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Tzniut: Modesty in Behaviour and Dress

 

Tzniut’:Modesty in Behaviour and Dress

 

 

 

 

Dress code for Men and Women
in Religious Judaism

 

Dressing in the clothing of the opposite sex

 

‘A woman shall not wear that which pertains to a man.....neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment’ (Deuteronomy 22:5)

 

1. The Torah teaches us that the distinction between the sexes was part of the Divine plan of creation, when the bodies of man and women were given certain visibly distinguishable characteristics. Any attempt to conceal these differences amounts to a virtual defiance or denial of G-ds’s purpose.

 

2. A man is forbidden to dress in a woman’s garb (transgender). He is restrained from shaving his face when it is done for the purpose of appearing feminine, or to bedeck himself with jewellery worn by women.

 

3. A woman, too, should not dress herself in men’s clothing or in military armour, or employ any other means of appearing masculine.

 

4. The Rabbis included in this injunction the prohibition of a man pulling out grey hairs from his head in order to appear more youthful. Even if a man dyes his hair so as to retain his youthful appearance, he is violating this law

 


Left: Israeli women serving in the army, which is prohibited from the Torah. See our essay about the ‘Chazon Ish’ paragraph ‘Military service for women’: http://www.bestjewishstudies.com/Chazon-Ish-English

Right: Women wearing trousers. This is also against the laws of Torah, since trousers are typical men’s garment, as skirts are typical women’s garment.

 

 

Commentators

 

Nachmanides (1194-1270), Rashbam (1085-1158): A woman who dresses in armour like a man going into battle will be led into a life of lewdness. A man who dresses like a woman employs this ruse in order to be able to mix freely with women in order to seduce them. This same principle also applies to a woman who dresses in a man’s clothing.

Rabbi Don Isaac Abrabanel (1437-1508): The wearing of a woman’s clothes by a man or a man’s clothes by a woman will lead to homosexuality.

 

Left: A Scottish kilt may not be worn by a man, since a skirt is a typical women’s garment.
Right: A toupee to covers one’s baldness may also not be worn by a man, since a wig is considered to be a typical women’s accessoire.

 

Rabbi Aharon Halevi, author of the famous work ‘Chinuch’ (1235-1290): Anything that symbolizes lewdness, such as a man dressing as a woman and a woman dressing as a man, falls under the general category of sexual immorality and is forbidden.

Radbaz (1479-1573): In the sociological relationship between husband and wife, it was intended both by nature and temperament that the wife should be somewhat subservient to the husband. If this is so, it is understandable why a man should not dress like a woman, because this would indicate degradation.

 

But why should a woman dressing as a man be condemned? Is she not attempting to upgrade herself? He answers that when two souls are lowered upon earth, one of a woman and the other of a man, G-d intended them to remain distinctive in their physical make-up and external appearance. Any change in this pattern would be counteracting G-d’s design and is therefore forbidden, irrespective of whether it is upgrading or downgrading.

 


Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter (1939), the present Rebbe of the Chassiidic dynasty Gur, with 10.000 foolowers worldwide.
Left: a painting of him wearing Shabbat clothes. Right: a photo of him wearing a day-tp-day garment.

 

 

 

What does G-d require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk modestly with your G-d? (Micha 6:8)

 

The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace (Psalms 45:13)

 

In the merit of four things had been the Israelites redeemed from Egypt: they didn’t change their Hebrew names, they spoke Hebrew among themselves, they dressed modestly and they behaved sexually moral according to the laws of moral and ethics’ (Midrash Rabba; Bereshit 13)

 

French Jewish badges and Jewish clothing in the Middle Ages

 

Modesty (‘Tzniut’) is an attitude to life that influences the way we speak, walk, think and dress. It dictates us that we not put every quality on display; not show off our wealth, beauty or success; and recognize that the inner, spiritual world is more important than the external world. These ideas are most overtly expressed in the way we dress (dress code).

Clothing is worn by people all over the world; it distinguishes humans from animals. It testifies to the inner dignity and honour of the human being, who possesses a Divine soul. That is why one Talmudic Sage used to refer to one’s clothing as that which gives honour.


Clothing are used to identify the wearer with a particular group or ideology; they may express one’s status in society and they often serve to enhance the wearer’s beauty. When choosing clothing, a person may decide to emphasize the physical his/her self and conceal his or her spiritual essence or to reveal more of the spiritual self by de-emphasizing the physical. The way a person dresses can either send the message, ‘Look at my body this is me!’ or it can declare, ‘Listen to what I say, I have spiritual presence.’

 

President Shimon Peres (fifth from the right, last row) visiting a Yemenite family, united with their children and grandchildren. Notice that all the persons in the picture do not conceal their faces.

 

Our clothing affects not only the way others perceive us, but also the way we perceive ourselves. Do we identify primarily as a body or as a soul with intellect and emotions?

This is not to suggest that one should dress in an unattractive manner. On the contrary, the Torah instructs always to present a pleasant, neat and dignified appearance. In our interactions with other people, our clothing should serve to focus attention on the face and the personality, not the body.

 

Rabbi Leibish Leiser, Rebbe of Pshevorsk, residing in the heart of the Jewish neighbourhood of Antwerp, Belgium, with thousands of followers all over the world.

Left: dressed in Shabbat garment with a ‘shtreimel’. Right: Rebbe Leibish Leiser (in the middle) dressed in day-to-day Chassidic outfit.


A person’s face is the one part of the body that reveals his or her inner spiritual essence. The Hebrew word for face, ‘PaNiM’, has the same three-letter root as ‘PNiM’, meaning ‘inside’ – because the face is a window into one’s inner being. I heard once from my revered teacher, Rav J.B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993), that ‘PaNiM’ in Hebrew is always in plural, because a person has many faces, one may change his facial expression many times a day (happy, sad, contemplating, depressed, joyful etc.). It was since ever by all fractions in Judaism to reveal the face and not covering it like some other religions, particularly Islam, which prescribed women to cover completely their face (‘burqa’). Next the issue of concealing the most important Divine psychical part of the human being, it also constitutes a serious problem of security.

 

For this reason, the Jewish tradition of modesty never required, or even encouraged, covering the face. The Jewish laws of modesty do, however, require that neither men nor women dress in a provocative fashion, or in clothes designed to highlight the sexuality of the body. Because of its inherent sexuality, one’s torso should be covered; for the same reason, women are also required to cover thighs and upper arms (at least till the elbow or three-quarters of the arm). Jewish law also obligates us to conform to local Jewish custom when it goes beyond these minimum objective requirements. The reverse, however, is not true. Even if local custom is to expose parts of the body prohibited by Jewish law, one may not follow local fashions.

See also our remarks at the beginning of this essay about the Torah prohibition ‘dressing in the clothing of the opposite sexes.

 


Left: Ashkenazi women dressed modestly according to the Jewish dress code.
Right: Hassidic Jews strolling on Shabbat in Brooklyn, New York, dressed in their Hassidic garment and wearing a Tallit.

 

 

For several reasons, special emphasis is placed and more stringent standards apply to women in the area of modesty. Anything powerful must be used responsibly and for the right purposes. The power and impact of women’s beauty is mentioned numerous times in the Torah, Prophets and Writings. It is something that should be treasured and used appropriately, in a loving relationship between a husband and wife. The root of the word for modesty (‘Tzniut’) also means to ‘hide’ or ‘treasure’, by dressing modestly, a woman demonstrates that she treasures one of her great powers, her beauty. Observing the laws of modesty also helps to prevent a woman from being turned into the object of someone else’s sensual gratification. It encourages interactions in which people are judged not by their bodies, but by their inner essence.

We are not ashamed of our bodies, nor do we look at them as impure, on the contrary; we care for our bodies and value their beauty. We believe, however, that the appropriate time and place for using that beauty and sensuality is not in the public arena, but in the privacy of a holy and loving relationship between a man and woman, a relationship that is spiritual and emotional, as well as physical. As the Jewish commentator Nachmanides (1194-1270) writes, ‘When husband and wife are intimate....there is nothing so holy and pure.....G-d did not create anything that is ugly or shameful. If the reproductive organs are said to be shameful, how can it be said that the Creator fashioned something blemished?’

 


A typical Hassidic Jewish family.
Notice that the family has more than one or two children. This goes with the Jewish religious way of thinking that every child is a blessing. We don’t count how many children we have, we regard them as a blessing of G-d.

 

This is in contrast to various other religions who look down upon the obligation of man and woman to be reproductive and to care for continuity, but at the same time to enjoy physical intimacy. Judaism never regarded physical relationship between man and woman as sinful, shameful or even as a taboo. On the contrary, men and women are required to get married, to build a harmonious family with children; this also applies to Rabbis. Celibacy in Judaism doesn’t exist at all; a Rabbi or a religious Jewish teacher may have a very hard time in finding a job if he is unmarried. A Rabbi should be an example that having a family is not going to reduce his dedication to G-d and his community. It is also a down-to-earth attitude of Judaism about relationships between the two genders.

 

 

 

It is one of the great tragedies of our times that many women dress in ways that are calculated to please the casual male spectator. By dressing this way, they cultivate an image of themselves that is based entirely on their external appearances and their value as an object of pleasure to a man, when in reality, the truest beauty of a woman is internal. A verse in Psalms informs us, ‘The entire glory of the daughter of the King is within...’ (Psalms 45:13).

This is one reason that the Torah actually prohibits men to stare at women for their pleasure. When a man disregards the fact that a woman is much more than a beautiful body or pretty face, and focuses on her for his own pleasure, he objectifies and degraded her.

 

Often, the way a person dresses indicates whether or not they treasure that internal, essential self. A Jewish woman dresses to look attractive, but she does not dress to attract; she may wear elegant and beautiful clothing, but the message of her clothing should be that there is more to her than meets the eye, that her beauty is not merely skin deep.

 


Left: A group of Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair with a wig (‘sheitl’).

Right: A group of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women covering their hair with a scarf.

 

Woman’s Hair Covering

 

See also my essay in my work ‘Halacha Aktuell’ vol. II page 593-598, ISBN: 3-89228-672-8,

‘Warum soll die verheiratete Frau eine Kopfbedeckung tragen?

 

A Biblical commandment obligates married women to cover their hair. Although the Torah offers no explanation of this commandment, from the context it appears to be connected to a woman’s relationship with her husband and her mastery of her sensuality.

Covering her hair is an assertion of the woman’s bond of intimacy with her husband; it is, in a sense, a ‘crown of modesty’. When a married woman covers her hair it is an act of dedication to the ideals of modesty.

The Talmud relates this obligation to the general laws of modesty. As mentioned earlier, the Hebrew term for modesty also means to treasure something. Perhaps the idea is that since the hair is an object of feminine beauty, by covering it when she gets married, the woman is treasuring her new and exclusive relationship with her husband. She demonstrates that there is only one person with whom she wants to share all of her beauty – only one person with whom she wants intimacy – her husband.

 

 

 

A woman may cover her hair with a hat, scarf (Yiddish: ‘tichel’), kerchief or wig (Yiddish: ‘sheitel’). To a large extent, the particular way in which a woman covers her hair is a matter of personal preference, although customs do vary among different communities. In many Sephardic communities, wigs are considered to be unacceptable and women only wear scarves or hats. Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef (1920-2013) forbids wearing a wig and for sure a wig with natural hair, because it does not serves its purpose of modesty. One could also argue that some women with a wig made of natural hair look more much more attractive and seductive than with their own natural hair.

In some Chassidic communities, a small hat or scarf is worn together with a wig, to make it obvious that the woman is wearing a head covering. Many women choose scarves or kerchiefs for casual wear and a hat or ‘sheitel’ on more formal occasion. Ashkenazi religious Orthodox women usually wear a wig and nowadays it became even fashionable to wear a wig of natural hair, which is quite expensive (1800-2000 Euros). The argument of the Ashkenazi community is as follows: the Mishna in tractate Shabbat permits a woman to wear a wig on Shabbat since this is considered to be her garment. Indirectly is this a proof that already in the times of the Mishna, married women used to wear wigs. The purpose of covering the head is not to make the women ugly, but that her natural hair should be covered in public and only to be exposed to her husband and children. Wearing a wig and even with a wig with natural hair makes justice to his demand. So Chassidic women that usually wear wigs of natural hair look beautiful and many time more beautiful as before their marriage.

Differences of opinion and custom also exist regarding how much hair to cover and how much may be left uncovered, whether to cover hair in one’s house or only outside the house, and at what point in the marriage ceremony to begin covering the hair. Generally, these issues are decided between a husband and wife, in consultation with their Rabbi, taking local custom into account.

 

Men’s Head Covering – ‘Yarmulka’

 

See also my essay in my work ‘Halacha Aktuell’ vol. II page 589-593, ISBN: 3-89228-672-8 ‚Kopfbedeckung bei Männern: Gesetz oder Brauch?

 

Left is  a ‘shtreimel’ which is worn by most Chassidim, made out of thirteen fox tails and in the middle there is a ‘kippah’.

Right: another version of a ‘shtreimel’ worn mostly by Chassidim of Poland, belonging to the Gur and Alexander dynasties

 

Left: ‘Chafetz Chaim’ conversing with his oldest son, Rav Aryeh Leib, in front of his house.

Right: One of the many photos of the ‘Chafetz Chaim’ in his old age. Notice his simple hat of a farmer in contrast to some Chassidic Rebbes who go with a ‘shtreimel’ (made of fox tails) of very expensive material, which averagely costs nowadays around 3000 Euros.

 

 

The history of the ‘shtreimel’ is that it was in the sixteenth century a hat of Polish or Russian aristocracy. Jews were forced to wear it in order to ridicule them, because it was a hat of the fur of a non-kosher animal. During the generations the Chassidim sanctified it and made it a part of their uniform for Shabbat, Festival and special occasions (like marriage), in contrast to other non-Chassidic Jews or all together non-Jews.

 

 

The head covering worn by Jewish men is known as a ‘kippah’ (literally, dome) or ‘yarmulka’. The word ‘yarmulka’ is made up of two Aramaic words, ‘yarei’ and ‘malka’, which mean ‘fear of the King’. It also can have the Polish meaning of skull covering. This name with the first explanation expresses one purpose of the head covering, which is to remind us that we are always in G-d’s presence. It is worn constantly to encourage a feeling of awe that this awareness should bring. As early as Talmudic times, the Sages advises a mother to cover her son’s head so that he would know that the power of G-d is above him all the times. Today, it is customary to educate boys to wear ‘yarmulka’ even when they are very young, most commonly from age three. See our essay about ‘Chinuch’=Jewish religious education, chapter 21: http://www.bestjewishstudies.com/sites/all/P1/RevisedChinuch.pdf

 

The Sages also associated covering the head with the characteristic of humility, related perhaps to the fact that in ancient times, slaves would wear head covering. The practice of men covering their heads became so widespread that by the 17th century it was recorded in the ‘Code of Jewish Law’. But even much earlier, in the early Middle Ages, there is no question that people like our great Sages, like Rashi (1040-1105) and Maimonides (1135-1204), and the common people, worn head covering. Later in history, it became customary for Gentiles to uncover their heads when praying or entering a church. Since the Torah prohibits imitating the customs of other religions, Jews are obligated specifically to cover their heads during prayer. This opinion considers covering head as a matter of law, namely, not to imitate the gentiles, but most Rabbis and Halachic authorities consider head covering for men as a custom and here we can say surely that a custom has sometimes more weight than Halacha. In my essay about head covering I discuss this issue in length.

 

 

No particular requirements regulate the colour, material or size of the head covering. Multicoloured crocheted ‘kippot’, black felt ‘yarmulkas’, baseball caps and black fedoras are all acceptable. It is interesting to note, however, that today the different types of head covering usually identify a wearer’s affiliation within Judaism. Some people always wear a hat anytime they go outside, as well as for prayer. Others have specific head coverings that are used for special occasions. Members of many Chassidic groups, for example, wear ‘shtreimlach’ or ‘spodeks’, fur hats similar to those that were once worn by the nobility in Eastern Europe. They wear these on Shabbat, and festivals, to show that at these times, every Jew becomes like royalty. As a matter of fact, one can tell exactly by the size, colour or shape of the ‘kippah’ to which dynasty a Chassid belongs or to which mainstream in religious Judaism, like Modern-Orthodox or Moderate Orthodox is associated.

 

Kippot of Chassidic messianic movements.
Left: Kippa of the Breslover Chassidim, with the heading ‘ Nachman’, referring to the old Rebbe, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810).

Right: A typical messianic Lubavitcher Kippa with the heading: ‘May our master and teacher, the king Messiah, live forever’, referring to the last Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (1902-1994).

 

The standard ‘kippah’ of religious Zionists is white and blue coloured and intricately crocheted, while a typical American ‘yeshivah’ student might wear a black velvet or leather black ‘yarmulka’. Certainly, the style of ‘yarmulka’ that someone wears should never determine how we evaluate that person, it is merely one way in which individuals identify themselves with a particular group or ideology to which they feel an affinity.

Since wearing of a head covering at all times is a custom (albeit very widespread) and not a Halachic requirement, Jewish law allows one to remove the head covering in situations where wearing it would jeopardize one’s livelihood. The exception may be made, for example, for lawyers appearing in court, or people doing business in a place where observant Jews are a rarity.

As I was told in pre-Shoah Ashkenaz (Germany), it was a custom not to wear a ‘kippah’ in business by very religious men, only if they prayed or ate they used to go to a side room, put on a ‘kippah and made the ‘beracha’ or prayed. Similar we can say this about religious doctors, physicians and lawyers, who follow the same practice.
Nowadays in anti-Semitic areas, dominated by neo-Nazis or by Arab Jew-haters, one may not risk his life by going overtly with a ‘kippah’. It is recommended to wear in such a case a baseball-cap or other simple head coverings, which do not attract attention. Most Ashkenazi religious men, however, will wear a head covering at all times (except, of course when bathing, swimming and sleeping). When studying Torah, praying, saying a blessing, or eating wearing a head covering is obligatory.

 

 

Rashi (1040-1105)         Maimonides (1135-1204)

 

Plato (428-348 B.C.)                                                  Aristoteles (384-322 B.C.)

 

A further insight into the significance of covering one’s head or hair emerges when one examines the contrast between statues of the Greek philosophers who were almost always portrayed bareheaded, and the attitude of the Talmudic or Rabbinical Sages, who were ‘repelled by an uncovered head’. The distinction reflects two profoundly divergent philosophies. The Greeks believed that their minds were the ultimate judges of reality and morality, that there is no cap or limitation on the human brain. The Jewish view accepts that our perception is limited, that human beings are not the ultimate arbiters of moral standards – that these must come from an absolute source – G-d. We cover our heads to demonstrate our understanding that the human mind is limited, that the Authority of the Almighty exists above and beyond us.

 

Male garb shall not be on a woman, and a man shall not wear a feminine garment, for anyone who does so is an abomination of G-d. (Deuteronomy 22:5)

 

The Torah celebrates the individuality of the sexes and does not want us to blur the distinction between men and women. Just as men and women are physically distinct, they are spiritually unique as well. Each has his or her own vital role in the world; each has a path to G-d and an individual perspective on life. In part to preserve these differences, the Torah prohibits men to dye their hair, wear women’s clothing, shave their body hair, or engage in other specifically feminine practices. Women are likewise prohibited to wear men’s clothing (specifically trousers) or uniquely masculine ornaments (military uniform and weapons).

The way a person acts, and even the clothing one wears, has a tremendous impact on one’s personality. The Kabbalists explain that the clothing we wear affects our thoughts and souls, and can even distort the spiritual integrity of the wearer. The prohibition against wearing clothing of the opposite sex if therefore a critical element in maintaining the uniqueness of masculine and feminine roles in life. These restrictions are also designed to curtail homosexuality and other immoral practices that are encouraged by cross-dressing.

 

Haircut code for Men

 

You shall not round of the edge of your scalp and you shall not destroy the edges of your beard.’ (Leviticus 19:27)

 

Typical SS-hairstyle                              Right: Typical skinhead hairstyle
 

 

 

Some commentaries explain that the prohibition against a man eradicating his beard and sideburns (‘payot’ or ‘payos’) is related to the idea of maintaining and emphasizing the distinction between men and women. Other authorities suggest that it is intended to avoid any similarity to pagan practice. Since the pagans would shave their heads completely, or shave around their heads and remove the sideburns, Jews specifically allow hair to grow in these areas.

Jewish law only prohibits shaving the beard and sideburns with a razor blade. Using scissors or a scissors like device (e.g., certain electric shavers), is permitted. It is not unusual, therefore, to see observant Jewish men and even Modern-Orthodox Rabbis who are clean-shaven or have a trimmed beard. Even with scissors, the sideburns should not be trimmed above the point where the skull joins the jawbone. Some groups, such as Chassidim, do not trim their heads, sideburns or side locks at all. Many Chassidim grow their ‘payos’ exceptionally long, and curl them, in order to enhance and beautify this Biblical commandment. See also my essay in my work ‘Halacha Aktuell’ vol. II page 658-661, ISBN: 3-89228-672-8 ‚Rasierapparat oder Rasiermesser?

 

 

 

  

 

Tattoo Taboo

 

….You shall not place a tattoo upon yourselves – I am G-d.

(Leviticus 19:28)

 

The Torah prohibits us from placing any permanent tattoo on our bodies, whether it consists of words or pictures, regardless of what message it written or conveyed. A tattoo is defined in Jewish law as any word, letter or picture that is marked on the skin by means of dye or ink, which is introduced under the surface of the skin, either through piercing with a needle, scratching or cutting.

 

Piercings of any kind are absolutely forbidden from the Torah, they are a symbol of slavery. Hebrew slaves in the antiquity who refused to go into freedom after six years of slavery were pierced in their ear (Exodus 21:6). Also is known that in African colonies many times they used to pierce their slaves as a sign of slavery and being subjected to their slave masters.

 

The human body is holy and is perfectly designed by the Creator to fulfil its task in this world. The only permanent sign that may be made on a Jewish male person is the sign of circumcision, the Covenant between G-d and Abraham and his descendants. Any other permanent mark or mutilation is a desecration of the human body. Some commentaries suggest that the prohibition against tattoos is also intended to prevent us from imitating idolaters and their practices.

 

As a child of Holocaust survivors I am extremely sensitive to the issue of tattoos. The inmates in the forced-labour camps of the Nazis the so called concentration camps, like Auschwitz and other camps of the nazi-inferno were marked on their hand with a tattoo of numbers. They were not called or referred to by their names, but only by their tattoo numbers, forcibly marked on their arms. This is part of the nazi policy of the humanisation and breaking the self-esteem of the Jews. Similar to a farmer who is branding his horses or other animals with fire, so did the Nazis mistreated and humiliated the Jews.

 

A tattoo is also from a halachic point of view very controversial. It poses the question of ‘chatzitza’ (something which does not naturally belong to the body), if a woman after her menstruation or a man or woman at their Giyur-process, go into the Mikvah. Can it be considered a part of one’s body or does a person have to undergo a painful and an expensive treatment to remove the tattoo. The opinion on this matter are divided, in any case it does not reflect Jewish pride.

 

It is important at this point to dispel a widespread misconception. If, for whatever reason, a Jewish person does have a tattoo, nevertheless, he or she unequivocally can and must be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

 

 

 

 

Kosher Clothing

 

You shall observe My decrees – you shall not mate your animal with another species, you shall not plant your field with mixed seed, and a garment that is a mixture of combined fibers shall not come upon you. ....You shall not wear combined fibers, wool and linen together.

(Deuteronomy 22:11)

 

 

This law, which prohibits wearing a garment made of wool and linen, is described in the Torah as a ‘chok’ (plural, ‘chukim’), a decree or statute (not necessarily explained by rational or logical reasoning). This is the same word that is used to refer to a ‘law of nature’. Just as there are physical realities in the world which operate whether or not we can understand or even observe them, so too, there are spiritual laws of the universe which do not depend on human understanding for their validity.

The prohibition of wearing a garment made of wool and linen, ‘shaatnez’, is one such law. The effects are not discernible and the rationale is not apparent, it is a ‘chok’. The laws of ‘shaatnez’ like all ‘chukim’, teach us humility and obedience to the Torah. We accept them, even when our intellect does not understand their purpose.

 

 

My late father ‘Avi Mori’ (my principal teacher) Rabbi Shmuel Yosef Daum (1924-2003), used to tell me about the legendary ‘Chafetz Chaim’ (1838-1933) who used to travel by train in the 3rd class in order to avoid a possibility of ‘shaatnetz’ if the seats were upholstered with a mixture of ‘shaatnetz’, a mixture of woven linen and wool. This real story impressed me very much about the holiness of this great halachic luminary who lived only 80 years ago.

 

My father ‘Avi Mori’ (my principal teacher), Rabbi Shmuel Yosef Daum (1924-2003), s.z.l.

 

Even though the laws of not mixing species are statues, commentators have offered several possible rationales. Some explain that G-d created an orderly systematic world which is nevertheless filled with infinite variety. In order to maintain both the harmony and the unique character of all parts of creation, we are forbidden to combine species that do not naturally mix.

Others suggest that this prohibition is also intended to prevent us from imitating pagans, whose priests used to wear garments made of wool and linen woven together. Some understand it as an allusion to the tragedy of the first murder, when Cain (the farmer) killed his brother Abel (the shepherd). Kabbalistic sources indicate that Cain brought flax as an offering to G-d, while Abel brought wool. The Torah does not want us to wear a reminder of that sin by mixing and waiving the two offerings, wool and linen. Others explain that linen is a symbol of those functions that we have in common with all plant life, sustenance and reproduction, while wool symbolizes those functions that we have in common with the animal word, will and instinct The prohibition of ‘shaatnez’ is a way of stating that one should not degrade his will and instinct (wool) by allowing them to become completely intertwined with merely fulfilling the needs of sustenance and reproduction (linen).
It is noteworthy that every large community with a complete infrastructure (e.g. Antwerp) allowing to live and lead a Torah-faithful life, there is a ‘shaatnez’ laboratory which will gladly check out the garment in question for low fee. Of course, if one buys his garments in a Jewish textile shop owned by religious people, one can rely that he will not be sold garments containing ‘shaatnez’.

 


Left: Yemenite Jews wearing their traditional garment
Right: My teacher and Rabbi, prof dr. J.B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993)

 

 

Funny, You Do Look Jewish

 

What does a Jew look like? There are black Ethiopians Jews, Caucasian European Jews, Moroccan, Yemenite, Argentinean and Indian Jews. Ethnic groups within Judaism eat differently, speak differently and look different from one another, yet they are one people by virtue of their Judaism.

How Jews look (or should look) is a function of their Judaism as well. Modest dress, head coverings and distinctly male and female styles of dress are some of the distinguishing features of the Jewish look, not matter what culture surrounds us. In many Jewish communities it is customary to dress in a way that is consciously different from the surrounding non-Jews. Through our behaviour, appearance and demeanour we identify as Jews and proclaim our pride in being Jewish.

 

It is an Orthodox religious custom that married men do not wear a ring. It is considered to be a non-Jewish custom, mentioned with king Achashverosh who handed over his ring to Haman (Esther 3:10). Besides that, it poses a Halachic problem with putting on Tefillin or washing the hands for ‘Netillat Yadayim’, as it is considered to be a ‘chatzitza’ (something that is not part of our body and has to be removed before these Mitzvot can be carried out).

 

When the prophet Jonah was asked about his occupation, where he came from and to which nation he belonged, he offered a single response, ‘I am a Hebrew and I fear G-d’.
In contrast to our greatest leader and prophet, Moshe Rabbenu, when he helped the daughters of Yithro, to draw water from the well, was dressed like an Egyptian. And therefore according to our Rabbis in the Midrash, he did not merit to be buried in the holy land ‘Eretz Israel’.
Yosef being provoked by the wife of Potiphar is referred to as ‘Ivri’ (Hebrew) and therefore merited to be buried in the holy land ‘Eretz Israel’ in Sichem.

Our ancestor Abraham was the world’s first revolutionary. He questioned, debated and challenged idolatrous beliefs and stood alone against the whole world. This is one reason that he was called ‘Avraham Ha’Ivri’, Abraham the Hebrew. The word ‘Ivri’ (Hebrew) is related to the word ‘ever’, meaning ‘the other side’, because the whole world stood on ‘one side’ and Abraham stood on the ‘other side’. This fact has been true of his descendants for much of history as well. Our independence is reflected in our appearance: The dictates of fashion and current trends do not govern our behaviour – we remain securely on the other side, proud of our distinct origins and traditions.

 

Colophon

 

17th of Tammuz 5774/ 15th of July 2014
70th ‘yahrzeit’ (death anniversary) of my mother’s family who were deported and murdered in Auschwitz by the Nazis on this fatal day.

 

Prof. Rabbi Ahron Daum, B.A., M.S., Emeritus Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt am Main.

 

Summarizing the essay about Tzniut from the books ‘The Mitzvot’ and ‘Gateway to Judaism’:

Mattityahu Akiva Strijker, Antwerp

 

English corrections:

Margreet Westbroek, The Netherlands

 

Website designer:

Yitzchak Berger, Antwerp

Son-in-law of Rabbi Ahron Daum

 

It was very difficult to find adequate material and books about this subject in English. We are lucky to have found two excellent books which are listed below and greatly and effectively helped us to form this essay.

 

We thank the following authors for using their works for spreading Torah. Their works helped us essentially in realizing this essay. We express our gratitude also in name of the many readers of our website:

 

The Mitzvot/ The Minhagim by Abraham Chill

ISBN: 0 7065 1463 7
ISBN:  0-87203-076-8

 

Gateway to Judaism by Rabbi Mordechai Becher

ISBN: 1-4226-0030-0

 

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