Sunday, April 1, 2007

Deconstructing the Dress Code

What makes Judaism vital and interesting, if not occasionally bewildering, is the myriad ways Jewish law (Halacha, or The Way) has been, is being, and will be interpreted and practiced. Practitioners are constantly finding workarounds, loopholes and ways to maneuver to make Jewish law work in today's world.

Take, for example, the dress code. Religious women of most persuasions dress modestly, if not covering themselves entirely. In Jerusalem, "modestly" comes in several flavors.

There is neck-to-toe modesty, with flowing skirts that sweep the ground and baggy tops that conceal the underlying curvature. Less extreme versions include neck-to-ankle, neck-to-midcalf, and neck-to-just-below-the-knee. Not to mention neck-to-wrist, neck-to-forearm, and neck-to-just-below-the-elbow modesty.

Add to these permutations the complexity of color and it becomes more challenging to decode the dress. Many of the married women in the neighborhood I'm staying in favor darker colors (black, brown, burgundy) that don't attract attention (I'm acutely aware that my wardrobe, heavily tilted toward chartreuse, is a bit of an outlyer). Then there are other women, covered from head (with none of their hair showing) to toe, but in swishy, brightly patterned skirts and blouses, looking like Hollywood's interpretation of Gypsies, minus strands of beaded jewelry. Their clothing attracts notice even if it completely covers them.

The other day, while walking into the center of Jerusalem, I came up behind a young traditional couple pushing a stroller. The woman's hair was covered. Her denim skirt reached the ground but also stretched tightly across her buttocks, revealing their contour and undulations for all to see.

Talk about there being wriggle room in Jewish law!

1 comment:

Marvene said...

Interesting to know.