A Woman's Spirituality, Measured by Hosiery

Beige Stockings and Modesty in Hasidic Brooklyn

Lisa Anchin

By Judy Brown (Eishes Chayil)

Published August 28, 2012, issue of August 31, 2012.
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Let me explain. It was Tuesday, mid-August, a day the sun wrapped its heat rays tightly around New York. It was 3 p.m., and like every suffocating day that month, I filled up the baby pool for my children in the yard, settled on a plastic chair with cherry ices and dunked my legs in the pool, right where the water spurted from the hose.

It was then that the Hasid passed. It was then that he saw me — beige pantyhose transparent, legs seemingly bare — and, looking quickly away, hurried to tell the rav. I had not seen him at all. I did not know of the bewildered chaos going on in his mind until later that night, when my husband came home and stared at me quizzically.

The rav had called, he said. Could it be true? That I had sat outside with no pantyhose at all?

“Whaaaht?” I said.

“It’s true. The rav told me. He said he wouldn’t tell me who it was, so I shouldn’t ask, but a man had certainly seen you outside with nothing on.”

My mind sped over the day’s details. There was breakfast, then prayers, laundry, then shopping for Shaindy’s socks. The children arrived home. I had taken them outside. There I had filled up the pool and sat by the edge, with my feet in the water.

But I had certainly been wearing pantyhose. I had opened a new pair that morning: Berkshire brand, city beige, very sheer, medium, 100 to 135 pounds. Pantyhose, the realization then struck me, that had been very wet. Finally, I understood.

I explained it to my husband; I explained it to the rav; I explained it to my friend who had heard and wanted to know. It wasn’t my legs, I repeated again and again. It was the wet pantyhose that only looked like my actual legs soaking in the pool.

There was a hint of skepticism, but within a day, everyone had calmed down. It was agreed. Exposing my bare calves and ankles? Even I would never do that.

It is the way things are in the confined ZIP codes of Brooklyn, where an ancient way of life still thrives, along with its dress codes, language and traditions.

Is this good? Is this bad? I do not know. It is a warm world that is suffocating yet reassuring. And though these incidents are unsettling, the cheerful upside to it all is the times I get to tell on someone else. Like two years ago, when I told the rav that my friend Rivky and her husband go to the movies.

It happened accidentally. I had come to the rav to ask for advice about a different subject entirely, but he had asked me about this and that, and while trying to remember, I said: “Oh, yes. That was right after Rivky and her husband came back from the movie.”

He stared at me in shock. “Rivky? And her husband?”

Oops.

I forgot.

We don’t go to the movies.

I immediately corrected myself. I told him it was a documentary. About stars. Or penguins. Or starlike penguins. It was hard to believe. The things they do in movies. I mean documentaries.

This is not a double life. It is, rather, a coping mechanism. We, the Hasidish-ish, do not want to be secular. We just want to watch a particular movie. Then we want to go back.


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