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I am currently studying to convert (as you can tell I still have quite a ways to go but I will get there eventually) and, for awhile I was set on conservative but, recently, I've been quite interested in MO. If this were any other year I would look into visiting a local MO synagogue but, alas, it seems as though all of my questions are going to be directed to internet strangers for the time being. I cannot seem to find more than a couple of very (and I mean very) vague answers to 'What do MO women wear on a day-to-day basis?' Do they wear trousers often? If so what type? What about Short sleeves? How much hair to married women cover? Thank you for answering.

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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya, Ava. I think you'll find that there is a wide range of dress within Modern Orthodoxy itself.
    – Alex
    Dec 18 '20 at 1:32
  • As noted by Alex it is very hard to give a good answer since there are many different levels . Modern Orthodox means a different thing to everyone .
    – sam
    Dec 18 '20 at 2:50
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There is a wide variety out there. I'd recommend Googling some synagogues that you might visit post-pandemic, and often there are photos there of its members. That should give you some sense. If you can arrange a socially-distanced outdoors chat with a woman in a prospective community, that could be incredibly helpful.

As Alex commented, there's a wide variety included in "Modern Orthodox." One dating site actually has categories such as "Modern Orthodox - liberal" and "Modern Orthodox - machmir [stricter]." Something to think about is what aspects of Judaism are speaking to you, and making Conservative feel like it's not the right fit. Finding a good fit with a community makes all the difference.

Very roughly speaking, you would at least see this:

At synagogue:

  • Skirt or dress covering the knees
  • Sleeves at least covering the shoulders
  • Some sort of hat or other hair covering, for married women. (There are virtually no mainstream Orthodox communities in the US that expect never-yet-married women to cover their hair, in fact it would seem out of place. Widows and divorcees are a gray zone.)

At home or the office, the more liberal side of Modern Orthodox would be comfortable with pants and no hair covering. (I think bare shoulders is still unusual.)

(Those two right there -- pants and hair covering -- are actually commonly seen as questions in the Orthodox world when dating! There are women who say no way am I going to cover my hair and/or I am perfectly comfortable wearing mom jeans to the grocery store on a Tuesday night, and I don't want my husband complaining that's immodest, and there are guys who will say no way I'm marrying a lady who fails to cover her hair and/or wears pants. Or the reverse! There are also people who are more flexible.)

Moving towards more traditionalism, you'd see at least some hair covering (at least outside the house), to "as long as no more than 3 inches of hair are visible", up to full hair covering [hat, scarf, or wig]; sleeves past the elbow; and always a skirt or dress [not pants, barring a job physically requiring it, e.g. many hospital settings] to nearly the ankles. (At this end of the spectrum, "modern" isn't about a lenient reading of modesty guidelines, but about a broader view of engagement with the outside world.)

For a sense on this more right-wing side of Modern Orthodox (or "Modern Orthodox machmir"), the back row in this picture is a graduating class of women who are trained as "advisors on halacha" -- not aiming for a title like "rabbi." Hair coverings (all these women are married) seen here are: wigs, wigs-with-hairbands, cover-it-all hats, and hats/scarves with a small stripe of hair visible. (Also seen here and very common -- find a dress that doesn't cover enough of the arms and/or neckline, and add a long-sleeve t-shirt or "shell".) All these women attended the same seminary, with a curriculum developed by Rabbi and Rabbanit Henkin -- more on the former below. Graduating class of yoatzot

All of the above comes down basically to interpreting various statements in the Talmud, surprise surprise. Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin's article in Tradition 37:3 (2003) on Tzniut (modesty) (I believe it's also included in one of his books) goes through all of these in depth and is recommended, if you have the patience to go through a whole lot of nitty-gritty source material. (Rabbi Falk's book on Tzniut reflects a very right-wing ultra-Orthodox approach; unless that's what you want, please avoid it. Rabbi Henkin rejects Rabbi Falk's approach, which he feels can lead to we are so afraid of women standing out that we can't let them be outstanding.)

Good luck with your spiritual journey, especially during these trying times.

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  • Wow ,great answer ,I was thinking of Rav Henkin when I saw the q
    – sam
    Dec 18 '20 at 2:52

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