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Wednesday
Mar132019

Tznius for men?

In connection with Parshas Pekudei which discusses the priestly garb, we present a collection of halachic articles from Halacha2Go.com on the topic of proper dress code, as well as some questions and answers from AskTheRav.com

By Horav Yosef Yeshaya Braun,
Mara D’asra and member of the Crown Heights Beis Din

May a Man Use A Mirror?

The lav (Torah prohibition), “Lo yilbash gever simlas isha” (a man may not dress in a woman’s garment) prohibits many types of adornments and beauty enhancements normally practiced by women; in this vein, the Talmud Yerushalmi states that men gazing in the mirror is also a violation of lo yilbash.*

However, the Yerushalmi continues, there are exceptions to this precept, such as those who are krovim l’malchus (involved with the government)—they may look in the mirror to maintain the impeccable standards of dress befitting their position. Poskim maintain that there are also a range of non-glamour related activities where mirror use by men is sanctioned: to examine the body for health purposes, to avoid nicking the scalp while taking a haircut, to properly position tefillin shel rosh (head tefillin), and for checking for food stains or dandruff on the person or clothing to present a well-groomed appearance. Halachic authorities add that even absent some sullying substance, a man may glance in the mirror to simply straighten his clothing to look presentable.

Later authorities qualify that since in the current age mirrors are no longer considered gender-specific, the above restrictions are relaxed and a mirror may be used for a range of purposes by men as well. Other authorities nevertheless maintain that chaverim (“colleagues”; i.e., Torah scholars) refrain from gazing in mirrors indiscriminately and maintain the standards of previous generations. There are also kabbalistic motives for men curbing their mirror use, as it states in the Zohar concerning ruchos ra’os (evil spirits) unleashed by males who use mirrors, including a memuneh (appointed angel), called Mar’eh (“mirror”) whose negative energies are thus fortified. Obviously, this warning does not apply to utilizing the mirror when sanctioned by halachah — those activities outlined by the Yerushalmi and earlier poskim.

The established practice is that mirror-use by men is only restricted when it is li’hisgaos (for vanity)—but in other circumstances and when in the range of acceptable halachic practice, or otherwise l’shem Shamayim (for the sake of Heaven), it is acceptable. Some latter-day poskim mention that in current times, when a Torah lifestyle has become more marginalized, it is even more important than in previous generations for talmidei chachamim to be well-groomed and neatly dressed in order to make a positive impression; using a mirror for this purpose is proper since it enhances respect for Torah in the larger community. (Halacha2go.com #829)

*For other (non-dress) activities associated with lo yilbash, see Halachah #11; Halachah #243; and Halachah #654.

Tznius for Men: Covering the Chest

A new fashion has been creeping in even amongst otherwise observant Jews, for men to sometimes dress in a way that their chest is exposed. According to the halachos of tznius for men, the chest is one of those areas that should usually be covered, and exposing it raises serious halachic issues:

One is not permitted to daven Shemonei Esrei when his chest is exposed. Whereas it is permissible besha’as hadchak (when one has no other option) to say Kriyas Shema and brochos in such a state, it is nevertheless inappropriate. A man whose chest is uncovered should not lead the services, nor read from the Torah; it is written that a person should not put on tefilin unless his heart — which refers to his chest — is covered. If one’s chest is exposed, he should not open the Aron Kodesh, since doing so would be immodest and inappropriate.

Regarding tzitzis, the Arizal wrote that they are to be worn in a manner that always covers the chest. (Halacha2go.com #239*)

Bless the Dress, but Shun the Shoes

The Rema mentions the custom of blessing a person who acquires a new item of clothing: Tivleh u’sechadesh (wear it out and get a new one). There is an exception: We do not give this particular brachah for new shoes. Shoes are made from leather, the skin of an animal, and it is inappropriate for us to wish that another animal be killed so the wearer may get yet another new pair.

Shulchan Aruch states that a person should recite the brachah of Shehecheyanu (“That we have reached the occasion,” which is recited for monumental events, like a new Yom Tov) upon purchasing or donning new clothes. This halachah has been abandoned by some people in current times since buying new clothing has become so commonplace—but they still make the brachah on very elegant or expensive clothing.

What about shoes? Poskim say that according to all opinions shoes are not considered fancy garments, even for the poor, so Shehecheyanu is not said when buying them, just as it is not said for new socks or other ordinary clothing. It seems that the reasoning for this halachah is that in the times of earlier poskim, new shoes were considered a constant need and other apparel, a luxury.

These days, however, shoes can be quite expensive, more so than regular clothing, and can last for much longer too. It is therefore questionable why we don’t say Shehecheyanu on them. Perhaps the explanation given above for not saying tivleh usechadesh can be applied to Shehecheyanu as well—but this explanation is a stretch.

Alternatively, perhaps shoes were simply always less important because they are constantly in the dirt. Perhaps, the reason the Shulchan Aruch states that Shehecheyanu is not recited on them was never on account of the regularity of their purchase (or their expense, which was always significant), but because their primary use is traversing the ground.

Although these explanations are difficult to sustain, it is nevertheless the prevailing custom not to say Shehecheyanu upon buying or donning new shoes. (Halacha2go.com #791)

Sources for this Halachah available on Halacha2go.com

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