By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
They appear not only in the headlines of the Daily News, but in New York City courthouses. They are two female Orthodox Jewish criminal lawyers, one 40 and one 26, who wear bright pink outfits–even down to their matching Chanel patent-leather pink flats. They call themselves “Double Trouble,” and by numerous accounts they are a formidable team. One of them was quoted by the paper as stating, “We comply with Orthodox Jewish rules of modesty, but we like to wear pink.”
It is this last statement that this article addresses. Hopefully, the two lawyers will respond positively (and not with a lawsuit) to this halachic analysis.
The Gemara in Berachos 20a tells us of the self-sacrifice of Rav Adda bar Ahavah, who encountered what appeared to be a Jewish woman wearing a “karbalusah” (red scarf) in the marketplace. He took it away from her, and the woman subsequently took Rav Adda bar Ahavah to court. He lost and had to pay 400 zuz. He inquired what her name was and when she responded “Matun,” he responded: “If only I had listened to your name, Matun (translation: be patient), I would have saved myself 400 zuz.”
The Ben Yehoyadah asks why this particular incident constitutes mesirus nefesh or self-sacrifice. He answers that Rav Adda bar Ahavah was unsure as to whether or not she was a Jewish woman and felt that it was worth the risk to ensure that a Jewish girl not violate a prohibition.
Why Did He Take It?
The approach of the Aruch and most of the commentaries is that Rav Adda bar Ahavah tore away the article of clothing (a garment worn over other clothing) on account of its apparent lack of modesty in color. The Maharal (Netzach Yisrael chapter 25) understands that he did so because it was an article that Jews shouldn’t wear since it looked like the clothing of gentiles. The Maharal does not understand it as being due to its immodesty but rather because of assimilation.
Regardless as to what the self-sacrifice actually was and why he tore the garment away, there seem to be five approaches in the commentaries as to what exactly the prohibition would have been for a Jewish girl wearing a karbalusah.
- The Aruch and Tosfos in Kesubos 72a explain that it is peritzus–a breach of decency and brings to sin. The Shach (YD 178:3) further explains in the name of the Maharik (Shoresh 88) that it is not the manner of modest people to go in red, and that this is a tradition in the hands of the Jewish people. It is not the manner of tzniyus and hachna’ah–humility of dress.
- In Teshuvos Binyomin Ze’ev Vol. II # 282 “v’kaivan d’hacha” he explains that red is important and exotic in a sense, and it is not the way of Jewish women to dress in such a manner. Many understand this as complementing the idea of hachna’ah, humility of dress, expressed above.
- The Nemukei Yosef seems to provide a third explanation, that red is the color used by the priests of avodah zarah and that in wearing red, there is a trace of violating avodah zarah.
- The Teshuvos Geonim Kadmonim (#101) writes that Rav Adda perceived that this article of clothing contained sha’atnez (kelayim)–a prohibited mixture of fibers. This is also the approach of the Terumas haDeshen (Siman 276).
- The Chasam Sofer has a different approach, explaining that the power of Eisav stemmed from red or Mars. He cites the interpretation of Rabbeinu Bachya on the verse “Haliteini nah min haAdom ha’zeh–feed me from this red”–and that is something entirely foreign to and unbecoming of the Jewish nation.
Plugging It All Back In
There may be a second or corollary issue of tzniyus (modesty) in bringing excessive attention to oneself, but for now, we are dealing with the particular issue of wearing red. Starting from the last explanation and going backward: According to the Chasam Sofer, pink would not be an issue, since this hardly evokes the red of Mars or Eisav. Nor would the lawyers’ attire bring up a specific problem of sha’atnez. Pink was not used in avodah zarah, so that would address issue number three. There is also nothing particularly important about pink that would make it extremely exotic. The only issue is the first one–that of modesty. This is the view that the Shulchan Aruch seems to adopt.
How Red Is Red?
The halachah is that the prohibition applies to clothing which is entirely red or the majority of which is visibly red (see 178:1 and commentaries). Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, had ruled (see Halichos Bas Yisrael p. 92 footnote 7b) that the color Bordeaux is not considered red for these purposes. The author extends that to other types of off-red as well.
The origin of the word karbalusah is explained by the Aruch as referencing the fleshy red part on top of a rooster’s or chicken’s head. This would seem to be the type of red that is referenced in the Gemara.
Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Teshuvos v’Hanhagos Vol. I #136) seems to understand the aforementioned Gemara so as to include any color that brings attention to oneself. Thus, a bright yellow or bright pink would be included in the prohibition according to Rav Shternbuch. Other poskim cite other sources for not bringing excess attention to oneself and forbid any bright or neon color. They do not state that their source is this Gemara in Berachos, however.
A Lenient Opinion
In Sefer Mitzvos HaBayis Vol. II page 145, a ruling issued by Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, zt’l, is cited that states that since nowadays gentile women no longer wear red as a sign of peritzus, the Gemara is no longer applicable. Clearly, however, Rav Elyashiv and other modern-day poskim do not adopt the approach of Rav Yitzchok Elchanan.Â v
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.