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Exodus 28:42 reads (NKJV):

And you shall make for them linen trousers to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the waist to the thighs [emphasis mine].

Does the phrase "to the thighs" include the thighs? If so, does this verse teach that their clothing needed to cover all their thighs (i.e., be knee-length), or could they be midthigh? The answer to this question could have implications for Biblical examples of modesty. Thanks!

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The operative word in Ex 28:42 is יָרֵךְ = thigh, loin, side, base.

It was not the the exposure of the thigh that was the definition of nakedness, but, as Ex 28:42 explicitly says, what is between the waist and the thigh - the genitals. That is the trousers had to cover the entire e=area between the waist and the thigh so as to ensure that the genitals were hidden.

It is also clear that the exposing the inner part of the upper thigh, or loins, was very immodest - see meaning 1b in the appendix below.

The other operative word is עַד = as far as, even to, up to, until, while. Thus, the verse in Ex 28:42 reads literally,

And you shall make trousers for them to cover their nakedness - from the waist down to as far as the thighs they shall reach.

Such trousers would now be called "shorts" where at least a little of the upper thigh is covered to ensure that the genitals were hidden.

APPENDIX - BDB entry for יָרֵךְ = thigh, loin, side, base

יָרֵךְ noun feminine Numbers 5:27 thigh, loin, side, base (Late Hebrew id.; Aramaic יַרְכָּא; Zinjirli ירך loin; Assyrian arku, arkâtu, back, rear, hereafter DlHWB 242; Arabic hip) — absolute יָרֵךְ Judges 15:8 6t.; construct יֶ֫רֶךְ Genesis 24:9 11t. + 2 Samuel 3:27 (see below); suffix יְרֵכִי Genesis 24:2; Genesis 47:29; יְרֵכֵךְ Numbers 5:21; יְרֵכוֺ Genesis 32:26 6t.; יְרֵכָהּ Exodus 25:31+ 3t.; dual יְרֵכַיִם Exodus 28:42; suffix יְרֵכַיִךְ Cant 7:2; —

1 thigh,

a. outside of thigh, where sword was worn, שִׂים חֶרֶב עַליְֿרֵכוֺ Exodus 32:27 (E); וַיַחְגֹּר אֹתָהּ עַליֶֿרֶךְ יְמִינוֺ Judges 3:16 and he girded it upon his right thigh, Judges 3:21; Psalm 45:4; Songs 3:8; כַּף הַיָּרֵךְ Genesis 32:33 hollow of the thigh, Genesis 32:26 (twice in verse); Genesis 32:33 (all J); חַמּוּקֵי יְרֵכַיִךְ Cant 7:2 the roundings of thy thighs; מִמָּתְנַיִם וְעַדיְֿרֵכַיִם Exodus 28:42 (P); "" בֶּטֶן Numbers 5:21,22,27 (P); צֹלֵעַ עַליְֿרֵכוֺ Genesis 32:32 (J), limping upon his thigh; סָפַק עַליָֿרֵח Jeremiah 31:19 and (with אֶלֿ) Ezekiel 21:17, smite upon, thigh, in token of consternation; וַיַּךְ אוֺתָם שׁוֺק עַלֿ יָרֵךְ Judges 15:8 and he smote them, hip upon thigh, a great slaughter.

b. thigh = loins, as seat of procreative power (RSK. 34; Semitic i, 360 (380)) יֹצְאֵי ירך those proceeding from the loins of any one Genesis 46:26; Exodus 1:5 (both P), Judges 8:30; hence שִׂים יַד תַּחַת ירך place the hand under thigh, in taking oath Genesis 24:2,9 (J), Genesis 47:29.

2 side (flank) of altar 2 Kings 16:14; Leviticus 1:11 (P); of tabernacle Exodus 40:22,24; Numbers 3:29,35 (all P); also יֶרֶךְ הַשַּׁעַר (for ᵑ0 ׳תּוֺךְ הַשּׁ) ᵐ5 Th We Dr Bu Kit.

3 base (loins) of candlestick Exodus 25:31; Exodus 37:17; Numbers 8:4 (all P).

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  • The Pulpit Commentary says the linen trousers were commonly worn by Egyptians, reaching “from the waist to a little above the knee.” However, it goes further on the phrase translated “to the thighs”: It means “to the bottom of the thighs where they adjoin on the knee.” Thus, while the type commonly worn by Egyptians could go only "a little above the knee," God's commandment that they cover from the waist to the thighs means to cover all the waist and thighs, being knee-length, according to the Pulpit Commentary. Is this the sense? Reference: biblehub.com/commentaries/exodus/28-42.htm
    – The Editor
    Aug 26, 2021 at 1:55
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    @TheEditor - I am not sure we can press the language to that level of detail.
    – Dottard
    Aug 26, 2021 at 3:24
  • In addition to the Pulpit Commentary saying "to the thighs" means they went "to the bottom of the thighs where they adjoin on the knee," Chapter 8:18 of the following Jewish source likewise describes the trousers as being knee-length: chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1008233/jewish/… With this in mind, are there any sources that go against these two citations, or are they correct that the trousers were knee-length?
    – The Editor
    Aug 26, 2021 at 22:54
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Based on references I've come across, it does appear that the command to cover "to the thighs" means to cover all the thighs, going knee-length. The Pulpit Commentary says of the phrase “to the thighs” that it means “to the bottom of the thighs where they adjoin on the knee.” Likewise, Chapter 8:18 of the following Jewish source likewise describes the trousers as being knee-length. Unless there are sources to the contrary of these two, this verse clearly requires knee-length clothing in order to prevent nakedness, meaning that to expose the thighs would expose nakedness.

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Dottard had given an excellent answer already. Here I'll supplement a bit. NIV Exodus 28:

42 “Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh. 43 Aaron and his sons must wear them whenever they enter the tent of meeting or approach the altar to minister in the Holy Place, so that they will not incur guilt and die.

This was an example of modesty regarding the priests in the Holy Place in the OT. There was another example in the NT. John 21:

1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Peter was with his co-workers in the boat. Later, Jesus showed up on shore.

7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.

I suspect that before he put his outer garment on, he had something that covered his waist to thigh. Peter's sense of modesty depends on what he was doing, whom he was with, and whom he was going to see.

On another occasion, Genesis 24:

9 So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.

Modesty depended on the occasion.

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  • The Pulpit Commentary says the linen trousers were commonly worn by Egyptians, reaching “from the waist to a little above the knee.” However, it goes further on the phrase translated “to the thighs”: It means “to the bottom of the thighs where they adjoin on the knee.” Thus, while the type commonly worn by Egyptians could go only "a little above the knee," God's commandment that they cover from the waist to the thighs means to cover all the waist and thighs, being knee-length, according to the Pulpit Commentary. Is this the sense? Reference: biblehub.com/commentaries/exodus/28-42.htm
    – The Editor
    Aug 26, 2021 at 1:55
  • Yes, I'd put some weight to that but this does not carry mathematical precision.
    – user35953
    Aug 26, 2021 at 13:52

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