Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe Marjorie Wolfe
by Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe

Note: The Yiddish word, “frum” means pious, religious, devout. It means committed to the observance of the 613 commandments specifically of Orthodox Judaism.

The opposite of “frum” is “frei” (Yiddish and German “free”) meaning someone who is “not religious” and “free” from the yoke of the 613 commandments or feels “free” to do whatever they feel like doing.

Dress is making the news…again. Peggy Noonan discusses the fact that the 2012 US Olympic uniforms were made in China—“a deep embarrassment and opportunity.” She reminds us that “Americans wear baseball (“beysbol”) caps, trucker hats, cowboy hats, watch caps, stetsons, golf caps, and even Panama hats and fedoras. They wear jeans and suits and khakis and shorts and workout clothes.”

And in Deborah Feldman’s 2012 best-selling book, “Unorthodox - The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots,” we read:

“I’ve forgotten to put a shirt on beneath my sweater. There’s a new rule about no knits directly on the body. Now that we are growing up, my teachers say, we have to be careful to avoid clingy fabrics…

[in school]. You’re not wearing a shirt under your sweater,” Mrs. Mouse barks at me from behind the heavy steel desk at the front of the classroom…Don’t even think about going to your desk. You’re going straight to the principal’s office….

“Go home and change,” Rebbetzin Kleinman says, sighing in defeat. “And don’t let me catch you breaking the modesty rules again.”

Feldman continues: “In our community, markers of piety are very important. It is imperative that we appear at all times to be pious, to be true agents of God. Appearances are everything; they have the power to affect who we are on the inside, but also they tell the world that we are different, that they must keep away. I think much of the reasons Satmar Hasids dress in such a specific, conspicuous manner is so both insiders and outsiders will remember the vast chasm that lies between our two worlds.”

Yes, in Feldman’s classes she received the daily modesty (“basheydnkaht”) lecture. The teacher writes the word “ervah” on the chalkboard. Ervah refers to any part of a woman’s body that must be covered, starting from the collarbone (“der kolner”), ending at the wrists and knees.

The teacher discusses the importance of upholding the highest standards of modesty: “Every time a man catches a glimpse of any part of your body that the Torah says should be covered, he is sinning. But worse (“erger’), you have caused him to sin. It is you who will bear the responsibility (“dos akhrayes”) of his sin on Judgment Day.

The headlines of the New York Post (July 22, 2012) read:


The ultra-Orthodox Jewish business owners are lashing out at customers at dozens of stores in Williamsburg, reports Gary Buiso and Kate Briquelet. They are attempting to ban (“kheyrem”) shoppers who wear sleeveless tops and plunging necklines.

The signs read:


Yes, the sect’s thousand-year tradition (“traditsye”) is rankling non-Hasidic residents. The owners are not concerned about the way women dress in Manhattan. They are concerned with bringing 42nd street to their “shkheyneshaft” (neighborhood).

The neighborhood even embarked on a “matsliakhdik” (successful) 2009 crusade to remove bicycle (“velopsided”) lanes from the 14-block stretch of Bedford Avenue. They were fearful of the scantily clad gals who would pedal through.

BTW, standards of modesty also apply to men. While some men will wear shorts and short-sleeve shirts, many strictly observant Orthodox men will not. Additionally, men are required to cover the crown of their head. Less religious men do not cover their heads in everyday life, but do so during religious observances in a synagogue or elsewhere.

Project Frumway plays an important part in Jewish education. Project Frumway is a non-profit organization that works with today’s “tsenerling” (teenager) and teaches them about Judaism. They stress positive body image and dressing modestly. They visit schools and Yeshivas to talk about the project, In 2011, they visited Cong. Beth Shalom in Lawrence, New York.

And check out, a company that sells modest clothing for modern fashion-savvy women committed to a modest lifestyle.


Marjorie Wolfe’s favorite clothing expression: “A sweater wouldn’t hurt, either, especially not a cardigan, which is still known in North American Yiddish as ‘A periKOmeh SVEter’—a Perry Como sweater.” (Source: “Just Say Nu” by Michael Wex)

Marjorie Wolfe
  Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe