Question: May one recite blessings or pray when young girls, approximately six or seven years of age, who are wearing immodest clothing are present in the synagogue?
Answer: The Torah states, “For Hashem, your G-d, goes in the midst of your camp etc. and he shall not see a decadent matter among you and turn away from you.” Our Sages derived from this verse that one may not pray or recite any blessings or holy words while facing an immoral matter, i.e. something immodest.
Our Sages likewise prohibited praying or reciting blessing while facing a hand’s breadth (approximately 8 cm) of any part of the body which must be covered, such as the upper arms (the part closer to the shoulder) and the like. This means that one may not read Keri’at Shema or pray while facing a revealed portion of such body parts which must be covered.
Young Girls-The Opinion of the Mishnah Berura
Regarding young girls who come into the synagogue wearing immodest clothing, Hagaon Mishnah Berura writes (in Chapter 75, Subsection 23) that this law not of being able to pray or recite words of holiness facing a hand’s breadth of any body part which must be covered applies even to young girls beginning from the age of three and above. There are sources for this found among the Poskim.
Indeed, the Eshel Avraham (Botchatch) writes that although there is room to say that young girls are not included in this prohibition, one should nevertheless not act leniently for several reasons.
The Opinion of the Chazon Ish
On the other hand, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l quotes (in his Responsa Yabia Omer, Volume 6, Chapter 14 and Halichot Olam, Volume 1, page 120) the opinion of Hagaon Chazon Ish and other great Poskim who rule that since the main issue of this prohibition is due to improper thoughts, it seems that this law does not apply to girls who are so young that they do not cause others to have improper thoughts. He proceeds to bring several sources for this opinion.
Thus, halachically speaking, when young girls, ages eight or nine, who are wearing immodest clothing are present in the synagogue, although it is proper for one to close one’s eyes or look only into one’s Siddur, it is nevertheless permissible according to the letter of the law to read Keri’at Shema or pray while facing them, as long as there is no concern of improper thoughts present.
The Mitzvah of Education
Nevertheless, Maran zt”l adds that it is inappropriate to bring such girls to the synagogue and clearly, it is prohibited for parents to dress their children in immodest clothing, for they are obligated to educate their children to act and dress modestly.