Ask the rabbi

  • Family and Society
  • Modesty in Dress



Rabbi David Sperling

Tevet 15, 5782
I heard a rabbi say that jews should not dress in the same way as gentiles so what exactly should women wear? I am familiar with the modesty rules logistically but... Isnt there only like 1 online orthodox store, and aside from that, where would a woman even buy a non-gentile style? (it is clear to me what a gentile style is, but not what Isnt.) where can i find images of what the real jewish clothingshould look like? (and what it was in Israel during the biblical days? ) What is the Original jewish way to dress? (not what is/was European.) thank you
Shalom, Thank you for your question. I’m not certain what the Rabbi you heard was referring to, but allow me to give a brief outline of the laws in relation to this subject. Certain clothing of the gentiles might be forbidden if it relates to their idol worship. So, to dress as a nun would be forbidden. Also, wearing clothing that is immodest is forbidden. So, clothing that reveals parts of the body that should be covered is not allowed. In general, this means one needs to avoid a low neckline, cover their upper arms until the elbow, and wear a skirt or dress that covers the knees. Some opinions hold that a woman also needs to cover her lower leg by wearing socks or tights etc. Other opinions allow this. In the laws of modesty would also be included clothing that is too tight or otherwise immodest. Apart from this, generally Jews throughout the ages have more or less dressed in line with the social norms of the non-Jewish communities they lived in. Perhaps a little more modest, but not to different at all. When we lived in societies where woman wore veils, we wore them. When they didn’t , nor did we. When we lived in 18th century Europe the men wore long coats – in modern day Europe men (Jews and non-Jews) wear short jackets. The exception to this started in the late 1800’s, when as a reaction against many Jews leaving the religious world in Europe, some (though not all by any means) started to preserve the style of dress that they had worn and refused to change at all with the changing styles (even though they had changed up to that date). For this reason you will see many members of the Chassidic community wearing clothing that was in style (both by Jews and Gentiles) in the 1800’s. This is a societal decision to stop mixing with the “outside” world – but not a religious obligation at all. If you look at how the main stream religious world dresses today, you will see that they buy their cloths in normal shops, and dress much like everyone else – within the bounds of modesty we mentioned above. I hope this is of some help. Blessings.
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