“Grandma, are you a girl?”
My three-year-old grandson and I were sitting on the floor, like we usually do, playing with trucks, trains, and duplo blocks, creating various scenarios: fires to put out, meals to make and eat, building a school and playground, and so on.
“Yes, S. Y, I am.”
“Why are you wearing pants? If you’re a girl you don’t wear pants.”
I explained that his great-grandmother and his aunt and me wear pants and dresses and skirts. He accepted the answer, which my daughter-in-law thinks will satisfy him for a couple years.
In his world, women wear skirts. Long skirts. His mother and her family, his teachers, called “morahs”, as in “Morah Sarit,” all wear skirts.
Like many rules in Orthodox Judaism, there’s never one simple answer to a question. Instead there’s a debate about issues that goes back thousands of years. Basically, the dress code for women, as explained to me when my sons got married, is: knees, elbows, collar bone. My suits I wore to each wedding covered these essentials.
It’s all about adhering to “Tznius,” or observing modesty in dress and deed. And as with every action in Orthodox Judaism, there’s an accompanying “Mitzvot” or commandment, that’s being fulfilled. A woman is not allowed to wear men’s clothing (nor is a man allowed to wear women’s clothing. (Deuteronomy 22:5)
A cold and rainy day, I wore corduroys. I knew I’d be sitting on the floor. There’s a bit of irony here. I remember not being able to wear pants to school, a fact my daughter can’t believe. Thick leggings went over tights, and had to be removed for the day and put back on for the bus ride home. I don’t think I wore pants—and not jeans—until I was in high school in the early 1970’s.
I know we’ll have more challenges about how we do things, what we eat, why we drive on Shabbat, why we don’t cover our heads, say bruchas, or blessings, and more as he and his sister and cousin get older. I hope simple explanations and an acceptance of differences will suffice.
The rest of the afternoon proceeded without incident. Trains climbed mountains, trucks dumped loads of concrete, wood, and coal, and the duplo figures conducted their lives, making pancakes and peanut butter sandwiches. At one point, I asked SY what he did in school today.
“I don’t want to talk about school. I only want to talk about the trucks.”