Women And Skiing – A Halachic Analysis

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(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times)

In this past week’s Parsha, there is a fascinating Rashi (Shmos 18:10) in regard to why Yisro repeats himself twice.  He says, “Blessed is Hashem who saved you from the hand of Egypt and the hand of Pharoah who saved the nation from under the hand of Egypt.”  Rashi explains that the latter clause refers to the physical labor.  The former refers to the psychological relief of being saved from a difficult nation and ruler.

Skiing is actually a remarkably healthy activity – both physically as well as psychologically. Experts say that one can lose up to 3,000 calories during six hours of skiing. It can help one lose up to five pounds of weight in a week. It can tone stomach muscles and boost immunity.  From a psychological perspective it can relieve depression and develop fresh new attitudes.

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’nafshosaichem (Dvarim 4:15).  But what is the halacha in regard to modest dress and skiing?  What are the issues involved?

There are actually no less than four possible issues involved in women wearing ski pants  In this article, an attempt will be made to review the underlying issues and discuss those Poskim that address them.

MEN’S CLOTHING ISSUE

The first issue is that pants, by their very nature, may possibly be considered men’s clothing. If so, it may be a violation of the verse in Dvarim (22:5) not to wear clothing of the opposite gender. There are two explanations for the prohibition. The first is that found in the Sefer haChinuch (Mitzvah 542) that the reason for the prohibition is to prevent inappropriate mixing between genders that can lead to improper activity. The second reason is found in the Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim. Essentially, he states that the Torah concerned with the inappropriate thoughts that cross-dressing can engender.

Perhaps we can suggest that the debate cited in the Acharonim regarding Purim as to whether or not one may dress up with some clothing of the opposite gender but not all clothing may revolve around this point: According to the Rambam, even one article of clothing of the opposite gender could engender inappropriate thoughts. According to the Sefer HaChinuch’s reason it would not apply. The Mishna Brurah recommends being stringent.

There are also Poskim who cite proofs from psukim that indicate that pants are a uniquely male article of clothing, by definition.

TZNIUS (MODESTY) ISSUE

The second issue is the issue of Tznius – modesty. The Meiri in Kesuvos (72a) explains that there is a general prohibition in appearing in immodest attire. The sages explain that the honor of a Bas Melech is pnimah – inward. The Queens of England has a certain dress protocol, that at least in some form or another, was once generally kept by the first ladies in this country as well. An inherent aspect of pants is that by nature it is form revealing, and thus not in line with the parameters of the ideal form of modesty. The Radbaz (Responsa #770),and the Shach (YD 340:22) both write that it is forbidden to dress in a manner where one would be able to detect the shape of the limb through the clothing. Indeed, although we do not pasken like this opinion, the Bach (Yoreh Deah 340:10) goes so far as to write that it is equivalent to the bare skin. Other Poskim who forbid seeing the shape of the lower limbs 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).

WAYS OF THE GENTILE ISSUE

The third issue, discussed by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe YD I #81), is a violation of ubechukosaihem lo sailechu, “do not walk in their ways.” 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.

LIFNEI IVER ISSUE

A fourth possible issue, discussed by Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef (Yechaveh Daas III #67) zt”l, is the prohibition of v’lifnei Iver lo sitain michshol – do not place a stumbling block in front of a blind man.”Some of the ski pants or snow suits, it seems, would fall under this category.

And now onto the rulings of the Poskim.

It seems that there are three opinions on the matter.

It is clear from a responsa of Dayan Yitzchak Weiss zatzal(Minchas Yitzchak Vol. II #108) that he is of the opinion that skiing is not permitted for women because they may never wear ski pants, even if it is covered over with a skirt.

Rav Ovadiah Yoseph wrote in a responsa (YO YD VI #14) that when dealing with certain (baggy) pants that are clearly designed for women and are so loose that they are not shape revealing, they do not violate either of the two issues, although he clearly expresses a preference forthe fully modest skirt over this type of pants. It would seem from the responsa that he would hold that thicker ski clothing may not necessarily reveal the shape of the lower limbs. However, someone once mentioned to me that he had subsequently changed his mind on the matter of baggy pants. I have not found this in print, though.

Rav Elyashiv zatzal, however, held otherwise. He held (as cited in the Yashiv Moshe page 170) that women may wear ski pants if they are covered by a skirt. The next question is whether the length of the skirt that goes over the ski pants would cause a danger either to her or to others on the ski slope. Clearly the skirt must be wide enough so that it not pose a danger to herself or to others.

It seems that most observant female (Ashkenazi) skiers in Eretz Yisroel follow the view of Rav Elyashiv. Working with this, although one should ask one’s own Rav or Posaik, it would seem that it would be forbidden for a woman wearing an appropriate length skirt to ski on anything but a beginner’s level slope., on account of the danger. Later, when she is certain that she can manage and she has a wide enough skirt, then she can go down the more advanced ones.

The author can be reached at [email protected]


12 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this halachik analysis. The problem with a skirt that you can ski with is that it will very likely not stay put when skiing downhill.

  2. Do any of the more contempoary gadolim address the question of redefining what constitutes ‘beged ish” as societal customs/nomrs change? More specifically, while pants were unquestionably worn primarily by men hundreds of years ago, does the fact that they have become the norm for both genders warrant reconsideration? Obviously, there is the totally separate inyan of whether the pants themselves are sufficiently “baggy”and thus tziniusdik but that same concern exists for a dress as well.

  3. Gadolhadorah, just because society is immoral and wearing immoral clothing does not mean that halacha will change accordingly. It is Conservative, Reconstructionists and Reform ideology that changes halacha according to societal norms.

    Halacha is halacha but besides for that we cannot lose our mentzchlichkeit of which there is non in existence today in the secular world; let’s leave women looking like women and men like men.

  4. Philosopher: Thanks for the thoughts but that wasn’t my question. Going back to Adam h’rishon, the type of lvush associated wih men has obviously changed to some extent, There was a time when men in certain cultures wore long robes free-flowing robes that today look much like women’s fashions. Men in other cultures wore kilt-like clothing that visually does not appear to be much different from skirts. My question is what is objectively defined as “beged ish in terms of point of time in histoy and geographi location. Is it the type of clothing worn by men ithe midbar at z’man matan torah, or perhaps at the time of the rishonim or does it extend to fashion styles among the sephardeshe yidden in north africa hundreds of years later?

  5. “while pants were unquestionably worn primarily by men hundreds of years ago”

    That is not really accurate. Trousers, as we know them today, only became men’s wear about two centuries ago. Before then they were women’s wear. [EDITOR’S NOTE: THERE ARE PSUKIM CITED BY POSKIM OTHERWISE]

  6. There are two issues that sometimes overlap. Clothes identifying with a gender and clothes that entice immorality (non-tzenious).

    There are some garments that are unisex – worn by either gender. A historic example is the robe – worn by men or women.

    Pants by definition enclose each individual legs

  7. Who says that men are allowed to ski? Skiing is a dangerous activity. In fact, the Daily Beast ranked it as the third most dangerous winter activity with 1,034 injuries and one fatality. [EDITOR’S NOTE: skiing has an injury rate of about two injuries for every 1,000 ski days. Snowboarders have an injury rate of about three to five injuries for every 1,000 days on the slope. When you compare this with the number of injuries of football or basketball , skiing and snowboarding do not look so bad. Fatality rates are also relatively low, at about 0.71 deaths per million ski days and 0.46 deaths per million snowboard days.]

  8. Refoel Mosehe: That was exactly my point in my post yesterday asking how the term “beged ish:” is to be defined and understood. Its not a simple as the response from Philosopher accusing all of society as being “immoral” and the conservative and reform in particular for seeking to change halacha to accommodate changes in social norms. The question is unanswered: What time and place defines what is considered “beged ish”? Is it a fixed standard for all time and all locations or does it change as locations and local customs change over time.? And again, this is a totally separate issue from tzinius

  9. Avi K: If it is per se asur according to halacha to engage in risky/dangerous activities, what about the fastest growing form of public transportation….aka scooters. Several recent systematic studies of ER data and less scientific first responder anecdotal data have identified injuries from scooter-related accidents as the fastest growing form of injury being treated with a high percentage of those being concussions etc. At the same time, tens of thousands of scooters are being dumped on our streets all over the country and have displaced bikes in some locations. Does this mean it is assur for a yeshiva bochur, baas yisroel or just any yid to ride a scooter to and from school, beis medrash etc.???

  10. Gadolhadorah, you think that halacha changes because the styles do? This reminds me of the “frum” women who have paskened that they can wear mini skirts because the leggings cover their knees. (And after a while the leggings come off too.) These “frum” women fall together with the men in their lives.

    Our biggest poskim have already paskened that pants are a man’s beged. You have zero input in this argument. Styles change, we certainly don’t wear the clothing our ancestors did at Har Sinai but that doesn’t mean that the styles we wear in any generation are not worn within the parameters of halacha. The fact that the Scottish wore skirts and men used to wear robes has nothing to do to the fact that pants were developed as a man’s beged.

    Any “posek” who will pasken that pants are ok for women to wear then we know what kind of “posek” he is, more like the fake neviim that klal Yisroel used to have. Such a “posek” is a Conservidox “Rabbi” on the road to Reformism.