Tuesday, November 24, 2009

shok b'isha ervah: tzniyus skirt length

If you have daughters you have undoubtedly faced the question of how long a skirt must be to pass halachic muster. The answer to this important question can make or break a good shopping opportunity. The easy part to figure out is that since "shok b'isha erva" (Brachos 24a) a skirt has to cover the part of the leg called the "shok". The harder part is figuring our where on the leg the shok is.

The Torah tells us regarding a korban shelamim (VaYikra 7:32):
וְאֵת שׁוֹק הַיָּמִין תִּתְּנוּ תְרוּמָה לַכֹּהֵן מִזִּבְחֵי שַׁלְמֵיכֶם
Rashi comments: Shok refers to [the part of the animal’s hind leg extending] from the אַרְכּוּבָה [knee-joint, the bone and the flesh of which are usually] sold together with the head, up till the middle joint [of the upper leg] which is called רֶגֶל סֹבֶ שֶׁל. [The animal’s leg has three sections to it; thus, the שׁוֹק is the middle of those three sections.] In other words, shok is not the lower bone of the leg, but is the upper bone -- the thigh. The Pri Megadim, Mishna Berura, and Chazon Ish all conclude that a skirt must therefore cover at least from the knee and above, but below the knee is just a matter of minhag.

Things get tricky because Tosfos (Menachos 37) writes that human anatomy is different than animal anatomy and the shok on an animal does not correspond to what the shok is on a person. Tosfos writes that the shok is actually the lower part of the leg in people. The description of the term shok by the Bach (O.C. 75) as a place that if not for the chiddush din or ervah we would not consider prohibited to be exposed because it is normally covered in dirt seems to point to the lower foot as the area being discussed, not an area above the knee. Based on these sources some poskim (R' Vozner; the Chazon Ish also debates the proofs for this position) argue that a skirt should be much longer and cover far below the knee as well.

If the shiur of the Chazon Ish and Mishna Berura are good enough for you, your daughters may once in awhile find a skirt that passes muster in a regular store. If not, your daughters are pretty much limited to "frum" stores which cater to long skirt lengths.

In the school which my girls attend they are required to wear a uniform with a skirt that goes well below the knee, but they are also required to wear knee socks (socks which cover to the knee, not just the ankles) so that no part of the lower leg is exposed. My suspicion is that this is just a matter of conforming to what other similar schools set as their uniform rather than a formal psak. My impression is that the knee-sock rule is flaunted by most girls on weekends or outside school, but what really reinforces my belief that this is just a matter of uniform and not halacha is the fact that the school has Moros who wear sheer stockings or to cover their lower leg (below the knee). Obviously if you think a first grader needs to wear knee socks because the lower leg is ervah, then teachers who are religious role models should follow the same standard. (For the record, the Chazon Ish 16:8 writes that the age at which you start enforcing these rules depends on the maturity of the girl, so a first grader may have no halachic obligation to follow any of these rules to begin with.)


  1. Is there any halacha that prohibits walking around with uncovered erva? I'm not talking about making brachos. Does Lo Yeira'eh really mean what it says? What is Lo Yei'ra'eh? Where? In your house? In your bedroom? In the mikva? Only when someone is making a bracha?

    Assuming that there is no issur to go around with uncovered erva, then it really boils down to tznius and das yehudis, and I don't mean Yishma'els wife Yehudis bas Be'eiri. Das Yehudis, maybe maybe, is an absolute. But is Tznius an absolute?

    Assuming that tznius is not an absolute, then standards will differ in various times and places. Who decides? In my house, NOT ME, and NOT THE SCHOOL. My wife has VERY STRONG OPINIONS about my utter and unmitigated cluelessness and school boards' vacuousness and desire to pander to the most machmir in order to prop up their school's reputation.

  2. >>>Assuming that there is no issur to go around with uncovered erva,

    The pasuk in chumash says "lo yera'eh". The issur of saying shema in the presence of ervah is an extension of that halacha -- since this area must be covered, therefore you cannot say krias shema when it is uncovered. If you could walk around nude than nothing would be ervah for purposes of k"s either. I think you have the cart before the horse.

    Some things are absolute, some aren't. But if the school does not let a kid in without knee socks, then there's not much room for debate.

  3. Chaim, can you call wearing a longer skirt a minhag? No, either that is the halacha you conform to or it isn't. This has nothing to do with minhag here. Unless you are talking about minhag hamakom. But whatever the minhag hamakom is then that is the halacha.

    Either way, whatever the school requires it requires. They could require all the girls to wear all black, that doesn;t mean it is halachic. This school is probably an ultra orthodox school and therefore must act in accordance with that. If it was a boy's school it would probably require a black hat, jacket, and a white shirt with black pants. Is that halachic? No, but it is the type of look that the administrators feel is important.

  4. Garnel Ironheart3:49 PM

    I think E-man reaises an interesting issue.

    For example, regarding socks. The Mishnah Berurah, while mentioning that women should wear them, also mentioned that each community has its own custom and that each should follow their own. Hence amongst the Dati Leumi it is not customary for women to wear socks in warm weather when everyone, male and female, wears sandals.

    The same could apply to skirts except there are additional considerations in terms of hiding portions of the female body to prevent hirhur amongst observing males. That would limit the flexibility of how long and loose a skirt needs to be.

  5. First of all, I agree one hundred percent that children have to follow- and even respect- the rules of the school, whatever they are. If you teach a child to disparage his Torah educators, you might as well just cut to the chase and send them to public school.

    Second, Chaim, with all due respect, what are you talking about? Do you think lo yeira'eh in Devarim 23 means it's assur to walk around naked? As far as I know, it means that in the Machaneh, when the Aron is there, it's assur. Similarly, it's assur when you're making a bracha, or in the presence of a davar kadosh (not a relic- I mean kisvei hakodesh like a mezuza or tefillin). But stam? There is no such issur. As far as the Torah is concerned, we can all walk around like jaybirds. There is, of course, a mussar derhehr of recognizing melo kol ha'aretz kevodo, of tznius, both for one's self and for the effect on others. But assur? Since when? Last time I checked the Chinuch, it wasn't there.

  6. Many Rishonim explain that das yehudis (kesubos 72) = the common fashion custom, as opposed to das moshe = objective standards. If the custom in an area becomes to wear skirts down to the ankles, then it becomes obligatory to do so. There is no similar halacha that would bind a boy to wear his school uniform. And there is no similar phenomenon with respect to minhag hamakom that would transform a practice with no halachic basis (like fashion) into an obligation.

    (This is just meant to clarify what I meant by minhag and din in this context. In practice what population and circumstance defines das yehudis is not clear to me. Is it how a majority of Orthodox women dress? A majority of the population? Outside? At home? At all times or not? I don't have answers.)

  7. The Gemara in Kesuvos is a pratt in losing the kesuva, because the marriage contract assumes that the parties will behave in a way that does not bring shame upon the family, either das Moshe or das Yehudis.

  8. >>>Last time I checked the Chinuch, it wasn't there.

    Because the Rambam doesn't count it. Ramban has it as #11 on lavim the Rambam "forgot".

    I am not sure how this ties into the point I was trying to make. You wrote, "Assuming that tznius is not an absolute, then standards will differ in various times and places,", implying everything is subjective. I think there is some objective idea of ervah irrespective of social circumstances. Even if I grant that you can parade around your home in your birthday suit, all that means is that there is no prohibition of exposing ervah within one's own 4 amos, not that ervah is a social construct.

  9. Garnel Ironheart5:28 PM

    There are too many mishnayos which discuss women baking challos in the nude and how to daven when naked to conclude one should wear one's capote in the shower.
    On the other hand, there is the rule of chaning under one's bedsheets instead of out in the open.
    Obviously there is mean to be a healthy balance between the two extremes.

  10. Thank you for the Ramban.

    My point still stands. If there is no issur of parading around in your birthday suit, then it doesn't matter if something is ervah or not ervah. The distinction only pertains to Tefilla and learning or writings of Torah. The only thing that matters is tznius, and tznius means "the opposite of pritzus," and pritzus arises from the degrading effect on ourselves and others, and that is inherently subjective and purely local. If in this place it's considered tzanu'ah, then we are all the same as a boy or girl of four years old running around uncovered, or like Adam kodem hachet.

    Maybe, if you hold abizrayhu are de'oraysa, and that abizrayhu pertain even outside of a sexual context, like memasheish es hadefek, you could argue that running around naked is abizrayhu. Maybe.

  11. Barzilai: "What is Lo Yei'ra'eh? Where? In your house? In your bedroom? In the mikva? Only when someone is making a bracha?"- Doesn't it say in the Shulchan Aruch that you can't even be uncovered under your blanket, which is why it’s better to reveal the least amount of skin possible while changing clothes?

    "Is there any halacha that prohibits walking around with uncovered erva?"- "ולפני עיור לא תתן מכשול".

    "Das Yehudis, maybe maybe, is an absolute."- Isn't dat yehudit only about covering the hair?

    "There is, of course, a 'mussar derhehr' of recognizing melo kol ha'aretz kevodo"- A WHAT??

  12. "Doesn't it say in the Shulchan Aruch that you can't even be uncovered under your blanket,"
    I believe that the custom used to be to sleep in the altogether, so they would not have been clothed under the blanket. They may have dressed under the blanket not to reveal any nakedness, though. I believe the Chofetz Chaim advised donning socks under a blanket to avoid revealing feet because naked feet were not the norm in 19th century Eastern Europe.

  13. But as you say, it depends on the norm. The norm at the beach, the norm in the mikva, and the norm in the office are all different, and therein lies the difference between tznius and pritzus. There's the erva of vehaya machanecha kadosh, which is an absolute, and there's kedusha, which requires a talmid chacham to be covered as much as possible whenever possible, and there's tznius for the common man. Yes, in 2, 240 and 241 it says that we should get dressed under a robe and so forth and be tzanua in marital relations, because Hashem hates pritzus. And there's also the self respect issue. But I'm not sure to what extent that is informed by local mores and to what extent it is related to the Din Erva. I'm not taking a obdurate position here: I'm keeping an open mind. I really don't know whether there are rules here that are time and place dependent.

  14. Barzilai, I could just picture a vodka ad that says "Absolut Erva." Certain things are in the category of erva, but, you are right that much depends on context. No one would consider a woman who dunks in the mikva lacking in tznius because she must do so unclothed. But, and this is a big but, generally the robe is kept on for as long as possible and resumed immediately upon emerging from the water to preserve as much modesty as possible.

    I brought up the example of women swimming with no men present. I doubt anyone would tell them they have to keep their elbows and knees covered in such circumstances. But, and here we go again, it would be rather surprising for a woman in that situation to opt for any style other than a modest one piece. So even when erva may be uncovered, there is an attempt to maximize modesty. I don't know if it is technically required because, in truth, bath houses used to feature communal bathing with no suits of any kind. But perhaps the contextual norms of today would have different requirements.

  15. Isn;t the halacha that a woman is allowed to pray to G-D practically naked? Check out the shulchan aruch orech chaim 74:4 the Rama there. If that is true then tznius is completely based on men seeing the women. Therefore, I don;t understand the whole in private you have to be tznius. When she is praying to G-D she is allowed to be naked, so why, when she is alone and when G-D is not on the mind, would she need to be covered? This goes back to the whole idea about what is the point of tznius. The real point is to make women less desirable to men so that they should not have hirhurim. Please explain to me why a woman, that is alone in a bathhouse, or just among other women would need to be careful then.

  16. The din d'oraysa of ervah has nothing to do with hirhur; dinim derabbanan do. Md'oraysa a very minimal covering is needed.

    Barzilai, I don't understand how you would explain the difference between das moshe and das yehudis if you reduce everything to social norma. And why does the gemara even introduce pesukim as asmachtos are derashos -- just look at what society does? Doesn't the use of prooftext indicate we are dealing with "absolut erva"?

    In case anyone has not seen it, it is very worth reading R' Henkin's article on these issues:

  17. Mrs A, not exactly, but close-

    Your example highlights my point. Pritzus is situational, and tznius is situational. There is a level of tznius is that is absolute-- but that's for people who are kedoshim and tehorim, not for me. If I were machmir, I would probably be over on "mechzi ke'yuhara", and that is one issur I have never been nichshal in. But with modern psychology claiming that inhibition is unhealthy, in a social milieu of blithe exhibitionism, like it or not, most of us have been inured to what to other more inhibited or repressed people would be terrible pritzus.

    E-Man, the fact that it is muttar does not mean that it is lechatchila. Or: all that halacha says is that the tefilla is not passul because of to'ei'va. It does not mean that it is recommended.

  18. Barzilai- It never mentions anything about lichatchila vs bidieved. SO why would I assume that is the case?

    Chaim- That is my point, the only thing that needs to be covered midioraysa is the womans private part. This is the same for a man btw. Midirabanan is everything else. Hence, the laws of tznius are practically all because of hirhur of men. So why would a woman need to be more covered, like Ariella is saying, when no men are around?

  19. Chaim, I am so glad that you linked to this article because he says explicitly that only the genetalia is considered a Dioraysa, but everything else is rabbinical and that Rabbinical is linked to hirhur. Fits beautifully with my question. Why does a woman need to cover more than the private part when no men are around then?

  20. >>>Why does a woman need to cover more than the private part when no men are around then?

    For the same reason a man does: mala'ah ha'aretz kevodo. See O.C. siman 2 and the M.B. there.

  21. Mrs A, not exactly, but close-

    Your example highlights my point. Pritzus is situational, and tznius is situational. There is a level of tznius is that is absolute-- but that's for people who are kedoshim and tehorim, not for me.
    I am either Ariella or Dr. Brown though I do also answer to Mrs. Brown and wouldn't mind being called Dr. B or Mrs. B, but I am not Mrs. A. ;-)
    Anyway I agree that there are levels for kedoshim, like that of the woman whose sons all served as kohanim gedolim because she never revealed her hair to the walls of her house. Of course, that necessitated gathering a circle of women around her every time she had to wash her hair, but it seems that is find all in the name of tznius. Her story is stressed in any BY school.

    Min hadin a woman needn't cover her hair in her own home at all, and that well may extend to a situation in which there are men over. But outside a married woman would be in breach of the law without a hair covering. We would say the same of a woman who goes out in a modern bathing suit on the street. Now while she wouldn't arouse particular attention on the beach where all are similarly (un)clad, she still would be showing shok and them some. It would be difficult to say that is not a breach of tznius if the beach is not restricted to women only.

    Now what of E-man's question? If a woman decides to strip when not taking a bath or a swim, are they over the halacha? While it may not be a technical thing because they did not incite anyone to impure thoughts or whatever, they are ignoring the assumption that there are standards even when no other people are around. Thus we get dressed and undressed without uncovering more than needed even when all alone. I remember being told that those who find that difficult should dress and undress in the bathroom because the room is designated for bathing and so it is the norm to be unclothed in it.

  22. I suppose the idea of getting dressed in the bathroom is a good example. As I understand it, the idea is to make a clear separation between our dignified selves and the times we have to deal with our less dignified selves. We not only make the clear delineation, we also strive to minimize the latter.

  23. Chaim,

    Please point out what you had in mind. True, it says a man should be covered. I believe it is talking about making sure his erva is covered though. Also, this section of the shulchan orech seems to be giving good ideas, but not necessarily halacha. I mean, would you truly argue and say that it is halacha to put on the right shoe before the left?

  24. The M.B. talks about putting on one's socks under a covering and you are reducing the siman to covering ervah?

    >>>would you truly argue and say that it is halacha to put on the right shoe before the left?

    Yes, according to the view of the S.A. Why would you dismiss a din brought halacha lma'aseh in S.A. as a suggestion, a "good idea", and not an obligation? The S.A. is there to tell you do's and don'ts, pshuto k'mashma'o.

  25. That is interesting that you think that. So someone who puts on their left shoe first is going against halacha? Alos, I was referring to the part that is talking about putting your shirt on and letting it fall to cover yourself. It sounded like it was talking about covering the erva.

    But I am really interested in the fact that you think it is halacha to put on the right shoe first. Why would you think this is halacha as opposed to a good idea. Is it also halacha to wake up like a lion? The shulchan orech says it. Do you wake up like a ion every morning, or have you been going agianst the shulchan orech?

  26. Also chaim, the Mishna Berura specifically says that if the minahg hamakom is that no one uncovers their feet then they must cover them, but if it is the minhag then one does not need to be careful about it. If this is true, then one owuld assume that if you are by yourself, the foot is not an inherent erva, only for other people, because of the eminhag hamakom. So if you are alone then it would appear to not be a problem.

  27. Yes, of course it is a halacha to wake up like a lion, irrespective of my personal laziness. I don't know why calling what is found in S.A. by the name "halacha" is a strange idea, or where the notion came from that an open din is just a "good idea" that you can accept or reject at your own discression, but to each his own.

  28. CHaim, if you notice, the first few simanim of Orech Chaim give good ideas, not really halachas. Most of them are minhagim that we as a people have generally accepted, but I would not say they are the same as halacha. Some of them are not done by the majority of klal yisroel. SO they are not the minhagim, but to say these parts of the shulchan orech carry the same weight as halacha is mistaken.

  29. Tis discussion sidetracks us. The point is this, if the reason for the prohibition is hirhurim, then why would there be a prohibition when there is no chance of hirhur? That is the question. To answer my question it does not matter what an authority says, it matters what the reason is.

  30. O.C. siman 2 - because mala'ah kol ha'aretz kvodo and one must act modestly in G-d's presence. Answered this above.

  31. >>>the first few simanim of Orech Chaim give good ideas

    And the source for the distinction between these first few simanim and the rest of Shulchan Aruch is...????

    >>>Some of them are not done by the majority of klal yisroel.

    In which cases the Achronim discuss why this is so. The fact that the S.A. brings it means R' Yosef Karo thought it was halacha l'ma'aseh, but R' Yosef Karo is not the posek acharon. For example, with respect to which shoe to put on first see the Aruch haShulchan's discussion.

  32. Couple of years ago there was a big fight in the Jewish Observer about how to have kavana in Az Yashir in the passuk "Tzalelu ke'oferes be'mayim adirim." An article said that the MB paskens that Adirim means the mighty Egyptians. A letter came in saying that many mefarshim say it means "mighty waters."
    In a fit of pique, the article writer said, more or less, "who cares what the mefarshim say? The MB paskens what the word means, and paskened is paskened! I'll bet that the writer of the article holds his hands at heart level when he davens Shmoneh Esrei, too. Paskened is paskened.

  33. Chaim, if maalah kol haaretz kivodo is the answer than I disagree. Why would a woman be allowed to pray while naked except for her privates?

  34. Doesn;t that seem like a contradiction to you?

  35. Barzilai answered this question above. Yes, she is yotzei tefilah. No, l'chatchila she should not do that. Rehashing same questions and answers.

    >>>Paskened is paskened.

    Paskened by the M.B. does not preclude psak according to other views, right?

  36. This comment has been removed by the author.

  37. The guy who wrote the article felt that the interpretation of words in tefila is subject to psak like anything else, and everyone follows the MB, so QED. I sort of think that there are some questions, some hanhagos, some hashkafos, that are outside the purview of psak halacha.

  38. First off, who says it is bidieved? Secondly, if the halacha is it is an erva even for G-D to see it, like malo kol haaretz kivodo how are u allowed to daven to G-D while that erva is uncovered. Either it is not an erva or G-D
    Does not make us cover our ervas in front of Him. Either way one would not have to be covered in private.

  39. From here: http://www.ravaviner.com/2009/11/shut-sms-46.html

    Q: How can you tell the difference between an obligation and proper behavior in the Shulchan Aruch?
    A: Sometimes Rabbi Yosef Karo points it out and sometimes the commentaries point it out.

    >>>Either it is not an erva or G-D

    You are mixing apples and oranges. O.C. siman 2 is about tzniyus and not to parade around unclothed. O.C. siman 75 is about what degree of uncoveredness renders tefilah impossible. Those two questions have nothing to do with each other, which is why you find different standards mentioned in both places.

  40. I do not think you are understanding my point here. I understand that the Shulchan Orech is saying there are different standards, what I am saying is that there is no basis for these different standards in private. In public I agree a woman must be covered to the extent as to not evoke arousal of a man. This I agree to. However, in private why would a woman, or man need to cover more than just their ervah dioraysa?

    Think about it. What is the reason a woman must cover her privates while davening? It is because, for the ervah dioraysa, G-D is makpid that it is not seen, however every other part of her may be uncovered for tefilah. That means that there is no Ervah klapeih G-D, other than her private part. Showing that when she is alone and when only G-D sees her she has no ervah other than her privates. So why then must she be covered anywhere else when she is alone?

    The answer you could say is that even when she is alone she should be covered up in order that she be used to covering up. Meaning that it be ragil by her and she does not become accustomed to walking around with everything uncovered other than her genetalia.

    What makes no sense to me is how you are making a difference between tefilah and standing around by yourself in the house. So, it is ok to be naked in front of G-D for tefilah, but it is not ok to be naked in front of G-D not during tefilah? If anything it should be the opposite.

    This is how we can go about answering the question. Is anything other than the genetalia considered an ervah? If yes, why is the tefilah good when that part is uncovered. If no, then why when you are by yourself does that part need to be covered. If you have an answer to these questions I would appreciate it.