The Gym, the Carpool, and Tzniyus

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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman


It is unclear why exactly it is happening, but often the stop that immediately follows yeshiva drop-off is . . . the gym. Whether it is a women’s gym, or a private trainer, numerous mothers are leaving for these gyms with barely enough time to get to the yeshivos to drop off their children before going straight into their exercise routines.


Exercising is one of the best ways to maintain health. Indeed, according to numerous poskim, exercising, when done in a private and modest venue, is actually the fulfillment of a Torah commandment—v’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoseichem (Devarim 4:15). So, what is the problem?


The problem involves dress—or rather, the lack of appropriate dress. The schools have realized this, and some of them have sent home notes about it. It is a Torah prohibition to go about in improper dress in the streets and thoroughfares of the community.

Three Prohibitions


Actually, there are three prohibitions involved. First is the general prohibition to appear in immodest attire (see Meiri, Kesubos 72a). There are numerous pesukim cited by poskim to this effect.


Second is a violation of ubechukoseihem lo seilechu, “do not walk in their ways.” This is discussed by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt’l (Igros Moshe YD I #81). It is a violation of walking in the ways of the gentiles if one adopts a practice that originated and is practiced by gentiles that involves either idol-worship or immodesty.


Third is the prohibition of v’lifnei iver lo sitein michshol—do not place a stumbling block. This is discussed by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, zt’l (Yechaveh Da’as III #67).

The Underlying Problem


The issue under discussion is a particular type of clothing emanating from the gentile world that entered the world of fashion in the 1980s, but came back with a vengeance in the year 2005. They are known as “leggings”—a nylon-lycra blend that is used almost universally in gyms across the country. The problem is that these leggings are often worn under a pencil spandex skirt. Frequently, these skirts do not reach the knee or will invariably rise above the knee—a serious halachic problem according to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l (Minchas Shlomo Vol. III 103:15), Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, and others (cited in Halichos Bas Yisroel page 71). The Kuntrus Malbushei Nashim (page 11) cites numerous poskim to this effect as well, as does the former chief rabbi of Tel Aviv in Assei Lecha Rav (Vol. VII p. 247).


What further complicates the issue is that many women are entirely unaware of the problem. They do not know that it is the nature of a pencil skirt worn with leggings to rise above the knee. Thus, even when the problem is pointed out to them, they will think that they personally are strictly adhering to modest dress.


Even though that part of the body is covered by the leggings, a mere covering is not sufficient for the portion above the knee, since this part is one requiring greater tzniyus—modesty—than the lower extremities (see Responsa Ohel Yissaschar Siman 10 for a full treatment of the issue). The idea is reflected in the derashah found in the Talmud (Moed Katan 16a), “Just as the yerech (thigh) is b’seiser, hidden, so too regarding Torah.” Thus a skirt that entirely conceals the shape and form of the thigh is necessary.

A Time-Tested Halachah


This is not just the view of modern authorities. The same explanation is found in the responsa of the Radbaz and the Shach (YD 340:22) that it is forbidden to be able to detect the shape of the limb through the clothing. Indeed, the Bach (Yoreh Deah 340:10) goes so far as to write that it is equivalent to the bare skin. Other poskim who forbid it entirely are the Chochmas Adam (Klal 152:6), the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (195:3), the Be’er Heitev (340:13), and the Maharsham (Daas Torah 75:1).


Is there any view that permits it? There is one lenient opinion that disagrees with the conclusions of all of the above Acharonim and the views of Rav Elyashiv and Rav Auerbach. It is cited by Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov HaLevi Haber in Et Tznuim Chochmah and holds that if the lower leg above the knee is covered completely, it is not a violation. However, this is clearly a minority view that has been dismissed by the overwhelming majority of halachic authorities. It should also be noted that according to some traditions in Yemen, a baggy type of pant cloth made exclusively for women would be permitted in Yemen, but not elsewhere.

So, according to almost all poskim, wearing a short or pencil skirt over these leggings is not sufficient. Women should change in the gym itself, and not at home before they make other stops. Before leaving the gym, they should change back to regular clothing before venturing out in public.

The Skiing Controversy


Regarding the issue of a woman’s dress during skiing, there is a debate between Dayan Weiss, zt’l, versus Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, and Rav Ovadia Yosef, zt’l. Dayan Weiss forbids skiing entirely, since he rules that a woman may not wear pants under her skirt at all. Dayan Weiss held that all forms of pants are forbidden because they fall under the rubric of male clothing. Rav Elyashiv (Yashiv Moshe p. 170) and Rav Ovadia, on the other hand, permit it with the caveat that the skirt must be long enough to ensure that the knees be obscured at all times. They hold that, despite the prohibition of opposite-gender clothing, ski pants may be worn as long as a skirt is worn above them.

Segulah For Parnassah


It should be noted that bnos Yisrael should dress with the dignity in line with who they are—bnos melech—and even when their clothing technically meets the guidelines of tzniyus, their level of dress should reflect their spiritual grandeur rather than the latest fashion fad . . . but that is a separate issue.


What is perhaps not so well known are the words of Grand Rabbi Mordechai Rokeach, Admor from Bilgoria in Galicia, zt’l, the previous Belzer Rebbe’s brother, on Bereishis 24:65, when Rivkah inquires about Yitzchak, who is approaching her. “And she said unto the servant: ‘What man is this that walks in the field to meet us?’ And the servant said: ‘It is my master.’ And she took her tzaef—her veil—and covered herself.”


The Admor explains that the letters in tzaef stand for Amcha Yisrael Tzrichim Parnassah—Your nation Israel requires sustenance. “In this word,” says the Admor, “lies the secret of the siyatta d’Shmaya, the Divine assistance, that the nation of Israel has in terms of financial success.” It resides in Klal Yisrael’s observance of the trait of modest dress.


Rivkah merited to marry one of the wealthiest princes in the region. We also find that in the merit of Rus HaMoviah’s modest walking (again regarding the thigh), she merited to be the ancestress of Dovid HaMelech. But it was not just Dovid HaMelech who descended from her—it was Shlomo HaMelech too. Shlomo was one of the wealthiest people of all time.


While the true motivation for dressing modestly is the fact that we are the nation of Hashem and the Shechinah rests among us when we do dress appropriately, it is also nice to know that the great masters of Chassidus state that it is a segulah for parnassah, a means of achieving great blessing for wealth. weights


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16 thoughts on “The Gym, the Carpool, and Tzniyus

  • November 7, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Some correction of biographical details…..R’Mordechai was A’dmor in Bilgorai…in Galicia not in Bulgaria.While he was the brother of R’ Aaron the previous Rebbe he was the Father of the current Rebbe, R’Yisochor Dov

    • November 7, 2013 at 2:46 pm

      thank you..

  • November 8, 2013 at 2:32 am

    Rabbi: Why do you focus only on women’s attire? Tzniyut is just as much a value for men’s attire as it is for women’s attire. Indeed, when I was learning in Kerem B’Yavneh, the Mashgiach would sometimes criticize bachurim for jogging or working out in inappropriate work-out clothes. This fixation on women’s modesty to the exclusion of men’s modesty is confusing. Will we see an article railing against men who jog in immodest attire around the neighborhood when they come home from work in the evenings?

  • November 8, 2013 at 7:26 am

    What is the citation in Et Tznuim Chochmah? Thanks.

  • November 8, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    “They do not know that it is the nature of a pencil skirt worn with leggings to rise above the knee.”

    Rabbi, you seems to know more of the nature of certain clothing than the women who were them?

  • November 9, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I will again post the question that wasnt posted and urge you to actually think about it.

    What is a frum man doing looking at women’s legs? Its not appropriate and not tznius. There isnt much more to it really. If you are noticing the length of womens skirts or whether or not they are pencil skirts, perhaps you are staring to hard and should look away.
    If you are unable to look away then you need to take responsibility and perhaps seek therapy ro go to a 2 step group for sex addicts such as SLAA or SA or SAA.

    • November 10, 2013 at 5:53 pm

      so a woman can dress any way she wants and it is entirely the man’s responsibility? to such an extreme point that noticing her makes him a sex addict? what about a mini skirt? Is it OK for a woman to wear that and if a man notices it, it’s his problem? that logic can be taken to an absurd extreme. maybe it should be OK for women to walk around in shorts and tank tops? but hey, don’t look.

      while a man does have a responsibility to control what he looks at, that does not give women the right to make that as difficult as possible under the guise of “hey it’s his problem”

      • November 11, 2013 at 10:06 am

        No a man can notice, this is natural. If he otoh cant look away but feels compelled to notice just how far up the skirt goes and the exact nature of the woman’s legs, he needs to take responsibility for the fact that he should in fact look away. If he doesnt have the power/ability to look away then yes this would point to a certain powerlesness that could point towards sex addiction.
        Men are believe it or not able to control themselves. H-shem gave them this ability. If you dont believe this then I wonder how far your blaming on women goes. I have heard men say that it’s a woman’s fault she got raped as she was wearing a mini skirt. I am sure that you wouldnt go there though, in which case you agree that men are able to control themselves.
        In the case of a man noticing a woman (or vice versa), controlling oneself can go something like this: 1)man notices attractive woman 2) he chooses to look away) 3) if he wants to look back he can ask H-shem for help with not looking.

        It is however not appropriate to look for as long as to notice just how far up the skirt goes and figure out what the leggings and skirt is made up and then think about it and go home and blog about it. This is nothing if not fantasising about it. It is the yetzer horo dressed up as a frum yid!
        A true frum man or woman upon noticing and feeling triggered by another person, looks away and if need be davens for help to overcome this yetzer horo and if he or she feels completely unable to control where their eyes go or unable to let go of those images then this tells them something about themselves.

        • November 12, 2013 at 9:50 pm

          The pasuk in שמע reads ולא תתורו אחרי עניכם… it never even implies that it’s forbidden to look, only to stray.

        • November 17, 2013 at 3:39 pm

          while i agree with you that a man is responsible for his actions regardless of how a woman is dressed, you have avoided my question which is – does a woman have a right to dress any way she wants?

  • November 9, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    is this a joke? seriously. tznius is about the way we act as a nation. please don’t nitpick about leggings.

  • November 10, 2013 at 4:30 am

    wow! a grown man and respected community member has nothing else to do but watch whether leggings make the skirt glide up over the knee?

  • November 10, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    I heard a very interesting point once. As a woman, I don’t understand your struggle with shmiras aynayim. Men not being able to control where their gaze takes them is something I cannot wrap my head around. And so, I am not qualified to give mussar to a male when it comes to shmiras aynayim.

    So to with women and tznius. A man will never understand the battle and the struggle that women encounter whenever they go shopping or in the mornings when they look at their closets and decide what to wear for the day. And so, sorry to say this Rabbi but you are not qualified to discuss women’s workout clothing. You don’t get it.

    If this article was written by a woman, then maybe other women would take this more seriously. But this? This is a joke.

  • November 10, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    You say “it is forbidden to be able to detect the shape of the limb through the clothing” and bring various sources for this. Unfortunately I don’t have access to all those sources right now, but I checked the Shach and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and I’m not sure they mean what you say. They say that it’s immodest for a woman to expose her lower layer of clothing (during kriah). However, they don’t say what’s immodest about it, and don’t say this is because the lower layer is tight and reveals the shape of the body. I think it’s more likely that the lower layer is comparable to underwear, and exposing your underwear is inherently immodest, even if it’s no tighter than your other clothing. By this logic, leggings would be OK because they are considered outer clothing. Can you confirm or refute that this is a viable understanding?

  • November 11, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    The real issue here is that this rabbi is telling these mothers how to dress–even though they are not asking for his opinion!!

    It’s one thing for a woman to ask a rabbi or teacher what standards of dress are appropriate. (personally, I feel that a more correct reading of the halachic literature would support a woman wearing leggings under a pencil skirt, but I fully understand the position of those who choose not to dress in such a way_

    It’s an entirely different and much more problematic thing for a rabbi to tell women who are not his congregants and not asking for his advice how they should dress. These women are mothers of children in yeshivos–don’t you think that they’re fully capable of making informed halachic decisions on their own?

  • November 12, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Yet another thing being deemed “assur.” Aside from all the other comments people have made about the author’s impressive attention to womens’ clothing – it just seems that there are far more productive things that could be done in our society, more pressing issues that should be dealt with. I would dare say that our newfound passion for banning and prohibiting everything is the cause of more problems than the solution to any issue. We have a community that seems to have lost respect for our gedolim – might the excitement that seems to exist for banning everything while ignoring more serious issues be the cause? We seem so determined to blame our problems on the internet and tznius while ignoring what could be called an epidemic of abuse, serious financial issues being faced by the community due to tuition and the kollel system leaving people with no means of supporting their families, what seems to be a civil war amongst “gedolim” in Israel with people being forced to vote a specific way or else be thrown out of their yeshivas while vilifying a system that simply is unable to sustain the status quo. Wearing leggings may well be assur – the only thing that is gained by saying that they are is further alienating people and encouraging them to disregard rabbonim completely. Rabbonim seem to be a large cause of people turning away from observance – they are too busy prohibiting things to even realize it. Great job Rabbi Hoffman

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