Pants are overrated

This is not going to be an article permitting Jewish women to wear pants. It is essential that the code of Jewish law, Halacha, be respected and observed. The point of this article is to show how we need to prioritize, and learn how to present this subject in a gentle and understanding manner.

Maimonides, in his classic work, Mishna Torah, organizes the 613 commandments according to importance. He first explains those commandments related to the existence of G-d. he shows how we must learn to love and fear G-d, and sanctify His name. These laws take priority for without understanding our connection to the Al-mighty, what meaning would the other laws have. This section is followed by the rules connected with how to treat people in a kind way. Here, the Rambam, as he is also known, brings the Mitzva to love every Jew, and not to speak badly about another Jew. The point here is that if we don’t first learn how to treat people, our holy Torah will be profaned.

Maimonides takes his ideas a step further by categorizing laws according to what he calls, “strict” laws and “light” laws. This definition is based on the punishment connected to a specific transgression. if there is a death penalty or Karet (being cut off from the Jewish people),in the Torah, they are considered strict. Otherwise, they are light Mitzvot.

The point here is that it is important that we know where we need to place our emphasis. Unfortunately, in today’s religious world, there are too many labels. One such negative label is given to a girl who wears pants on a regular basis. The schools begin harping on the subject of modesty even before adolescence. Often girls in middle school do not understand why their educators are making such a big deal about dress code. After all, most of society condones the wearing of pants by women in all positions in life. It is even acceptable to wear stylish pants outfits to very extravagant affairs.

What adds to the confusion, is that these rules are often harshly dictated to young girls in such schools. Young ladies are insulted and embarrassed for the crime of being caught wearing pants. I personally experienced one such incident one summer with one of my daughters. During the vacation, a “friend” told the principal of the school that she spotted my daughter wearing pants. I received a letter from the school telling me that on the basis of the friend’s testimony, my daughter was no longer welcome in the school. I protested to the principal that it was wrong to accept such testimony and it was wrong to make such an issue in this manner. The principal’s reply, “If my daughters wore pants, I’d burn them!” To which I replied, “Burn your daughters or burn the pants?” My daughter was reinstated, but the incident left a wound that may never completely heal.

There is a famous story about an argument between the sun and the wind as to who was stronger. The two agreed that the one who could get a gentleman sitting in the park, to remove his coat, was the stronger, The wind went first. The stronger the wind blew, the more the man held tightly to his coat. The sun simply shined so brightly, that the warm air caused him to take off the coat himself.

It seems to me that the way modesty and dress codes laws have been taught, have turned away more young ladies, rather than making them want to observe these laws. There has become stereotype in many yeshivot, that a nice girl would not wear pants. It’s not worth going on a date with such a girl. Is it fair to say that a girl cannot be spiritual and of the highest moral character, just because of the pants?

Rabbis and teachers need to learn how to present their subjects with love, in a “sun” like manner. They need to show how much beauty there is in these laws. A young lady will acquire more dignity and self respect by adhering to the traditions of our Torah. We would have a much better chance of success this way, rather than how it’s been taught in recent years. We need to know how to choose our battles. Things need to make sense to young people before they will become believers. By over emphasizing what they might see as foolishness, they might think the whole system is foolish, G-d forbid.

We must follow the example of Maimonides in showing where we first begin in our quest to observe G-d’s law. If we approach things in a logical and kind manner, it will only be a matter of time, when all of the laws will be observed. The Torah and its laws represent truth. And the truth always wins in the end.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for more than twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the nearly seventeen years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.