Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Women and Tights

Without detracting from the point I've made many times -- that modesty is primarily about attitudes and actions -- we should not forget that it also includes dressing properly. On that secondary level, a discussion has been taking place in the comments section about women are obligated to wear tights. Why should they? The Gemara (Berakhos 24a) states that a woman's "shok" is considered nakedness. Since halakhic naked areas must be covered, a woman must cover her "shok" (in front of others).

What is a "shok"? R. Yehuda Henkin discusses this in detail in his Understanding Tzniut: Modern Controversies in the Jewish Community (pp. 17-22) and argues that it refers to the thigh (i.e. the leg above the knee). This is the view of the Mishnah Berurah (75:2) and others (see below). However, the Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim 15:8) suggests that "shok" is the lower half of the leg (from the ankle to the knee), although he leaves the question open.

Click here to read moreAccording to the Mishnah Berurah, a woman is not obligated to cover the lower half of her leg, whether with tights, socks or otherwise. According to the Chazon Ish, she might be but he leaves the question open. The Piskei Teshuvos (75:4 n. 26) quotes a long list of posekim (exclusively Charedi, ke-darko ba-kodesh) who rule on this subject, mainly to be strict. Interestingly, he quotes R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halikhos Shlomo 20:12) as saying that women can be lenient in their homes. I'm not sure what he means by that. He also quotes R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe, Even Ha-Ezer 4:100:6) as being lenient on the leg below the knee. Other lenient authorities whom he fails to quote are R. Ovadiah Yosef (Yabi'a Omer, Yoreh De'ah 6:14), She'arim Metzuyanim Ba-Halakhah (5:10), R. Shlomo Min-Hahar (in R. Shmuel Katz, Kedoshim Tihyu, p. 253), and R. Elyakim Ellinson in the name of the majority of contemporary rabbis (Hatznei'a Lekhes p. 141 n. 44).

But even according to this lenient view, when a woman is in a neighborhood (or a school) where the standard practice is to cover the leg below the knee, she is obligated to follow their standard of proper dress.

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