14

I have been hardpressed finding a source for something that would seem to be such a well known Halacha. I (and most other too probably) have been brought up with the belief that it is forbidden for a girl to walk around indecently. What that exactly is depends on whom you ask, with many opinions saying a skirt must reach 4 inches below the knee.

Where does anyone even mention such an Issur in the Torah before 100 years ago?

Here are some Pshatim I have heard.

  1. Most people tend to quote the Issur of praying in front of an Ervah, however this is an Issur on Dvorim Shebikdusha and does not dictate how a lady must dress?

  2. People bandy about with the term לִפְנֵ֣י עִוֵּ֔ר לֹ֥א תִתֵּ֖ן מִכְשֹׁ֑ל (Lifnei Iver Loh Siten Michshol). However this should then subject it to the many rules of Lifnei Iver, upon which many leniencies should then apply. For example, one could say there are other ways a man has access to Hirhur and Histaklus, even if those would actually cost him money (Rema 151:1)

  3. Another Pshat I heard is that like the Gemoro deduces a woman must cover her hair from the fact it says Uporah Rosh HaIsha, so too we can deduct that she must cover her body because it says you shall uncover her top. This seems to me like a nice Vort, but I dont think we can make Droshos for ourselves.

Is it simply common sense but it was too obvious to be recorded in Halacha? If so, where do the Shiurim of x amount of inches come from? Was it common sense to use the Ervah guidelines used for Dvarim Shebikdusha?

  • 1
    Re. 3 I don't think we make the Drash. I think it's a Gemara – Shmuel Brin Feb 18 '15 at 17:49
  • 1
    I'm 99% convinced it isn't a gemara, but hey, if you can show it to be I'll be thrilled. – Yehuda Feb 18 '15 at 18:08
  • 1
    Pssible dupe judaism.stackexchange.com/q/35151/759 – Double AA Feb 18 '15 at 18:54
  • 2
    In fact, why should anyone wear clothing at all when outside? – Double AA Mar 14 '16 at 16:59
  • 3
    @Yeh It's the logical extension of your question. I guess you can consider it a suggestion to broaden the scope of your question. This whole discussion is a pretty silly. You wear clothing because it's proper Middos. Women do that too. The way women dressed properly for the last few thousand years is still the appropriate standard and the fact that Lady Gaga walks around naked shouldn't change that. The only reason you see more women having trouble with this nowadays is stores and culture sell them "clothing" that barely deserve the title. I don't know why you're interested in this post. – Double AA Mar 14 '16 at 17:06
7
+500

I still feel the question of "sources for indecent dress by women" deserves a better treatment than we (including me) provided up to now. So let me try again.

In summary

  • the key Torah verse prohibits erva in the Jewish camp
  • the gemara will define a woman's erva as parts of her body, her hair and her voice
  • most laws of tzniut are part of dat Yehudit and differ depending on time and place; all agree that some body parts are erva but the exact limits differ

A very relevant source not yet brought up here is a very complete and highly recommended article on tzniut by R Yehuda-Herzl Henkin in Tradition 37:3 [abbreviated RYHH below, page numbers are from the PDF linked and not the printed article].

First R Chaim Tabasky provides the overall framework

In Devarim 23:15 we read that Hashem walks in our (military) camp, and that no matter of nakedness should be seen lest He leaves us. From here we derive the prohibition of nakedness when in Hashem’s presence, e.g., for prayer, Torah study, etc. The term camp, however, implies that a constant restraint is required.

This verse in Devarim is the source verse given in nearly all discussions of tzniut because of its reference to erva

כִּי֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ מִתְהַלֵּ֣ךְ ׀ בְּקֶ֣רֶב מַחֲנֶ֗ךָ לְהַצִּֽילְךָ֙ וְלָתֵ֤ת אֹיְבֶ֙יךָ֙ לְפָנֶ֔יךָ וְהָיָ֥ה מַחֲנֶ֖יךָ קָד֑וֹשׁ וְלֹֽא־יִרְאֶ֤ה בְךָ֙ עֶרְוַ֣ת דָּבָ֔ר וְשָׁ֖ב מֵאַחֲרֶֽיךָ

"For the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you, and to give up your enemies before you; therefore your camp shall be holy; that He sees no unseemly thing [erva] in you, and turn away from you"

Continues R Chaim Tabasky

The Rishonim consider the nature of nakedness [erva] and whether the prohibition of uncovering certain parts of the body is fixed or depends on social circumstances. All agree that certain areas of the body fall under the Torah prohibition, while others may be drabanan, or depend on custom.


The key gemara on tzniut is from Brakhot 24a which defines erva as a woman's shok (leg), voice and hair (see RYHH p. 1).

Rav Hisda said: The calf of a woman's leg is to be regarded as nakedness; as it is said, "Uncover the leg, pass through the rivers" (Is. xlvii. 2) and it continues, "Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, your shame shall be seen" (Is. xlvii. 3).

Samuel said: a woman's voice is to be regarded as nakedness; as it is said, "For sweet is your voice, and your countenance is comely" (Cant. ii. 14).

Rav Sheshet said: A woman's hair is to be regarded as nakedness; as it is said, "Your hair is as a flock of goats" (ibid. iv. 1).

Rishonim will debate if the shok is above or below the knee, i.e., the thigh or calf. Rashi on Isaiah 47:2 mentions the arm (zroa) as erva and poskim will similarly debate the extent to which the arm should be covered (see RYHH p. 8).


The details of tzniut laws vary from time to time and community to community. The notion of differentiating between dat Moshe (Torah law) and dat Yehudit (custom) in the context of erva comes from Ktubot 72a-b according to many Rishonim (see RYHH p. 12).

(Mishna) What is dat yehudit? If she goes outside her home with her hair uncovered.

(Gemara) Going out with her hair uncovered is a Biblical prohibition for it is written "he shall uncover the head of the woman". And a Tanna in the academy of R Yishmael taught "This is a warning to Jewish daughters that they should not go out with their head uncovered".

Biblically it is sufficient to cover her hair with her head-basket [which allows hair to show through] But in accordance to dat yehudit it is prohibited for her even to go out with her head-based [rather a more thorough covering is required] (translation Artscroll)

Indeed the Shulchan Aruch (OC 75:1, EH 73:1) doesn't detail the specific laws of tzniut but refers to local practices and local places. See also Mishna Brura 75:2.

Interestingly in some cases, tzniut customs have become less constraining in recent times, see e.g., Rambam in Hilkhot Ishut 13:11 where he notes women of his time used to go to the market with a veil covering their entire body!

R Michael Broyde wrote an entire monography to elucidate whether the obligation of covering a woman's hair was a Torah or rabbinic commandment and concludes

I have set out to investigate this topic in the footsteps of the great decisors, and I tried to search all the books I could find to gather the views of the Rishonim on hair covering for women, and I have discovered that many of them — Tosafot, Rosh, the Tur, and Terumat Ha-Deshen in particular — established the prohibition for a woman to go with her head uncovered as a violation of dat yehudit and a subjective rabbinic prohibition.

  • Doesn’t point 1 in the question preempt “the key gemara”? – Alex Mar 20 at 20:51
1

Well, for a start, the Gemara in Shabbat 62b brings the following as a reason for personal punishment on the subject of the pesukim mentioned as well as contributing to the reasons for the destruction of Jerusalem:

דרש רבא בריה דרב עילאי: מאי דכתיב ויאמר ה' יען כי גבהו בנות ציון ? שהיו מהלכות בקומה זקופה, ותלכנה נטויות גרון שהיו מהלכות עקב בצד גודל, ומשקרות עינים דהוה מלאן כוחלא לעינייהו ומרמזן, הלוך וטפוף שהיו מהלכות ארוכה בצד קצרה, וברגליהן תעכסנה, אמר רב יצחק דבי רבי אמי: מלמד שמטילות מור ואפרסמון במנעליהן, ומהלכות בשוקי ירושלים, וכיון שמגיעות אצל בחורי ישראל, בועטות בקרקע ומתיזות עליהם ומכניסות בהן יצר הרע כארס בכעוס וכו'.

So bottom line I think that the blame for "מכניסות בהן יצר הרע כארס" implies that the reason is indeed "לפני עור לא תתן מכשול".

1

This is a very interesting and basic question that, for some reason, didn't get a proper answer. So let me try.

This other answer on MY partially answers and lists four sources for the concept of tzniut (modesty)

  1. וְהֶעֱמִ֨יד הַכֹּהֵ֥ן אֶֽת־הָאִשָּׁה֮ לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָה֒ וּפָרַע֙ אֶת־רֹ֣אשׁ הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה

    "And the Kohen shall set the woman before God, and let the hair of the woman’s head go loose" (Bamidbar 5:18) (from which the gemara at the end of Ketubot 72a learns that women need to cover their hair)

  2. וְלֹֽא־תָתֻ֜רוּ אַחֲרֵ֤י לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְאַחֲרֵ֣י עֵֽינֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּ֥ם זֹנִ֖ים אַחֲרֵיהֶֽם

    "Don't stray after your eyes" (Bamidbar 15:39)

  3. קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם

    "You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy" (Vayikra 19:2) (adds Rashi "by keeping yourselves far away from sinful thoughts and forbidden relations")

  4. וּמָֽה־יְהוָ֞ה דּוֹרֵ֣שׁ מִמְּךָ֗ כִּ֣י אִם־עֲשׂ֤וֹת מִשְׁפָּט֙ וְאַ֣הֲבַת חֶ֔סֶד וְהַצְנֵ֥עַ לֶ֖כֶת עִם־אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ

    "And what does God require of you: Only to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8)

But only the first of these sources really applies to women. The others are injunctions on men -- and women's tzniut might only be there to help men not stumble.

I found three other sources that create a basis for women's tzniut

  1. וַתֹּ֣אמֶר אֶל־הָעֶ֗בֶד מִֽי־הָאִ֤ישׁ הַלָּזֶה֙ הַהֹלֵ֤ךְ בַּשָּׂדֶה֙ לִקְרָאתֵ֔נוּ וַיֹּ֥אמֶר הָעֶ֖בֶד ה֣וּא אֲדֹנִ֑י וַתִּקַּ֥ח הַצָּעִ֖יף וַתִּתְכָּֽס

    Rivka covering herself when seeing her future husband Yitzhak (Bereshit 24:65)

  2. כָּל־כְּבוּדָּ֣ה בַת־מֶ֣לֶךְ פְּנִ֑ימָה

    "All glory of the King's daughter is within" (Tehilim 45:14)

  3. כִּי֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ מִתְהַלֵּ֣ךְ ׀ בְּקֶ֣רֶב מַחֲנֶ֗ךָ לְהַצִּֽילְךָ֙ וְלָתֵ֤ת אֹיְבֶ֙יךָ֙ לְפָנֶ֔יךָ וְהָיָ֥ה מַחֲנֶ֖יךָ קָד֑וֹשׁ וְלֹֽא־יִרְאֶ֤ה בְךָ֙ עֶרְוַ֣ת דָּבָ֔ר וְשָׁ֖ב מֵאַחֲרֶֽיךָ

    "For the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you, and to give up your enemies before you; therefore your camp shall be holy; that He sees no unseemly thing in you, and turn away from you" (Devarim 23:15)

    Writes R Chaim Tabasky on this verse

    From here we derive the prohibition of nakedness when in Hashem’s presence, e.g. for prayer, Torah study, etc. The term camp, however, implies that a constant restraint is required. The Rishonim consider the nature of nakedness (ervah) and whether the prohibition of uncovering certain parts of the body is fixed or depends on social circumstances. All agree that certain areas of the body fall under the Torah prohibition, while others may be drabanan, or depend on custom.


On the derivation of some of the halachot of tzniut from Torah sources, see for instance R Mordechai Willig here

Notwithstanding the immutability of the Torah's principle of modesty and its particular application to women, the precise details are subject to communal standards which often change and/or vary from place to place. This is true regarding some parts of a woman's body which must be covered (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 75:1). Nonetheless, there are other parts which must be covered regardless of communal standards.

The Mishna Brura draws the line at the elbow and the knee (75:2). Some interpret "shok" (Berachos 24a) as the calf (since the thigh is called yerech), and include it in objective erva (see Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 16:8). Yet others imply that since the requirement to cover the arms and legs is das Yehudis (Kesubos 72a), i.e. a custom of Jewish women (Rashi), it may be subject to change (see Kaf Hachayim 75:2, Igros Moshe Even Hoezer 1:69). Sha'ar Hatziyun 75:5 disagrees.

However, a woman's torso is certainly ervah (see Rambam Krias Shma 3:16), and must be covered. Unfortunately, many otherwise observant women follow fashions, such as very low necklines, which expose the flesh inappropriately. Women who wear tight-fitting clothes which explicitly delineate a woman's figure are also in violation, as the Midrash, contrasting Rus and the other women, implies (see Kuntres Dinei Malbush Nashim page 12, 13).


See also here and here for further sources.

  • 1
    1. Only applies to married women acc. to halacha – nzn Mar 14 '16 at 13:29
  • 2
    2. 3. 4.: you've rebuffed them yourself and again - no explicit referencing to causing attraction done by women. 5. was only a display of bashfulness in front of future husband - otherwise would have done it on meeting Eliezer and his men. 6. just says it's a statement of nobility to be more hidden - doesn't answer the question - a source that "it's forbidden for a girl to walk around indecently". 7. if you can bring a chazal that it refers to women's modesty then fine but as it stands, the pshat refers to doing one's needs. – nzn Mar 14 '16 at 13:40
  • @nzn I actually never thought about what you just said, your comment hear can be used to further refute point 3 in my question that this Posuk refers to married women. – Yehuda Mar 14 '16 at 16:28
  • @nzn a similar pasuk (כי מצא בה ערות דבר) was discussed in Daf Yomi just the other day, end of Gittin: ראשה פרוע וטווה בשוק ופרומה משני צדדיה ורוחצת עם בני אדם is, a couple of lines further down, called a רשעה. – Shamiach Mar 14 '16 at 16:49
1

it is indeed not so "clear cut". here is a halachic discussion from Rabbi Mordechai Willig which sheds light on this

Notwithstanding the immutability of the Torah's principle of modesty and its particular application to women, the precise details are subject to communal standards which often change and/or vary from place to place. This is true regarding some parts of a woman's body which must be covered (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 75:1). Nonetheless, there are other parts which must be covered regardless of communal standards.

The Mishna Brura draws the line at the elbow and the knee (75:2). Some interpret "shok" (Berachos 24a) as the calf (since the thigh is called yerech), and include it in objective erva (see Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 16:8). Yet others imply that since the requirement to cover the arms and legs is das Yehudis (Kesubos 72a), i.e. a custom of Jewish women (Rashi), it may be subject to change (see Kaf Hachayim 75:2, Igros Moshe Even Hoezer 1:69). Sha'ar Hatziyun 75:5 disagrees.

However, a woman's torso is certainly ervah (see Rambam Krias Shma 3:16), and must be covered. Unfortunately, many otherwise observant women follow fashions, such as very low necklines, which expose the flesh inappropriately. Women who wear tight-fitting clothes which explicitly delineate a woman's figure are also in violation, as the Midrash, contrasting Rus and the other women, implies (see Kuntres Dinei Malbush Nashim page 12, 13).

The distinction between variable details and timeless principles is not limited to dress. It applies, in a more complex and nuanced way, to the definition of tznius in the Torah society. For example, public speaking by a woman in front of mixed audiences is commonplace in some circles and unheard of in others. For many parts of Torah society, it depends upon the place, the occasion, and other factors. Similarly, interaction between men and women, another subject of the Midrash about Rus, is also dependent upon local custom (Beis Shmuel 62:11, see Otzar Haposkim there). This includes separate seating, entrances, mechitzos, etc. Here, too, context is clearly critical.

It must be noted that the opposite of tznius is pritzus (Kesubos 3b), a term linked to one who breaks a fence (Koheles 10:8), and different communities legitimately build their fences in different places. As such, a garment, speech, or event can be labeled as pritzus in one place, but be acceptable in another.

from http://www.torahweb.org/torah/2010/parsha/rwil_bamidbar.html

  • 1
    Isnt this already quoted in mbloch's answer? – Double AA Mar 15 '16 at 22:17
  • 1
    @DoubleAA ah yes. didnt see that part. i think it's the main point though and the quote is longer. so will leave. – ray Mar 16 '16 at 6:03
1
  1. R. Moshe Shmuel Glasner, Dor Revi'i (peticha, no. 2) explains that there are things which are not expressly prohibited by the Torah but which are considered more severe than explicit Torah prohibitions. His first example of this is public nudity:

ועוד תדע דבכל דברים המאוסים שנפשו של אדם קצה בהם, אפילו לא היה התורה אוסרתן, היה האדם העובר ואוכלן יותר מתועב ממי שעובר על לאו מפורש בתורה, כי כל מה שנתקבל בעיני בני אדם הנאורים לתועבה אפילו אינו מפורש בתורה לאיסור, העובר ע"ז גרע מן העובר על חוקי התורה. למשל, התורה אמרה לא ילבש גבר שמלת אשה, אבל שלא לילך ערום בשוק לא איפרש בתורה שהוא אסור, אבל הוא נימוס וחוק קבוע אצל כל בעלי דעה... ועתה אשאלך מי שקץ משנתו ומושכב ערום במטתו, והבית בוער באש עד שמוכרח להמלט על נפשו ולרוץ החוצה ואין לפניו רק שמלת אשה לכסות ערומיו... בעיני פשוט הדבר דלצאת ערום עבירה יותר גדולה מלבישת בגד אשה, כי היא עבירה המוסכמת אצל כל בעלי דעה, והעובר עליה יצא מכלל אדם הנברא בצלם אלקים.

In other words, he says that nudity is nowhere prohibited in the Torah--however, it is nevertheless more severe than actual Torah prohibitions because it violates a universal standard of morality.

  1. The rosh yeshiva of the "open orthodox" yeshiva YCT, Dov Linzer, wrote an article in the New York Times a few years ago claiming that demanding women dress modestly is a "blame-the-victim mentality." According to Linzer, "The Talmud tells the religious man, in effect: If you have a problem, you deal with it." He explained his reasoning in a blog post. In short, halakhic sources define "ervah" but focus on the prohibition of reciting devarim shebikdusha in the presence of ervah. However, in light of the Dor Revi'i's aforementioned view, perhaps once halakha defines ervah, whatever is considered ervah falls under the category of a logical prohibition.

  2. See also this article in Hama'ayan which discusses the issue.

  • @mevaqesh what are the dogmatic reasons? – wfb Mar 16 '16 at 18:46
  • Well they didn't comment, but I guessed it had to do with any reference to Open Orthodox. It seems that people often vote based on the names they see rather than the actual content of the answer. If they see unpopular names, they downvote. – mevaqesh Mar 16 '16 at 18:51
  • @mevaqesh I see what you're saying – wfb Mar 21 '16 at 1:37
  • The Dor R'vi'i seems to have been talking about a man going in public without any clothes, not a woman. – Fred Aug 28 '16 at 18:39
  • 1
    @wfb Not sure if you're joking, but I wasn't saying that only men should refrain from wearing no clothes in public. I was saying that there are presumably other halachic considerations for why women should not appear in public unclothed, in addition to just because it's obviously a bad thing to do, which is the only reason the Dor R'vi'i gives for why men shouldn't do it. In other words, the Dor R'vi'i doesn't support the claim in your answer that nudity is nowhere prohibited in the Torah for women. – Fred Aug 30 '16 at 1:05

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .