You Are What You Wear
Thu, 03/20/2014
Special To The Jewish Week
Rabbi David Wolpe
Rabbi David Wolpe

One of the greatest pleasures of Shabbat is disapproving of what other people wear. So please, permit me the pleasure.

The Talmud comments that honoring the Sabbath mandates that one’s dress not be the same as on weekdays. In the Torah, Rebecca helped Jacob impersonate his brother not only by putting hair on Jacob’s arms, but by dressing him in Esau’s clothes. Rabbi Naphtali of Rushpitz’s explanation is that Rebecca understood that dressing like Esau would allow Jacob to feel more like Esau, because what we wear affects who we are.

So if you dress in torn or dirty jeans, or very short skirts, you may find it harder (and make it harder for others) to feel the dignity due God’s presence. On the other hand, dressing in outrageously expensive finery seems at least equally irreverent. In this as in many things, the custom of the community should prevail; joining a congregation means understanding and respecting its standards so long as they do not outrage your moral sense.

And please, no gum. If you were called to appear before a president or monarch would you have a mouthful of gum? Surely then, when standing before the Sovereign of the universe…

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe.

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Of course as a rabbi, you will see it that way, and as another commenter pointed out, your privilege is showing. I would venture to guess that you do in fact wear clothes of mixed fabric. It's fine by me. I don't go around synagogue sniffing at every male who has the nerve to wear mixed fabric. If I choose to wear jeans, if I choose to wear a dress that does not have a turtleneck/long-sleeved shirt/ankle length that IS my choice. To my knowledge (and forgive me if I'm incorrect here) we go to synagogue to pray. My clothes are none of your business just as yours are none of mine.

"In this as in many things, the custom of the community should prevail; joining a congregation means understanding and respecting its standards so long as they do not outrage your moral sense." I will try to take this to heart, Rabbi.

What is your view of a Jewish married woman who refuses to cover her head when up on the bimah and carrying a Torah in an egalitarian congregation. Says it's about some pope who persecuted Jews, but I can't verify it. It bothers me a lot.

Rabbi... say you are sitting quietly in a mixed congregation, such as yours, and therefore next to a member of the opposite sex, or say you are rocking out to Friday Night Live, and either way, this person next to you, they lean in closely to say something to you... say this person could possibly be your beshert, and you had onions for lunch... Gum on Shabbat isn't so bad. Just be discreet.

In a place as holy as a shul, and on a day as holy as Shabbat, where at the very least we are instructed to wash our hands and feet before greeting the Kallah, I consider gum to be a sign of grooming and respect.

There are way to many like you. There are Jews in America who work hard just to make ends meet and do not have the ability to change their clothing just to go to Services. You have been raised in a Family of privledge and now live a life that many would say is exceccessive. What about those who can not live at that level. I see people at services on Shabbos who wear their Jewerly like a badge of success who are greated by the Rabbi with great viggor while those who have only their belife but are not wealthy are never greated even though they have been to services for over 20 years. Remember TEVIA'S rule..If you have the GOLD you make the rules! Look around your audience this Shabbos and you will see the quiet or shy person sitting in the back of your Shul take a few minutes and walk back and say Hello. Your sermons are articulate and educational but never talk about those Jews across America who are hard working, but not wealthy enough to sit in the front of the Sanctuary with the wealthy who support financially the congreation..

I started out at a Reform synagogue: way too many 'hooker' heels, tight skirts, makeup, and bar mitzvah moms decked out in cocktail wear for a morning service, not to mention the obvious designer logos on everything. I'm now at a conservative shul. I rarely notice ANYTHING that anyone wears, unless it's a lovely color. The modesty of others has improved my own religious experience.

Shabbat Dress Code

What could give us more pride than seeing our beloved children standing on the bimah at a Shabbat service? It is a time for all in the sanctuary to schep nachas and be grateful for the wonderful work of our Religious School. And yet, seeing children dressed for synagogue in an inappropriate manner can put a damper on such an event. Shabbat is a weekly Jewish holiday, one that is meant to feel different than the other 6 days of the week. One way of feeling different is dressing different. We go to the synagogue looking for a separation from the work week , a Shabbat-like experience. We're looking for something special, something different from the mundane. If I were to come in sweatpants, would I feel that special “Shabbat feeling”?

Why should it matter what is worn to synagogue--isn’t it what is on the inside that matters? Isn’t it enough that we are coming to shul? The answer is yes and no…In my mind, the key here is respect. Those of you who travel internationally know that different cultures have different norms and expectations regarding dress with which we, as visitors, are more than willing to comply. I still remember my wife Miriam, modestly dressed in a skirt and shirt with sleeves, running around Bangkok to find shoes with a back because she couldn’t enter a Buddhist site with backless shoes exposing her heels. Schools and businesses have dress codes because outward appearances matter. Athletes wear uniforms on the field, but what they wear off the court also represents their team. In 2005 NBA Commissioner David Stern mandated a dress code requiring all player to ”dress in business or conservative attire while arriving and departing during a scheduled game, on the bench while injured, and when conducting

official NBA business (press interviews, charity events, etc.)” The fact is, whether we like it or not, how we dress matters.

In the course of their Jewish education at our synagogues, children learn that the synagogue is a special and important place, that standing on the bima is a privilege, and that prayer is the way we speak to God using the siddur and the prayers of our hearts. So how does one dress for an occasion at which God is present for us and for the community? First, a child should wear something "different" than he/she would wear on the playground or to school. Let your children select clothing that they feel is "special". With time they will refer to these as their “Shabbat clothes”. Modesty is another factor to consider—clothing that is too revealing just is not appropriate for a house of worship; bare midriffs and spaghetti straps are more suited for the beach than shul. I've had kids ask me what they should wear to services; I tell them to dress as if they were going to a wedding since, traditionally, they are. In late antiquity, according to the Talmud, the rabbis used to dress in white garments, as a bridegroom did, and walk out among the hills calling, "Come my Beloved, let us greet the Shabbat bride!" This is the basis for the liturgical poem Lecha Dodi ("come my beloved") sung as part of our Friday night services, a composition that emerged out of the kabbalistic or Jewish mystical tradition. For those of you who have attended or sent your children to Jewish summer camps, white is often required attire for Shabbat services. It is a beautiful sight to see campers all in white, welcoming Shabbat together. You may consider adopting this custom, or adapting it to only a white shirt. The rule of thumb at our house is that a white button-down shirt and pants is always a shul-appropriate choice for our sons, a reasonable length-dress or skirt and top with sleeves is fine for our daughter.

We are all familiar with the saying, “clothes make the man”. When students comply with our dress code, they demonstrate respect for their teachers, the clergy, the congregation, and ultimately, for themselves. Let’s try to keep this in mind when we, as well as our children, come to Shabbat services.

"And please no gum." I would add: in your mouth OR under your seat! An early Shabbat Shalom Rabbi.

My mom was in Germany during the Holocaust and so everything was secretive yes her Jewish family. She was never interned however had great grief over what happened. This pertains to dressing. My dad is American (Jewish /adopted). Both parents were raised catholic. We were taught no sleeveless tops, cover your head, no jewelry be plain lite on make up. I do not go to a church however I see people going to church looking like they had a hard working day in the yard. I have seen so e women look like they are headed to a bar. Really none of my business but chiming in to what you are experiencing as well.

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