Halachically Speaking: Men wearing women’s clothing and more about Purim Costumes

by Moishe Dovid Lebovits. Purim is a very exciting time, and some people spend a lot of time planning their costumes.

What is the source of this custom? What are some of the reasons for this practice? Is it permitted to daven in a costume? Can a man wear women’s clothing and vice versa? Is there a difference for a child? All these and other questions will be addressed in this issue.

The Source

The custom to get dressed on Purim is not mentioned in the Gemorah, medrash, or the Geonim.[1] It is not clear when this custom started, although some state that it originated in Italy around 500 years ago. Some say that this idea of dressing up on Purim originated from the non-Jews.[2] However, this is not accurate. Therefore, there is no issur of “following in their ways” when dressing up on Purim.[3]

Reasons

There are many reasons offered for the custom to wear costumes on Purim.[4] The author once heard a nice reason based on a shiur given by Rabbi Yosef Ber Soleveitchik zt”l.[5]

Throughout the ages, figureheads wore garments to represent their station. Yosef received a kesones passim from his father, and the brothers were jealous of this. This garment was fit for a king. The brothers took the kesones passim in order to forestall the dream of them bowing to him. In the end, the kesones passim was fit for Yosef, as he became a ruler in Mitzrayim and the brothers bowed to him. On the other hand, Achashveirosh wore bigdei kehunah at his party, although he did not deserve to wear such garments. In addition, when Achashveirosh asked Haman how to honor someone, he replied that the person should be dressed in royal clothing. Haman thought he would be that man, and that he would wear garments which he did not deserve.

We wear costumes on Purim to poke fun at both Achashveirosh and Haman who aspired to clothing which was above their station. We wear costumes that do not befit us, but throughout the year we only wear clothing that befits us.

Additional Reasons[6]
1.The miracle of Purim was a series of hidden miracles and hidden identities. Esther concealed her Jewish identity. Mordechai’s identity as the one who saved the king’s life remained hidden from the king until the right time. Hashem, too, is hidden, as His name is not mentioned in the megillah. Therefore, we hide our identity by getting dressed up on Purim.[7]

1.When Haman’s decree of genocide was issued, many Jews dressed up as gentiles to conceal their identity. When the decree was reversed and the Jews were permitted to attack their enemies, the non-Jews dressed as Jews to save themselves. In remembrance of this miracle we change our clothes on Purim.[8]

1.Mordechai wore different kinds of clothing (bigdei malchus) when he paraded through the streets of Shushan.[9] We change our clothing to commemorate this miracle. Others say that this is not a reason for wearing costumes; rather it is a reason to wear Shabbos clothing on Purim[10] (see below).

1.Although the Jews bowed to Nevuchanetzer’s idol, it was just for show. So too, Hashem only appeared to allow for the destruction of the Yidden.[11] Therefore, we cover our faces on Purim.[12]

1.Some wealthy people lost their fortunes, and needed to accept Purim donations. In order to avoid the shame of publicizing their financial woes, they wore masks and changed their clothing to hide their identity.[13] (The non-Jews started taking advantage of this system. Therefore, the Jews declared that if one wishes to collect money he has to say Purim Torah. This started the concept of Purim Torah).[14]

1.The halacha is that “whoever stretches out their hand is given” money on Purim. We dress up (even as a non-Jew) to fulfill this and give money to all, no matter what they look like and who they are.[15]

Children or Adults

The custom to get dressed up on Purim is not limited to children. Therefore, an adult may get dressed up on Purim.

Women Dressing up

There has been talk about the tznius aspect of women getting dressed up on Purim. It would seem that if the outfits are in the spirit of tznius then it is permitted. Nonetheless, some people feel that women should not get dressed up at all.

Davening in a Costume

The Gemorah[16] states that different chachamim prepared themselves in various ways for davening. This is based on the posuk, “prepare to greet your G-D, Yisroel.”[17] Many preparations are required before one can properly daven to Hashem. If one has a special meeting with the President, he would surely make sure he was properly dressed. Certainly, one must dress properly before davening. Furthermore, tefilla is in place of a korbon. Just like the kohanim wore nice clothing while doing the avodah, we too must wear nice clothing while we daven.[18]

Although it would seem that a Purim costume is not an honorable way to daven, some poskim permit it as long as one does not stoop to levity.[19]

Wearing Shabbos Clothes

There are many poskim who maintain that one should wear Shabbos clothing on Purim.[20]

Wearing Clothing of the Opposite Gender

Some men dress in women’s clothing on Purim. Is this permitted? We will discuss the opinions below.

Background

The Torah states,[21] “Male articles should not be worn by a woman and a man should not wear a garment worn by a female. Anyone who does this has performed an abomination.” The prohibitions apply both to men and women.[22] Two reasons are offered for this. One is to maintain the sanctity of the Jewish people, and prevent any conduct that may lead to immoral behavior.[23] The Rambam[24] says this was the practice of some idol worshippers, and the Torah requires us to distance ourselves from such activities.

The Opinions

There are some poskim who relax the prohibition on Purim. One reason is that it is only done for amusement and no other intention is involved.[25] In addition, garments of the opposite gender are considered normal clothing on Purim.[26] This is a special heter in regard to Purim.[27]

However, most poskim maintain that the issur cannot be relaxed just because of the joy of Purim.[28] In addition, one who dresses up as the opposite gender is certainly trying to attract attention.[29]

Some poskim permit the use of a garment if it is so badly worn that nobody would wear it in public. In this situation, the person obviously has no intention of dressing up to look like a member of the opposite gender.[30] For example, a man may wear a worn-out sheitel while acting in a play since no woman would wear such an article in public.[31]

Children

Some poskim say that children of any age should not dress up as the opposite gender.[32] Some poskim hold that it is dependent on the age of chinuch.[33] Others say that chinuch for children in this inyan begins at three years,[34] while others hold at six years.[35] Other poskim maintain that even prior to this age a parent should not dress a child in clothing of the opposite gender,[36] while others permit it.[37] However, it is proper that children should not get dressed up like the opposite gender.[38] Nonetheless, children under bar or bas mitzvah who wish to get dressed up as the opposite gender for Purim may do so.[39] In order to adhere with the opinion of most poskim, only one article of clothing of the opposite gender should be permitted.[40] This way, the child’s true gender is readily apparent.[41]

Clothes made for children less than three years old are usually not gender specific.[42]

Lack of Tznius

Regardless of which opinion one follows, one may not wear clothing without proper tznius. There is no heter to lower our standards of tznius on Purim.[43]

Wearing Costumes Before Purim

Some people wear their costumes before Purim, such as attending a school party. One may not wear clothing of the opposite gender before Purim.[44]

Shatnez

The opinion of some poskim is that the joy on Purim permits clothing which contains shatnez.[45] However, most poskim do not agree with this.[46] Therefore, costumes must be checked for shatnez prior to wearing them.

Scary Costumes

There are some poskim who say that one should not wear costumes which scare people.[47]

Dressing as a non-Jew

It is not advisable to dress up on Purim as a non-Jewish person, although it is not forbidden to do so.[48]

Dressing up as a Rasha

It is not advisable to dress up on Purim as a rasha, although it is not forbidden to do so.[49]

Clown

Some people took issue with dressing up as a clown; however, the custom is to permit this kind of costume on Purim.[50]

Soldier

Some poskim maintain that dressing up as a soldier is not forbidden, but is not a good idea.[51]

Non-Kosher Animal

Some poskim maintain that dressing up as a non-kosher animal is not forbidden, but it is not a good idea.[52]

Embarrassing a Rebbi on Purim

Many Yeshivos produce skits on Purim. Sometimes, a Rebbi or Rosh Yeshiva is shamed, and in many cases loshon hara is involved. In addition it is a disgrace to the Torah, for which mechilah does not help. The Rambam[53] says that it is a great sin to disgrace a talmid chacham, and one who does so has no part in Olom Haba. Many poskim say that this practice should be stopped, as there are many issurim involved with this behavior.[54]

This cannot be compared to the heter of wearing clothing of the opposite gender. Firstly, many poskim are strict in this regard. In addition, even the Rama was only lenient with an issur d’rabbanan of wearing clothing, but shaming a Rebbi is an issur d’oraisa of embarrassing someone and loshon hara.

[1] Toras Hamoadim Purim page 267:footnote 5. Refer to Minhag Avoseinu B’Yudeinu Moadim 1:pages 292, Moadim L’simcha 3:pages 443-458, Meoros Nosson Purim 75.

[2] Refer to Toras Hamoadim Purim page 267:footnote 5 who brings such an opinion. See Keser Shem Tov 2:page 545.

[3] See Orchos Rabbeinu 3:page 60:104.

[4] See Rotz Katzvi Chanukah/Purim 36.

[5]http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/732686/Rabbi_Eliakim_Koenigsberg/Sichos_Mussar-_The_Connection_Between_Costumes_and_Drinking_on_Purim.

[6] For other reasons on this custom see Elya Rabbah 696, Bnei Yisoschor Chodesh Elul 9:2, Sefas Emes Vayigash 45:22 (5739), Me’am Loez Esther page 267, Minhag Yisroel Torah 3:696:1, Minhag Avoseinu B’yudeinu Moadim 1:pages 297-300.

[7] Refer to Otzer Kol Minhagei Yeshurin 50:3:pages 123-124.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Matamim page 143 (new print), Lekutei Maharich 3:page 727 (new print).

[10] Toras Hamoadim Purim page 267:footnote 5.

[11] Meseches Megillah 12a.

[12] Lekutei Maharich 3:page 727 (new print), Matamim page 143 (new print).

[13] Natei Gavriel Teshuva 30 (Purim) page 587. Refer to Shibuley Haleket 202.

[14] Natei Gavriel Teshuva 30 (Purim) page 587.

[15] Rivevos Ephraim 6:386.

[16] Shabbos 10a, see Rashi Berochos 25a “avol”, Rambam Hilchos Tefilla 5:5, Bal Haturim Bereishis 25:1-2, Shulchan Aruch 91:2,5. Refer to Pela Yoetz “levisha” page 365.

[17] Amos 4:12.

[18] Based on Shulchan Aruch 98:4.

[19] Shevet Ha’Levi 10:18:1, M’Bais Levi 15:page 95. See Alei Siach page 214:15.

[20] Maharil Hilchos Purim 9, Darchei Moshe 695:1, Rama 695:2, Mishnah Berurah 3. This was the custom of the Steipler zt”l (Orchos Rabbeinu 3:page 61:109:2). This applies even at night (Moed Lechol Chaim 31:18, Mishnah Berurah ibid). Refer to Nemukei Orach Chaim 695:2 who says the custom is not like the Rama in this regard.

[21] Devarim 22:5.

[22] See Chuchmas Adom 90:1.

[23] Chinuch 542-543, see Eben Ezra Devarim 22:5.

[24] Moreh Nevuchim 3:37. Refer to Chinuch ibid.

[25] Rama 696:8, Mahari Mintz 17, Matei Moshe 1014, see Pri Megadim M.Z. 4, Be’er Moshe 8:7:8.

[26] Mahari Mintz 17. Refer to Levusha Shel Torah 2:pages 605-606.

[27] See Malbushei Kavod V’siferes 6:14, Am Hatorah 2:13, pages 91-92.

[28] Bais Yosef O.C. 695, Taz Y.D. 182:4, Bach Y.D. 182:5 (end), Be’er Hagolah Y.D. 182:5, Darchei Teshuva 9, Bach Y.D., Chochmas Adom 89:6, Mishnah Berurah 696:30, Aruch Ha’shulchan 696:12, Yechaveh Da’as 5:50, Yalkut Yosef page 343, Minhag Yisroel Torah 3:pages 261-262, Natei Gavriel Purim (old print) page 161, Be’er Moshe 8:7- 8:5, Halichos Bas Yisroel 7:footnote 1, Yabea Omer 6:14:5, Avnei Yushpei 1:135, V’ein Lumo Michshal 2:pages 183-184, Malbushei Kavod V’siferes pages 68-69, Toras Hamoadim Purim pages 267-269, Kerem Shlomo 16:6, Chazon Ovadia Purim pages 199-200, Otzer Dinim 36:4, opinion of the Steipler zt”l as quoted in Orchos Rabbeinu 3:page 60:106, Teshuvos Ha’Grach (Harav Chaim Kanievesky Shlita) page 168:260.

[29] Refer to Levusha Shel Torah 2:page 607.

[30] Levusha Shel Torah 2:pages 607-608.

[31] Harav Yisroel Belsky Shlita said this is the minhag. However, deciding which sheitel is usable and which is not is very subjective. See Am Hatorah ibid, pages 93-94. Refer to Shevet Ha’Levi 2:63.

[32] Yechaveh Da’as 5:50.

[33] Orchos Rabbeinu 3:page 60:105.

[34] See Biur Halacha 72 “tefach,” Mishnah Berurah 343:3, Chinuch Yisroel page 146, Halichos Bas Yisroel 4:3. Refer to Halichos V’hanhugos (Purim) page 30.

[35] Halichos Bas Yisroel 4:4. Refer to Orchos Rabbeinu 1:page 226:6, Chut Shuni 2:page 314.

[36] Refer to Shulchan Aruch O.C. 343, Minchas Yitchok 2:108:2.

[37] Opinion of Harav Shmuel Felder Shlita quoted in Sharei Halacha (Purim) pages 56-57.

[38] Refer to Shevet Ha’Levi 6:118:4, Yechaveh Da’as 5:50, Natei Gavriel Purim page 410 (new print), Chazon Ovadia Purim page 201.

[39] Opinion of Harav Elyashiv zt”l as quoted in Sharei Halacha (Purim) page 57, Hakotton V’hilchosuv 34:10. Refer to Piskei Shmuos (Purim) page 174.

[40] Refer to Pri Megadim O.C. 696 M.Z. 5, V’ein Lumo Michshal 2:pages 185-186.

[41] Levusha Shel Torah 2:page 609, V’ein Lumo Michshal 2:pages 186-187.

[42] Refer to Tosfas Meseches Avodah Zarah 29a “hamistaper”.

[43] Piskei Shmuos (Purim) page 174, Chut Shuni Shabbos 4:page 279.

[44] Mekor Chaim 696:8, Sharei Yemey HaPurim pages 77-78.

[45] Rama 696:8, Matei Moshe 1014.

[46] Be’er Heitiv 13, Mishnah Berurah 31, Aruch Ha’shulchan 12, Lekutei Maharich 3:page 727 (new print), Yabea Omer Y.D. 5:14:3.

[47] Opinion of Harav Nissin Korelitz Shlita quoted in Piskei Shmuos (Purim) page 175.

[48] Opinion of Harav Chaim Kanievesky Shlita as quoted in Piskei Shmuos (Purim) page 175, Shulchan Aruch Hamekutzar 3:page 291. Refer to Rivevos Ephraim 6:386 who is lenient.

[49] Shulchan Aruch Hamekutzar 3:page 291.

[50] Orchos Rabbeinu 3:page 60:104.

[51] Teshuvos Ha’Grach (Harav Chaim Kanievesky Shlita) page 168:260. Refer to Moadim L’simcha 3:page 457.

[52] Teshuvos Ha’Grach (Harav Chaim Kanievesky Shlita) page 168:260.

[53] Hilchos Talmid Torah 6:11, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 243:6.

[54] Yechaveh Da’as 5:50, Avnei Yushpei 1:135, Kinyan Torah 2:125, Oz Nedberu 9:49, Toras Hayeshiva pages 207-208, Moadim V’zemanim 191:footnote 2, Halichos Shlomo Moadim 19:footnote 77, Pischei Choshen Nezikin 1:10:footnote 29.

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