- Question: [Tuesday, 21st Teves 5781]
My wife and I are going on vacation to a remote island and we had the following question: Since we will be in an area without any Jews around, would it be permitted for my wife to dress not in accordance to the laws of Tzenius when outside. Also, would be permitted for her to go to the beach if there are only Gentiles there who can see her. I understand that as a man I can’t do so if there are other women there however what would be the problem for a woman to go to a beach with men if there are no Jews around.
*To note, the answer below refers specifically to immodest dress that is forbidden according to Halacha, and not to simply dressing more attractive while on vacation in a way that is within the bounds of Halacha.
There is no allowance to be dressed immodestly even when one is on vacation and even if there are only Gentiles around and even if there is no one around. Accordingly, your wife may not dress in a fashion that is forbidden according to the laws of Tzenius, and may not go to a beach in which there are other men around if she’s not dressed modestly, even if they are all Gentiles. However, seemingly, from the letter of the law she may wear clothing that are within the bounds of Halacha of Tznius [i.e. black stockings] but are simply not worn in her current area due to a custom of being extra scrupulous, however even so this matter requires further thought as to where and when it should be applied, as, as a general rule it is not a suggested approach for one to dress in a way that they themselves view as Untzenius in their society.
Explanations-The philosophical issues: While the above asker had the courage to pose this question, unfortunately, some couples think that when they are on vacation the laws of modesty can be allowed to slip, and that they may dress in ways that are contrary to Halacha. Dressing modestly in accordance to the rulings of Halacha is a personal obligation on the person in all areas irrelevant of who is around, whether Jew or Gentile, and even if no one is around at all. Modesty is an intrinsic character trait that is not meant to be swayed in accordance to the comfortability of one’s environment. I believe that the main reason for why we see this lax approach amongst some couples during vacation is because people feel that the public pressure “of what will people say if I go out dressed this way” is not applicable when they are vacationing around people who they don’t know and who don’t know them. The mistake of this philosophy, aside from being Halachically incorrect as we will explain, is that it possibly shows that the person’s keeping of the laws of modesty is done simply out of societal pressures of their current area and not due to an intrinsic desire to be modest. Nonetheless, I am also sure that there are couples who may do so simply due to a halachic miscalculation, or as often occurs due to pressure from their husbands who themselves are Halachically misguided, and we will thus now explain the halachic background on the subject:
Explanations-The Halachic issues: In general, there are two halachic issues with immodest dress, each one independent of the other. The first issue is that according to Halacha a man and woman should never reveal the normally covered parts of the body even in the privacy of their room, hence the need to get dressed and undressed under the covers or in a bathroom. Thus, it is obvious that even on vacation neither the husband and wife should be dressed in a revealing fashion, revealing areas of the body that are normally covered, and that this has nothing to do with the type of people who walk around outside whether Jew or Gentile or even no one on a private Island. The second halachic issue regarding modesty for women is the fact that it can cause other men to stumble in looking at the immodestly dressed woman and can lead them to sin. This prohibition of causing a stumbling block applies whether to a Jewish man or Gentile man, as the prohibition of Lifnei Iver applies even against causing a Gentile to sin. Now, even Gentiles are obligated in certain laws of Arayos [i.e. Zera Levatala according to some Poskim], which can be instigated to be transgressed when looking at an immodestly dressed woman, just as it is regarding a male Jew. Furthermore, there may be an intrinsic prohibition in a woman dressing immodestly irrelevant of causing others to stumble due to the prohibition of transgressing Daas Moshe, and due to the prohibition against going to the statutes of the Gentiles. Accordingly, it is clear that it is forbidden to dress immodestly even while on vacation in an area with only Gentiles, and it is likewise forbidden to go to the beach in swimwear in front of Gentile men.
Sources: See regarding not revealing the normally covered parts of the body: Admur Basra 2:1-2 and 6; Kama 2:1; Siddur “Seder Netilah”; Mishneh Halachos 6:2; see regarding the general obligation of modesty for women: Igros Moseh Y.D. 1:81; Yechaveh Daas 3:67; Az Nidbaru 3 p. 49; See regarding Zera Levatala by gentiles: Rashba in name of Ramban, brought in Mishneh Limelech Melachim 10/7 “Venachzor”; Tosafus Sanhedrin 59b; Sh’lah Vayeishev p. 170