With adrenaline already pumping through my veins, I figure I might be able to power walk it home through Jerusalem's twisty streets in 25 minutes, duffel bag slung over a shoulder, bouncing behind me. After a long day hunched over a desk studying Torah in fine-print volumes, I feel accomplished for also dragging myself to the gym and getting in a good workout.

I often use this commute time to get in touch with family and friends back in the United States. Despite the physical distance and the changes I've made in my life by moving to Israel, I like to assure others, and even myself, that I'm the same person. Still a hard worker, still have the same sense of humor, still need that endorphin high — just in a different way.

The other phone is already ringing by the time that I notice something amiss. I feel a bit exposed, even. I look down and see that I'm wearing my black workout pants. No wonder I am making such good time.

"Can I call you back in a minute?"

I pull into an alleyway and zip open the duffel to pull out a corduroy skirt. About a size too large, it sits low across my hips. The ruffled hem comes down to just below the knee. I pull it on quickly, checking it see if anyone is around. I also wonder if it's really necessary.

This isn't the first time I've walked out the door wearing pants. I've been doing it my whole life, and it still seems quite normal.

Before I came to Israel in August, I couldn't relate to the practice of observant Jewish women limiting themselves to wearing only skirts and dresses. I used to believe that in modern times, such halachic (Jewish law) concerns about dress no longer applied. Being immodest meant wearing a bikini, not my favorite pair of wide-leg jeans, and if someone found it offensive, that was their problem.

I've come to consider the dress code to be part of the package of being an observant Jew, even if I don't always agree completely with how it fits modern times or my life. In Jewish tradition, established practice is revered. Many women stick to skirts when running, biking and hiking, even though it could easily be argued that pants might be more modest attire for these activities.

Ironically, my getup of sneakers, sweatpants and a corduroy skirt would grab undue attention pretty much anywhere else, and that's one of the things the skirt is supposed to deter. But the look works for the modern orthodox Jerusalemite lady who wants to get a workout. The only thing that might have batted an eye was my maneuver in the alley

I call my friend back to relate the incident, and she, too, is curious about my new style.

"So do you only wear skirts now?"

The truth is, I'm not sure. Living in a religious community has made me acutely aware of what stands out and what clothing can mean. To my surprise, even a short-sleeve shirt can feel revealing if no women bare their arms at all. Though I wouldn't go so far as to call pants immodest, now that I see myself in a skirt down to at least my knees on a daily basis, it seems to leave a bit more to the imagination than a pair of skinny jeans. And I'm okay with that.

At this point in time, I haven't ruled out wearing pants for myself. But when I choose what to wear each morning, something nags at me, and I take a skirt down from the hanger. Even when I go hiking, a stretchy skirt goes over my high-tech pants.

Modesty, I learned, is to a large extent a relative concept. In some neighborhoods that follow stringent opinions, this outfit certainly wouldn't fly. Nor would the distracting power walking. There, wardrobes are limited to formal skirts and tops in black, brown and shades of grey.

While the Jewish concept of tzniut, loosely translated as "modesty," is easiest to define according to hemlines, it also includes the deeper overarching concept of what one reveals, even in speech and action. According to Jewish tradition, Adam and Eve were initially able to perceive that the soul is the essence of a person, and the body is but a tool. There was no shame, and therefore no need for clothing. Since their sin, mankind has become easily misled by judging people by what they see on the outside. And that's where my dilemma comes in.

Individuals though we may claim to be, in all places on earth where people have enough resources to actually choose what they want to wear, few people make that decision truly independently. In high school, dress code identifies whether you're a "skater," "goth," or "preppy." Later on, clothing makes a statement about profession or the economic class a person is in (or wishes they could be in). Perhaps because it's all so new, the stakes here seem higher.

I know there are pants underneath my skirt, and I haven't forgotten how to wear them. The decision to cover them is not out of embarrassment of what I look like or what I've come from. It comes from a place of newfound respect for the society of religious women I want to be a part of and a newfound respect of myself.