Monday, August 16, 2010

Rashi on Shaving: Ki Teitzei

I used to sit down, every week, in a coffee shop, and read the weekly Torah portion (aka parshah). I'd make notes in a notebook, which I still have, and then write up a blog post with some semblance of my thoughts made coherent. That ritual began when I was living in Washington D.C. in 2006, and it continued well into 2008 before I moved to Connecticut. But when I moved to Connecticut, I got busy with school and my weekly parshah study was replaced largely by my academic probes that translated into personal discovery with Talmudic and midrashic study, as well as Hebrew.

Something Elul has me thinking about and reflecting on is my devotion to weekly, if not daily, Torah study. Or examining the halachos or some other aspect of this Jewish life I carry so proudly. Thus, I give you, some thoughts on just a bit of the upcoming parshah, Ki Teitzei. 

(Deuteronomy 22:5, with Rashi commentary from

5. A man's attire shall not be on a woman, nor may a man wear a woman's garment because whoever does these [things] is an abomination to the Lord, your God.

ה. לֹא יִהְיֶה כְלִי גֶבֶר עַל אִשָּׁה וְלֹא יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה כִּי תוֹעֲבַת יְי אֱלֹקיךָ כָּל עֹשֵׂה אֵלֶּה:

A man’s attire shall not be on a woman: making her appear like a man, thereby enabling her to go among men, for this can only be for the [purpose of] adultery. — [Nazir 59a]

לא יהיה כלי גבר על אשה: שתהא דומה לאיש כדי שתלך בין האנשים, שאין זו אלא לשם ניאוף:

nor may a man wear a woman’s garment: to go and abide among women. Another explanation: [In addition to not wearing a woman’s garment,] a man must also not remove his pubic hair or the hair of his armpits [for this is a practice exclusive to women]. — [Nazir 59a]

ולא ילבש גבר שמלת אשה: לילך ולישב בין הנשים. דבר אחר שלא ישיר שער הערוה ושער של בית השחי:
because … is an abomination: The Torah forbids only [the wearing of] clothes that would lead to abomination [i.e., immoral and illicit behavior]. — [Nazir 59a]

כי תועבת: לא אסרה תורה אלא לבוש המביא לידי תועבה:

Okay. What struck me about this particular verse is that it relates that a woman shouldn't wear the article, or as it is understood, clothing item, that belongs to a man, while a man shouldn't wear "a woman's dress" is what it says specifically. Does that rule out bras? I'm joking, of course. The reason for this command, according to the text, is that it is an abomination. Rashi understands this to be because it would lead a man or woman to commit adultery. The modern and commonplace act of wearing pants and button-downs among women aside, how does Orthodoxy understand this?

Women in the Orthodox community wear skirts, by and large, wear skirts, so pants aren't an issue. But what about shirts that could be understood as men's clothing. A button-down, for example. The "boyfriend tee" as many places call it. A simple, classic, professional button-down shirt, skirt or not ... would it make Rashi shudder? 

And how do we view the man who wears a skirt on Purim for kicks and giggles -- is it in the spirit of this simple command not to don the dress of a woman? You won't find too many women in the Orthodox community donning full male attire for Purim (that whole skirt thing, of course), but men. Men wear dresses and skirts and get their hilarity on with ease. What validates this, considering this command from Deut. 22:5? It does seem, at the end, with Rashi, that only if the act of wearing a skirt or men's button-down would lead to "immoral and illicit behavior" is it an abomination. The assumption, however, is that the clothing itself will result in an abomination (no free choice?), so donning it isn't even an option or consideration. Or, rather, it shouldn't be. The point: No good can come from wearing the clothing traditionally worn by the opposite sex, so don't do it. Stam

What I'm really taken with, I will say, is the mention of how women remove their pubic and armpit hair. I was always under the impression that this was very much a 20th-century thing to do, a modern insecurity with the hair of our bodies. Now I have to wonder whether this was a normative activity even back in the 11th century. It seems strange to me, considering how difficult it must have been to shave back in the day. There weren't easy-to-use BIC razors, after all. No bikini-line razors and what have you. Definitely no Nair. Does anyone have a good history of shaving (for women, that is, I know Alexander the Great made a big to-do out of being clean-shaven; way to go Alexander!)?

I'm sure there are plenty of interesting and curious aspects of this simple verse from this week's Torah portion that I'm missing, so feel free to share what you see in it, or what you think about this whole "women dressing as men" and "men dressing as women" command. It's such a strange and unusual concept to us in the 21st century, even within the Orthodox community where women wear skirts and head coverings and men sport suits on their way to shul. I wonder what this verse will mean to us in 100 years? 500 years? What happens when we all go Star Trek and wear body suits? 

Thoughts a'plenty over here!