Segregation of the Sexes – Laws of Modesty

  • Segregation of sexes is not considered illegal discrimination in American law.
  • Religions separate the sexes in schools and at concerts.
  • Nakedness is innocence; for children it is no problem.

In America the Supreme Court ruled in the time of the Bush Administration that separation of sexes is not always illegal discrimination. In the Supreme Court case called “Brown vs. Board of Education” the courts ruled that separation of people based on color of skin was racist.  The attempt to use this legal ruling in other situations was limited in later court rulings.  It was ruled that separation of sexes should be allowed in secular and religious schools for many reasons.  In a concert it may also be allowed that sometimes it can prevent interactions between these sexes which may become disturbing. Only separations which have in them racism are forbidden which is not the case of separation of sexes.

In Israel recently there was a concert scheduled in the city of Efula in Northern Israel was scheduled a concert organized by the religious community in which men and woman would sit separately which is the preferred Orthodox Jewish religious custom.  A woman’s organization for equal rights appealed to the High Court that this type of concert was discriminating against women or men who wanted to sit together. At first the courts decided to prohibit the concert with separation of sexes, but after an appeal from the religious Jewish political parties the concert went on schedule. A later concert in Haifa in a public place for men only was cancelled when the Attorney General completed his decision for the public authority to use caution before allowing segregated sex concerts. The battle continues in the court.

In Sweden the biggest music festival was replaced in 2017 by a woman only alternative as a series of rapes and sexual assaults occurred in the concert of the previous year. The concert had been going on for several years and in each year there were several occurrences of rape and sexual assault. From this example can be found reasons for segregation of the sexes at rock concerts.

There is a difference between racism and separation of sexes.  God made women beautiful and the more beautiful the woman the more the temptation. Adam in the Garden of Eden lived in spiritual bliss connected to God through the tree of life. The snake convinced Eve how beautiful she was; she was the most beautiful of all woman in creation. Adam was also quite handsome.  They were created back to back in a way that neither could see the other face to face. The snake separated them and when they looked at each other they fell in love. For a moment Adam forgot God received love and pleasure from his soul mate.  Before they knew it Eve was pregnant and it was too late. They had to leave the Garden of Eden of spiritual joy to raise their children. Child rearing is not easy and even from the beginning there were problems. Cain killed his brother Abel.

Ultra orthodox Jewish religious woman wearing black shauls covering the whole body and face.

When they saw each other’s beauty male beauty and female beauty they were ashamed to be naked, like it says Genesis: 3:7, and their eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked and they sowed a garment with dates leaves tied with a belt.”  From that day began laws of modesty.

Many employers today have policies that regulate appearance and dress. These might take the form of dress codes. Orthodox Jews and Muslims may find difficulty finding employment because their religion requires them to dress in a special manor. An employer is faced with the decision to hire a Muslim or Orthodox Jew whose dress differs from other employees in the company and may be a deterrent for business. To ask a Muslim or religious Chassidic Jew to modify his dress could be an offense of discrimination.  To require cleanliness would not be a problem.

Orthodox Jewish laws of modest dress

Orthodox Jewish woman are forbidden to wear pants which is considered a male garment. Their dresses should cover the knee as a minimum.  They should not be tight and show their shape. Blouses should be loose not revealing and cover up to the neck. Sleeves should be up until the elbow as a minimum.  A woman’s legs should be covered with stockings.  Her hair should be covered by a woman’s scarf, a hat, or a wig.  According to strict Jewish law no hair should be visible; it should all be covered.

Nuns dressing religiously covering their whole body except for their face and hands

The strictest observance of dress regulations requires to wear black and white. Colors and styles are permitted but discouraged in many cases. Wigs are prohibited by some Orthodox Rabbis especially Sephardic. Chassidic Orthodox Jewish men wear outer jackets which reach their knee. Some wear knee socks.  The colors of their garments are black and white.

In the most Orthodox neighborhoods the woman may even cover themselves with a shaul which is a cape.  They may cover themselves from head to toe.

Muslim Woman and Dress

The manner of dress of Muslims comes from the teachings of the Quran.  A woman must cover her body especially her chest. Woman should draw head covers over their chests and cover their body except for their face and hands. Clothing must be loose enough not to show the outline of the body. The overall appearance should be dignified and modest. Their clothing should distinguish them as Muslims.

Nuns in the Catholic Church

A Nun wears a tunic, belt, scapular, and veil which are black. Under the veil is a white headdress called a coif which frames the Nun’s face. Some professed Nuns may wear a white veil under the black one.

Christian woman wear head covers when attending mass. They have no special dress to distinguish them from other people of their country.

Styles and fashions have become more modern from the 1960s until today. Dress and Fashion in the 1950s would be called today old fashioned.  In the 1960s mini-skirts became popular and bikinis.  Since then modest dress has gone downhill.

In religion modesty and morality is stressed more than in secular life. It is especially important in child rearing to prepare the children for marriage.  Virginity is considered very important both for men and women.  A Jewish bride who is a virgin receives a marriage contract with twice the sum of a girl who is not a virgin or divorced. Some people consider dressing Orthodox old fashioned. For sure the Orthodox are sacrificing their freedom and comfort by dressing according to their scriptural law.

There is an argument in the Talmud about the reason why woman was created.  One opinion is to bring beauty to the world. The other opinion is to become a mother of children. Religion will stress to become a mother of children. For this reason there is a custom to hide their beauty when in public. The other opinion to add beauty to the world cannot be ignored. What would the world be like without beauty? Trump chose his wife Melania not only for her intelligence but also for her beauty.

Segregation of sexes has its benefits and is even accepted in courts of law. There is evil in sex. Marriage is the God given institution to unite the two sexes in peace and harmony. Truth in the kabbala is connected to Tiffereth which is translated as beauty. Religious dress even at its most extreme level which covers the whole body and face, cannot hide truth, the beauty of the woman. The woman is compared to the beauty of the divine presence exalted in the song of songs of Solomon.

Song of Songs

The God fearing men of Israel fear God, they also revere the beauty of the woman.  They walk on the streets with their eyes down not to look at a woman. They are also closed to Jesus the Messiah because he was naked on the cross and through his resurrection he revealed the naked beauty of the woman.  Resurrection is also related to Leviathan the great whale and to Kundalina Yoga the Universal energy of life.

The last words of proverbs of King Solomon are: False and vain are physical love and beauty; the God fearing Woman is to be praised. Through the sin of the eating from the Tree of Knowledge by Adam and Eve was covered over the secret of nakedness and beauty of the Garden of Eden and began laws of modesty and dress. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were naked, there was beauty the deepest secret of God.  After the sin the doors to the Garden of Eden are closed.  There is only a small opening to see this beauty which is truth also called the divine presence like said King Solomon,” I gaze at you through the cracks in the wall, my beloved my bride.”

Baha’i faith and Progressive Jewish Spirituality (PJS) reveal the aspect of freedom and beauty hidden in religion.

The Jewish desire for beauty is sung in the tradition of Israel by Ishai Ribo:

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David Wexelman

Rabbi David Wexelman is the  author of five books on the topics of World Unity and Peace, and Progressive Jewish Spirituality. Rabbi Wexelman is a member of the American Friends of Maccabee, a charitable organization helping the poor in the United States and in Israel.  Donations are tax deductible in the USA.

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