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.