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Do Women Have Something to Hide?

Do Women Have Something to Hide?

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Question:

Why does Judaism tell women to keep their bodies covered? Is there something shameful or evil about a woman’s body? If men can’t control their urges, then it’s their problem, not women’s. Why should a woman have to hide herself just so others shouldn’t be tempted?

Answer:

You are assuming that the only reason for modest dress is to avoid temptation. While this may be the case in other religions, for Judaism this is not true. The Jewish way of modest dress is not merely about how other people view women, but more about how women view themselves.

Covering something doesn’t always mean being ashamed of it. Have you ever noticed how we treat a Torah scroll? We never leave it lying around open. It is hidden behind many layers. The Torah is kept inside a synagogue, in the Ark, behind a curtain, wrapped in a mantle, held tightly closed with a belt. It is taken out only when it is to be used for its holy purpose, to be read during the prayer service. For those special times we carefully draw the curtain, open the doors of the ark, bring out the Torah, uncover it and unwrap it. As soon as we have finished, we immediately wrap it up again and put it away.

Why do we do all this? Why do we go to such trouble to conceal the Torah? Are we ashamed of it? Is there something to hide? Is there something ugly about the Torah?

Of course not. The opposite is true.

Because the Torah is our holiest object, because it is so sacred and special and precious, we never leave it exposed unnecessarily. We keep it under wraps because we don’t want to treat it lightly; we don’t want to become too casual with it. Were the Torah to be always open and visible, it might become too familiar and its sanctity minimized. By keeping it away from sight, and bringing it out only for the appropriate times, we maintain our reverence and respect for the Torah.

The same is with our bodies. The body is the holy creation of G‑d. It is the sacred house of the soul. The way we maintain our respect for the body is by keeping it covered. Not because it is shameful, but because it is so beautiful and precious.

This is true for men’s bodies too, and laws of modest dress apply to them as well. But it is even more so for women. The feminine body has a beauty and a power that far surpasses the masculine. The Kabbalists teach that a woman’s body has a deeper beauty because her soul comes from a higher place. For this reason, her body must be kept discreetly covered.

In a world where the woman’s body has been reduced to a cheap advertising gimmick, we need no proof for the truth of this wisdom. Where all is exposed, nothing is sacred. But that which is truly precious to us, we keep under wraps.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
Image: Detail from a painting by Sarah Kranz. Ms. Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children’s books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London.
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Arega Gizaw November 2, 2016

Keeping the women's body as explained above is very essential and also it is beautiful, if we want to follow our almighty G-d with respect and righteousness. Reply

Noa Hahn St. Louis September 13, 2016

Please don't objectify my body by comparing it to the Torah scrolls! I am a human. I have skin and blood, and your words hurt me. Reply

Feigele Boca Raton FL August 15, 2016

All I can say is: Thank G-d we don't have to hide under a burka. Women like men all have their secrets, no one is exempt from mistakes or from right and wrong. Reply

Sarah Masha West Bloomfield MI USA July 12, 2016

Women also say the brachot for not being slaves & goyim.
Goyim must serve G-d, but are given very little guidance of how. They have to figure out how, it is difficult.

A slave can't do many mitzvot, they are required to only follow the directive of the master.

At the times these brachot were written women had horrible lives. Cooking, cleaning, danger during chlidbirth, and care made for heavy daily burdens. Women were too busy to learn or daven on a set schedule, so they were released from these obligations. Children still make a mockery of the word schedule.

The brachot are to thank HaShem for the guidance He gave in the commandments,&for the sayer being given the guidance.Men are glad they don't have the lack of guidance & burdens women have, so they say a brachah.
A minyan is a gathering of obligated people.Women aren't obligated.
A witness is someone obligated to go to the court.That is an unreasonable burden.so women are excused.Excuse means ineligible.
Thanks to R.E.Silberberg Reply

shifra freewoman boston area July 6, 2016

Really. we are spiritually higher and therefore not allowed to be rabbis. that makes sense, that the gender that is naturally more spiritual be excluded from formal religious leadership. it is a funny kind of apologetics that tells us we are spiritually superior and therefore more restricted and excluded from religious authority. like saying that a certain group of people are more intelligent and therefore you will restrict their educational advancement. Just know that your interpretation of jewish law hurts real people whether you intend to or not.

we are spiritually higher and therefore men thank God everyday of their lives that they are not women, goyim or slaves. We are spiritually higher and therefore our testimony is not valid as witnessess. we are spiritually higher and therefore cannot hold the torah. We are spiritually higher and are therefore not counted in a minyan. we are spiritually higher and therefore excluded from the study of talmu Reply

Eleazar Goldman San Francisco February 2, 2016

I am old now, not ashamed to admit it.......we all have to age. Women. Beauty.......the desire for someone to be close to, to love, to cherish, to have children with......the ideal. I didn't know when I was young, the great lure of the female body. I didn't have anyone who explained the danger. How merely the form of the female can take one down to the sensuous world, and keep oneself occupied in that realm for a very long time. I didn't know what love was. I thought it, the attraction, was ABOUT love, but no, just an enthralment with a form, so beautiful, sensual and yes, erotic.

Now, I know B"H, but it took most of my life to come out of that place, to purify my nature, and realize the FOLLY of it.

Women should know that men are very affected by their beauty, and keep it to themselves until the right person, hopefully their beshert, appears. Many women DO KNOW, and use their beings to manipulate and control men. Reply

Baruch San Carlos February 1, 2016

The idea that it is up to women to dress modestly because men cannot control themselves is insulting to me as a man. It's the same kind of male dominant thinking which is so evident in the Bronze Age religious edicts of Muslim imams. It should be a shame and dishonor for any man to proclaim such an idea. Reply

Anonymous UK December 21, 2015

When I lived in Africa most native women were naked or nearly naked and even the soldiers didn't take notice. Reply

Joshua Melbourne October 15, 2015

Ha!. Of course women have "something to hide": ever since Eve let it all hang out!
Why do you thing god provided animal-skin clothing? Reply

Sarah Masha West Bloomfield August 4, 2015

You asked why is it okay for men to be immodest.
Simply put, it is not okay.

We don't talk about it so much, it seems that most men are able to absorb and practice modest dress more easily than women. That could be why we talk about it less. Or perhaps there are other reasons.
Men are not to go about shirtless, and they should wear long pants, not shorts. In the winter this is easy. In the summer, well, it depends on where you are. In truth, many men do not want to wear their tallit katan (four cornered fringed garment) on their skin. The reason is that a garment worn purely for the sake of a mitzvah should be worn in a modest way. So they wear a T-shirt, the tallit katan, and then a shirt. Three layers! Even though my T-shirt has long sleeves I think it is less. And the tallit katan may be made of wool, it is a very warm layer. (Some men wear ones made of cotton, those are cooler, and easier to wash.)

There are rules for modest dress for both sexes. Lack of modesty is not okay. Reply

Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman San Francisco August 3, 2015

The difference is, the seasonal weather changes, requiring a person to "coverup" at times, is very different than making moral choices regarding an AWARENESS that revealing clothes have a very strong effect on most men. Modest dress keeps the average, but fallen, man at bay. Unfortunately mankind is at a very low level and constantly, images on billboards, MOVIES, magazines, internet VIDEOS, books being sold and more, depict "normality" as every individual, no matter at what age, being very sexually alluring. Even many movies, books, advertisements and magazines actually have "target audiences", where they target an age group to maximize their monetary return, even all the way down to 3 years old, and especially in girls and young women. In other words, we ARE being mentally manipulated to serve base interests, and NOT the interests of HaShem or our neshamot. Reply

JDV August 2, 2015

If only teen aged girls knew what they were doing to themselves! The family and the schools (secular) have to set down standards. why is it only the religious private schools that get to do this? Reply

Feigele Boca Raton FL July 14, 2015

No its not difficult at all to change and cover oneself like style changes all the time, one time short, one time long, different colors this season or that season, winter and summer time we dress differently, so what's the difference? Reply

Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman Yerushalayim July 14, 2015

Something about the story as told in Genesis about Adam and Eve. How they were at a very high level, but fell through the Serpent. Man has great potential, but there are forces and beings that oppose that potential and do everything to try and bring humans down to a lower level. So, the TORAH is what Hashem gave to the Jewish people to raise them up, back to the level of Adam and Eve. Modesty is a part of that teaching. It's an awareness that Hashem wants us to behave in certain ways, and when one has that awareness, then doing it becomes important and not difficult. Reply

Chani Goldberg Albequerque, New Mexico July 12, 2015

I really think it's all about what you're used to. For example, me, who grew up covering myself up, anything else just- I can't do it! But someone who is used to exposing themseves- it is admittedly extremely difficult to start covering yourself and something you really just have to get used to. Reply

Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman San Francisco December 23, 2014

It's rare that I ever see modesty where I live. Typical of the "normal world" of television, videos, performances in public, the "normal" way to dress and so on, most people are lost in a sea of sensualness and overt sexual behavior. Even within boy and girl-friend relations, it's very common now to "cheat" on them.....of course, usually behind their backs in secret.
Holiness and modesty, whether with a man or a woman, go together. Purity and modesty are inseparable. Innocence is also where one finds natural modesty.

When I went to the kotel, in Yerushalayim, I felt the presence of the Shekinah, the place was so HOLY, and, of course, everyone behaved and dressed modestly. Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein Chabad.org May 4, 2014

The topic of the respective sources of male and female souls is a large and complex discussion. Very briefly, female souls stem from Malchut, the ultimate of the Ten Sefirot taught in the Kabbalah. While this is the final Sefirah, it has certain qualities which surpass those of the upper Sefirot. Two metaphors for this Sefirah are the earth and speech. The earth displays the power of vegetation, producing new things, which reflects G-d's infinite power of creation. This is not found in the higher Sefirot. Speech brings about greater depth of understanding, which shows that it infuses the intellect with greater power, although it is supposedly below the intellectual Sefirot. You can read more about this here: www.chabad.org/380390. This is because, on one level, Malchut has a greater ability to express G-d's essence than do the upper Sefirot. Reply

Anonymous April 20, 2014

Well, i for one... being a woman... not a Jewish woman, but coming from a world of immodesty... LOVE this article... it teaches us as women, the importance of modesty and how this keeps a family together ... (is my thinking...)

Thank you Rabbi Moss for this article. Reply

Miriam Baley Mexico City, Mexico April 20, 2014

Rabbi Moss, you said that women's souls come from a higher place. Can you explain that, please? Reply

Meira Shana San Diego, CA/USA via synagoge-karlsruhe.de December 4, 2013

LOTS of things are easier for women to hide. Hmmmm.

Yet, it's a bit of everything - not all good to have this type of law.

Ron Stackler is right.

Why is it ok for men to be immodest? Reply