Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Jew in Prison

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am beginning a new internship in a prison tomorrow. A prison is no place for a Jewish girl to be, but if it must, then let it be me.

Since we bloggers have had many conversations about the meaning of Tznius, I wanted to share with you the conversation I had with my Rabbi yesterday.

You see, last week I spent the entire week at the prison for training and every day I came in looking cute in my skirt and shirt. I didn't need to put in much effort to look feminine for as you can imagine, the wearing of the skirt alone attracted the many stares of the deprived inmate and aggressive correctional officer. (Needless to say,  my dress was conform to Halacha and would have been befitted for Shul)

So yesterday, I decided to ask my Rabbi who is a well renown and respected Rabbi in town, if I would be allow to wear pants while I'm at prison. I explained to him that i didn't feel comfortable, even if the skirt was covering my knees because of its symbol and the attention it attracts.

His answer was yes.

He understood my concern and agreed that following the concept of Tznius, it might be a better idea to wear pants. Of course the pants need to remain business-like attire, slacks for example and no leggings nor jeggings. His other concern was that I would agree to leave my apartment wearing a skirt and only change into pants before getting into the prison. He worried that I would loose my sensitivity towards the matter if I got used to the idea of walking out in pants.
Fair enough.

Tomorrow is my first day, for the first time in my life I will just be like one of them. Well not exactly, only in appearance...


  1. This is so ironic! One of my friends had to work in a similar setting. She only wore skirts there though but I think they were jean skirts. She never wore any make up and made sure her hair was up in a high bun or pony tail. Good luck and as weird as this sounds, try to look as unattractive as possible. You don't want these guys getting any ideas.

  2. How about coveralls? Baggy and unattractive.

  3. This is really fascinating from a hashkafic/halachic perspective. I must say that your Rav/posek is clearly a very thoughtful person who is in touch with reality and understands individual's unique cases.

    Please understand: I don't mean to sound condescending whatsoever. Quite the contrary, I am ecstatic that you have a Rav who knows when to matir something appropriately. After hearing so many stories of "big rabbis" being machmir to the point of causing suffering and not trying to understand a shayla for what it is, it makes me happy to see there are true poskim still out there that have proper sensitivity to go along with their lomdus.

    Good luck!

  4. @princess lea: I still need to look professional...

    @Shades of Grey: My Rabbi is seriously one of the best persons I know, I dont mean it in a cheesy way. I know lots of great people and he is just one of those that amazes me. You know on Yom Kippur when he gets up before Mussaf and says that whole paragraph asking G-d to forgive him and allow him to be our messenger, Im always touched and think he is the perfect person. He gives a lot to the community and individuals.
    I just went on a rant about my rabbi :)

  5. I agree with SoG.
    It is great that you have such a person you can turn to and ask.
    Can't wait to hear more about the inside of a prison from a Frum female perspective...

  6. So interesting. I've heard of women wearing pants in the medical field for work, but I have never even thought about a shaila like this. There's a reason a slang term for women is "skirts" - a skirt symbolizes the kind of femininity you definitely don't want to project in a male prison. Even in pants you're being brave.

  7. He holds that nurses should be wearing skirts as much as long as possible. Like if they can, wear skirts on the floor and take it off for procedures. The reason I even asked is because i figured if nurses can get a heter, even though i had a different reason to wanna wear pants, the end result is the same.
    And Thanks :)

  8. I write a fashion column for the Jewish Press and I think there is so much discussion that can be had about this issue - meaning, is modesty a fluid concept? I want to talk about it in the column, can you email me at elishevablumberg@gmail.com to discuss it? I couldn't find an email address to contact you.