Elul is upon us and the time has come for a heightened degree of introspection, which means “too look inside.” The question is, Inside of whom?
Becoming a seriously committed orthodox Jew necessarily requires both internal and external changes. And there is controversy about how important, and how advisable, external changes are. Some question whether they are necessary at all, within the bounds of halacha. Obviously men cannot, say, shave their heads, nor can women (or men) wear immodest clothing; where these propositions are controverted, we are having a different conversation. Even on the “right” side of things, we can and do debate whether group identity is appropriately signified by the use of external signals — e.g., “yeshivishe” garb — when one is a relative newcomer to the subculture of strictly orthodox Jews, or when, as the gemara asks in Berachos, there is a serious question of whether tocho k’boro [“the inside is like the outside”], i.e., whether the book matches the cover.
We know from this, and from many other sources addressing kavod ha-brios (personal dignity) and tzenius (“modest” but translated by Rabbi Yitzchok Berkowitz as a concept more akin to “dignity”), that in Jewish sensibility there is indeed a link between what is inside and what is outside of a person. We do not say “clothes make the man,” which improperly elevates the superficial; but we reject as well the proposition, dominant in our time and place, that slovenliness and even a grossness or outrageousness in appearance are irrelevant to the degree of respect to which a person of normal means and sound mind is entitled.
What irks some people about the levush [dress] of the yeshivishe world is that they perceive it as a sort of uniform, and the choice to don it as a surrendering of individuality. Baalei teshuvah, those who love them, and frequently those old observant friends whom they may have “passed by” as they almost inevitably migrate to the right in their journey wrestle with this issue, among others, and ask: Is my personality, as expressed by my “look,” the price of admission to this community?
And let us take as a proposition that, unlike in some other demanding religions, in Judaism we do not consider the surrendering of personality a desideratum. Perhaps we can debate that point another time; but for here, let us hold it as a given that we do believe in individuality in expressing our avodas Hashem [service of God] and in our relationships bein odom l’chaveiro [between people].
The answer to the question here, however — as we so frequently say — is that the “question isn’t a question.” (This is to be distinguished from the maddening cliche used in the telling over of brilliant divrei torah that the answer is “really very simple” when it’s actually quite ingenious!) In other words, the premise is incorrect: Sincere self-expression, which is to say the expression and articulation of personality, is not a strictly, or even meaningfully, a function of clothing. And yet clothing is not irrelevant to how we place ourselves in a social context.
Using our costume as a way to “speak” for our individuality suffers from several deficiencies. One of them, pointed out to me recently by a very talented orthodox layman, is that it makes our realization of personality dependent on the reactions of others to our external show. Another is that it is eminently falsifiable. In minutes one can “change his personality” based on the shmattes [shmattes] on his back. Yes, the choices one makes do speak to what he wants to “say” with his clothes, but why should we trust those “words”? Another factor is that it is, as we suggested before, even without changing back and forth, it is simply superficial to say that rather than develop a personality one can simply take one off a hanger and put a personality on.
Now we have, arguably, proved too much. How can all this be true, and yet we insist on dignity and decorum in dress? And how do we reconcile these thoughts with the idea that there can be merit, even in a spiritual sense, in dressing in a way that conforms to a fairly narrow band of variety which in itself amounts to a standard “message” being sent to the world at large?
To attempt resolution of these questions, I suggest the following propositions:
1. Clothes do not make the man, but they do represent a choice in how one goes about presenting himself to the world;
2. That choice is indeed interpreted by the world. A person really is saying something about his values in how he makes those choices.
3. Dignity in appearance has an absolute value in Judaism. For women, tzenius in its traditionally understood sense is not only an halachic requirement, it should be a manifestation of a woman’s sensibility as a Jewish woman. For men, where “modesty” is less of an issue because of the differences between the sexes, dignity in its broader sense is also a value the Torah insists upon.
4. We can even agree on some broad outlines of what is dignified for public, much less synagogue, wear. Let us focus on the dress of men. I propose that if the word is to have much meaning, we must say that jeans are not dignified. Short pants are not dignified. T-shirts are not dignified, especially if they bear logos or messages and all the more so if these are not consonant with Jewish values. Shirttails worn outside are not dignified regardless of the cut or color of the shirt. Yarmulkas bearing the images of cartoon characters, sports teams, one-liners, heretical religious statements or fruits are not dignified. I recognize that these are subjective judgments, but I submit them for your consideration.
5. One can take the guidance in item (4) above and apply it more rigorously towards a more dignified appearance that more or less conforms with what is called more formal or businesslike dress, and this is a kiyum [achievement] in realizing more dignity, engendering more respect for the way Jews conduct themselves in communal and worship settings and even out and about.
6. I propose here the psychological truism that for most people, the effect of a more orderly, dignified and attractive appearance enhances their self-image as well as the way people relate to them.
Perhaps you think at this juncture I am going to suggest as item (7) the proposition that since all these factors lead ineluctably to the “Lakewood look” (abstracting from the troubling problem of the nearly universal eschewing of the necktie) I have defined the problem of individuality and “uniforms” away. I am not going to insult the house with such a suggestion, however. Rather, I am going to suggest an entirely different item (7), to wit:
7. A person who commits himself to a life based on Torah and mitzvos should strongly consider the possibility, in a world where external appearances are a source of judgment about a person and, by virtue of that, what paths are opened to a person in the world, by accepting the foregoing points (1)-(6), he may better realize the Jewish values of dignity and tzenius. Concomitantly, that identification with a distinctively Jewish way of dressing, associated with a community premised on that same sort of commitment he is now undertaking, will likely be healthy for his continued growth as a Jew; and that the more dignified the dress, the more he achieves this effect for himself.
And if this last paragraph, which we have worked so long to get to, is where we end up debating, then perhaps it was worth it; because I believe if we are seriously debating the sum and substance of items (1)-(6), we have very little common ground.
And I propose in conclusion that if we could agree to (7) as well, we could get the answer to our question about personality, and about the imperative to look within: By realizing the importance of external devices such as dress to insure that our influences are predominantly Jewish, and acknowledging that it informs the way the way the world reacts to us, and the responsibility we bear as we move through the world, we enhance our Jewishness and acknowledge that some degree of separateness is an aspect of Jewishness. At the same time, by narrowing our use of clothes as proxies for genuine individuality, we become better able to develop our personalities in the Jewish contexts that we have chosen for ourselves, and which are nearly infinite in possibility. And in doing so, we acknowledge that we are, indeed, taking a cultural and even a moral stand about who we are and where we want to be in a world awash with infinite choice for good and for what is not good.
Dear Ron Coleman,
“But polo shirts, t-shirts and Derek Jeter jerseys are what I am arguing about.”
How exactly do you lump in polo shirts with a Derek Jeter jersey? I assume by polo shirt you mean a solid colored shirt with the three buttons at the top, a collar, and potentially a small logo in the right corner, similar to what I wear to work every day with slacks and shoes. I’m not sure how this can be categorized with a Jeter Jersey. There are many ways to look “professional.” Or am I wrong?
In the Sports section of today’s NY Post I read this about the embattled Yankee superstar A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez):
“A-Rod is presented as weird, specifically from an incident in which the Red Sox were courting him in 2003. Several Red Sox executives allegedly went to Rodriguez’ room at 1 a.m. to find Rodriguez dressed in a suit and tie. The Boston executives found A-Rod’s attire “odd” and “unsettling” at that hour.”
While the memories of this thread will still fresh. I found this really interesting It illustrates just how far we as a society have gotten away from the notion of formal dress at all times and how far the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. It probably indicates how “odd” and “unsettling” our neighbors who normally sport casual attire find us formally dressed Jews. (Now let’s commission a study to corroborate).
To read the article click here
I meant to corroborate the obvious.
Requesting sources is tremendous. Keep it up.
Indeed I am… supervising the mashgichim! No harm done in an occasional request for sources
Hello if you are there. I have to admit that when I looked inside I saw that Shulchan Aruch and particullarly the Rema leave a lot of room for different understandings. I think that maybe it was the kitzur shulchan aruch that takes a more machmir approach (who is anyway a late acharon) but I don’t know when or if I will have time to confirm that.
Chaim G and Steg,
Jumping back to the Bigdei Kehuna for a second, I just saw that the Shulchan Aruch, when speaking of how one should dress for prayer makes the analogy to the bigdei kehuna. So, Chaim G, it looks like you hit the nail right on the head with that comparison.
OK, it will have to wait until Monday.
Chelek, simanim and seifim please
I don’t have a sense of how differently Jews are expected to dress according to the Shulchan Aruch.
Conceivably, in our time, a kippa or other headgear favored by Jews would be enough to distinguish our dress. What do our Poskim say?
I am posing this as a question, not an accusation. Shulchan Aruch gives pretty clear directives of how one is supposed to dress differently than the surrounding culture. It seems these directives are largely ignored by the jeans and sneakers folks, and to a lesser degree by the Yeshivish dressed folks. The only ones (in the US) that are really fullfilling the pashut reading of the Shulchan Aruch are the chasidim. Shouldn’t the Shulchan Aruch be where this discussion begins? DK, if you are there, I would really like to know your view since you stated that the charedim are unnecessarily austere.
The issue of the phsychological comfortability of baalei is another issue. I am speaking here of the ideal of proper Jewish dress.
I just want to dress like the way I think an adult should dress.
Exactly… this is a field of subjectivity.
I found this string very interesting. About a year ago, my non-Frum sibling invited my wife and I over at the same time as our cousin and her husband. My cousin’s husband was dressed in artistically ripped levis and some sort of shirt/hoodie combination; I thought he looked like he came from MTV. This is a man who during the week is a highly paid marketing executive. And yes, I do think the way he dresses expresses externally how he see himself. For myself, I want to see myself as a mature, responsible adult who serves Hashem. Aside from any particular haredi “Uniform”, I just want to dress like the way I think an adult should dress.
If people then are wearing those clothes to baseball games in the 1950’s wouldn’t that obviously mean that they didn’t consider them ‘formal’ clothes? No. People were more formal in public. The wide range of possibilities that we have today did not exist. A suit and tie is a suit and tie. You’d have a “Sunday best” suit but a suit is a suit. Not that people sat out on the stoop, as we call it, in a suit. But there was a zone of personal space, and there was public space, and in public space you went about like a mensch.
Rabbi Schwartz – LOL (“Emperor’s New Clothes” reference is hilarious) – happy to be of service with my threadbare analysis /question of bare and dignity. Love your “emperors”sartorial preference of threadbare over thread metaphor. Profound patchwork wording and metaphor quilting .The dignity/nudity concept connecting you have threaded with fascinating imagery and biblical quote reference patterns has fabricated quite the colorful /industrial and durable quilt for keeping the cold out/ the warmth in/ image upheld and the dignity perfectly preserved (in bright shades of understanding) just in time for the long bleak cold winter ahead .Do you also do metaphorical mittens /hats (all sects) and snow suits.
I wasn’t trying to disprove your point just thought that it was interesting that R. Sternbuch was making a similar observation to yours.
Second: R. Sternbuch was talking EY not So. Africa.
If people then are wearing those clothes to baseball games in the 1950’s wouldn’t that obviously mean that they didn’t consider them ‘formal’ clothes?
Also if they’re wearing them all day one would assume they’re not exactly beautiful. I’d think wearing a crumpled hat and wrinkled jacket isn’t exactly what one would wear to a meeting.
Don’t get me started on stained tallitot. What exactly are men doing in those?
You are not exactly disproving my point about this being essentially an anti-worker position. In R. Shternbuch’s South Africa, class was not a part of the usual tide of divisions between Jews of varying socio-economic classes.
The clothing people wore back in the day only looks like our formal clothing because formal clothing is more conservative (at least for men). They weren’t imbuing their clothes with the sense of formality that we do today, those were just their regular clothes. And hence, were often dirty and messed up from work.
Adderabah, Ron, R. Shternbuch said that this is no reason to not wear a hat and jacket for davening.
Chaim, you make a nice point about the economic aspects of clothes. They also relate to our tree-borne workers. It’s not likely they even had another set of clothes, save maybe for Shabbos.
We seem readily to assume “facts not in evidence” here. Who says people who work in togs such as those described have to wear them all day? Most physicians have time to get properly dressed at some point during which mincha could be davened, and I bet many do. The fact that they some doctors have gotten used to wearing scrubs all day is a reflection of a relaxed societal standard about sloppiness or, shall we say, informality, not a practical necessity. If one is in triage all day, well, that would be pretty exceptional in peace time. There are exceptions, but they are exceptions, not rules.
Most mechanics don’t work past 5 in the afternoon. I don’t know enough about life on a modern farm, nor on a farm in the pale of settlement, to know what agricultural Jews did and do do. But 100 years ago European peasants and shetl Jews doing physical work dressed, just as people did in North America, in far more “formal” looking clothes than today’s workers — just look at the pictures. No one went about bare-headed (even wearing only a yarmulke) during the day. That was true right through the 1950’s; look at a picture of a crowd at Ebbets Field. Today you won’t see so many suits, ties and fedoras at the ABA convention. So naturally when people stopped during work and davened, they were pretty much within all halachic guidelines for doing so, save the need to wash their hands.
I don’t know what R’ Shternbuch’s conclusion is from your post, David. Does he say that the proletarian social consciousness of the early 20th century has relieved us all of the obligation to wear hats (or of course turbans!) when davening? That would be interesting.
No Kiddin? Rav Shternbuch and the theology of the proletariat! To reiterte:
Who identified Judaism with the ruling class in a Capitalist system? If a Chasidic fellow works as a mechanic or drives a truck and wears blue coveralls in the process is he without dignity? If an MO Physician spends his day in green scrubs does he lack kovod habriyos? If a Chardal Farmer is wearing bib overalls or thigh high rubber boots as he fertilizes or drains the soil suffused with K’dushas Ha’Aretz does he need a Tznius infusion?
Chazorah…its a good thing.
BTW, R. Moshe Shternbuch writes in a Teshuvah that one of the reasons that people don’t wear hats as commonly (for non-religious reasons) in Eretz Yisrael is because many of the early Russian settlers saw hats as an inappropriate class distinction.
Thanks Jeff, and by the way, next meeting is after Succos (and don’t wear the sequined jacket)
I do believe that there are halachic issues and though we are learning this in the Mishna Berurah Yomi, I must admit that I missed shiur last night for parent teacher conferences/orientation.
I believe that the Chayei Adam poskens hat and jacket as do many of the more contemporary poskim but I dont want to put out inaccurate information. I only want to point out that, IMHO, it is not simply a minhag. Full Disclosure: I do not wear a hat and jacket at this time for weekday tefillah.
Chosmin (we must be getting close to the end no?) B’milsa dibdeechusa
Circa 1840 in an Eastern European shtetl: Yankel and Shmeril are getting dressed one Friday afternoon after the Mikva. Yankel notices Shmeril putting on a fresh collar on his shirt
Yankel: So Shmeril, business must be picking up? I mean with the new collar and all?
Shmeril: Gut Tsu danken! (Thank G-d) Now I hear Kopel (a friend of theirs) is doing gangbusters! Why last week right here I saw him put on a WHOLE FRESH SHIRT!
Yankel (duly impressed): Gevalt! That really is something. I always new he was a good soikher (businessman). You know I once heard that Shverdloff (the town tycoon) actually changes into a fresh shirt 3 times a week
Shmeril: I guess that Rothschild must change his shirt every single day!
Yankel (his jaw dropping as the deduction hits him with the force of a prophetic revelation): And the Czar? The Czar himself? The Czar must do nothing but stand in front of his mirror all day long putting on and taking off shirts!
Gotta tell ya, all these rules for davening are just another good reason to blow off maariv. It’s rishus anyway, right? ;)
So there, all you militarily-minded attire policemen!
You’d better be standing at attention instead of shuckling during Shmoneh ‘Esreih! ;-)
The halakhic issue is dressing in respectable clothing; hats and jackets are just the expression of that halakha in certain Jewish communities (i.e. their minhag). Just like there’s an obligation to daven, but the text you use is dependent on your ancestry, ideology and culture, the same thing goes for clothing.
Unless you’re qabalistic, in which case you hold that you’re obligated in a double head covering. But considering that that’s a distinctive custom of qabbalistically-influenced/inclined people, it’s also nothing more than minhag, not obligatory on those outside its community.
As the entertainment hired for that meeting, I do not recall it coming up for a vote as well.
Just because of this thread, I’m wearing a sequined dinner jacket to shul this Shabbos. So there, all you militarily-minded attire policemen!
Power to the People and all that but there are halachich issues regarding davening in a hat and jacket. It’s not as simple as just being a modern custom or lawyers and accountants “making the call”. We lawyers and accountants decide a lot of things for BTs, we have weekly meetings and being a c0-chairman of the Dress and Public Decorum committee, I can assure you that this one never came up for vote (If I recall correctly, Alan Drshowitz fillibustered it).
Interesting… for me, group identity isn’t even on the radar. The way i dress for shul is based on the fact that i dress a certain way for work, and hence, most of the day in general; so i feel i should dress at least as formally/dignified/respectful/whatever for shul.
But hey, i’m not a fan of uniformity in general. I like diversity — of cultures, clothing styles, minhagim, dialects/accents, hashqafa…
Another point — workers in the time of the Talmud davening up their trees. Somehow i doubt they lugged their good robes and turbans up there with them; they davened in their work clothes, of course.
Well, I think this shows why BT’s who are not of the “professional” classes should consider a LW MO, BT approach as opposed to any other.
Outside of LW BT circles, you will be expected to wear formal clothing even if you are able to wear, or as Shoshana explained, even expected, to wear casual clothing to work.
To have to wear formal clothing will significantly increase both your clothing expenditure and your laundry/dry cleaning bills.
I would ask those outside of the professional classes to note how intrinsically difficult life in the right-wing cirlces are for those in industries that demand a casual dress code.
Maybe RW Orthodoxy is not right for you? Maybe it isn’t replete with people like you?
Do you really think poor or merchant Jews in Europe who hardly dressed all that “distinguished” were changing their dress every time they davened? Please — they brought in their shmutz from the street. They didn’t have such luxuries. No one went home to change before weekday davenen unless they were in really bad shape.
Isn’t this about conflating “what’s right” in Judaism for your own bourgeosie industries and preferences? Isn’t this being advocated against the historical norm of the Jewish people?
Isn’t this about taking the custom of the B’nai Torah putting on their hats jackets before mincha and maariv and making a whole masechta from that small, B’nai Torah modern custom?
Should lawyers and accountants really be the ones to make such a call for Jewish people–including working class people and freelancers–generally?
We at least need to impress ourselves with the importance of what we’re doing.
Assuming this is true maybe that’s because zarim=all non-Kohanim were prohibited from doing any avodah in the Temple. (little known and non-egalitarian factoid: rank and file Yisraelim were almost not able to enter the Temple courtyard altogether. Even in a state of total taharah=ritual purity they had to hug the 11 amah outer perimeter of the courtyard!) Whereas contemporary Shuls which are places of Avodah for all tribes and genders of Jews perhaps, similarly, they should only be accessed “in-uniform”.
Incidentally I wasn’t critiquing your mode of dressin or out of shul . Anything to the right (or, for that matter, left) of Steve Brizel (LOL) is all right by me. And, as you correctly read me in an earlier comment, I don’t believe it’s about dignity or formality at all (Although the paradigm of Bigdei K’huna were about Kovod and Tiferes) just group identity.
But remember that it was the Kohanim in particular who had to wear bigdey kehuna (obviously, by definition ;-) )… it’s not like the Yisre’eilim who brought whatever qorbanot had to wear bigdey kehuna too or anything like that.
I know, and that’s why i dress the way i do for shul. But when people go around using the tired metaphor of a job interview, “trying to impress” is exactly what they’re implying, whether they mean it or not. I don’t agree. Trying to make an impression? Yes. It’s just preposterous that someone, anyone, engaged in the serious enterprise of tefilla would try to “impress” God with clothing. But trying to make an impression — leave a statement about how he is approaching this meeting, this “interview” — yes, of course. Forgive if I seem to be splitting hairs, but perhaps we agree.
Please, spare us the pictures :)
I don’t think they mean that she is violating their cultural norms. If they were, assuming they like her, they wouldn’t be so forward. Maybe I’m wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time…. today.
“Bigdey Kehuna were a uniform that marked the kohanim as being ‘on duty’ at their special set-aside jobs of serving God”
OK my point merely was that the Creator of Worlds = God Who Knows Your Innermost Thoughts, seems (kavayochol, as much as we can say that He cares about or is pleased by our avodah in any way) to have a “preference” for a particular mode of dress when He is being served in His desiganted abode on earth.
IMO Qedushat Zeman and Maqom obtain even if a Jew is in total solitude. These are not concepts limited to “coming together”
As to the observation that when you wear something other than denim to work, you’re co-workers ask why you are so dressed up, I think that actually lends support to Ron’s position. Aren’t they really asking you “where are you going or who are you meeting with that is so important to you that you need to dress up?”
Somehow i doubt that. They’re probably asking “why are you violating our cultural norms of appropriate dress?”
“Trying to impress” with “fancy clothes” is not the argument here. Dressing with appropriate respect and decorum
I know, and that’s why i dress the way i do for shul. But when people go around using the tired metaphor of a job interview, “trying to impress” is exactly what they’re implying, whether they mean it or not.
How do you guys understand Bigdei Kehunah? Do you acknowledge that one ought to dress differently on Shabbos and Yom Tov than during the week? More fundamentally, in light of a Theology that posits an omnipresent deity that transcends time and space (AKA Judaism), how do you understand the concepts of K’dushas HaZ’man v” Hamokom (consecrated times and places)?
You seem to be assuming that i oppose the idea of dressing “formally”/”respectfully”/”dignified” whatever you want to call it. If you read what i’ve said above, you’d see that i agree with the idea, and practice it myself (you want details or pictures or something? :-P), but refuse to tell people that they need to conform to a particular standard of “formal” dress.
Bigdey Kehuna were a uniform that marked the kohanim as being ‘on duty’ at their special set-aside jobs of serving God. I do dress differently on Shabbos and Yontef (and no, not just at shul). And Qedushat Zeman and Maqom are times and places set aside for God and us to come together in a more intense way than the rest of the space-time continuum.
Whoops! Slicha I meant Jeff, not Jack
Jeff said (Comment #34) to me, “I believe your concept is to ‘make’ a nonobservant Jew into a ‘by the book’ frum Jew in mannerisms, dress code and davening style”
Actually, I hadn’t addressed this. I had referred to “BT’s functioning well in their Orthodox Jewish communities”. This left open the issue of how much the individual has to adjust to the community and how much the community to the individual. One can function well in a group without being a carbon copy of someone else. Some communities will be able to accept more surface differences than others.
Basic concerns (like Torah hashkafah, availability of great teachers, inspiring services or friendly neighbors, or affordability) will often outweigh personal comfort factors (like clothing styles or musical tastes) in motivating a BT to join one community instead of others.
Dress wouldn’t be such a hot issue with us if we weren’t a bit too invested in the way we dress now. This is the same “surface thinking” some of us attribute to the people in black suits.
Jack you wrote (#34)
“We are not robots, my friend. Nor do we desire to wear a “uniform”.”
I recommend you read the post and comment thread: “Towards a Subtler Nonconformity” from December 22nd 2005
You might find it illuminating or aggravating but definitely addressing this lack of desir
Jaded-“we need to be looking up to Adam and Eve for some advice on dignity in a bare world.”
I always knew that I could depend on you to bare this thread and give an honest, incisive assessment of the Sartorial Splendor of the Emperors new clothes.
Suffice it to say that according to the Netziv Adam and Eve’s ability to maintain nudity and dignity simultaneously was based on the fundamental difference between the body and soul in a pre-sin state and a post–sin state.
Before the sin Adam and Eve understood their essential essence their “I”, to be their soul and their bodies were no more than an outer shell/suit of clothes which they could divest themselves of with the same ease that we throw off an overcoat. They felt clothed in their nudity or, more accurately put, while still connected to and contained in their bodies, they were not in the nude. One of the immediate effects of the sin was the degradation of human beings to the point that they perceived their physical bodies as their essential beings and, as such, felt exposed and naked by their physical nudity. The origin of clothes inheres in both the human and Divine response in taking the first furtive steps to repair sin (one Talmudic opinion says that the” Tree of Unification of Good and Evil “must have been a fig tree since it is logical that Adam would have wanted to begin his Tikun (repair) process from the precise place where his Kilkul (ruination) began).
Far from being shallow and superficial a conversation about the role of clothes in Judaism hearkens back to the earliest history of humans confronting and dealing with their sins. I hope that the warp and weft of the dialogue will continue to weave a splendorous raiment of Elul introspection.
When we learned Brachos with RHS and discussed the sugyos that mandate a jacket and some sort of head covering for tefilah, RHS rejected the notion that ‘casual attire” was appropriate because the then President Clinton frequently wore “casual attire’ to the White House. IOW, halacha required that when one met HaShem via tefilah or attempted to decipher His Words via Talmud Torah, one should dress in a mode that showed that we are meeting the Melech Elyon, as opposed to the contemporary attire of the Melech Evyon. RHS commented -Just because many people don’t pay taxes doesn’t mean there is no such obligation.
Steg-(24)“I spent most of my life vehemently asserting that trying to impress the Creator of Worlds with fancy clothing is disrespectful to God Who Knows Your Innermost Thoughts,”
Shoshana-(30)“Second, we are always meeting with G-d. There’s no way to escape Him. With that reasoning, why should we “dress up” for shul?”
How do you guys understand Bigdei Kehunah (the 4 or 8 Torah mandated garments [vestments] that the Kohanim wore when doing the Divine service in the Tabernacle or Temple)? Do you acknowledge that one ought to dress differently on Shabbos and Yom Tov than during the week? More fundamentally, in light of a Theology that posits an omnipresent deity that transcends time and space (AKA Judaism), how do you understand the concepts of K’dushas HaZ’man v” Hamokom (consecrated times and places)?
Bob, thanks for your thoughtful reply.
Sorry for all those typos, by the way. It was a little too early for me to be typing.
To respond to your post:
Counterproductive: I believe what we have here is a disagreement about what kiruv is truly about. Where I believe your concept is to “make” a nonobservant Jew into a “by the book” frum Jew in mannerisms, dress code and davening style, I believe that kiruv is about awakening the neshama that lays dormant within each & every non-observant & (even frum) Jew. It’s about taking small steps, and creating a new personality where the best aspects of one’s self are merged with a love of Hashem. If one is able to do most mitvot within 2 years, then great. If not, that person shouldn’t be pushed too hard. Hashem’s light as reflected in the Holy Torah (Written & Oral) is what they need, not being told they cannot dress (during the week) as they have for the past 20, 30 or 40 years of their lives. I highly doubt that the majority of BTs would have even taken the first step towards Yiddishkeit if they saw that at the end of the tunnel of their Jewish progression they had to dress a certain way, especially like frum Jews in Lakewood or Boro Park. Most of us would have said “no thanks”.
It is not the BTs responsibility to be the one to fit into the larger Orthodox communities. It is those communities’ responsibility to reach out to seeking Jews, and to do whatever it takes to make them feel at home within the Torah world, even if that means (GASP), having to accept Jews davening during the week in their daily work clothes, which may or may not be jeans. We are not robots, my friend. Nor do we desire to wear a “uniform”.
We wish to connect with Hashem and the Jewish people. The Jewish world is changing. If Moshiach delays, in 50 years there will barely be any nonfrum Jews left. The Orthodox will be the representatives of Hashem’s chosen nation, and the tent will have to be enlarged to accept Jews of all dress codes, interesting pasts, colors & shapes.
I agree that us BTs are very tough, and very opinionated.
Subjectivity: It’s perfectly okay to speak one’s opinions, which are of course subjective. But to make a blanket statement that jeans aren’t kosher for an observant Jewish man to wear is just plain silly.
From my so-far brief sojourn into the frum world, I’ve noticed that there are those communities that prefer the ghetto wall, where nothing of the outside world is allowed in. This, of course, has some benefits. The most important one being that the community, and especially the children are protected from bad influences.But I have found that those frum communities that are proud to be Jewish as well as not deathly afraid of what’s out there in the scary world are the ones that most BTs are attracted to.
Being in the music business, I am privy to seeing this from a certain angle most do not. The “right-wing” frummy frum do not even allow artists like the Chevra or anything with a repetitive “dance” beat to be played at their events, as they believe it deosn’t reflect Torah.
I disagree as I feel they really just want music to be as it was 50 years+ ago, which can be quite dislikable to younger people & those who prefer newer music styles. As long as the words can bring one closer to Hashem, who cares what music is in the background (as long as it’s not Wagner or something anti-semitic). If one is able to connect to Yiddishkeit because of it, then it’s wonderful.
I spent most of my life vehemently asserting that trying to impress the Creator of Worlds with fancy clothing is disrespectful to God Who Knows Your Innermost Thoughts, and that it’s comfort that’s important as long as you aren’t being particularly disrespectful.
“Trying to impress” with “fancy clothes” is not the argument here. Dressing with appropriate respect and decorum
How can one person judge another based on what he/she wears?
Who said someone can? I am talking about introspection. You can and must judge yourself. Are you satisfied with your choices?
By the way, of course we are all dressed by what we wear, all the time. And even God judges us by how we choose to present ourselves to him.
Shoshana, your point is a good one. I wear a suit and tie whenever I go out and for all practical purposes for most of the day. But not everyone is up to that, I recognize. Still there is a difference between always being in God’s presence, and the formal “meetings” we hold with God when we daven. Note that chasidim are careful not only to bench with a hat and coat on but even to eat their meals in full dress, presumably because of the comparison made between one’s own table and the mizbeach. This too is a meeting on a higher level than the every day. As Bob says, there are meetings and there are Meetings.
Steve, David, and the others in rough support, thanks for your comments, too.
I think you are making an interesting point re: aren’t we always before Hashem? Perhaps that is why some advocate for an overall more dignified dress, not only for tefillah.
As to the observation that when you wear something other than denim to work, you’re co-workers ask why you are so dressed up, I think that actually lends support to Ron’s position. Aren’t they really asking you “where are you going or who are you meeting with that is so important to you that you need to dress up?”
There are meetings and there are Meetings.
Ron, you said in your comment, “We shouldn’t dress in a less dignified fashion for a meeting with God than we should for a meeting with our boss or our client.”
First, as many here have pointed out, a lot of workplaces are casual these days. In my office, denim is the accepted standard, whenever I dress in anything nicer, my co-workers question what I’m dressed up for.
Second, we are always meeting with G-d. There’s no way to escape Him. With that reasoning, why should we “dress up” for shul?
Jeff, in comment #27 above, calls Ron’s post here “counterproductive” and “subjective”. Putting aside whether Ron was right or wrong, let’s examine these concepts.
COUNTERPRODUCTIVE: Something can be called counterproductive if it cuts production of the thing one wants to make. So, what exactly, is Beyond BT meant to produce? Overall, you could say this would be a stronger, larger community of BT’s functioning well in their Orthodox Jewish communities. To reach that goal, some candor and spirited discussion is necessary. We don’t need to live in fear that someone will take some of our honest opinions the wrong way and become so distraught as to undo his/her teshuva. BT’s on the whole are pretty tough people. That’s why we could begin to make something of ourselves against internal and external opposition.
SUBJECTIVE: If subjectivity is a real problem, this blog and all others should go out of business. There will always be subjective elements in a discussion, and no one needs to apologize for them. If we didn’t want to hear about someone else’s personal experiences and personal takes on events, past and present, we wouldn’t be involved in this forum to begin with. Once we basically know where someone is coming from, we can make the right allowances for bias.
At least as far as davening is concerned, I think Steg is right and basically echoes the shulchan aruch which states that someone should dress for davening as they would if they were to meet with an important person. Putting polotics aside as well as the halachic definition of an important person, I highly doubt that a person meeting with the President would dress in some of the ways that Ron described in his post. People meeting with the President probably wouldn’t wear a Borsolino either but Ron’s point seems to be that dressing in a more dignified manner, at least during tefillah, may evidence the level of importance we give to tefillah.
As this blog is entitled “Beyond BT”, I find it ridiculouslu counter productive to state “We can even agree on some broad outlines of what is dignified for public, much less synagogue, wear. Let us focus on the dress of men. I propose that if the word is to have much meaning, we must say that jeans are not dignified.”
Not-yet frum Jews and those journeying to want to love Hashem, Mitvot & Torah do not need to hear this subjective comment here.
It’s hard enough having to deal with nonobservant friends & relatives.
From reading the many responses, Im not aure if the opriginal post ws written in jest. If not, it’s totally 100% off the mark.
As a matter of fact, one of the main aspects of Yiddishkeit that impressed me so much was what I witnessed at a local Chabad, when on a Shabbos morning, a working Yid came in mid-service to daven Shacharis in his dirty work clothes with his keys hanging from his belt.
To me, Hashem is way more impressed by the sincerity of that Yid than he is with the dress code of the so-called frum world.
Please leave out all ridiculour subjective opinions about how we should all look. On Shabbos & Yom Tovim, I wear a suit, a white shirt AND my new black hat. During the week, in the world of reality, when I get sweaty, dirty and have to run around working & doing errands, you will catch me in jeans & sneakers 90% of the time.
I wonder what the synagogue dress code is like on the nudist colonies.
It must be hard with judging and stuff . They probally just have one house of worship and everyone loves their neighbor mostly of out ignorance.They probally also have one school Sam Smith if your reading this , I might have stumbled upon an answer to that famous tuition crisis post of yours.One community school on a nudist colony with no dress at all forget about dress code-, then u got combined resources and more parents paying in a given geographic area.
So I guess we need to be looking up to Adam and Eve for some advice on dignity in a bare world .
Can one be bare and dignified at the same time.If the answer is in the affirmative I dont think we need to be worrying about exactly what sort of dress to be dignifying ourselves with.No more judging worries or concept of excessive modesty dress messing with and ruining personality.
G raised this question in comment #2 but it was never answered. How can one person judge another based on what he/she wears? Yes, it is human nature to make such a quick judgment, but ultimately Hashem is the One who judges us, and aren’t we supposed to learn not to judge others harshly? I am much more impressed by the person who wears jeans to davening, but who is davening with intense kavanah, than by the person who is dressed “yeshivish” but without caring. Let us not forget that, sadly, there are those who “dress the part” but abuse their families, themselves, and are a detriment to our community. Dressing the part does not make the person dignified – it is the actions and words of that person.
To me, it seems like focusing on whether a kippah has a cartoon character on it or not has nothing to do with the introspection we should experience with Elul. It is better to say, “how wonderful that the person is wearing a kippah to begin with”.
There is a difference between “dignified” and adopting only one style of dress. Wearing one style of dress does not mean “dignified”, and “dignified” does not mean only one style of dress. To say this is so would alienate many, like me if someone proposed this idea to me.
I don’t think Ron Coleman is pushing yeshivish monochromatism in particular; after all, he said:
If the non-yeshivish impulse in shul, on a weekday, were expressed in tan suits and khaki pants with blazers, you’d have me.
He’s not looking for black-and-white conformity, he’s looking for formality, as Chaim Grossferstant understood, and disagreed with. So seemingly however your society expresses formality in dress is what RC would support.
Although i do dress more formally for minyan (“more RW than Steve Brizel” as i jokingly described it above), i don’t think it’s right for everyone. I spent most of my life vehemently asserting that trying to impress the Creator of Worlds with fancy clothing is disrespectful to God Who Knows Your Innermost Thoughts, and that it’s comfort that’s important as long as you aren’t being particularly disrespectful. And i still believe that, even though i personally have drawn closer to the model of “dressing for shul the way you would dress for a very important meeting with someone very important.”
David and Ron,
Even if this sort of works, it is only within the framework of the “professional” world.
At some of my most important client and boss meetings I did not and was even advised not to wear a suit.
Not every important meeting calls for looking like a banker or even a yeshiva bochur. You are taking your own industry standards too seriously.
And Ron, I wasn’t being sarcastic. Earlier, I mean. I think that those who ask BT’s to dress “formally” much of the time usually all too frequently also set some other rather intensely demanding and rigid parameters for what’s acceptable beyond losing causal attire. There is indeed a correlation. Just my concern is quite different than yours.
My old firm had dress dowm Fridays but they would suspend it if a big client was coming in. Also, we needed to have a jacket and tie available in case something “important” came up.
Now, that I work for myself, I have a generally casual work attire. Yet, I wouldn’t think of going to court that way. I have, in fact, seen an attorney dismissed by a judge for failure to wear a jacket.
“What I am saying is that, at a minimum, we shouldn’t dress in a less dignified fashion for a meeting with God than we should for a meeting with our boss or our client.”
Okay — now I see where the disconnect here is. Apparently, your firm doesn’t have casual Fridays.
My disagreement is more that you seem to think that it’s only ‘dignified’ to dress in a certain way (ie: the Yeshivish way), and that all other modes of dress for davening/ect, are simply not appropriate. If I’m incorrect please set me straight.
You just hit the nail on the head. People who wear black hats and the white/black combo are identified as YESHIVISH not as particularly dignified or particularly representitive of world Jewry. Their clothes are their hashkafic uniform, which was influenced by mid century American fashion styles. ‘Yeshivish’ clothes/dress may be ‘dignified’ but it is basically 1950’s American fashion.
You may find that uniform dignified, however some don’t and have no problem with wearing jeans to minyan because their hashkafic uniform may be jeans (MO young men) or turbans (Chacham Yosef) or whatever. Or maybe they recognize that frum Jewry has been influenced by secular clothing styles since time immemorial. What is and what is not ‘dignified’ is in the eye of the beholder.
Frankly this argument is the same as that made by people who say we should all dress up when we ride on airplanes, as was common until the 1980’s, because it’s more dignified.
Chaim, Rav Hutner was certainly a colorful personality. A little like Chazal, you have to be careful trying to deduce to much from his memruhs, wouldn’t you agree?
What I am saying is that, at a minimum, we shouldn’t dress in a less dignified fashion for a meeting with God than we should for a meeting with our boss or our client. If we have reached a societal point, however, where neither our boss or our client no longer cares how we dress — does that mean God should “put up” should be assumed not to care as well? I don’t think so.
Of course, Chaim, I agree that I am placing tremendous weight on an amorphous concept — “dignity.” But I am interested in putting it into play, as I have tried to do here.
It depends if you’re talking about a weekday or Shabbat. Assuming I make it to minyan during the week, I would wear a jean skirt. On Shabbat/Yom Tov, I would dress up more.
I’m more RW than Steve Brizel?! ;-)
I meant to post this prior to comment #10
Ron you wrote (in #9)
“If the non-yeshivish impulse in shul, on a weekday, were expressed in tan suits and khaki pants with blazers, you’d have me. But polo shirts, t-shirts and Derek Jeter jerseys are what I am arguing about.”
IMO that’s because you’re stuck in this preconceived notion of “dignity.” I’m not advocating for Elmo Kippahs and jeans but don’t you agree that a Yeshiva Bochur with a dusty hat, open collar and one or more buttons missing on his suit jacket and the guy in the Derek Jeter tee and blue jeans would be equally undignified and out of place in a business setting? As a matter of act for dress-down –Fridays the latter might be more in place than the former. The inescapable conclusion being that it is about group identity and not about dignity. That’s enough for me.
Rav Hutner z”l (who encouraged Charedi dress and hair styles among many of his students) said “When the popular styles will dictate kapotas (knee-length frock coats) I’ll be the first one to put on a blazer”. It’s about repudiation of and distinctiveness from the dominant culture. Nothing more or less.
Ron-This was an excellent post on a subject that leads others to apologetics and sociological and psychological tracts. I suppose that my weekday “casual attire” is a work in progress-black khackis, sport shirt, a jacket and Kangol cap nay be viewed as insufficient attire for weeknight Maariv in some quarters but in certain neighborhoods that would almost be considered downright yeshivish. Sooner, rather than later, I suppose that i won’t even both getting out of my suit when I get home.
Mordechai, your arguments are besides the point. I am not discussing the topic of “authentic Jewish dress” in this post. If you do not agree, however, that yeshiva students and members of yeshiva communities are instantly identifiable by their dress in most areas where there are yeshivas, especially when hats are worn, we simply must agree to disagree. I think you’re sticking to a mode of argumentation rather than engaging the question, however.
Rachel, I think you’re more or less right. Jeans skirts for women are in my humble opinion not the same as jeans for men, and of course context does matter. I’m also not talking about archeological digs or what one wears when he is wearing nothing, however. That’s a straw man (perhaps a sand man); I can’t endorse a dark suit for painting the garage, and yet I’ve seen it. But for shul, and for communal living in general, I am arguing for more formality, yes. I wonder, do you wear a jeans skirt to shul?
I’m with Mordechai on this one.
I also think that when one dresses, one has to think of context (this is the anthropology major talking).
If I wear a jean skirt and a t-shirt (that goes to past my elbows, for arguement’s sake) to a wedding, that would not be appropriate. But so, too, if I wore a nice dress on an archaeological dig, I would be completely out of place. And it wouldn’t make me any more dignified than the people in khakis and t-shirts on the dig. If anything, I’d be less dignified, because I’d be ruining something that was meant to be beautiful, and taking away its status as a nice garment.
And I’m pretty sure no one wears their black hat in the shower. (I guess if they did they’d have to put a plastic bag over it…)
So in the context of a Modern Orthodox community, where jeans, t-shirts, and knitted kippot with a character from homestarruner are considered acceptable, well, then I think it’s perfectly dignified to wear them. The person who dons this outfit would be wearing a Modern Orthodox uniform. And that, too, is a Jewish uniform. One that differs hashkafically from your own, but still a valid one nonetheless.
To someone on the outside of the ‘frum’ world, wearing a white shirt and black pants does not automatically equal yeshiva student. Several religious groups have adopted that garb, ie: Mormons out on missionary activitiy, there is nothing ‘Jewish’ about it besides the presence of a kippa, which is the only article of clothing that everyone, Jewish or not, associates with the Jewish people.
Black pants and white startched shirts signify a certain hashkafa, much like a huge kippa seruga or embrodiered kapote topped off with a streimel do, but there’s nothing that makes those ‘get ups’ more Jewish than the other.
If you want to get technical, one could argue we should all start dressing like Maran Chacham Ovadia Yosef since his turban and embroidered frock are closer to what our ancestors wore than the black dockers and white shirts fashionable in Lakewood.
caveat on above comment. It is about nothing more or less as long as halkhic guidlines (Tzitzis, Shatnes, tznius) are satisfied by the clothing/headgear being worn. Keeping the letter of the Halakha while violating it’s spirit is a whole other discussion.
Bob, there is no principled difference in the colored of suits, under my analysis. If a person feels comfortable going more “conservative” — and more in the uniform — that’s something else.
G, you write: If I am okay standing before the Almighty wearing jeans then who are you to say that my davening and my relationship with him are on a different level then someone wearing a suit? I am Ron Coleman. Who are you to ask who am I? I just explained my reasoning. Who are you to ignore it?
Jaded, you hit the nail on the head, in your typical appealing way.
Mordechai, you ask, Uh since when were black pants and a white dress shirt ‘distinctly Jewish’? To people on the outside, such garb (sans tie) looks like that of a Mormon missionary.On the outside of what? In every major urban center, people dressed like yeshiva students are immediately identified as yeshiva students. Or didn’t you see the Blues Brothers Movie?
DK, thanks for the sarcasm.
Chaim, you raise a lot of interesting issues. I believe you are pushing it too far in the other direction. If the non-yeshivish impulse in shul, on a weekday, were expressed in tan suits and khaki pants with blazers, you’d have me. But polo shirts, t-shirts and Derek Jeter jerseys are what I am arguing about. As I said to Bob, I am not making the argument, here, for dark suits and you have not seen me mention hats. That indeed is a strict group identification phenomenon but one that is, however, consonant with a sensibility of dignified basic dress that is frozen in around 1960.
I think you might be living in some kind of romanticized past. Perhaps in Slabodka/Chevron 70-90 years ago Yeshivish dress was about “dignity”. Now, thanks to cross-pollination with Chasidim, it is absolutely and exclusively about group identity. No one would say that Chasidic garb is “professional”.
Your wondering about the lack of ties in the “Lakewood Look” is a “shailas Chochom Chatsee Tshuva”. The point is not about being dignified but about looking Jewish as defined by Yeshivish culture. Hence the shirttails trailing tztitzis, the lack of light colored suits and hats (prevalent in Yeshivas until about 25 years ago and even among Chasidim until about 45 years ago), the general lack of attention to clothing detail (loshon nekiya) and,, most of all, allowing ones body to generally go to pieces after marriage that is near universal in Yeshivas but would be considered unprofessional in a corporate setting. Yeshiva Bochurim who obsess over starched shirts and cufflinks are often derided as dandies and dilettantes not admired for trying to look professional and dignified.
BTW why this obsession with the corporate look? Who identified Judaism with the ruling class in a Capitalist system? If a Chasidic fellow works as a mechanic or drives a truck and wears blue coveralls in the process is he without dignity? If an MO Physician spends his day in green scrubs does he lack kovod habriyos? If a Chardal Farmer is wearing bib overalls or thigh high rubber boots as he fertilizes or drains the soil suffused with K’dushas Ha’Aretz does he need a Tznius infusion?
As far as clothing= personality being too easy to counterfeit maybe that’s why Chasidim put so much stock in hairstyles. You can put on a polo shirt and shorts but you can’t automatically lose your beard and payyos. See
for further /prior discussions of the points that you raised here
Uh since when were black pants and a white dress shirt ‘distinctly Jewish’? To people on the outside, such garb (sans tie) looks like that of a Mormon missionary.
This post seems to be veiled in hashkafic terms, ie: people who dress this way and wear a black kippah are being more ‘Jewish’. Perhaps however I have misinterpreted.
I’m not sure why this is even a topic of discussion amongst Ashkenazim as Sephardim don’t seem to have this obsession with classifying everyone. However as someone who wears jeans and a kippa seruga, I’m not sure how my appearence is ‘less dignified’ than someone wearing a suit coat, black pants, velvet kippa and white shirt. Whoever looks at either one of us will take one look at the tiny hat on our head and know that we’re Jewish.
I uesd to complain about the haredi demand for severe dress. I have since changed my mind, and consider this an excellent way to suggest that they are obviously demanding excessive stringency and austerity in many ways.
The feather doesn’t fall far from the hat, does it?
Nice post- I usually go straight to shul after work and since I teach in a school I’m usually in jeans, a dress shirt, tie and nice shoes.I don’t feel out of place where I daven. But ‘cross town? Black, black,and more black.I wouldn’t dream of showing up in Khaki. But thank you for the kippa comments- I draw the line at kippot with bugs, fruit, and cartoon characters. For my three year old though- Blue’s Clues is still ok by me.
You got me, I am an ignoramus. I didn’t know what SARTORIAL SPLENDER was until I just looked it up. That still doesn’t change my question though.
G – read the title carefully (all seven words) .
Ron – Awesome/brilliant elucidations on sartorial preferences and how it relates to personality pruning or growth (sort of like the rose bushes if you prune correctly at the fifth leaf you promote new growth ) and the crystal clear correlations and subtle influences to psyche and soul . So basically the dress of the title and emotions associated with the cover of the book usually transcend material cardboard and thread and weave their way through the actual story of life influencing the main character on many different levels.But sometimes rigid bland outer structure can be the ruin of a everywhere personality.Rigid messes with everywhere and the results are not of the intellectual persuasion.
Would you consider “gilding the lily” to be an issue when the call for modesty (dignity) for females starts resembling dress habits usually associated with those of the nunnery persuasion even after humility and figuretive modesty is already achieved. There is no need for excessive laminating of and enhancing of existing good traits if one already had a good sense of general dignity and humility and in possesion of said traits. Limiting options and promoting excessive modesty in clothing definitely messes with sincere self expression .OK i guess thats more of a female concern but it definitely messes with real and creative self expression and the perpetual quest for individuality but mostly the creative parts .Using creative self expression as a serotinin reuptake inhibitor is not depending on the reactions of others. Its just manually tweaking the serotinin levels ,creative self expression is a happy pill in and of itself independent of the reactions approval or dissaproval of others.It can also act like a stimulant (yay Adderall) and channel excessive energy towards something greater.So basically dress is used as a structure system to keep the personality in check but what if the dignity expected of a orthodox woman ruins certain parts of a personality instead of enhancing it.
Question: Is it better to wear jeans and a nice shirt, in a clean cut manner, or to wear a suit that the jacket and pants don’t match and are rinkled? My question is rediculous and doesn’t need to be answered. However, you title states introspection during the month of Elul and all you talk about is clothing. If I am okay standing before the Almighty wearing jeans then who are you to say that my davening and my relationship with him are on a different level then someone wearing a suit?
A question for Ron, to clarify the above post:
Let’s say that a grey or brown wool business suit and a black wool one are cut the same dignified way. Would a Jew not currently in yeshiva have a reason to prefer the black suit? Same with hats. Either way, why?