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Oct 13, 1997 - 04:37 -

I have a question:
Why do women have to wear dresses in orthadox synagogs? Are they allowed to wear anything other than dresses?

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Thanks for your question.

Jewish men and women are traditionally bound to dress modestly. There is no difference between what Jewish women are traditionally expected to wear in synagogue and what they are expected to wear in any other public place. Pants are considered by many communities to reveal the female form in an inappropriate way. There is also an explicit biblical commandment against cross-dressing, and many communities consider pants to be an example of "that which appurtaineth to a man". There are actually practical differences between those who derive the prohibition from laws of modesty and those who derive it from laws of cross-dressing. For example, those who relate the prohibition to modesty would permit a female skier to wear pants underneath a skirt for protection from the elements.

In any case, it has nothing to with synagogue attendance. In orthodox communities, wearing a dress or skirt need not imply "dressing up", since orthodox women wear dresses and skirts routinely.    

The same is true of women's hair coverings. In traditional communities, married women cover their hair in public. It is a modesty rule, having nothing to do with synagogue attendance, and unrelated to the reason why men cover their heads with kipot.

Men are subject to similar rules against immodesty and cross-dressing, which prevent them from wearing brightly colored clothes and many forms of jewelry, etc.

A site visitor writes:

In your answer to the single woman that asked about head covering, you gave the Askhenazi custom, among the Sefardim ALL the women cover their head (not completely, sometimes they wear a heat, others just use a piece of clothing - almost transparent) .