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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 21.10.3:
Growing Older: When do I need to start worrying about issues of modesty?


There are three issues with respect to tzeni'us (modesty):

  1. The exposure of areas absolutely deemed erotic

  2. An objective standard that isn't subject to societal norm

  3. The societal standard

To apply this model to real life: Nudity, such as bathing, of the first sort, as might be short shorts or bikinis. According to the Aruch haShulchan, this is banned at least by age 3 for girls and 9 for boys. The disparaty in age has to do with the difference in age required for rape to be a realistic problem. This is true for all people of the opposite gender, and according to this text, fathers included. Some authorities are more lenient, ruling that fathers are an exception to the three and up rule, and no prohibition starts at an age where the child is too young to learn about such things, just as in any other home.

A better known case of the second category would be going sleeveless. Another that the Aruch haShulchan discusses is the Talmud's pronouncement that a woman's hair (which is understood to mean a married woman's hair) is erotic. This is an objective standard; it holds even in societies that aren't shocked by these things. However, it is also not blatantly erotic in the normal sense of the word. Married Orthodox women by and large cover their hair (or at least know they're supposed to). When one starts observing these depends on the child; i.e., when they're educable in such matters (as in any mitzvah). They ought to learn before reaching b'nai mitzvah age, but the number of years before is going to on the child. This includes sleeves that go past the elbow and skirts that go past the knee even when sitting down.

However, when it comes to distraction for prayer, we go by what distracts -- which is going to be societally determined. So, the Aruch haShulchan rules that one may say Shema in the presence of a woman whose hair is uncovered. Societal standards, in other words, things that aren't blatantly erotic, aren't spelled out by halachah, but are considered "not done", wouldn't apply between a father and daughter until she is married. The word "wouldn't" is used because once we live in a world where Calvin Klein can put up billboards of women in their underwear and bikinis are acceptable, this category is empty. There is nothing beyond the core of the body that will shock most people today even when seen in someone other than one's daughter. However, if you still haven't lost the art of blushing... your married daugher shouldn't wear in front of you something that would make you blush if worn by someone else -- even if the area exposed isn't spelled out by halachah.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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