Women Not Wearing Pants

I would like to get your take on Deuteronomy 22:5, where the bible states for a woman not to wear men’s clothing and a man should not wear women’s clothing. The church I attend states that women should not wear pants, seeing that it is men’s apparel, and vice versa. We teach that women should dress modestly, in dresses and skirts, not too tight and revealing.

What is Deuteronomy 22:5 addressing? Is it talking about clothing or is it talking about a woman wanting to look like a man and a man wanting to look like a woman? Thanks for your time and may God’s blessings be upon you and your family.

Ezekiel R.

Dear Ezekiel,

As we always stress in our teachings, the Bible applies in all times and places. At different times in history and in different places, however, various parts of the Bible stand out as more clear and relevant.

The verse you cite, Deuteronomy 22:5, speaks to our generation in a way that it would not have spoken to our grandparents. Which of them would have thought that a male prisoner might be allowed to claim he’s a woman, dress as a woman, and be put in a cell with women? Or that a woman might want to cut off her breasts and take hormones so that she could mingle with men as one of them? Yet, both those things are happening today.

Speaking specifically about your church’s interpretation of the above verse, the guidelines you describe would be similar to what many churches and synagogues follow. In doing so, however, we should be careful to distinguish between a concept and an application. Conceptually, the verse is stressing the importance of men and women looking and acting differently. The Bible is not a fan of unisex clothing or decorative and personal grooming trends crossing gender lines. Even when Adam and Eve make themselves similar looking garb in Genesis 3:7, God corrects them in verse 21 of that chapter by making clothing not for “them,” but rather separately for the man and for the woman. Men should be men and women should be women.

Nonetheless, when it comes to applying a concept, there can be differences due to time and place. Speaking personally, women in our own community do not wear pants. However, there are other communities that honor God’s word who see pants, at this point in history, as no longer exclusively male attire and so not a problem. The community in which we are personally comfortable discourages tight and form fitting clothing for both men and women—again, what exactly this means is less hewn in stone than subject to an agreed upon community standard.

It sounds like your church is clear in its standards and that allows everyone to be clear on expectations. Clarity is a wonderful thing. At the same time, we would hesitate to say that another church that might have somewhat different standards is in violation of this Biblical idea. The concept is immovable; how it is applied leaves some room for interpretation.

Respectfully yours,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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