Fashion History Jewish Shabbat Torah

What to Wear

A couple weeks ago, my wife and I attended a Purim party. I had no idea what to wear. In past years I was able to figure out what to wear based on the theme. Black tie? Got it covered. Western attire? No problem (jeans, flannel and cowboy hat). 70’s Disco attire? That’s easy (and fun!).

This year, however, the invitation said “Gem Tones.” Say what? I was clueless and my wife wasn’t much help on this one. I started calling other guys to find out what they were going to wear. One friend was more clueless than the next. Were jeans too casual? Did I need a sport coat? Did my outfit have to be certain colors. I don’t think I’ve ever looked in my closet and thought, “Gee, some of my clothes bear a striking resemblance to the tones of gems!” I would have been less stressed had the invitation instructed us to dress like a favorite Disney character (well, there’s always next year!).

It’s usually easy for men to decide what to wear to parties. Weddings are either a black tuxedo or a dark suit. “Casual” can be jeans or slacks and a button-down shirt. I’m really not complaining because I know it’s much more challenging for women.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, the details about the clothing of the priests continues. Even God’s instructions concerning the sacrificial burnt offering have a great deal to do with the special vestments of the high priest, Aaron, and the other priests. “The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body.” After the priest has taken up the ashes of the burnt offering he has to do a costume change. Even the priests’ clothes get anointed with oil and some of the blood from the sacrifice.

The late biblical scholar Nahum Sarna writes about the details of the priestly clothing: “Just as sacred space must be differentiated from profane space, so the occupants of the sacred office must be distinguishable from the laity. Hence, special attire, the insignia of office, is ordained for Aaron, the archetypal High Priest, and for his sons, the priests of lower rank.”

The reason for such minutiae when it comes the clothing of these holy men is l’chavod ultifaret (for dignity, honor, and splendor). The medieval commentator Sforno explains the use of these two Hebrew words. The vestments, he writes, “were for the dignity of God and to lend splendor to the office of the priest so that he would be revered by the people.”  I think that the vestments were as much for the dignity of the priests, of the wearer that is, as they were for God’s dignity.

This teaches us that what we wear says a great deal about us. All of these details about the priestly clothing reminds me of the famous dress code that was in effect for many years at IBM. Men had to dress in a dark colored suit, could only wear a white dress shirt, and could select a necktie of any conventional color; so long as it was solid – no patterns. For women, it was mostly the same – A dark, solid colored skirt and a white blouse. IBM believed that the way its workforce dressed portrayed the specific image that they wanted associated with their company. Apparently, they held the belief that it’s “the clothing that makes the man.”

And this belief was just as true in the 1990s, as companies like IBM shifted from strict, conservative dress codes to less-formal attire. Casual dress in the workplace became the new trend and “Dress down Fridays” became a popular section in most clothing stores. Companies like IBM believe that the way one dresses helps contribute to the way one works, behaves, and acts toward others. It also contributes to the way others view the wearer. When we get dressed in the morning, don’t we think about what type of image we want to portray for that day? Don’t we pick out our clothes for the day based on more than just the weather?

What we wear is representative of who we are, and indeed, where we come from. It speaks volumes about what we stand for and our own level of self-dignity. Styles do change. And society’s attitudes toward standards of proper attire do too. I might never fully comprehend how to dress in a “gem tones” attire, but I understand that our clothing is important.

Let us dress for success. Let us dress for style. And most important, let us dress l’chavod ultif’aret – for dignity, honor, and splendor.

Shabbat Shalom!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
American Jews Fashion Holidays Jewish

Rosh Hashanah Really is a Fashion Show

At many synagogues and temples on the High Holidays, people cynically remark that it has the feel of a fashion show. Jewish people, many of whom only attend synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur each year, get all decked out in their most stylish clothes.

Well, this year, there really will be fashion shows on Rosh Hashanah. Apparently, New York Fashion Week couldn’t find any other dates to hold its popular event. According to the NY Times, if they moved Fashion Week earlier in the calendar it would collide with Labor Day and any later would conflict with the European fashion shows. The NY Times explains:

One store has come up with its own solution to Friday’s Fashion Night Out dilemma. Last year Rosebud, a SoHo boutique that features Israeli designers, opened for New York’s biggest shopping party, but declined this year because of the Jewish holiday. “We took a stand,” Fern Penn, the owner, said. Instead she is celebrating Night Out on Sunday and Monday. “This is how I’m dealing with it,” she explained. Or as Tim Gunn of “Project Runway” might put it, she added, “You make it work.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Fashion Jewish Politics

Kippah Krazy

Lisa Flam, an Associated Press Writer, has brought fashionable kippah wearing to the fore with her recent article “Yarmulkes for the Fashionable Faithful”.

In an article that could appear in a fashion magazine as much as it could in a religious publication, Flam explains that more stylish and offbeat options abound in addition to your grandfather’s black satin yarmulke.

The yarmulke as it’s known in Yiddish, or kippa in Hebrew, is a headcovering “worn as a sign of respect to remind one always that God’s presence is over us and as a sign of respect whenever we say a blessing,” says Rabbi Joel Meyers, a leader of the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents rabbis in the Conservative Jewish movement.

While the skullcap is among the most recognizable Jewish symbols, it is not sacred, which makes it acceptable to adorn it with sports logos or TV characters, says Meyers, who usually wears a knitted yarmulke.

“The important thing is the wearing of the kippa, not what’s on the kippa,” Meyers said, recalling one given to him with a propeller he thinks signifies “spiritual uplift.”

Proving that there has been a move to more stylish Jewish headcoverings, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain last week sported a knit kippah at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem. Compared to President Bush’s choice of skullcaps, McCain’s choice seems more modern and stylish. Perhaps that is attibutable to his loyal advisor and supporter (and Vice Presidential hopeful?) Senator Joe Lieberman.

I have always enjoyed seeing celebrities don a yarmulke (especially non-Jewish celebrities like athletes and politicians). The first yarmulke I ever gave to a celebrity was in 1999 on the set of his movie “Little Nicky” when I presented Adam Sandler with a blue suede kippah with the Jewish Theological Seminary logo printed on it.

I know I’m not the only one who enjoys seeing celebrities wearing yarmulkes, since, on their BangItOut website, brothers Seth and Isaac Galena have created an entire category of photographs called “Celebrity Kippah”.

The AP article described kippot featuring Dora the Explorer, the Miami Heat logo, and guitars. It also reported about a Jewish man who “has a blue seersucker yarmulke to match a blazer he likes to wear to Friday services.” Of course, no matter how fun and creative yarmulkes get, there will always be those who prefer the “retro kippah” from a bygone era.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Fashion Holidays Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur was a Croc this Year

I definitely felt that my wife, kids, and I were the only ones not wearing Crocs this summer in Israel. Those weird-looking, plastic, comfy shoes have become the biggest foot fad since the Air Jordans. Ami Eden, in the JTA, reports that Crocs have taken over as the must-have shoes for Yom Kippur fashion… or at least a way to adhere to the “leather shoes are a no-no” rule. I’m going to stick with my black Chuck Taylor All-Stars for Yom Kippur. But maybe I’ll get a pair of Crocs for Tisha B’Av.

The Orthodox Union even ruled that Crocs are permissible on the Day of Atonement.

Eden writes in the JTA:

From secular beachgoers in Tel Aviv to right-wing Orthodox settlers in Hebron, Crocs — the bulbous-toed, open-back, rubber summer shoe — already were ubiquitous in Israel. Now, reports from several synagogues across America suggest, Crocs have surpassed Chuck Taylors, Keds, flip-flops and a host of other options to become the Yom Kippur shoe in the United States.

“It was so comfortable; I couldn’t believe how cushy it was,” said Steinerman, who opted for the subtle suit-matching black rather than one of the flashier Crocs colors. “Converse doesn’t have the right support. This was a big upgrade.”

From Facebook to My Space, Internet users have discussed the Crocs-on-Yom Kippur trend. And the reviews were not all positive. [more]

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |