Monday, January 24, 2011


I am interested in learning what traditional Judaism has to say about the following Biblical verse: "A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the LORD thy God" (Deuteronomy 22:5 - translation: Jewish Publication Society, 1917). Would you give me a basic overview of the subject and recommend some sources that discuss this matter?

Deuteronomy 22:5 and the laws derived from it, are discussed (among other places), in the following rabbinic works:
- Sifre, Devarim, piska 226
- Talmud Bavli, Nazir 58b-59a
- RaMBaM's Mishneh Torah, Sefer Mada, Hilkhot Avodah Zarah, chpt. 12, halakhot 9-10
- Sefer ha-Hinukh, mitzvah 542 and 543
- Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah, chpt. 182

For a short, historically oriented, overview, in English of the topic, see Louis M. Epstein’s Sex Laws and Customs in Judaism [New York : Bloch, 1948 – p.64-67].

According to Jewish law, it is forbidden for a male to wear a “female-type” garment or for a female to wear a “male-type” garment. Furthermore, it is generally forbidden for males to engage in certain female practices - such as shaving the armpits or dyeing the hair, or for a female to engage in certain male practices - such as bearing weapons. This is a very general overview of the laws involved. There is much discussion in rabbinic texts regarding (among other things):
- which practices are forbidden from the Torah and which are forbidden by rabbinic decree;
- whether the intent of the person doing the act makes a difference in the law (e.g. is it permissible for a woman to put on a man’s garment to protect her from the rain);
- to what extent the customs of a particular place effect what is considered a male or female garment or act;
- if there is any reason to permit the temporary cross-dressing often done on Purim.

The modern work, Sefer Kedushat Yisrael, by Rabbi Itamar ben Aharon Mahfud [Ashdod : Itamar Mahfud ; Yavneh :  ĽAmutat "Binah la-shavim", 765 (2005) – chpt. 6], has an extensive discussion (with many citations) of the issues. All queries related to actual practice should, of course, be directed to a competent Rabbinic authority.


  1. I never know if it even pays to comment here, but Ya'akov Shmuel Speigel in his book, Pischei Tefilah u-Mo'ad, Jerusalem: 2010, pp. 485-509, has an article "[The Custom of] Cross Dressing on Specific Jewish Holidays." He has much new material and while most only recognize the custom on Purim, in fact, some had the custom to do so on other Jewish holidays as well. The article is of course in Hebrew and I don't know if that is a bar for most.

  2. See, as well, another version of the article, which appeared in Ya'akov Shmuel Speigel, "Cross Dressing for Special Occasions," in Joseph R. Hacker, Yosef Kaplan, B. Z. Kedar, eds., Rishonim ve-Aharonim - From Sages to Savants: Studies Presented to Avraham Grossman (Jerusalem: Merkaz Zalman Shazar, 2010), 329-352 (Hebrew), and an earlier article by Hermann Pollack, "An Historical Inquiry Concerning Purim Masquerade-Attire," Proceedings of the Seventh World Congress of Jewish Studies: History of the Jews in Europe (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1981), 217-235.

  3. I also recommend Pollack's article, very informative