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Laws Relating to Clothing

Laws Relating to Clothing

Parshat Tetzaveh

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The common priests and high priests were required to wear special clothing when performing their service in the Holy Temple.1 One of the reasons given for this is so that the Jews would recognize the priests as holy people, devoted to the service of G‑d.2 Similarly, the Torah scholars of ancient Babylonia would dress impressively, so as to encourage people to honor the Torah that they represented.3 In fact, the Talmud requires that a Torah scholar’s clothes be impeccably clean.4 Rabbi Yochanan would refer to his clothing as mechabduta—that which gives honor.5

This article will focus on various laws that relate to both the purchasing and the wearing of clothing.

“Jewish” Clothes

The Midrash6 relates that one of the practices in the merit of which the Jews were redeemed from slavery in Egypt was the retention of their Jewish style of clothing. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rimanov7 often said that Jews dressing like gentiles actually invites anti-Semitism.

New Clothes

Wearing a new garment is no longer considered a joyous event, as it was in the pastWhen purchasing clothes and wearing them for the first time, one should recite the blessing of Shehecheyanu.8 This blessing is recited only for significant clothing, not for underwear, socks, shoes or the like.9 The prevailing Chabad custom is not to recite this blessing for new clothes, because wearing a new garment is no longer considered a joyous event, as it was in the past. When purchasing a particularly expensive item of clothing, however, one may still recite this blessing.10 If one forgot to recite the blessing while donning the clothing, he may still say it as long as he has not yet taken it off.11

When one sees a friend who has purchased new clothes, it is customary to wish, “Wear it out and buy a new one!” However, one should not say this for a purchase of leather shoes or garments.12

Shatnez Check

One should have new clothing inspected for shatnez, to ensure that there is no improper mixing of wool and linen. See Shatnez: A Mixture of Wool and Linen.

Donning and Removing Clothes

When putting on clothes, one should clothe the right side (i.e., arm or leg) before the left. When tying one’s shoes, however, one should tie the left shoe first. A left-handed person should reverse this order.13 For more information, see The Right and Left Way.

One should be careful not to wear clothes inside out, as this can cause people to look at the wearer with disdain.14 Also, one should not put on two articles of clothing at once.15

When removing one’s clothes, one should remove the clothes from the left side (arm or leg) before the right.16 In addition, in order to maintain modesty even in private, one should cover oneself (e.g., with a sheet or blanket) while changing.17

Shabbat Clothes

Special clothes will remind the wearer to observe the special Shabbat lawsOne should wear special clothes on Shabbat, in honor of the holy day.18 These clothes should be clean, and nicer than one’s weekday clothes. The Torah alludes to this in the verse: “And you shall honor it [the Shabbat].”19 The sages interpret “honor” as a reference to the type of nice clothes that cause others to respect the one wearing them. An additional reason for having clothes that are worn only on Shabbat is that the special clothes will remind the wearer to observe the special Shabbat laws.20 Some people are even careful to wear a special shirt, belt, hat, and tallit on Shabbat.21 The above dress code should be adhered to even if one will be spending Shabbat alone.22

Holiday Clothes

One should also wear special clothes in honor of the Jewish holidays: Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.23 Holiday garments should be even nicer than Shabbat garments.24

Chol HaMoed

One should wear nicer clothes on Chol HaMoed (the “intermediate days” of the Passover and Sukkot holidays) than one does on an ordinary weekday. Maharil would wear Shabbat clothes on Chol HaMoed25—and such is the Chabad custom.

Rosh Chodesh

Some people wear nicer clothes than usual on Rosh Chodesh; some tzaddikim (righteous men) would even wear Shabbat clothes.26

While Praying

When praying, one should be dressed respectfully. For example, one may not pray while bare-chested,27 or barefoot (in a locale where people generally do not go barefoot when meeting with important people).28

It is the way of Jewish sages to don an outer garment in addition to a shirt before praying.29

Footnotes
1.

Exodus 28.

2.

Ramban and Sforno ad loc, verse 2.

3.

Talmud, Shabbat 145a.

4.

Ibid. 114a.

5.

Ibid. 113b.

6.

Lekach Tov, Va’eira 6.

7.

Quoted in Taamei HaMinhagim, p. 554.

8.

Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 223:3.

9.

Ibid., par. 6.

10.

Seder Birchot HaNehenin 12:5.

11.

Ibid., par. 4.

12.

Rema, glosses to Orach Chaim 223:5.

13.

Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Orach Chaim 2:4.

14.

Ibid., par. 3.

15.

Ibid. According to our sages, doing so has an undesirable spiritual effect that can cause memory loss.
See Halichot Shlomo, Tefillah 2:22, that when getting undressed, one may remove two articles of clothing at once.

16.

Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., par. 4.

17.

Ibid., par. 2.

18.

Ibid., 242:1 and 262:3.

20.

Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., 301:14.

21.

See Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchatah, ch. 42 note 206, regarding changing shoes.

22.

Mishnah Berurah 262:6.

23.

Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Orach Chaim 610:10 and 529:7. (But see ibid., 581:4, that the clothes of Rosh Hashanah need not be as nice as those for other holidays.)

24.

Ibid., 529:1. See Minhag Yisrael Torah ad loc, sec. 11, who considers the question of why this is not the present-day custom.

25.

Mishnah Berurah 530:1.

26.

Minhag Yisrael Torah 419:4.

27.

Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Orach Chaim 91:1.

28.

Ibid., par. 5.

29.

Ibid., par. 6.

Rabbi Aryeh Citron was educated in Chabad yeshivahs in Los Angeles, New York, Israel and Australia. He was the Rosh Kollel of The Shul of Bal Harbour, Florida, and is now an adult Torah teacher in Surfside, Florida. He teaches classes on Talmud, Chassidism, Jewish history and contemporary Jewish law.
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Aryeh Citron Surfside February 25, 2014

Feel rich The author of the Tur (a famous 15th century compendium of Jewish law) asked his father; "Since I am poor and am supported by others and I cannot afford to make any special food for Shabbat, how can I honor the Shabbat?" His father answered that he should exert himself and at least have one extra dish in honor of Shabbat.
Similarly, even if one cannot afford much, he should exert himself to have at least one nicer article of clothing for Shabbat.
May honoring the Shabbat bring you manifold blessings. Reply

Adam Boston February 21, 2014

poor What if you own no special or nice clothing and can't afford to buy them for the holidays or Shabat? Reply

Anonymous February 29, 2012

thank you thank you for pointing out how special days should be observed with special clothing, better cuts and cloths.

For me, this is as far as i take it. No prayers on putting on and off. Am not observant enough. There is nothing wrong with second best, especially when the intent is proper. Reply

s Brooklyn, NY February 26, 2012

Left-handed A left-handed person starts with the left side when putting on clothing. When tying shoes, a left-handed person puts on the left first and then ties the right first (according to some opinions). Reply

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