By Horav Yosef Yeshaya Braun, member of the Badatz of Crown Heights
The pasuk, “Kol kevudah bas melech p’nimah” (the honor of the King’s daughter is within) speaks of the importance of tznius (modesty) of Jewish women.
Based on this pasuk, the Rambam avers that it is a g’nai (inappropriate) for Jewish women to frequently spend time outdoors.
Yet there seems to be no stipulation against women being outside the home when the Gemara deliberates a husband’s reduced requirements of mezonos (endowment of food and other means of support) to his working wife. Here, the Gemora implies, Kol kevudah bas melech p’nimah is not a reason to reprove women‘s employment in the public sector.
Poskim of yore discuss whether there is a basis in halachah for the Rambam’s opinion, or it is mentioned only as a hanhagah tovah (general proper conduct, which is not binding like halachah).
Today, it is indeed acceptable for women—even those who are machmir (stringent) in all matters of observance—to work outside their homes.
Gedolei Yisroel (the great Rabbis of our era) recognize it as a prevailing practice based on the reality of our times.
Even unmarried girls commonly enter the secular workforce—although this is somewhat unfortunate. Despite this recognition, we should not unilaterally accept the norms of conduct in the typical workplace, and always remain aware of the issues inherent in these situations—those relating to yichud (the prohibition of unrelated males and females being privately confined) and tznius (modest behavior).