Since Part I was popular, I thought I would post some of the source material I distributed when I taught a class on the topic of Synagogue Dress Codes several years ago. It was part of a fun series of classes on "Jews and Clothes."
THE DIGNITY ISSUE
Clothing Provides Dignity
1. Genesis 3:7 – And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were not clothed. They sewed fig leaves and made belts for themselves.
2. Talmud, Shabbat 113a – It is written regarding Shabbat, “You shall honor it, refraining from performing ordinary tasks.” ‘You shall honor it’ indicates that your Shabbat clothing should not be like your weekday clothing. This follows along the lines of R’ Yochanan’s practice of calling his clothing, ‘The source of my honor.’
3. Talmud, Yevamot 63b – Gd said regarding the Jews, ‘I will anger them by helping a nation which is disgusting.’…It was taught: This verse refers to the people of Barbaria and Martina, who walk about unclothed in the marketplace. There is nothing more disgusting and repulsive before Gd than walking about unclothed in public.
Approach Gd with dignity: Clean clothes
4. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Temple Vessels 8:5 - If any of the Kohen’s garments became dirty, they did not bleach or launder them. Rather, they used the clothing to make wicks, and the Kohen wore new clothes.
5. Rama, Orach Chaim 53:25 – If a Chazan is also a slaughterer or one who examines slaughter, he should not pray in his dirty and smelly clothes. If he does not wish to change his clothes before he prays, he should be removed from his status as Chazan.
Approach Gd with dignity: Nice clothes
6. Talmud, Shabbat 10a – Rabbah bar Rav Huna donned special felt shoes and prayed, citing the verse, ‘Prepare to greet your Gd, Israel!’
7. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer 5:1, 5:5 – One who prays must be careful to do eight things, but if he cannot or does not do them his prayer is still valid: Stand, Face the Temple, Prepare one’s body, Prepare one’s clothes, Prepare one’s location, Modulate one’s voice, Bend one’s knees and Bow…How does one prepare his clothing? First he fixes his clothing and makes himself look fine…he should not pray in his moneybelt, or with a bare head, or with his feet revealed if local practice is that one would not stand before a respected person without shoes.
8. Chafetz Chaim, Mishnah Berurah 91:11 – It is also not appropriate to pray in a caftan, or an undergarment.
Approach Gd with dignity: Designated clothes
9. Tur, Orach Chaim 98 – It is appropriate for a person to have fine clothes which are set aside for prayer, like the clothing of the Kohanim. Not everyone can spend money on this, but it is good, at least, to have a pair of pants which are designated for prayer in that they are kept clean.
Choice of clothing shows respect for others in the synagogue
10. Chafetz Chaim, Mishnah Berurah 18:4 – Obviously, a Chazan who is not wearing an over-garment must wear a Tallit, for it is not respectful to the congregation to go otherwise.
11. R' Ovadia Yosef, Yechaveh Daat 4:8 – One who is wearing a short-sleeved shirt, such that his arms are covered to the elbow, is permitted to serve as a Chazan. If the sleeves are shorter, such that the arm is uncovered between the shoulder and the elbow, such a person may not serve as the Chazan for this is not respectful to the congregation. One who is praying alone is technically permitted to pray with such short sleeves.
THE MOOD ISSUE
Clothes create a mood
12. Talmud, Pesachim 109a - A man is obligated to gladden his household for the holiday, as it is written, “And you shall be joyous on your holiday.”…What does one purchase for women? Rabbi Yosef taught: In Bavel, colored garments. In Israel, garments of pressed flax.
13. Comment of Maharsha to Kiddushin 40a - The purpose of wearing black and robing one’s self in black is to bend one's spirit to his will with something which breaks it, and so he will not sin at all.
Clothes create a mood of focus on prayer
14. Talmud, Shabbat 10a – Rav Ashi said: I have observed that when there is trouble in the world, Rav Kahana removes his cloak, clasps his hands and prays, saying, ‘I am like a slave before his master.’ When there is peace, he clothes himself and robes himself and prays, saying, ‘Prepare to greet your Gd, Israel!’
15. Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 91:6 – It is the manner of scholars and their students to pray only when they are fully cloaked.
And then I brought a few sources to show how different Jewish groups handle this issue today:
Ambivalence toward dress codes
16. Mordecai Kaplan, “Questions Jews Ask: Reconstructionist Answers,” pg. 226-7
All the arts, all the cultural media by which men communicate ideas and emotions, depend on symbols. Religion cannot dispense with them. And those symbols that require action are particularly effective, because they involve simultaneously so many of our senses and emotional responses.
17. Boomer ReJew-venation, by Maureen Adler-Marks
Take the dress code, for example. When I was growing up, in New York, my favorite Rosh Hashanah ritual was the purchase of a new Jewish suit. Despite the threat of Indian summer heat, year after year I'd be in shul, sweltering in blue wool, dripping with sweat and pride; duped by seasonal change again.
In Los Angeles now, of course we're laid back. New clothing merely means a new black cotton T-shirt. The other day at Torah study, we discussed the controversy of Jewish jeans: Is it all right to wear denims and running shoes to services?
"Whatever," shrugged the well-dressed rabbi, dapper in Armani. But with the growing influence of the ashram, and the recent adoption of meditation-style worship, it's only a matter of time until our clothing goes with the flow.
Frankly, I'll miss dress-up Judaism and, like the recent readoption of the yarmulke, predict it will one day stage a comeback. Business attire at services, especially heels, is miserably restrictive, but that's the point, a beginning at self-containment. You've got to start somewhere, you know, and teshuvah, the spiritual chiropractic generally known as "repentance," is hard work. Many of my best intentions fail me. If I can't easily change my habits, drives, ambitions and motivations, at least I can alter my hemline. We change slowly, from the outside in.
When I was growing up, we all believed in sin. I loved my sins and maintained a running annual scoreboard, ready for purging. Four times that year I had cursed my parents under my breath. Three times I had left my brother to wash the dishes, claiming the next day a history or math test. On the "Wonder Years" scale, these were big deals, and I couldn't wait to have the blast of the shofar lift the load.
Today, of course, personal sin is gone, and with it the idea of the Holidays as Judgment Day. Part I of Boomer reJew-venation soft-pedals the guilt, calling it, instead, "missing the mark." Missing the mark is like being bad at archery, there's always another quiver for your bow.
18. USY – guidelines during prayer - Clothing on which any profanity or inappropriate language, pictures or symbols are written, printed or depicted is not permitted. No visible underwear is permitted for both males and females. During Tefillah (Services), inappropriately short skirts or shorts, or tight garments, are not permitted; shoulders must be covered for both males and females…No shorts or jeans are to be worn on Shabbat and dress shoes are encouraged during Shabbat Tefillot and meals. (Adopted unanimously by the National Youth Commission April 14, 2002)
19. Tzitz Eliezer 13:13 – Rabbi Moshe Feinstein did write that…by law if one’s head is covered in such a manner that one can say it is ‘covered’ by some definition of the word, then one may walk in the street and even recite blessings…but even he only wrote this regarding walking in the street and reciting blessings. As far as prayer in a synagogue, it is logical to argue that even he would require a hat, or at least a special Kippah which will cover the majority of the skull, under “Prepare to greet your Gd, Israel” and under the requirement to pray with solemnity. This is my conclusion, as far as the law.