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Cross-Dressing

Cross-Dressing

Parshat Ki Teitzei

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Two mitzvot involve the prohibition of transgender dressing. In the words of the Torah1:

a) "A man's attire shall not be on a woman,
b) "nor may a man wear a woman's garment,
"because whoever does these is an abomination to G‑d, your G‑d."

Cross-dressing can lead to promiscuous behavior.2 Wearing the clothes of a woman would enable a man to mingle inappropriately among women, and vice versa. In addition, for a man, simply putting on the clothes of a woman can lead him to have sinful thoughts.3

Maimonides, in his "Guide for the Perplexed,"4 states that some of the ancient pagan rituals involved cross-dressing and that we must therefore distance ourselves from this type of behavior.

Our Sages5 understood this prohibition to apply not just to clothing but also to certain cosmetic activities which are considered feminine in nature and may therefore not be practiced by men.

This article will focus on both the prohibitions regarding dressing and those regarding cosmetic practices.

Clothing

If there is a garment which is only worn by women, a man may not wear it. The same is true in the reverse.6

  1. A unisex garment which is worn either by men or women is permitted to be worn by those of either gender.7
  2. If it is a type of garment that has different styles for men and women -- for example, a button-down shirt -- a man may wear only the style that is for men, and a woman may wear only the style for women.8
  3. According to the Targum Yonatan ben Uziel on this verse, included in this prohibition is that a woman or girl may not wear a tallit or tefillin.9
  4. It is forbidden to even wear one garment of the opposite gender, even if the rest of the clothing the person is wearing is not of the opposite gender.10
  5. Some are lenient and allow an actor in a play to wear the clothes of the opposite gender, since the intention is not for promiscuity.11 The accepted opinion is that this is forbidden.12 If the actor wears only one garment of the opposite gender, one need not protest,13 although it is better to avoid even this.
  6. There are some halachic authorities who allow a woman to don the garment of a man (or vice versa) for the purpose of protection from the cold, and not in order to dress like a man.14 Others forbid this.15 Certainly, even in such a case, one may not clothe oneself completely in garments of the opposite gender.16
  7. Styles of dress vary in different locations and time periods, and it is only forbidden to wear the type of garment that is currently being worn in one's own location by members of the opposite gender. If the styles change and a particular garment becomes worn by both genders, it becomes halachically permissible. It is questionable as to whether this takes into account only the dress styles of the local (halachically observant) Jews, or also of the local non-Jews.17
  8. In light of this, and considering that it is commonplace for women in the Western world to wear pants, there are some opinions that pants are no longer considered a man's garment. Nevertheless, it is still considered immodest for women to wear pants as they are more form-revealing than a dress or skirt. (However, it is certainly better for a woman to wear pants that cover the entire leg rather than an immodest skirt or mini skirt.18) Many halachic authorities still consider pants to be a man's garment and therefore forbidden under the prohibition of wearing a man's garments as well.19
  9. Since it is normally only men who serve in combat units,20 it is forbidden for a woman to bear arms.21 It is for this reason that the righteous Yael killed the Canaanite general Sisra with a tent peg rather than a sword.22
    (Obviously, this rule is waived when needed for self-defense.)

Other Beautifications

Included in this prohibition is that a man may not beautify himself in ways that women ordinarily do. For this reason, men may not shave their armpits, legs or any body part which is normally shaved by women and not by men.23 The Tzemach Tzedek24 is of the opinion that it is therefore forbidden for a man to shave his beard, even with an acid cream, as this is considered the way of women (who remove facial hair if they have any). Others disagree.25

Since women generally try to appear young and often dye their hair to keep it from going gray or white, it is forbidden for a man to do so.26 A man may not even pluck out one white hair from amongst his black hairs.27 He may, however, dye his hair white.28

If a man's hair goes white prematurely and he wishes to dye his hair in order to be able to find a suitable match or a job, some authorities29 permit him to dye his hair.30

Footnotes
2.

Rashi on the verse, based on Talmud, Nazir 59a.

3.

Panim Yafot on the verse. See there as to how this reason explains certain textual difficulties with the verse.

4.

Third Section, Chapter 37.

5.

Nazir, ibid.; Code of Jewish Law Yoreh De'ah 182.

6.

Code of Jewish Law, ibid.

7.

See Talmud, Nedarim 49b, that Rabbi Yehuda and his wife shared a cloak. See Maharsha there, and Yabi'a Omer vol. 6, Yoreh De'ah 14.

8.

Yabi'a Omer ibid. from Avnei Tzedek, Yoreh De'ah, no. 72.

9.

Nevertheless, we find in the Talmud (Eruvin 96a) that Michal, the daughter of King Saul, would wear tefillin, and the Sages did not stop her. See Maharam Shik, Yoreh De'ah 173, who explains this. See also Levush Orach Chaim, 17:2.

10.

Rama Yoreh De'ah 182:6.

11.

Rama Orach Chayim 696:8.

12.

Ibid. in Mishna Berurah 30.

13.

Ibid.

14.

Bach on Yoreh De'ah ibid. and Taz s.k. 4 ibid.

15.

Yad Haketana quoted in the Darkei Teshuvah 9, and Divrei Chaim vol. 2 s. 62. See also Yabi'a Omer ibid.

16.

Shach ibid s.k. 7.

17.

Prishah ibid s.k. 5 and Rabbi Akiva Eiger ibid.

18.

Yabi'a Omer, ibid.

19.

Minchat Yitzchak 2:108.

20.

Talmud, Yevamot 65b.

21.

Talmud, Nazir 59a.

22.

Rashi ibid. d.h. Talmud based on Judges 4:22 and 5:26 with Targum.

23.

Yoreh De'ah ibid. 1.

24.

Yoreh De'ah 93.

25.

Chatam Sofer, Orach Chayim 159. For a lengthy discussion on this topic, see Hadrat Panim Zakein by Rabbi Moshe Weiner.

26.

Code of Jewish Law ibid., 6.

27.

Talmud, Makot 20b.

28.

Beit Yosef, Yoreh De'ah end of 182.

29.

Responsa Be'eer Moshe 8:8 and Igrot Moshe Yoreh De'ah 2:61. See also Sha'arei Halacha Uminhag vol. 3 pg. 96.

30.

Others do not permit dying even in this case (Shevet Halevi, vol. 3, Responsa 111).

Rabbi Aryeh Citron was educated in Chabad yeshivahs in Los Angeles, New York, Israel and Australia. He was the Rosh Kollel of The Shul of Bal Harbour, Florida, and is now an adult Torah teacher in Surfside, Florida. He teaches classes on Talmud, Chassidism, Jewish history and contemporary Jewish law.
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Aryeh Citron Surfside March 15, 2017

Purim Regarding men dressing like a woman one Purim (or vice versa), Rav Moshe Isserlish in the code of Jewish Law (end of section 696) cites two opinions and concludes that the custom is to be lenient and allow it considering that the intent is not for lewdness but for the joy of Purim. Despite this, The Chafetz Chayim, in his commentary on the Code of Jewish Law titled the Mishnah Berurah, cites many later authorities who disagree and strongly discourage this practice. Some are more lenient if all of one's clothing are from their own gender and only one article of clothing is from the opposite gender. I hope that clarifies it. Reply

Marcy K Brooklyn March 13, 2017

Cross dressing on Purim On Purim I saw a man dressed as a woman...the article doesn't mention Purim specifically. Is it permitted? Reply

Lindsey October 13, 2016

I was actually just thinking of this the other day. Is it ever acceptable for a women to dress "like a man" for work purposes? Say a woman was farming or doing some sort of outside work. As long as the jeans/pants were a modest-style and we're designated as women's jeans/pants, would it be acceptable? Reply

Anonymous April 7, 2016

A much-needed article! Thanks for posting! Reply

David October 26, 2014

Difference Between Crossdressing and Being Transgender Hello, my name is Zeke and I am a transgender Jew in my early 20s. I would like to share some insight, which might be able to better allow you to understand how I have studied and come to understand the prohibition against cross-dressing versus transgender.
Transgender means that one does not identify with the gender they were assumed to be at birth, due to configuration of genitals. For example, the doctor thought I was female but when I was old enough to vocalize my gender I am actually male. You would not be able to tell I am transgender, and so to generalize and say I need to wear feminine clothing would actually be crossdressing.
Crossdressing is when a man dresses like a woman or when a woman dresses like a man. For these individuals it would be an impulse or a fetish that leads to promiscuity. However, for us transgender people it is not an impulse nor a fetish, and we are present in all communities as upstanding individuals even if you do not know it since we do not feel safe. Reply

Isabel Einzig-Wein Reston, VA February 17, 2012

it was interesting to read of the laws and precepts preventing the harm of others. One does not have the time in certain situations to contemplate what is the religiously right thing to do: however, an individual who is a person of good judgement and compassion will do the" right thing". And in some cases risk their life to provide an alternative. Reply

Aryeh Citron (author) Surfside, Fl February 7, 2011

The Torah is for all times While I do not have extensive knowledge on the scientific aspects of this subject, I am aware that research indicates that many people who cross dress do not do so frivolously but out of certain psychological impulses. Despite this, the Torah’s prohibition remains in force today. We interpret the Torah according to Oral Law and the tradition of the Jewish people. According to our tradition, this law is not one that changes from one generation to the next or from one individual to the next. A possible reason for this is; that for the good of society as a whole it is best if men and women remain within their traditional roles. This encourages the forming of traditional heterosexual families that can produce children. If certain individuals have urges that differ from this norm they are asked to overcome these urges in order to benefit society as a whole for the reason I explained.
Wishing you all the best, Reply

Anonymous Columbia, MO February 4, 2011

Lacking in information This isn't really helpful with the evidence that transgender people are in fact, as far as the brain is concerned, more like those that they wish to dress like. Perhaps the Torah is commanding them to be true to themselves. They are not dressing to be promiscuous, after all. Or to hide from the army, which is another reason I've heard. The Torah is for all times, after all. Reply

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