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How to Dress and Act at an Orthodox-Jewish Festive Occasion or Gathering

A Jewish festive occasion is called a "simchah," which is the Hebrew word for "joy." In this article, I will try, with Hashem's help, to answer the questions I have received about what is expected of the guests at a Jewish simchah.

One young man asked me if he was expected to bring a date. The answer is no. We don't even have such a concept, in fact. If your boy/girlfriend were expected to attend the simchah, he or she would have received a separate invitation. And since Orthodox-Jewish weddings have separate sections for the genders, you would in any case not be sitting together with your date.

When two people are married to each other, and both are invited to the wedding (which is usually what is done), the invitation is addressed to both members of the couple.

Is it okay to bring a friend who has not been invited?

Generally, if the presence of your friend will not cost the couple or their parents anything, it's okay. This is a fairly good yardstick by which to decide whether it is okay to "crash" a simchah. At weddings, someone generally pays for each meal eaten.

Now, how to dress.

The human body is a lofty medium, a gift from G-d that allows us to use this world in our pursuit of the spiritual. Jewish Law therefore requires that we honor our bodies, that is, ourselves, in recognizing our own holiness, and to dress ourselves with the dignity we and our bodies deserve.

The following is always appropriate, even when not dressing formally.

Clothing must reach up to the collar bone in the front, and to just below the nape of the neck in the back, and it must extend below the knees. Clothing should not be tight or revealing in any way.

Women's legs should be covered with stockings, not necessarily opaque. Taupe or beige are accepted in some communities, others suggest darker colors. Flashy colors, especially of stockings, are not good. The more glaring shades of red are forbidden in any sort of clothing. Men should not wear short pants.

Long sleeves that cover the elbows are also required. This is usually appropriate for both men and women, though it is mandatory only for women. Nevertheless, at a formal occasion mens' sleeves would normally be covered by a jacket. Women should wear dresses or skirts (without slits), but not pants. The dress or skirt should reach below the knees, and stockings should cover the legs until above the knee. Makeup is permitted for women.

The neck does not have to be covered.

Men, single or married, should wear a yarmulka (kippa) that covers a large portion of the head. Married and formerly married women should cover their hair entirely. Women and girls who have never been married may leave their hair uncovered.

You will notice that the men and women are separated. As I explain in my article about visiting a synagogue, this is not meant as an insult or a slight. There is a prohibition in Judaism against men gazing at women. Besides being a sin in and of itself, gazing at women leads to other sins. A man may not look at a woman (except his wife) with intent to gain pleasure from looking, even if he does not plan to do any more than look.

If the woman is married, the sin is worse. It is in a sense also a trespass against her marriage. It may also be an aspect of coveting another man's wife. (If she is married, it is forbidden to gaze at her even if she is ugly, that's how severe the sin is.)

This concept is very ingrained into our culture. It also affects how we talk as well. In writing this article, I have been trying to express all the issues with tznius (decorum and modesty), so please try and understand if I'm not direct or if I am not completely descriptive about something.

Charedi (what is incorrectly called the "Ultra-Orthodox") men (that is, those who are behaving properly) do not gaze at women, or compare women, or make comments about their looks. A man should not compliment (or remark about at all) another man's wife's looks to anyone, not even to her own husband. Boys (and men) are not supposed to talk about girls (or women), in any context. Decorum and respect are always demanded. (Incidentally, Judaism forbids such improper behavior to all Jewish men, no matter what they call themselves. But I speak only of what Jewish Law says, not what people actually do.) A woman is not as heavily restricted by Jewish Law as a man is, but respect for human dignity is of course obligatory. As the case with men, this means not speaking demeaningly of another human, and not objectifying anyone.

Among the Ultra-Orthodox, men and women not closely related to each other will usually not carry on extended conversations witheach other -- though socially speaking, there are some "soft" exceptions to this rule. For example, if someone is at the home of a good friend and both the husband and wife are present, everyone might be involved in the same conversation. At a simchah, however, where a lot of people are present, the exceptions will usually not apply.

In case you're wondeirng (and if you're American you are surely wondering): a man while on a date is advised by Jewish Law to make sure she looks pleasing to him. (And it probably goes without saying that she will and should do the same to him.) This is not a dispensation to gaze at her for a long time. If this or similar matters are unclear to you, you should discuss the subject with your Rabbi before dating.

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