Attribute of modesty

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 Introduction:

This chapter, based on chapter 2 in Shulchan Aruch, discusses the code of modesty and dress that a Jew is to adhere to. All of a Jew’s actions are governed by the Hashem’s will as found in the Torah. This gives a Jew the ability to cleave to Hashem through even the slightest and most mundane actions. Many of the laws below may seem fastidious and exaggerated however in truth are important to Hashem just like the heavy commands. This is expressed within the statement of the Sages “Let a minor Mitzvah be in your eyes like a severe one.” All Mitzvos, even the most minor, express a Jew’s subservience [Bittul] to Hashem which is the purpose of creation.[1]

Modesty-The parts of the body that must be clothed:

The attribute of modesty:

Being modest in all one’s ways:[2] The attribute of modesty is praised by verses of scripture in various places. The sages commanded that every person be modest in all of his ways, and not act in an immoral manner, even when there is no one else around and one is in private.[3]

Being modest even at night and in private:[4] Even when one is alone at night in the privacy of his room he is required to act with modesty and bashfulness before G-d, whose glory fills the entire earth, and to which darkness is like light. [Thus he should not say I am in private, who will see me?[5]]

The reason behind the command to be constantly modest:[6]  One is obligated to constantly have the fear of G-d upon him. Therefore he is to be modest in all his ways, as acting with modesty and bashfulness brings one to humble himself before G-d.

 

Not to reveal one’s body:

A. Not to reveal parts of one’s body that is normally covered:[7]

Due to the above command of modesty one may not reveal those parts of the body which are normally always covered with clothing[8] [if there is no necessity and requirement to do so[9]]. These areas may not be even slightly revealed.

During sleep: Even when one is sleeping in his bed at night, he should cover all of his skin with a blanket.

In a bathroom: Even when one enters the bathroom to do his needs, in which case he must reveal his flesh, nevertheless he is to only reveal that which is needed, and not any more than is needed, even slightly.[10]

 

B. Getting dressed and undressed:[11]

When getting dressed [or getting undressed[12]] one is[13] do so under covers in order not to have any part of his body revealed while putting on [or removing] the clothing. Thus if one slept without a shirt, when he awakens he is not to first sit up and then place on his shirt, as by doing so his body will be revealed. Rather he should take his shirt and put it on [little by little[14]] while he is still lying down under the blanket, and thus when he gets up he will be fully covered. [In this way there will not be any part of his body revealed, even one moment, for no need. Likewise when getting undressed to go to sleep without clothing he is to be careful to cover his body with the blanket under his shirt, prior to removing the shirt from that area of his skin. Thus when he removes each part of the shirt that part of the body is already covered by the blanket and no part of his body will be revealed for no need for even one moment. This law applies throughout the day or night whenever he is switching clothing.[15]]

 

Q&A

May one get undressed in a bathroom without covering himself?[16]

Yes. One may get undressed and dressed in a bathroom that contains a shower or bath.[17]

 

C. May one reveal his feet, or must they constantly be covered?[18]

Communities of people that never reveal the feet:[19] (In those areas that it is not common to ever walk with revealed feet, even in the summer, they must be careful to always have the feet covered. Thus when removing the socks prior to going to sleep one is to first cover his feet with the blanket and remove them under the blanket. Likewise when putting on socks after awakening one is to put them on little by little under the blanket in order not to reveal it at all. This law applies throughout the day or night whenever he is switching socks.)

Communities that people walk without socks:[20] In areas that it is common to walk without socks, then the feet are not considered a normally covered area and it is not necessary to leave them constantly covered.

 Q&A

Practically today may one uncover his feet?

Practically today it is not necessary to constantly cover the feet.[21] This especially applies in a case that one is in pain in leaving his socks on.[22] Nevertheless there are Chassidim that are stringent in this matter even today, and they change their socks under the covers, and never reveal their feet.[23]

 

May one sleep barefoot?

Some[24] state, based on a ruling in Shulchan Aruch Harav[25], that it is forbidden to sleep with socks [or with the feet covered under a blanket[26]]. Practically it is the custom of many pious and meticulous Jews to be particular to sleep without socks and with the feet out of the blanket.[27]  It is told in the name of the Alter Rebbe that sleeping with socks can lead to lack of memory [see story below].[28]

A Maaseh Shehaya

Sleeping without socks:[29]

The following story was related by Rav Chaim Mordechai Perlow: I heard from the Mashpia, Rav Shmuel Gronam Estherman, that the Chassid Reb Michal of Optzuk studied in his youth many books of philosophy. In later years he complained to the Alter Rebbe that the ideas which he read disturb his thoughts and perturb him. The Alter Rebbe told him: “You should sleep with socks, as this matter causes forgetfulness. Consequently you will forget the ideas you learned from the philosophy books.”

D. Consequences for one who is not modest in his dress:[30]

The Sages stated that “With the revealing of the hands the house will drip”. This means to say that through the laziness of a person not being careful in properly covering the body “the house will drip”, which means that his body will grow skin ailments. From here we learn that a person has to cover his entire body.

Summary:

One may never reveal any area of the normally covered parts of the body. This applies even at night, in the privacy of one’s room. It applies when one is getting dressed and undressed, and hence one is to only do so under the covers. It likewise applies in a bathroom, and thus one may only uncover the necessary parts.

 

Q&A

Are the above modestly laws of dress a requirement from the letter of the law or a mere act of piety?

According to Admur[31] the above modesty laws are an absolute Halachic requirement and not a mere matter of piety, and so rule other Poskim[32]. Nevertheless there are Poskim[33] that learn the above law is a mere act of piety.

 

What is defined as the “normally covered areas” of the body?

This is dependent on the normal practice of each community and follows the area of the body that is normal to be covered.[34] Thus the face, neck area up until the chest, and from the elbow and down is today considered normally uncovered areas and don’t need to be covered.

Some Poskim[35] rule that the definition of “normally covered” follows the normal dress code in one’s house at times that people may come over[36] and not the way one dresses when he is outside.[37] Thus only those areas of the body that people normally cover when they are at home need to be covered constantly.

 

May a man wear a short sleeve shirt that does not reach until the elbow?

Yes.[38]

 

May a man wear a sleeveless shirt, such as a tang top?

This is forbidden, as it is not common for [orthodox] people to greet people in his house in such dress.

 

May one wear shorts?

No and so is the custom of all G-d fearing Jews. However some Poskim[39] are lenient in hot areas.

 A Maaseh Shehaya:[40]

Rav Yisrael Nagra, a student of the Arizal, would receive a visitation of supernal angels upon singing hymns at his table. Such a lofty and special experience it was that even the angels came down to receive the Divine glory that shined during the occasion. One time it occurred that he rolled up his sleeves at the table due to the heat in the room and a heavenly voice declared “Flee from this man who diminishes the honor of heaven”, and the angels all disappeared. The Arizal, who was in his house at the time, had a vision of this entire occurrence and revealed it to his student Rav Yisrael Nagra. From that day on he was careful to always properly cover himself and the angels then returned to hear his sweet melody.

3. Modesty at a Mikveh, bathhouse or river:[41]

One does not need to cover his body in a bathhouse.[42] The same applies to a river. (Nevertheless by a river one should get undressed and dressed as close as possible to the river in order not to be uncovered unnecessarily).[43] [From here it is learned that one should not leisure around even in a bathhouse when he is not dressed. Based on this some are particular to remove their under garments close to the Mikvah.[44]]

Covering the Erva: Upon descending to the river one does not need to cover his private part, and one who does so appears to be embarrassed [of his circumcision] and its considered as if he denies the covenant of circumcision made with Abraham. However when ascending [from the river], being that one is now facing towards people, one should bend [in a way that will prevent his private part from being seen], or should cover his private part with his hand in a way that he will not touch it. This likewise applies when one is bathing in a bathhouse together with other people. If it is possible to cover one’s Erva from the eyes of others using a cloth then this is the best option.

 Summary:

It is permitted to be unclothed in a bathhouse or river. Nevertheless by a river one should get undressed as close as possible to the river. Upon ascending from the river/bath one should his cover his erva with his hand or a cloth.

 

Q&A

May one remain not fully clothed by a beach?[45]

One may remain in the water undressed although he is not to walk around the beach with his body uncovered.

 

Is one to cover his Erva when bathing in a Mikveh?

One is to cover himself when returning from the Mikveh back into the dressing room.[46] However when entering into the Mikvah from the changing room it is unclear from Admur as to whether one is to cover himself in this instance.[47] Practically the custom is to be lenient not to cover oneself at all in a Mikveh.[48] Although meticulous individuals are careful to cover themselves.[49]Alternatively they remove their undergarments only near the Mikveh.

 

When is one to remove his Yarmulke and Tzitzis in a bathhouse?

See Halacha 5 Q&A!

 

May one talk in a Mikvah or bathhouse?

See Chapter 7 Halacha 5 Q&A!

 

_________________________________________________________________________

[1] As the verse states “What does Hashem ask from you other than to fear Him” and as explained in Chassidus this refers to the higher level of fear which connotes a total nullification to G-d.

[2] Basra 2/1

[3] The Alter Rebbe here motions the reader to Hilchos Tznius. This refers to chapter 240. Vetzaruch Iyun as to which law there he is referring to.

[4] Basra 2/1; Kama 2/1; Siddur “Seder Netilah”

[5] Kama ibid

[6] Kama 2/1

[7] Basra 2/1

Siddur Seder Netilah: “If one must cover himself even in the bathroom then certainly out of a bathroom one must act with humility and not reveal any of his flesh unnecessarily.”

Kama: The following are the differences between the Kama and Basra regarding these laws of modesty: In the Kama there is A) Much less expounding regarding modesty of revealing parts of the body. B) In the Kama it says only “it is good to be careful” in the laws of modesty while in the Basra it implies that it is an obligation, as will be explained in the Q&A.

[8] See Q&A for definition.

[9] Siddur: One may not reveal his flesh if there is no need and requirement.

[10] For the full details of modesty in the bathroom- See chapter 7 Halacha 4.

[11] Kama 2/1; Basra 2/2 with slight differences and additions; Michaber 2/1

[12] Basra 2/2: “Similarly when one is removing his clothing and shirt prior to going to sleep, in order to sleep without clothing”

[13] In Kama 2/1 says only that “Tov Lizaher”, while from Basra its implied that this is an obligation-see Q&A!

[14] Basra 2/2

[15] Basra 2/2

[16] Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 3/47; Az Nidbaru 8/50; Piskeiy Teshuvos 2/2; See Ben Ish Chaiy Vayeitzei 5; Kaf Hachaim 3/13; Basra 2/2

[17] Based on Basra 2/2 that the laws of Tznius do not apply in a bathhouse. Likewise it takes a lot of time to change under the covers and many people are in a rush to work or Daven and this is thus considered a necessity. [Igros Moshe ibid]

[18] Based on Basra 2/2; Kama 2/9; 4/18; 56/17; 75/1; 91/5; 128/4; 619/19

[19] Basra 2/2 in parentheses; M”B 2/1; However see Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 3/47 for analysis on opinion of M”B.

[20] 75/1

Ruling of Kama: In Kama 2/9 Admur rules [without parentheses] that one may not walk barefoot, and one who does so the Sages said is considered excommunicated from G-d. This is based on Rama 2/6. Likewise in 4/18 Admur lists the feet as one of the areas that require washing of hands when touched, and seemingly this is because the feet are considered a normally covered area. However in 75/1; 56/17; 91/5; 128/44; 619/19 Admur rules it is permitted to reveal the feet. This is clearly ruled in 75/1 in which Admur writes that the feet are considered the revealed area of a man (in areas that people walk without socks). The explanation to this apparent contradiction is as follows: In areas that it is common to walk without socks, such as with slippers or sandals, then the feet are not considered a normally covered area and hence may be revealed. [75/1] Nevertheless even in such areas one may not walk barefoot [2/9] unless it is common to walk barefoot in those areas. [91/5] Although even in such a case it is proper to wear shoes. [Igros Moshe 3/47; This is also implied from the fact in Kama Admur seems to hold that people would walk barefoot at times and hence he rules in 4/21 that one is required to wash his feet daily. See Ketzos Hashulchan 2 footnote 25 in name of Mishneh Berurah 260/4 and Peri Megadim; Ketzos Hashulchan supplements page 82] As for why in 4/18 Admur rules the touching of the feet requires washing the Kaf Hachaim 4/73 explains that according to the Mekubalim the evil spirit which resides on the feet is very strong and does not move from its place even after being washed. [Kaf Hachaim in name of Yifei Laleiv 1/22 and Mor Uketzia 4; Rav Poalim 2/4] Thus perhaps its requirement of washing is irrelevant of whether it is considered a normally covered area.

[21] Aruch Hashulchan 2/1; Piskeiy Teshuvos 2/1; as it is common to walk in slippers, without socks, inside one’s house even when one has company. [see Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 3/47]

[22] Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 3/47

[23] Shulchan Hatahor “Tznius” chapter 4; This was the ruling of Harav Avraham Hirsh Hakohen, father of Rav Asher Lemel Hakohen, Rav of Anash Beitar Ilit.

[24] Chakal Yitzchak Mamar 7/3 [Yitzchak Issac of Spinka, murdered in Aushwitz Al Kiddush Hashem. HY”D]

[25] See 619/19 in which Admur rules that on the night of Yom Kippur one is to sleep with his uncovered feet in order to diminish the heat and prevent improper stimulation. It is told that the Rebbe Rashab gave someone similar instructions, to sleep without socks, as a Tikkun for nocturnal emission. [Oaztar Minhagei Chabad Yom Kippur 176]

[26] Based on 619/9 the issue is not necessarily the socks but the fact the feet are covered.

[27] Brought in Piskeiy Teshuvos 2 footnote 4

[28] Perhaps the reason for this is due to that nocturnal emission causes forgetfulness. [See Tanya Igeres Hateshuvah 9 [blemishes the mind]; Mamarim Haketzarim p. 359; Tocheches Chaim [Falagi] p. 6 in name of Ramak; See Igros Kodesh 16/272 that acting with modesty strengthens the memory]

[29] Chassidim Harishonim 1/92

[30] Kama 2/9.

[31] Basra 2/1; 2/6; unlike Kama 2/1 which implies it is not an obligation.

Background:

In Basra 2/1 Admur rules that the “Sages commanded to be modest” and therefore a person “needs to act in modesty” and “therefore one may not reveal his flesh”. Likewise in Basra 2/6 Admur rules it is “forbidden to walk or even sit with uncovered head because of modesty”.

Ruling of Kama: In Kama 2/1Admur writes that it is merely proper to beware [“Tov Lizaher”] to dress under the covers. 

[32] Mishneh Halachos 6/2

[33] Kama 2/1; Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 3/68-4 and 47: “The laws of modesty by man, to cover the body, is not a complete prohibition but is rather an act of extra piety”; Az Nidbaru 6/40-41; This law is completely omitted from the Rambam; See Piskeiy Teshuvos 2/1 footnote 1

Ruling of M”B: The M”B 2/1 2 writes that one needs to always beware to cover his body.

[34] Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 3/47 and 68; Machatzis Hashekel 4/23 [brought in M”B 4/53; Kaf Hachaim 4/99]

[35] Igros Moshe ibid; Piskeiy Teshuvos 2/1

[36] This does not refer to honorable guests but to normal acquaintances and visitors, such as a person that comes to borrow something or request charity. [Based on Igros Moshe 3/68]

[37] As when one goes outside he may cover more of his body due to the cold and other reasons. However in one’s house, at times that people may come over the only reason for covering the body is due to embarrassment and modesty, and hence only then does it serve as a pure proof as to what areas people consider modest and private. [Igros Moshe ibid]

[38] See Igros Moshe 3/68; Piskeiy Teshuvos 2/1; Yeshuos Moshe 3/13; Vetzaruch Iyun as to how much of the upper arm may be uncovered. See Beis Baruch 1/32

[39] See Piskeiy Teshuvos 2/1 footnote 3

[40] Brought in Pela Hayoetz “Achila”

[41] Basra 2/2; M”A 2/2

[42] The Reason: An exception to the above rule of modesty is by a bathhouse or river, as in these places it is common to walk around naked, and it’s not possible to be clothed. Thus being unclothed in such a place does not break the code of modesty. [ibid]

[43] Parentheses in original

[44] Shulchan Hatahor Mamar Tznius 4

[45] Az Nidbaru 5/40 and 50; Piskeiy Teshuvos 2/2

[46] As Admur ibid rules one is to cover himself when facing the people, and he then writes the same applies by a Mikvah.

[47] By a river Admur differentiates between one who is entering the river and one who is returning from the river. He then concludes that so is the law of one who is in a bathhouse with other people. It is unclear if his intent is to say that one is to always cover himself in a bathhouse, as he is always facing people, or only after returning from the water. Vetzaruch Iyun.

[48] See Piskeiy Teshuvos 2 footnote 11

[49] Likkutei Mahrich Seder Rechitza Erev Shabbos

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