Halachos of wearing clothing of another gender

Q: In order to transgress the prohibition of lo yi’heh kli gever al isha or lo yilbash gever b’simlas isha,1 (a woman shall not wear the garment of a man and vice versa), must all the garments that the person is wearing come from the other gender?
A: It is clear from the Shulchan Aruch2 that if a man were to wear even one garment that is usually worn by women or vice versa then one would be transgressing this issur.

Q: The word following the verse of this prohibition is that it is “an abomination” as it may lead to other inappropriate behavior. What if there is no possibility of this happening?
A: Even if it does not lead to licentious behavior, one would not be permitted to wear a garment of the other gender,3 as wearing that kind of garment is inherently an abomination irregardless of the what results from it.

Q: Would this issur apply if someone is wearing a particular garment in order to keep warm or to protect himself from the rain etc.?
A: Although many hold that one may not do so as the issur applies in every situation (as mentioned above), the Bach4 states that if the reason is not to be like the other gender but rather for other purposes entirely then it would be permitted.5
Therefore a man may use a woman’s
1. hand fan to cool off6
2. umbrella to stay dry7
3. scarf to protect against the elements
and a woman may use a man’s
1. jacket to add another layer of warmth
2. cane to help her walk better
3. watch if it is merely to tell time

Q: May a man dress up as a woman or vice versa when performing in a play or skit (for camp, school etc.)?
A: Assuming that the costume is a bona fide garment of the other gender, one should refrain from doing so as all Poskim are in agreement if the reason why one is donning clothes of another gender is solely to look like that other gender, then that would be included in the issur.

Q: May a man purchase an article of clothing that is worn by women, but is also worn by men as well?
A: The Poskim explain that the prohibition is only on a beged that is made specifically for one gender and worn by the other. However, if the item is not gender specific then one need not be concerned. Since this is the case with many sunglasses, bathrobes and gloves one may use them accordingly.

Q: Is there a concern of lo yi’heh kli gever al isha or lo yilbash gever b’simlas isha when giving a girl a man’s name or giving a boy the name of a girl?
A: If it was given originally to a girl as her name and vice versa, and it was not taken on later on just to mingle with the other gender then there is no concern of this issur. Hence, naming a girl Simcha or Eli, or naming a boy Zissel would be permitted.8

Q: May a woman wear pants?
A: Since the concept of a woman wearing pants originated from an intense desire to be more like men9 many Poskim prohibit it’s use.10 However almost all Poskim11 permit one to wear pants under a skirt (i.e. in inclement weather, for exercise purposes etc.) assuming that the pants are made exclusively for women.

Q: May a man look into a mirror to note his appearance?
A: The Yerushalmi states that for a man to look into a mirror for aesthetic purposes is prohibited under the issur of lo yilbosh gever b’simlas isha, and the Shulchan Aruch brings this down as the halacha.12 The Rama13 on the next line however, states that in a locale where it is a societal norm for men to look into mirrors then one would be permitted to do so.

Q: Is it permitted for a man to undergo cosmetic surgery?
A: Before undergoing any surgery one needs to note the extent of danger that exists for the procedure that is going to take place14 (this is especially true for one who would need general anesthesia). Another issue to be concerned about is the fact that it is prohibited to give one self a wound.15 Lastly the Poskim also mention a possible infraction of lo yilbosh gever b’simlos isha. Whether or not one may apply the above mentioned leniency of mirrors, that nowadays men have cosmetic surgery as well as women, is a question that should be addressed with one’s halachic authority.16

Q: Is it prohibited for a man to wear a ring?
A: The Poskim17 are staunchly against a ring swapping ceremony at a wedding, where the man gives his wife a wedding ring and the woman gives her husband a ring thereafter. The reason why they prohibit this is because it appears that what is “validating the kedushin” is not just the man acquiring the woman but also the women acquiring the man as well, a transaction which is not acceptable l’halacha. If however, the ring is given to the man afterwards, as a mere symbol of marriage, then one may wear a ring without any halachic concerns18 as since the time of the Talmud,19 it is apparent that men have worn rings that are specific to them without any lo yilbosh issues.

Q: May one dress up as a woman on Purim?
A: There is a dispute amongst the earlier authorities whether the prohibition is applicable to dressing up for Purim as well20. While some are lenient in their ruling21, and others permit one to wear only one article of the opposite gender’s clothing such as a woman’s hat, wig etc.22, most later Poskim looked to eradicate this Minhag due to the fact that the transgression appended to this choice of costume is biblical in nature23.

Q: According to those who are stringent in this matter, what age should children refrain form dressing as the other gender?
A: This Psak of avoiding mixed dress also applies to children who are past the age of playgroup24. While we may not be concerned about the possibility of mingling with the other gender there is still an issur to place your child in a predicament where he will axiomatically transgress something (i.e. one may not give a baby a piece of non kosher meat, as in all likelihood he will come to eat it).

1Devarim 22:5
2Y.D. 182:5, Rambam Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 12:10
3Bais Yosef 182, it’s mashma like that from the Rambam the Smak and Chinuch as well
4Y.D. 182
5Taz 182:7
6See Arugos Habosem Y.D. 138 who maintains that the reason why we don’t apply the concept of Psik Raisha is because
7Shevet Halaivi 2:91:1
8See Ta’amai D’krah b’shem R’ Chaim Kanievsky Shlita who brings 38 names from Shas and Poskim in where a man had the name of a woman
9One can see a clear correlation between the trend of women wearing pants and the popularity of the Women’s lib movement
10Orchos Rabbainu 1:226 b’shem the Chazon Ish who was adamant against this idea
11Vayivarech Dovid 1:104, Yitav Lev, see Oz V’hader L’vusha for a more detailed description
12S.A. Y.D. 156:2
14The Ya’avetz and the Avnai Nezer both contend this point
15It is understood why a regular surgical procedure would be permitted with out concern for creating a Chavalah on oneself as there is always the greater good of improved health following the surgery. When its done for cosmetic purposes this is not always the case.
16The Igros Moshe was clearly concerned about bringing a chavalah onto oneself as it a potential issur d’ohraisah
17Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:18
18In fact some Rabbonim have even mentioned that this would be preferred for men of certain professions to wear a ring as this would serve as a deterrent to other women
19See Mishnah in Shabbos
20Bach Y.D. 182 D”h V’Yesh
21Rama 696:8
22Mishbetzos Zahav 696:4
23Taz 182:4, M.B. 696:30, Aruch Hashulchan 696:12
24Oral Psak heard from R’ Yitzchok Berkowitz Shlita

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