The following is an open letter by a male member of a Jewish community addressing the immodesty of the skinny layering shells that are so popular today, worn by religious Jewish women.
My Dear Chaveirim,
The wearing of elastic, tightly fitted, and thin shells as outer garments by women in the Orthodox Jewish community is becoming widespread. In the view of numerous rabbanim with whom I have sought guidance, the shells worn as such often violate laws of tznius as well as those prohibiting following in the ohudv ,ueuj. I am writing to you to direct your attention to the issue.
Shells originally entered the Orthodox Jewish world as a mechanism for countering mild transparency in women’s garments. Worn as an undergarment for blouses and dresses that were borderline modest, the shells added bulk to the materials to render them opaque. While not the pinnacle of modesty, this approach did help to achieve a basic modesty for women that struggled to find intrinsically modest garments in stores. It is important to note that the shells purchased for this purpose were sized to be tight-fitting so that they would fit under the outer garment. They were constructed of light and elastic material for the same purpose.
In recent months however, many women have taken to wearing the same tight-fitting shells with garments that are not themselves modest in any sense of the term. I refer to tank tops, vests, halter-tops, spaghetti string tops, short sleeve shirts, and sleeveless dresses. The idea seems to be that pairing a patently immodest garment with another patently immodest garment will somehow yield a modest one. However, the wearing of tight-fitting shells as an outer garment on the shoulders, back, arms, and, chest is immodest.
On the subject of tight-fitting clothing and shells, the distinguished posek HaRav Yaakov E. Forchheimer, t’’yhka, ofLakewood, New Jersey, writes as follows:
A woman’s clothing is not merely intended to cover the body, but to conceal its shape as well. For this reason, clothing should be loose-fitting, not snug. An outfit that covers as required yet shows one’s figure incites the yetzer hara and is therefore forbidden. In addition, an article of clothing can often fit so closely that one can make out the shape of the undergarments. This is also forbidden. Clothing made of certain materials (such as Spandex, Lycra, microfiber and the like) can be particularly problematic as they are stretchy and clingy and can make a garment too form-fitting even if the garment is the right size.
This is applicable to shells as well. A shell worn in a manner in which it is clearly visible (such as if the upper garment is left somewhat open or if the shell is worn under a lace top) must be loose, so as not to reveal the shape of the body. Recently many of the shells on the market have a very snug fit. These shells may not be worn in the above manner.
Many people have some difficulty in defining for themselves what falls into the category of tight or form-fitting. Unfortunately, today’s frame of reference has changed due to the fact that clothing is being manufactured in tighter styles than in the past. What used to be perceived as normal can mistakenly be seen as oversized by today’s norms. In addition, the manufacturers are deliberately mislabeling the garments leading customers to purchase clothes that are too tight for them (for example, a woman who knows her size to be a medium will buy a garment labeled “M”, which really should be labeled small). To help one make the proper judgment, it is strongly advisable for every woman to have someone reliable to whom she can show her clothes in order to determine what is appropriate and what is not. In addition, a woman should keep in mind when shopping that the labels are misleading, and that in order to find something appropriate for her true size she many need to purchase garments one or two sizes larger than usual. (kkv,, thv, A Practical Guide to Tznius, pp. 32-3, published by iuhkd, 62 Arosa Hill, Lakewood, NJ, 08701)
In personal communication with the writer of this letter, Rabbi Forchheimer stated that it is prohibited to wear tight clothing on the shoulders and “It is a proper and recommended practice to cover the upper arms with a loose garment.”
As HaRav Pesach Eliyahu Falk t’’yhka explains in his bookModesty – An Adornment for Life, p. 292, the power of the arms to attract is clearly noted in Torah literature. The Midrash (Bereishis80:5) tells us that the exposing of Dinah’s arms triggered the tragic incident with Shechem. Rabbi Falk points out that the Chofetz Chaimzt’l and the Gerer Rebbe zt’l wrote public letters that specifically mentioned the need to cover arms. Says Rabbi Falk, “This should strengthen our realization that a woman’s arms have a powerful effect of inviting undesirable attention.” It is the view of this writer that today’s skintight elastic garments produce an effect similar to that of exposing bare arms.
In addition to violations of tznius, the wearing of shells with intrinsically immodest garments involves a possible Torah prohibition against following in the ways of the gentiles. Rabbi Forchheimer writes as follows:
The ost ,nfj writes that one who wears non-Jewish styles of clothing transgresses the t,hhruts ruxht of ufk, tk ovh,ueujcu(among other ihutk), which is punishable in beis din with,uekn. This issur applies to any style of clothing which thegoyim manufacture for the sake of pritzus. (A Practical Guide to Tznius, p. 35)
There are options other than shells for women who seek a garment to supplement dresses and tops that do not fall under the category of ohudv ,ueuj. These options, which are widely available, are blouses and dress shirts. Made of a stiffer, thicker cotton or polyester, they do not cling to the skin and reveal body shape. These garments are in themselves modest or borderline modest such that pairing them with another garment will render a far more acceptable look than a shell with the same garment. Every school day Bais Yaakovgirls in uniforms wear modest dress shirts.
It should go without saying that this letter is not meant to minimize the general challenge faced by Jewish women in maintainingtznius in this deeply troubled era. It should also go without saying the tremendous importance, the centrality, of tznius within the community and in the religious service of Jewish women. As theMidrash says about Hashem’s formation of the first woman, “As He created each limb, He said to her, ‘Be a modest woman, a modest woman.’” (Midrash Rabbah, Bereishis 18:2)
With hopes for the speedy arrival of Moshiach,
A Concerned Member of the Community
Originally posted here, http://btinanewkey.blogspot.com/2013/05/an-open-letter-concerning-immodesty-of.html
If you are interested, someone alerted us to a petition on Change.org.
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