Stop Skirting the Issue: Pants vs. Skirts

Over the past couple of months, one topic has come up in a number of conversations that I have had with some parents: Clothing. It usually goes something like this: “Hi, rabbi, I have a serious problem in my home and was wondering if you could give me some guidance. You see, my daughter is going off the derech and I am greatly concerned! She is—rachmana litzlan—wearing pants.”

The term “going off the derech” (or as it is known by its abbreviation “OTD”) is a clarion call for many but misunderstood by most. It probably would be a good idea first to define what “The Derech” is before claiming one is going off that derech.

The “derech” generally means (in very broad strokes) living one’s life according to Halacha and maintaining what is called an Orthodox lifestyle. This would include things such as Shabbat, Kashrut, Taharat HaMishpacha, etc. If one were to give up one of these areas of Halacha, such as Shabbat, then we would say he or she had “gone OTD.”

It is at that moment, when the parent is aghast that their daughter is wearing pants that I often ask: Does she keep Shabbat still? The answer is affirmative. Does she still keep kosher? Yes, of course, I am told. And I ask a few more questions like that and the answers remain in the affirmative.

Then, I say something that generally shakes them up: “I assume you want your daughter to go off the derech.”

After a brief pause (did I hear the phone go dead?), I am asked what in the world did I mean by that?! G-d forbid I would want my daughter to go OTD! And here, as they say, comes the knockout punch: I tell them that if they make an issue over the wearing of pants vs. skirts; that if their lives revolve around a “war” about clothing; that if there are threats and punishments discussed, then you can bet your  bottom dollar that this daughter of yours will likely go OTD.

At that point, if the parent is still speaking to me or has not yet outright called me an apikores, I continue to try and make my point in a cogent and direct way.

I ask them: If your daughter says that she wants to be able to wear pants or she will not keep kosher any more, what is your answer to that. What if she says it is pants or Shabbat? What do you say to that challenge? Depending on the family, the answer is not so forthcoming. GENERALLY, the answer is that they would prefer their daughter wear pants. Why, I ask. Why do you prefer they wear pants rather than leave Shabbat and Kashrut in the dust? As I hear them trying to seek an answer from deep inside themselves, I begin to hear the light go on.

In the minds of these parents, who make a war out of pants vs skirts, they are “fighting” a noble cause. After all, tzniut and the way a person dresses is a critical factor in a Bat Yisrael. True…but, when one makes that the DEFINING factor of a Bat Yisrael and makes a push that it is my way or the highway, then, as I said above, you have just set your daughter up to do exactly what you fear: to go off the derech . I have seen it many times, where a girl has thrown away her religiosity because her parents would not bend on the clothing issue.

The parent lost both the battle and the war. They have lost their daughter—not only in terms of religion but also in terms of their relationship.

Yes, Poskim have said and continue to say that a woman should indeed wear a skirt, l’chatchila (best case scenario). However, if a woman chooses to NOT wear a skirt, but instead to wear pants, the truth is that it is NOT in any way, shape or form an issue over having a child leave her religious lifestyle and going OTD. Is it worth battling about Kosher, Shabbat and things of that nature? Of course.

But, I can almost guarantee you that the more you push on the pants issue, the farther away you will push your daughter; possibly to the point of her not wanting to be שומרת תורה ומצוות ,and that would be on your head, as parents.

If the child is in a school and the rules of the school include skirts/no pants, then as having accepted this policy when signing up for the school, that is indeed your position and must be enforced. Barring that situation, I urge you to listen to your daughters. No, one need not “give in” at the first request. But…if it goes beyond requests and into the stage of “I am going to do this,” please believe me, it is not worth THAT fight.

Stop skirting the issue. Begin to listen and begin to understand. You have all to gain…and, G-d forbid, a daughter to lose.

 

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28 thoughts on “Stop Skirting the Issue: Pants vs. Skirts

  1. I can imagine someone going to a Hareidi rabbi with a concern that the son was going OTD because he didn’t want to wear a black hat. There is a strong possibility that the next POTUS will be a woman wearing pants. At some point, most folks will have to accept the fact that women are wearing pants, and that it’s a non-issue.

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    1. I don’t think we should be looking to non-Jews as an accepted way of dressing/behaving. Although I agree with the general article, that doesn’t mean we should be actively teaching frum girls that wearing pants is OK.

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      1. It is NOT lechatchilla. I am making the argument that a girl who is going to wear pants anf that such a ”fight” would her to truly go off the derech,pants are a better option.

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      2. @Frank: “I don’t think we should be looking to non-Jews as an accepted way of dressing/behaving.”

        Actually, we should. For halakhic reasons. Because the definition of “beged ish” — which is the main halakhic objection to women wearing pants — is determined by the norms of dress in the surrounding society. (I.e., in a hypothetical society where all men wear skirts and all women wear pants, it would be halakhically *prohibited* for a woman to wear a skirt, or for a man to wear pants.) What people in general (including non-Jews) wear has a direct bearing upon the halakha.

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  2. Brilliant! Part 2 could be ‘my daughter cane home wearing pants but still prays, keeps Shabbat and kashrut’. Now what? Indeed, had l let my daughter wear pants when she wanted to, things might have been different. Or not. Who knows? The halacha is that collar bones, elbows and knees be covered. Zeh hu. Pants are much more modest than some skirts these days. Kol hakavod for putting it out there.

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  3. Love the article! And here are some of my thoughts…
    Wearing pants has nothing to do with our relationship with God and keeping mitzvots. We are who we want to be… God gave us the amazing gift of free will, of personality and uniqueness so we can decide for our selfs what we like and what we don’t like.
    We are unique, we know what we like and we have the power to decide what we want to wear, what we want to study, or what we want to do in life.
    I am totally against in the believe that a group of “men” should tell us what we should wear, what we should study, what is our roll as woman’s ?
    We are independent, unique and our relationship with God has nothing but nothing to do with what we wear!
    We are free and we have the power to decide what we want to do with our life! 🙂 😉

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  4. RavZev,

    Thank you for writing this article. I have many arguments with various orthodox and ultra-orthodox rabbis. I personally believe that in many ways, pants (or trousers – depending on where you live), are much more modest than many of the skirts you see frum girls (and women) are wearing nowadays.
    It’s true that בגד איש (mens wear) is prohibited for women, but you will agree that in our century a man cannot walk into a women’s clothing store/department and expect to get away by wearing a woman’s pants… The rabbis of our times have failed to realize that “Times, they are changing “. And because of that fact, many young people are turned off by their restrictions. These young people realize that some of these rabbis are wrong . We have so much knowledge at our disposal. More so than ever before (science, technology, philosophy and even religion). We have this knowledge because when rabbis refuse to answer some of us are still eager to find the answers. When we do, we are sometimes left on a crossroad… Not knowing what to make of our findings, and sometimes even feeling betrayed by those rabbis whom we looked up to for guidance.

    As such, for those, who based on their research have learned / understand that stringency of “skirts only” is based on a weak or unsubstantial premise…will start to question everything that rabbis are so strict about, and may end up dropping a lot more than just the “skirts only” rule. Additionally, if the communities start to “judge” and worse, exclude people who “wear pants”… That gives even more incentive for them to cut themselves off completely from the community.

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  5. Sadly, you would be surprised actually in certain communities they would actually choose dress over Halacha. Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi, who gives a lot of popular shiurm, was once invited to give a lecture at a large Belz Yeshiva. He decided that his talk would revolve around the importance not only our outer appearance and observance, but the inner intent within our hearts.

    At the end, the Rosh Yeshiva got up and actually said that he disagreed with Rabbi Mizrachi’s approach. He shockingly said he would rather his students go eat pork on Yom Kippur than to abandon the Chassidic dress code and cut off their peyot – Yes this is a true story!

    May all Rabbis learn from the wisdom of Rabbi Zev.

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  6. It’s interesting that you picked pants to focus on. As was mentioned, strict Halacha (as opposed to “orthodox societal norms”) probably allows for pants – as the Big Three – knees, elbows and collarbone- are covered.
    So, what about short sleeves? In my limited experience, that “breach” comes first and is somehow considered less extreme – despite it being Halachically more problematic. Would you say the same applies to girls wanting to wear short sleeves?
    And while the concept of Tzniut might technically be between each person and G-d, the “societal norm” aspect cannot be overlooked. When other Orthodox people see someone who has breached the norms in one way – say, a girl wearing pants, or a boy with no Kipa – they make assumptions about other areas of that person’s observance. “If they’re not as careful as they used to be about X (dress), then perhaps they’re also not as careful about Y (milk and meat).” The only way society has to begin to know you is by how you look; that is how we all initially decide whether it is worth our while to get to know a person better. Someone who looks different than their family’s or society’s expectations, is someone that will be rejected by all but the fringes of that society. The subsequent likelihood of them ending up OTD despite their parents’ not “fighting the pants issue”, is therefore very, very high.

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  7. i think that the main point is that when a child starts to change their dress from the accepted dress code of his/her community, if a parent then doesn’t accept their child or argues too hard about the outward appearances, they end up doing more damage to the child’s relationship with G-d and yiddishkeit. Not that pants are acceptable but that one should pick our battles very carefully and treat our children with love and respect. “Oheiv es habrious umerkorvon laTorah” Love all creatures and bring them close to the Torah.

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  8. I am a proud member of the OTD community, and I enjoyed this post. You put people over absolute rigid conformity. You use the kind of common sense that is sadly very uncommon. But there is an aspect of this you haven’t addressed. Parents put a lot of emphasis on clothing because it’s the main way frum people identify each other. I know from personal experience that you can openly have a boyfriend and do things like listening to music during the nine days and basically do whatever you want in ‘in-town’ frum areas as long as you still look the part. People will rationalize away practically anything else. But as soon as you change your attire, you’re out. You’re a goy, persona non grata. And yes, this was one of the many things that turned me off Orthodox Judaism. This is not just about parents, it’s about frum values in general. The frum community values appearance over substance and that’s part of what I opted out of.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. While I obviouslt don’t know your story, I am sorry you had to go through that. And yes all too often parents emphasize the wrong things and cause long term change that was not intended. Thank you again…I wish you only the best.

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    2. What a sad commentary on social orthodoxy. My daughter feels the same. Im so sorry our community is so judgmental. However, we also have to look at the amazing things our community has to offer. You know what lm talking about. The chessed organizations, the people who really care about you will always really care about you no matter what you look like. There is love here as well. Lots of it. Sending you my best!

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  9. Thank you Rabbi for your common-sense approach, I like what you have to say. My issue is when the oldest child is pushing boundaries, and you let them wear pants, because that’s what that child needs at the moment. Then suddenly all the younger sisters start to demand to be allowed to wear pants too…. how do you justify to them that you have different standards for different children?

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    1. Excellent question. Whether it is dress or driving a car or other “rules” of the house ,each child is different and kids must learn this from early on. Some kids need chizuk in one area that the other does not. In many cases, we arise out children in differential ways since each child has different needs and different ways in which they must be approached. What works for one does not necessarily work for another.
      We often need to repeat: חנוך לנער על פי דרכו I hope this begins to answer your query.

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