Breaking A Purim Habit


May my wife and seven-year-old daughter dress up as nuns for Purim?


Wearing clothing that is specific to gentiles is forbidden. One may wear clothing that is worn by all people, Jews and gentiles alike, but if there is a style or type of clothing that is specifically not worn by Jews, it falls into the violation of uvechukoseihem lo seleichu and is forbidden.[1]

The Ramo (Yoreh Deah 178:1) explains that if there is some rationale for the outfit it is permitted. For example, a white coat is a helpful tool that lets people recognize a physician, whether to seek his services or simply to show him respect. However, a style that is worn for the purpose of dressing indecently or has some association with idolatry[2] is inappropriate for Jews and is automatically included in the Torah prohibition on dressing like gentiles.[3]

A nun's habit is a distinctive attire worn by women of certain religious orders to show that they have consecrated themselves to their Lord. It indicates that the wearer has beliefs that we Jews consider idolatrous. Wearing a nun's habit is a good example of the type of dress that the Ramo means to forbid due to association with avodah zoroh.

On Purim, the Ramo (O.C. 696:8) mentions a dispute among poskim as to whether one can cross-dress. Generally it is forbidden, but when it is clearly done in the fun spirit of Purim and not taken seriously, the Ramo himself rules that the custom is to permit such costumes.[4] Arguably, a nun's habit may fall into the same category and be permitted on Purim. A woman dressing as a man (or vice versa) is a Torah violation of lo yilbash and dressing up as a nun is a Torah violation of uvechukoseihem. If there is no violation of lo yilbash when the item is worn as a costume it should follow that there is no violation of uvechukoseihem in the case of a Purim costume (however distasteful one may find it).

The basis of the leniency (found in Teshuvos Maharam Mintz) is that lo yilbash only applies when a man is trying to come across as a woman (i.e., a transvestite). Since the reason for wearing women's clothing is not in order to look like a woman but for fun, it is permitted.

The Bach agrees that lo yilbash only applies when a man is trying to look like a woman, but he maintains that even when it is done for Purim or as a joke, it is considered trying to look like a woman and is forbidden. The Bach quotes the rishon Rav Eliezer of Metz, who forbids such dress at parties and concludes that had the Maharam of Mintz seen what Rav Eliezer of Metz wrote, he never would have taken such a lenient position. The Taz, Be'er Hagola and others also object to wearing such clothing and point out that tragedies have befallen people because of such behavior. The Mishna Berura accepts their position and forbids cross-dressing on Purim unless all of the man's clothing is masculine except for one feminine item. Under that circumstance, he rules that perhaps one does not have to object to such attire.

Other poskim disagree with the assertion that the violation is only relevant when one is trying to imitate a woman. The Shach (Yoreh De'ah 182:7) says that the prohibition applies even if it is done in jest and temporarily. The Yad Ketanoh (vol. 2, Avoda Zoroh, chapter 6) and Binas Odom (74) both forbid such behavior regardless of the reason and even if one is not imitating a woman or trying to look like one.[5]

Therefore, even if we were to compare the parameters of the aveiroh of lo yilbash with those of uvechukoseihem, such dress should not be allowed on Purim. A man should not dress as a woman on Purim and a woman should not dress as a nun.[6]

It is appropriate to educate children in the mitzvos of dress as well. Your daughter should be taught not to dress like a boy or a goy. Regarding cross-dressing, Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that when the children are mature enough to be concerned about covering themselves with appropriate clothing and are sensitive to the differences between boys' and girls' clothing, one should be careful not to cross-dress them.[7] Accordingly, it would seem that a child who is too young to be aware that she is wearing goyishe clothing may wear it. However, at seven years old your daughter is probably aware that this is a nun's uniform and is something not worn by Jews. If so, she is old enough to be taught about the issur of uvechukoseihem.[8]

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עיין אג''מ יו''ד ח''א סימן
פ''א ד''ה וגם, דכתב דבגדים שגויים ויהודים לובשים אינם נחשבים כבגדי נכרים
שישראל לובשין אלא י''ל דהם גם מלבושי ישראל, דלא נקבע כלל מתחלה לנכרים ואח''כ
לישראל, דמתחלה הא נעשו לישראל. והוסיף דאף להגר''א בביאוריו סוף סק''ז שפליג
על הר''ן ומהרי''ק והרמ''א וסובר דבכל מלבוש המיוחד לנכרים אסור היה מותר ללבוש
סתם בגדים בארה''ב דלא נעשו קודם עבור נכרים אלא מתחלה נעשו גם ליהודים, וליכא


ביד קטנה פ''ו מע''ז ל''ת
מ''ד כתב כיון שנתייחד מהם מפני גיותן והישראלים פירשו ממנו מפני יהדותן אז
כשלובשם הישראל נראה כמודה להם ונמשך אחריהם עכ''ל.


Rav Moshe concludes his teshuva (Y.D., vol. 1, no. 81) regarding wearing
“American clothing” by stating that even if the immodest clothing was made
for whoever wants to buy it, the styles are still in the category of “gentile
clothing”. He rules that wearing immodest clothing is forbidden not only
because it is immodest but also because of uvechukoseihem lo seleichu,
regardless of how many Jewish women dress like that. The very nature of
such clothing is goyish.


A number of reasons are offered for the custom of wearing costumes on Purim.
Eliyahu Rabboh suggests that it is a reminder of the scene in the Megilloh
in which Mordechai changed from his sackcloth into royal garb and was paraded
through the city. Bnei Yissoschor (9:1) suggests that because the Jews had
only sinned (bowing to idols) because of temptations of the flesh rather
than as an ideological rebellion against Hashem, Hashem only made it appear
to us as if there were a decree of annihilation that would be difficult
to revoke, but in fact Hashem had allowed plenty of room for teshuvoh
to transfer the decree from the Jews to Homon and his henchman. By hiding
our identity, we remind ourselves that Hashem did not reveal His true intentions.
Some suggest that it is a good way for people to ask for tzedokoh without
being embarrassed. A philosophical interpretation cuts to the heart of the
holiday and points out that the miracles orchestrated by Hashem are hidden
in what appears to be the normal sequence of history, as if things had just
worked out well for the Jews. The hand of Hashem was hidden and only apparent
to those who looked for it. For that reason, we dress up on Purim to conceal
our identity, imitating Hashem's actions in the story of Esther.


עיין יד קטנה הלכות ע''ז
פ''ו ל''ת נ''ה ונ''ו וז''ל ואיש שעדה עדי אשה ואשה שעדתה עדי איש לוקין ואפילו
אם לא החליפו אלא באחד מן הבגדים ואע''פ שניכרים בשאר בגדיהם שהוא איש או אשה
עכ''ל. וע''ש במנחת עני ס''ק פ''ב דהאריך לתמוה ולחלוק על הב''ח והט''ז שס''ל
דאין איסור אלא הלובש בגדי אשה וכוונתו להתדמות לאשה. אבל כשכוונתו להגן מפני
הגשמים ס''ל דמותר ותמה עליהם מנין להם לבדות סברות מלבם ולהתיר איסור תורה
שיש בה מלקות. וכן בבינת אדם אות ע''ד תמה על הב''ח וכתב דכמו דלענין כלאים
אסור ללבוש כלאים מפני החמה ה''ה דיש לאסור בגדי איש על אשה מפני הגשמים וכן
משמע מרא''ם על רש''י פרשת תצא. ואף שמסמ''ג משמע כב''ח מ''מ מסיק דיש להחמיר
כיון דהוי איסור דאורייתא. וגם הש''ך כתב דאין ראיות הב''ח מוכרחות.


Since the prohibition of uvechukoseihem applies to dressing as a
gentile, if the costume is obviously a parody of the gentiles or their religion
and the style is one that would never be worn that way because it mocks
the religion or the wearer, there is room for leniency. For example, should
a person design a “maternity” habit and dress up as a pregnant nun, some
people might find that a humorous, cute costume. This might not be considered
wearing clothing specific to Christianity since nuns, who take an oath of
celibacy, never wear habits cut to fit the bulge of a fetus.

It should be emphasized that following
the opinions cited above, it doesn't matter what the motivation is for wearing
the costume; as long as the end result is dressing in a forbidden way, it
should not be done. Certainly according to the Yad Ketanoh and Binos Odom,
who maintain that the act is forbidden for any reason whatsoever, it is
not allowed. But even the Bach and others who permit cross-dressing depending
on the intention rule that the motive of fun, Purim spirit, and entertainment
does not make cross-dressing permissible since ultimately the person is
trying to dress up as a person of the opposite sex. Similarly, a woman who
wants to look like a celibate nun as a way of mocking her husband who travels
a lot would not be allowed to wear the habit because she is still trying
to dress as a nun, which is forbidden. (Besides, it's a pretty nasty way
to treat one's husband and should be discouraged on those grounds). The
only reason I suggest that there is room for leniency in the case of a maternity
habit is that such an outfit designed to be worn over a bulging stomach
can never be the clothing of a nun. Since it is not a gentile garment and
this is obvious to all who see it, there are grounds for permitting such
a costume and one should not express any objections, however distasteful
an observer may find it. (One can make a similar argument for a young girl
wearing a nun's habit if there is a minimum age for becoming a nun. See
next English note.)


אמנם במנח''י ח''ב סימן
ק''ח סק''ב וכן ביחו''ד ח''ה סוף סימן נ' כתבו דאיכא בזה איסור ספייה בידים
דעצם התלבושת אסורה וממילא אסור להלביש אפילו תינוק בן יומו במלבושי תינוקת.
וביחו''ד הביא סמוכין לכך מתשובת הרמב''ם בראש ספר מאשה רוקח דמיירי התם בתינוקות
זכרים שלפעמים יקשטו אותן בקישוטי נשים וצובעות את ידיהן ואסר הרמב''ם להאכילו
האיסור בידים, ואם הם תינוקות ממש שאין מרגישים ומתביישים בכך לדעת האג''מ
אין בזה איסורא. ויש לדחות דמיירי התם בתינוקות שגדולים קצת ובושים בדבר ואז
הוי חפצא דאיסורא, וממילא אסור לספותו בידים.


Still, there may be grounds for permitting a child to dress as a nun if
children that young never become nuns. Perhaps one can argue that since
no nun's uniform is that small, the child is not wearing anything that makes
her appear as if she were a nun since it is clearly a costume and not a
person trying to dress like a goy.

Furthermore, costumes made by parents rarely look professional enough
to duplicate a real nun's habit, so whether your wife or your daughter wears
the costume it will never truly look like the real thing and is not technically
included in the Torah prohibition. A male wearing a real female dress or
a woman wearing a real nun's habit is forbidden. Nevertheless, unprofessional
Purim costumes for dressing up as a transvestite or a nun are objectionable
because at the very least they go against the spirit of the law.

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