I’ve been frum — whatever that means — for about six years. Before that I was mostly acquainted with the assimilation problem. Anyone within an earshot of a Jewish newspaper had been inundated with that. But getting integrated into the Orthodox world, I was introduced to new issues — lots of them. Among the more specific issues, and one I’ve never really understood, is this thing with women and pants. Orthodox Jews, maybe those my age more than others, have been preoccupied with this idea that women can only wear skirts. Of course, many people I’ve known have held exactly the opposite position. But quite frankly, I don’t really care.
Even given the discussion’s halachic merits, the larger picture is lost in the discourse. Is wearing pants less modest? Is wearing a skirt more modest? Does dressing less modestly lead people to freer lifestyles? Does that lead to more promiscuous lifestyles? (And if it does, how does that negatively affect society?)
The answer to any of the above could easily be “no,” but just as easily “yes.” Not all jeans that women wear are body-hugging. Many skirts that Orthodox women wear are almost comically small (or tight). Fashion choices aren’t always purposeful or indicative of how a woman conducts herself in public or in private. A tight-jeans-wearing woman might be chaste, while a long-skirt-clad seminary girl might have some issues she’d like to work on. I can go on. Women don’t live their lives by the clothes on their backs (or legs).
Posts like this one should be just as common with topics that aren’t pants. Has it ever bothered you when someone shouts corrections in the synagogue when the bar mitzvah boy makes a mistake reading the Torah? How about when someone from the US keeps only one day of a holiday while he’s staying in Israel? We, as Jews, often fail to see the potential or apparent good in someone as we obsess over petty issues. I have seen people seethe over girls with a tallis and yarmulke. Honestly, is this what we want to focus our energies on? Are these the issues that are making or breaking Judaism?
The issue of pants is a distraction. I’ve never thought it to be one that deserved so much attention. Having gone through a conversion process, maybe I’ve necessarily acquired this more general approach to the world. Maybe, sociologically, I wasn’t saturated with this debate ad nauseum from the cradle to the dorm room. But one way or the other, my way of looking at the world is to attach religious importance, or at least to apply a religious perspective, to the events going on around me: to every element of personal life, my immediate surroundings and the entire world.
As I became more religious, I delved more and more into how Judaism might wrestle with wars, famine and corruption. I realized that Judaism must have a perspective on fighting dictators and poverty, and getting people to be more entrepreneurial. With such gargantuan issues — which I could continue listing — I never understood this fascination with such a petty issue as Orthodox girls in pants.