Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Synagogue Dress Codes and Dress-Up Judaism, Part II

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."

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.

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.

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  1. The phrase 'designated clothes' reminds me of a story that has always had great impact on me. Rav Yehuda Amital, shlita tells how in the Nazi labor camps he couldn't keep Shabbat properly. What he could do, was dress for Shabbat. In addition to the rag called a 'shirt' that he wore during the week, he managed to get another rag/shirt. This one he designated for Shabbat. Each and every Shabbat he then could change his clothing and dress for Shabbat.

  2. Here is the correct rendition of Rav Amital's narrative, from his siha for Parshat Pekudei. It is a little different from how I first remember it: "

    For example, when I was in a forced labor camp during the Holocaust, I used to put my cleanest shirt (although it also was far from clean) in my pocket on Friday morning. I would then put it on an hour or so before Shabbat. Although it was a far cry from my normal Shabbat dress, it was very meaningful for me to put on that shirt, even more meaningful than dressing for Shabbat usually is. Since all of my emotions were focused on this one action (because this was all I could do), it was very meaningful. Since I was forced to work on Shabbat, this constituted the extent of my preparing for and honoring Shabbat."

  3. I liked this one:
    What does one purchase for women? Rabbi Yosef taught: In Bavel, colored garments. (I ignored the next line about black; I used to wear too much of it, and not for religious reasons).

    My daughter who is 6 LOVES getting dressed up for Shabbat. I'm OK with getting dressed up, as long as no one makes me wear pantyhose. Thankfully, I didn't see anything on your list about pantyhose. Or about making me wear polyester. That wouldn't work for me, either.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

  4. Reb Mordechai,
    Thanks for that citation; I never even realized Rav Amital had been in the camps.

    Yes, the women in the classes do tend to enjoy that source. The more things change...

  5. The mention of black clothes on Kiddushin 40a is Ribbí Il‘ai's suggestion that people who find themselves unable to resist temptation to transgress should go someplace far away, wear black clothes and do what they "need" to.

    I fail to see the relevance of that to everyday prayer situations.

  6. Hi Steg,

    Thanks for commenting. Haven't seen you around here in a while, and now twice in one day!

    Per the Maharsha (whose comment, cited in the next source, are the reason I brought that source in the first place), the message is that clothing affects one's mood.

  7. yeah, sorry i haven't visited.

    i also just got off a long argument about clothing on a different blog, so i may be a little more sensitive than usual to the topic at the moment. :-P

  8. RABBI:

    i don't have time to read all of what seems to be a fascinating post (i hope to be back). i just wanted to point out that shuls with strict dress policies need to realize than sometimes you have to look the other way.

    a few weeks ago i was visiting a friend for shabbat in the suburbs. there was no one to lein at mincha. they were finally going to let me do it (i grew up with the gabbai and he knows i used to lein) with a borrowed jacket. at the last minute someone said he could do instead of me. so they let him go up because he already had a jacket. he ended up butchering the leining. now i don't blame the gabbai, he was just following the shul's rules. but it seemed silly that in the end he took a chance with the other person when he knew i could do it.

    on the other hand, there is story i would like to blog about one day. i was one in real chassidish shtiebel in boro park for shababt and there was no one to lein. they let me lein in my extremely casual attire (and when i warned that i don't lein with ashkenazi ivra, the rav responded, "that ok, it's the same torah"). i ended up leining a few more times there on subseuqent visits, so at some point i started coming in a jacket out of respect, knowing that they might ask me to lein.

  9. Lion-
    אל תסתכל בחליפה אלא במה שיש בו!