The emphasis in this week’s parsha on the clothing of the kohanim – the
priests of Israel of the family of Aharon – raises the issue of “Jewish
clothing” as practiced throughout the ages. The vestments of the kohanim
were divinely ordained and their exact description undoubtedly contains
within it realms of spirituality and service to God and man. These
garments were meant to reflect “honor and glory” on those who wore them-
and to the entire household of Israel. In fact, in Second Temple times,
when there was no longer any remaining anointment oil that could be used
to inaugurate the kohanim into the service in the Temple, the Talmud
teaches us that donning the vestments of the priesthood was deemed to be
sufficient to officially install them into their holy positions.
Thus, to a great extent, clothing made the person. As such, I feel that it
is quite understandable that Jews always placed a great stress upon what
clothing they wore and how they dressed. Naturally, the type and style
of “Jewish clothing” varied in different ages and locations. The Jews of
Persia and Iraq did not wear Polish fur trimmed hats nor did Polish Jews
wear head scarves or turbans. The Jews of Amsterdam in the seventeenth and
eighteenth century wore triangular cockaded hats and the Lithuanian rabbis
of the nineteenth century wore gentlemanly tall silk top hats. But the
common denominator to all of this is that, from the time of Moshe onwards,
Jews attempted to dress distinctively, albeit always within the confines
and influences of the surrounding general population.
“Jewish clothing” was always meant to be modest, neat and clean. It was to
be an “honor and glory” to the wearer and the Jewish society. The Talmud
speaks very strongly against Torah scholars who are somehow slovenly in
the appearance of their clothing. Poverty was never allowed to be an
excuse for stains or dirt on one’s garments. In the Temple, the used
clothing of the kohanim was still considered to have an element of
holiness to them even if they could no longer be worn. Wicks for the
candelabra were fashioned from them.
Clothing was never looked at as being a purely inanimate object. After
all, the first clothing for humans was fashioned for Adam and Chava by God
Himself, so to speak. Ill treatment of clothing was deemed to be a
punishable offense. King David, in his old age was not warmed by his
clothing any longer. The Rabbis attributed this to the fact that he
mistreated the clothing of King Saul earlier in his life.
I think all of the above helps explain the importance that clothing, the
type of individual “uniforms” that Jews in the world and here in Israel,
play in our communal and personal life. Each of us and the groups that we
belong to attempt to wear clothing that will be an “honor and glory” to us
individually and to the group collectively. We should therefore not only
treat clothing with respect but we should respect as well the wearers of
those different types of clothing that conform to our traditions of
modesty and Jewish pride.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Berel Wein and Torah.org
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