Parashas Toldos includes the famous portion in which Yaakov Avinu takes the brachos, which Yitzchak had intended for Esav, for himself. In obtaining the brachos for Yaakov, Rikva covers Yaakov’s hands and his neck with a layer of lambskin (Bereishis 27:17), to ensure that he would resemble the feel of his older brother if touched by Yitzchak.

The matter of dressing up—which becomes especially relevant on Purim—does not involve many halachic issues. One pertinent issue, however, is the question of a boy dressing up as a girl, and vice versa.

The Torah prohibits a man from dressing as a woman, and a woman from dressing as a man, with an explicit Torah prohibition (Devarim 22:5). Often referred to simply as “lo yilbash,” the Pasuk gives the transgression special severity, concluding: “for it is an abomination to Hashem, all who perform these.”

Although these Torah prohibitions seem to be clear, there are many principles and details that require study and analysis, as we will seek to do in the present article.

What is the reason for the Torah prohibition? When it is permitted for a man to wear women’s clothing, and vice versa? From which age does the prohibition apply? And is it permitted for a boy to dress up as a girl on Purim? These questions, among others, are discussed below.

The Basic Prohibition

It is forbidden, as noted above, for a man to wear women’s clothes or for a woman to wear men’s garments. The Torah refers to this conduct as an abomination, most commentaries explaining that a man dressing as a woman or vice versa can lead to immorality and promiscuity (see commentaries of Rashi, Rashbam, and Ibn Ezra to Devarim 22:5).

According to the Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvos, lo taaseh 39; Moreh Nevuchim 3:37) and the Chinuch (Mitzvah 542) the practice is also connected to the ways of ancient idolaters, who apparently used to practice a form of cross-dressing as part of their idolatrous ways.

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 182:5) rules that it is forbidden for a woman to wear man’s clothing (such as a man’s hat), and for a man to wear a woman’s clothing or jewelry.

The Rema points out (based on the Rambam, Laws of Idolatry 12:10) that the Torah prohibition applies even to a single garment, and even when the other garments being worn by the man or women are appropriate to his or her own gender—though some authorities maintain that the full Torah prohibition applies only to a full emulation of a woman by a man and a man by a woman, and not to a single garment (see especially Bach, Yoreh De’ah 182).

The Shulchan Aruch qualifies the basic ruling by stating that the prohibition applies only to those items of clothing that are worn exclusively by men or women. If an item of clothing is worn by both men and women, the prohibition does not apply, even if the majority of those who wear the item are men or women.

For this reason, there will not be a prohibition for a woman to wear a standard sweater. Even if it is generally worn by men, a standard sweater will sometimes be worn by women, too, so that the prohibition will not apply. This could also apply to some pajama items which, while intended for men, are often worn by women too.

Private or Public

The consensus of halachic authorities is that the prohibition of lo yilbash applies even in the privacy of a home.

It is noteworthy that the Rambam, as explained by the Beis Yosef, maintains that the full Torah prohibition does not apply to clothes that are not visible (such as undergarments). This is based on the understanding that the prohibition is related to promiscuity, which can only develop from cross dressing that is visible. Yet, there remains a rabbinic prohibition even for garments that are not visible (see Taz, Yoreh De’ah 182:6).

For wearing visible items of clothing in one’s home, even when no one of the opposite gender is present, it is possible that according to all there is an issur from the Torah. The fact that it is worn at home might not affect the prohibition, which is defined by the type of clothing and not by the location of the person. Certainly, at least a rabbinic prohibition will apply.

The Panim Yafos (on Parshas Ki Teitzei) adopts an original approach to this matter, and rules that there is a distinction between men and women: women are permitted to wear men’s garments as long as they don’t mingle with men, while men are always prohibited from wearing women’s garments (because this leads them to promiscuous thoughts). However, this approach is deferred by many Poskim (see Darchei Teshuvah 182:7; Shut Minchas Yitzchak 2:108:3; Shut Shevet Hakehasi 2:258).

Keeping Warm

Many authorities rule that the prohibition of lo yilbash only applies when the intention of wearing the relevant garments is to beautify oneself, i.e. it is forbidden to adorn and beautify oneself in the manner of the opposite sex. If the intention is for other reasons, such as protection from the elements or to keep warm, there is no prohibition provided it is noticeable whether the person is a man or woman. This ruling is noted by the Bach (Yoreh De’ah 182), the Taz (182:4), and the Shach (182:7).

According to this opinion, it is permitted for a man to wear a ladies’ scarf or slippers if he is cold and needs to warm himself, and a woman may likewise wear a men’s rain coat or boots if it is raining—and so on.

A minority opinion disagrees with the leniency of wearing clothes other than for beautification and maintains that the prohibition applies universally (see Chochmas Adam 90:1; Binas Adam 74; Yad Haketanah p. 279). While some authorities recommend that one should be stringent in this matter (see Maharsham 2:243; Shut Shevet Halevi 2:63), the principal halacha (and the common custom) is that one may be lenient in this matter (see Shut Iggros Moshe, Yoreh De’ah 2:61; Shut Yabia Omer 6, Yoreh De’ah 14).

The Avnei Tzedek (Yoreh De’ah 72) extends this discussion to women wearing pants under a skirt, which will be permitted when done to keep warm, or while exercising.

There is a lengthy discussion among contemporary Poskim concerning whether or not the prohibition of lo yilbash applies to women’s pants (see Shut Minchas Yitzchak 2:108 who prohibits woman from skiing with womens‘ ski pants; Shut Tzitz Eliezer 11:62, Shut Shevet Halevi 2:63; 6:118; Shut Yabia Omer 6, Yoreh De’ah 14), and the custom among many is to be lenient on this matter for wearing pajamas, training pants, and so on. However, for reasons of tznius, no Posek permits wearing pants in public.

Dressing Up on Purim

In some communities it was customary for men to dress up as women and vice versa on Purim. The reason for this is that the dressing up was not done for beauty, but rather for the joy of Purim (and because it is only done for a short time), so that it does not violate lo yilbash. This opinion is recorded by the Rema (Orach Chaim 696:8).

However, many early Poskim were strictly opposed to this, such as the Bach (Yoreh De’ah 182) and the Shach (182:7, based on the Yere’im), who wrote that the custom should be abolished. This view is cited by many later authorities (see for instance Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chaim 696:12; Shut Be’er Moshe Vol. 8, nos. 7-8), and this is the ruling of the Mishnah Berurah (696, 30). Today, the general custom is to refrain from dressing up as women or men even on Purim.

Having said this, the Mishnah Berurah (696:30) notes (citing the Peri Megadim) that there is some room for leniency when a man wears only a single women’s garment or vice versa, provided he is otherwise dressed like a man. Citing the Shela, he writes that the practice remains unworthy.

For children beneath the age of chinuch one can be lenient in this matter, the age of chinuch being the age when a child is old enough to be embarrassed to wear the clothing of the opposite gender (Shut Iggros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer Vol. 4, no. 62). He adds that because of tzniyus considerations it is proper to refrain from dressing with clothing of the opposite gender from the time people differentiate between boys and girls clothing.

Conclusion

We have seen that there is a Torah prohibition against wearing clothing that is specific to the other gender: A man must not wear women’s clothing, and a woman must not wear men’s clothing. The prohibition applies even to a single garment, though according to some authorities the full Torah transgression only applies to a man fully dressed as a woman and vice versa.

At the same time, the prohibition does not always apply. When the purpose of wearing the item is not for beauty, but for a practical reason like keeping warm, many permit the practice; it is likewise permitted for a man to wear his wife’s ring for safekeeping, or her glasses to see better (see Avnei Yashfei 4:90).

There is another aspect of lo yilbash that applies not to a man dressing in women’s clothes and vice versa, but to performing actions that are associated with the other gender: shaving certain body parts, dying one’s hair, and so on. We will please G-d discuss this part of the prohibition in next week’s article.

Lo Yilbash: Cross-Gender Dressing in Halacha

Parashas Toldos includes the famous portion in which Yaakov Avinu takes the brachos, which Yitzchak had intended for Esav, for himself. In obtaining the brachos for Yaakov, Rikva covers Yaakov’s hands and his neck with a layer of lambskin (Bereishis 27:17), to ensure that he would resemble the feel of his older brother if touched by Yitzchak.

The matter of dressing up—which becomes especially relevant on Purim—does not involve many halachic issues. One pertinent issue, however, is the question of a boy dressing up as a girl, and vice versa.

The Torah prohibits a man from dressing as a woman, and a woman from dressing as a man, with an explicit Torah prohibition (Devarim 22:5). Often referred to simply as “lo yilbash,” the Pasuk gives the transgression special severity, concluding: “for it is an abomination to Hashem, all who perform these.”

Although these Torah prohibitions seem to be clear, there are many principles and details that require study and analysis, as we will seek to do in the present article.

What is the reason for the Torah prohibition? When it is permitted for a man to wear women’s clothing, and vice versa? From which age does the prohibition apply? And is it permitted for a boy to dress up as a girl on Purim? These questions, among others, are discussed below.

The Basic Prohibition

It is forbidden, as noted above, for a man to wear women’s clothes or for a woman to wear men’s garments. The Torah refers to this conduct as an abomination, most commentaries explaining that a man dressing as a woman or vice versa can lead to immorality and promiscuity (see commentaries of Rashi, Rashbam, and Ibn Ezra to Devarim 22:5).

According to the Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvos, lo taaseh 39; Moreh Nevuchim 3:37) and the Chinuch (Mitzvah 542) the practice is also connected to the ways of ancient idolaters, who apparently used to practice a form of cross-dressing as part of their idolatrous ways.

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 182:5) rules that it is forbidden for a woman to wear man’s clothing (such as a man’s hat), and for a man to wear a woman’s clothing or jewelry.

The Rema points out (based on the Rambam, Laws of Idolatry 12:10) that the Torah prohibition applies even to a single garment, and even when the other garments being worn by the man or women are appropriate to his or her own gender—though some authorities maintain that the full Torah prohibition applies only to a full emulation of a woman by a man and a man by a woman, and not to a single garment (see especially Bach, Yoreh De’ah 182).

The Shulchan Aruch qualifies the basic ruling by stating that the prohibition applies only to those items of clothing that are worn exclusively by men or women. If an item of clothing is worn by both men and women, the prohibition does not apply, even if the majority of those who wear the item are men or women.

For this reason, there will not be a prohibition for a woman to wear a standard sweater. Even if it is generally worn by men, a standard sweater will sometimes be worn by women, too, so that the prohibition will not apply. This could also apply to some pajama items which, while intended for men, are often worn by women too.

Private or Public

The consensus of halachic authorities is that the prohibition of lo yilbash applies even in the privacy of a home.

It is noteworthy that the Rambam, as explained by the Beis Yosef, maintains that the full Torah prohibition does not apply to clothes that are not visible (such as undergarments). This is based on the understanding that the prohibition is related to promiscuity, which can only develop from cross dressing that is visible. Yet, there remains a rabbinic prohibition even for garments that are not visible (see Taz, Yoreh De’ah 182:6).

For wearing visible items of clothing in one’s home, even when no one of the opposite gender is present, it is possible that according to all there is an issur from the Torah. The fact that it is worn at home might not affect the prohibition, which is defined by the type of clothing and not by the location of the person. Certainly, at least a rabbinic prohibition will apply.

The Panim Yafos (on Parshas Ki Teitzei) adopts an original approach to this matter, and rules that there is a distinction between men and women: women are permitted to wear men’s garments as long as they don’t mingle with men, while men are always prohibited from wearing women’s garments (because this leads them to promiscuous thoughts). However, this approach is deferred by many Poskim (see Darchei Teshuvah 182:7; Shut Minchas Yitzchak 2:108:3; Shut Shevet Hakehasi 2:258).

Keeping Warm

Many authorities rule that the prohibition of lo yilbash only applies when the intention of wearing the relevant garments is to beautify oneself, i.e. it is forbidden to adorn and beautify oneself in the manner of the opposite sex. If the intention is for other reasons, such as protection from the elements or to keep warm, there is no prohibition provided it is noticeable whether the person is a man or woman. This ruling is noted by the Bach (Yoreh De’ah 182), the Taz (182:4), and the Shach (182:7).

According to this opinion, it is permitted for a man to wear a ladies’ scarf or slippers if he is cold and needs to warm himself, and a woman may likewise wear a men’s rain coat or boots if it is raining—and so on.

A minority opinion disagrees with the leniency of wearing clothes other than for beautification and maintains that the prohibition applies universally (see Chochmas Adam 90:1; Binas Adam 74; Yad Haketanah p. 279). While some authorities recommend that one should be stringent in this matter (see Maharsham 2:243; Shut Shevet Halevi 2:63), the principal halacha (and the common custom) is that one may be lenient in this matter (see Shut Iggros Moshe, Yoreh De’ah 2:61; Shut Yabia Omer 6, Yoreh De’ah 14).

The Avnei Tzedek (Yoreh De’ah 72) extends this discussion to women wearing pants under a skirt, which will be permitted when done to keep warm, or while exercising.

There is a lengthy discussion among contemporary Poskim concerning whether or not the prohibition of lo yilbash applies to women’s pants (see Shut Minchas Yitzchak 2:108 who prohibits woman from skiing with womens‘ ski pants; Shut Tzitz Eliezer 11:62, Shut Shevet Halevi 2:63; 6:118; Shut Yabia Omer 6, Yoreh De’ah 14), and the custom among many is to be lenient on this matter for wearing pajamas, training pants, and so on. However, for reasons of tznius, no Posek permits wearing pants in public.

Dressing Up on Purim

In some communities it was customary for men to dress up as women and vice versa on Purim. The reason for this is that the dressing up was not done for beauty, but rather for the joy of Purim (and because it is only done for a short time), so that it does not violate lo yilbash. This opinion is recorded by the Rema (Orach Chaim 696:8).

However, many early Poskim were strictly opposed to this, such as the Bach (Yoreh De’ah 182) and the Shach (182:7, based on the Yere’im), who wrote that the custom should be abolished. This view is cited by many later authorities (see for instance Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chaim 696:12; Shut Be’er Moshe Vol. 8, nos. 7-8), and this is the ruling of the Mishnah Berurah (696, 30). Today, the general custom is to refrain from dressing up as women or men even on Purim.

Having said this, the Mishnah Berurah (696:30) notes (citing the Peri Megadim) that there is some room for leniency when a man wears only a single women’s garment or vice versa, provided he is otherwise dressed like a man. Citing the Shela, he writes that the practice remains unworthy.

For children beneath the age of chinuch one can be lenient in this matter, the age of chinuch being the age when a child is old enough to be embarrassed to wear the clothing of the opposite gender (Shut Iggros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer Vol. 4, no. 62). He adds that because of tzniyus considerations it is proper to refrain from dressing with clothing of the opposite gender from the time people differentiate between boys and girls clothing.

Conclusion

We have seen that there is a Torah prohibition against wearing clothing that is specific to the other gender: A man must not wear women’s clothing, and a woman must not wear men’s clothing. The prohibition applies even to a single garment, though according to some authorities the full Torah transgression only applies to a man fully dressed as a woman and vice versa.

At the same time, the prohibition does not always apply. When the purpose of wearing the item is not for beauty, but for a practical reason like keeping warm, many permit the practice; it is likewise permitted for a man to wear his wife’s ring for safekeeping, or her glasses to see better (see Avnei Yashfei 4:90).

There is another aspect of lo yilbash that applies not to a man dressing in women’s clothes and vice versa, but to performing actions that are associated with the other gender: shaving certain body parts, dying one’s hair, and so on. We will please G-d discuss this part of the prohibition in next week’s article.

Share The Knowledge

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *