Minhag HaMakom – Modest Dress and Hair Covering

Literally “the custom of the place”. I think this is the Jewish equivalent of “when in Rome do as the Romans do”.

Can we apply this to dressing modestly and hair covering? If you are married and don’t cover your hair, and perhaps dress more modern that your chareidi (ultra religious) cousins – if you go to a chareidi  event like a barmitzvah or wedding – will you make an extra effort to blend in by dressing appropriately? If you know that 95% of the women there are wearing hats or wigs, will you cover you hair too out of respect? Do you think this is asking too much?

When I go to the boys’ yeshiva I always dress more covered up than I usually do. I make sure I have sleeves to my wrists, my skirt is way past my knees and I don’t go in bare legged. Even though I might dress differently outside, when I visit the school I am respectful of their sensibilities. Some people say this is hypocritical. I say it is common courtesy. What do you say?

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26 Comments

  1. Rifki says:

    I believe that there’s a middle ground. Having lived in the community and gone to the girls’ school equivalent to the yeshiva, I am speaking from experience. Those who’d like to be respectful will most likely dress appropriately BUT that doesn’t necessitate covering yourself from head to toe. I think that it borders hypocrisy to blend in to their standards when they know that you normally wear different attire. We were always courteous but maintained a lighter version of the ‘accepted code of modesty’, and there were never any negative repercussions! Just my two cents.

  2. frumgoth says:

    When my older daughter started high school I did feel that it was important to conform to the custom of the place, out of respect. It was in a different community than mine, where everyone covers their hair, even if they are divorced like me. I actually put the shaytel that i used to wear when i was married back on. (But then we were going shopping in Soho, so on the subway I put my hood up, whipped off the wig, put it in my bag, and continued on my merry way).

  3. European says:

    Yeah, both…

  4. When I go to the community in Pittsburgh I do tend to dress more along the lines of what they do – long skirt, covered hair. When I am on my own (being the only Jew in the zip code), I wear pants but do cover all the time. And then there are days like yesterday when I wear pants and cover and go into Pittsburgh although I am not interacting with the community. I am what I am :) But if I attend shul in the community (which I am starting to do AND loving it so much), I do wear the uniform – shaitl or covering, long skirt, etc. – I try to blend ;)

  5. shorty says:

    I see no problem in dressing “more” appropriately when visiting more observant or differently observant type of people.

    How we dress is in part for ourselves, but is in large part for other people. Why? because unless you are staring at yourself in front of a mirror all day long, it is other people who will react to what you are wearing. If you know you will only be taken seriously or won’t cause a reaction if you cover up more, then well, cover up more.

    Perhaps it isn’t “right” or you feel other people should suck it up, but you know what…it hasnt changed in anyone’s life time yet. People react to other people’s way of dressing. (hence the laws of modesty to begin with).

  6. Noah Roth says:

    Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvot, Lo Taaseh- Shin nun Gimel) states that hilchot tzniyut have a dual standard.

    There is an objective minimum required (Top of knee, mid-bicep for women *AND* men, collarbone for women) which he holds is biblical, and Ramban says is rabinic.

    Rambam says that any standard more stringent than the minimum which is the practice of a community is rabinically binding.

    So for example, dressing with minimal tzniut is sufficient for a community that holds to the minimum standard, but dressing in the same manner that is sufficient for that community when entering meiah shearim would be prohibited.

    What you have described is not only not hypocritical, it is required by halakha.

  7. Mike S says:

    It depends where, and what kind of dress. If you are visiting a yeshiva, sure dress a way that won’t offend. Here I am assuming you are a parent or a visittor. If you are the plumber, dress as you always do on the job. In a restaurant, I wouldn’t dress differently than usual, even if it normally caters to a differnt clientele. And although I will be careful to wear a white shirt at a Bar mitzvah in a community where colored shirts are fround upon, I don’t go buy a bekeshe and shtreimel when I go to a Chassidish one. Nor did I expect my chassidshe cousin to don a suit and tie when he came to my son’s.

  8. I’m going to my charedi cousin’s wedding tonight…I’m planning on wearing a skirt that covers my knees (but not my ankles) with sheer stockings, I won’t wear a very low cut shirt that shows cleavage (although the shirt I’m wearing might not cover my collar bone completely), and I’ll cover my elbows. I’m not going to cover my hair (are you supposed to cover your hair even if married to someone not jewish? I’m guessing probably not, but either way I’m not doing it). Although if they offer those lace head covering things for the chuppah (that they used to hand out at my MO shul) I might put one on for the duration of the chuppah.

    I gotta remember to bring my camera…. :)

    • HSaboMilner says:

      I do hope you will be wearing all BLACK…bc, well, colours are not done….snortle….

      actually i hope you are wearing shocking pink or even worse, red!!

  9. Jess says:

    When going to my charedi cousins and their neighborhoods, I do wear a skirt and adjust what I wear to their standards of modesty. I used to wear a skirt when they’d come over to my house, but I’ve slowly changed that. I don’t think I should change the way I dress in my home to accomodate them.

  10. Mark says:

    I will definitely dress differently depending on where I am going. It’s all a matter of respect, and has only a little to do with religion. If, for example, I were going to the White House to meet the president, I would very likely wear a suit and tie. When I visit relatives in Bnei Brak, I will wear change from jeans and a colored shirt and sandals, and instead wear dark pants, a white shirt, and black (or dark brown) shoes.

    But there are some basics of hashkafa that I am almost always unwilling to bend, and will decline to attend an event because of them. One such thing is separate seating at family simchas, that is so contrary to my hashkafa that I politely decline and don’t attend such events.

    • sheldan says:

      I have mixed feelings regarding the “separate seating” issue. A few years ago, my wife and I attended the wedding of our neighbor’s granddaughter, where we sat together, and we also attended the wedding of the grandson of a friend of ours, where we sat separately. We didn’t especially like to be seated separately, but we did respect the custom. I would say that sometimes you do have to bend as long as it is explained with respect.

  11. Blog Fan says:

    This hopefully will shed some light on the subject and others as well when looking at “uber” observance.

    “Truth is the middle path. An inclination to the right, to be overly stringent with oneself and find faults or sins not in accord with the truth, or an inclination to the left, to be overly indulgent, covering one’s faults or being lenient in demands of avoda (G-dly Service) out of self-love – both these ways are false”

  12. Marla says:

    I would say it’s hypocritical only if you were to dress MORE modern when you were in more modern circles. That would mean you were disrespecting who you claim to be. Dressing to be respectful of a more strict community is just that – respectful.

  13. G6 says:

    I don’t think that respecting the norms of a community should be called hypocritical.

    I would call it Derech Eretz.

  14. Y Kohn says:

    Well, there are 2 issues, one is the “when in Rome..” then there is a halachic issue.

    For a man who holds a more strict view of what must be covered, that man cannot recite a bracha in the presence of a female who is -from his POV- not dressed appropriately as to be able to recite a davar she’bekedusha.

    So it really depends on the venue.

    Hypocrisy is not the issue; simply wearing clothes that violate the host’s standards is sometimes unfair to the host.

    BTW, There is no Talmudic definition for ‘hypocrisy’ and as such it isn’t even a vice in the Jewish tradition at all.

    Aderabah, we are supposed to accept the truth from anybody; even when a smoker advises you not to smoke.

    Kabayl es ha’emes mimi she’omroh

  15. Jess says:

    As I mentioned in my previous comment, when I do go to chareidi neighborhoods and to chareidi relatives, yes, I wear a skirt (not married, so covering my hair isn’t an issue), and I used to don a skirt when I knew they’d be coming over to my house. I’ve since stopped, and dress according to my own standards – which include wearing pants. (I feel most physically comfortable in them and I feel are actually more modest and flattering than skirts) Should I dress to suit their comfort levels when they’re entering my world, or can I expect them to adjust, just as I do mine when entering theirs?

    • Blog Fan says:

      As far as I know – Wearing pants by a woman is halachically correct as long it is made specifically for a woman…….There is no disputing this but like other minhagim, in certain sects, the prohibition of wearing pants has become halacha (as a BT – I don’t get the fact that minhags become halacha).

      • Jess says:

        I totally agree on both counts – as far as pants goes, they’re made for women (mine are specifically made for short women with big behinds ;) ) and also minhagim being treated as halacha – it really bothers me.

      • Noah Roth says:

        Well… yeah, but… not exactly.
        There is a prohibition for a women to show the outline of the legs above the knee (TB Brachot 24A) (There is a minority opinion that this applies only to one’s wife while saying kriyat shma). As such, *LOOSE* pants that are not explicitly tailored for men (assuming that pants are not inherently a “kli gever,” as most poskim do) would be permitted, if not for communal custom.

        On to the contention that minhag becomes law…

        Minhag means one thing. Halakha means another. The standards for breaking each are quite different.

        Except in Hilchot Tzniut where stringent communal standrads which may exceed the minimum halkha are explicitly derived from a pasuk (as I noted in my post above), minhag does not become halakha.

      • sheldan says:

        Blog Fan: It would make so much sense if AS LONG AS THE PANTS WERE CLEARLY INTENDED FOR A WOMAN that a woman could wear pants and not violate the halacha regarding wearing “men’s” clothing. I seem to remember talking about this in another post.

        Still, I would think that if the community frowned upon women wearing pants (ANY kind), one might have no choice but to comply with the standards of the community.

        • curious says:

          Sheldan, standards of the community based on standards an individual might not agree on. I was once with someone who was dressed to the T’s in terms of tzinus but since she didn’t have just the right skirt or just the right hat she was frowned upon. This type of behaviour is absolutely ludicrous. The only standard that counts is if one is halachically dressed and tznius.

  16. Y Kohn says:

    Minhag per se is not halacha, but there is the concept of a ‘minhag of following a certain view of halacha’ then its a minhag that has the force of halacha, in that town, place or venue. (this a clear mishna in maseches psachim.. ‘makom she’nehagu..’)

    Pants is never an issue of being able to make a brach. but ‘hair covering’ is!

    • Jess says:

      that’s my point, when dealing with “minhag ha’makom,” if I go out of my way to adjust my dress, my attitude and even what I find acceptable when going into their world, shouldn’t I be afforded the same respect when they enter mine?

  17. Y Kohn says:

    Absolutely!

    You are 100% correct. I was referring to your irritation on minhag being treated as halacha. But in your place you are the boss. nobody could tell you what to do, unless you serve them food and then its a problem for those who are machmir as is the halacaha, that the Chumrah Minhag of where you are coming from takes precedent. It’s a simple halacha about minhagim.

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