Are there sources that say women do not have to cover elbows? Because I've seen Orthodox women not covering them and I want to be able to say that there are sources that support their actions.

  • 4
    Just out of curiosity, why not ask the question in reverse? "Are there sources that say women have to cover their elbows? Because I've seen Orthodox women covering them and I want to know if there are sources saying their actions are necessary."
    – Seth J
    Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 19:09

1 Answer 1


The best development I've seen on this is Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin's Contemporary Tseni'ut. It appeared in Tradition 37:3 (2003), as well as its own book. The Tradition article is available online, paid subscription required. Here's his conclusion, as relates to your question:

It emerges from Rashi, Yerushalmi and Korban ha-Eda that peritsut in exposure of the upper arms comes not from the arms themselves, but from the body being visible via the arms; this, then, is what Sefer Rokeah means by zero’oteha megulot, the same language as zero’oteha halutsot in the Yerushalmi. This is a powerful source for limmud zekhut in behalf of otherwise modest women whose sleeves do not reach to their elbows.

A typology can be established, then, as follows:
1. sleeveless dresses—forbidden by all opinions, as body can be seen.
2. short sleeves, loose—forbidden by all opinions if body can be seen.
3. short sleeves, tight—body cannot be seen, but forbidden if most of the upper arm is uncovered (rubo ke-kulo)
4. sleeves half-way to elbow—forbidden because of tefah meguleh, room for limmud zekhut
5. sleeves to within a tefah of the elbow—minimum permitted
6. sleeves to elbow—recommended
7. sleeves to below elbow—first level humra
8. sleeves to wrists—second level humra.

This does not supplant any communal or familial minhag.

  • can you elaborate on what "body being visible via the arms" means. Are you saying that the arm is considered the body, so if you see the arm you are seeing the body? Or are you saying that if the arm is uncovered, some of the body will also be uncovered, which is a problem?
    – Menachem
    Commented Jun 2, 2011 at 21:06
  • 2
    @Menachem, if I understand R' Henkin correctly, the latter.
    – Shalom
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 1:57
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    If you have not seen a woman with short, loose sleeves, you obviously don't understand the issue here. If the sleeve is short and loose, it is possible that the skin of the woman's chest, under her armpit would be visible, and therefore not tsanuah. This would certainly occur if she has to raise her arms. I hope that clarifies it for you, Menachem.
    – Madeleine
    Commented Aug 18, 2011 at 4:36
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    If the reason for covering the upper arms is to keep the body from being seen, then why is it still forbidden to wear TIGHT short sleeves (where the body can't be seen) but that are still so short as to leave the majority of the arm uncovered? I should think that if the only reason for covering the upper arms is so that the body isn't exposed than it should be sufficient halachically to wear tight short sleeves that reach less than half way down the upper arm, because since they are tight the body is covered even when the arms are raised. Please explain Thank you
    – user1955
    Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 19:08
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    @rosends if I recall from Rabbi Henkin's piece, he writes explicitly that "within a few inches of the elbow" does not allow you to go past the elbow and then cut out a few-inch window.
    – Shalom
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 1:47

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