he reached the city his wife well bedecked came out to meet him… Why did your wife come out well bedecked to meet you, Sir, when you entered the city? He replied: In order that I might not set my eyes on any other woman. From these words of our sages we learn that all has its time and place. When a woman dresses well for her husband especially in her home it is very appropriate; on the other hand she should avoid over dressing in public. This obviously includes the way she puts on makeup and the size and style of earrings. A woman should however be dressed with dignity and is allowed to adorn herself also in public as long as it is in a refined and modest manner. Also unmarried women should appear in public in a respected and refined manner that sanctifies the name of Heaven. When a girl is of marriageable age it is important she should adorn herself a little more; it is however obvious that she should always be careful not to stand out too much as that is contradictory to the ways of modesty. It is important to note that there are no clear and defined rules in many issues because some things are permitted or forbidden based on the custom of that place. If it is accepted and common it does not stand out and is considered modest. On the other hand some things which may be considered modest in one place can be outstanding and immodest in another place where this is not acceptable. See the words of the Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chaim 75, 10) regarding unmarried girls going with their hair open (unbraided).
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