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Why the Jacket and Black Hat?

Why the Jacket and Black Hat?



Dear Rabbi Moss,

"Rabbi Moss is the rudest rabbi I ever met!" That's how I felt yesterday. I saw you from a distance walking down aisle 3 in Coles Supermarket. I called out to you, but you didn't hear. I approached you, calling your name repeatedly, and I'm sure that you could hear me. But you totally ignored me. I finally caught up with you and slapped you on the shoulder, only to find out that... it wasn't you at all. It was actually some other Chassidic Jew, wearing the same black velvet Kippa that you wear, the exact same dark wool jacket and pants and business shirt, the same reddish beard and rimless glasses. He looked so similar to you, even you would have been confused. I felt like such a fool.

Then I realized that this must happen to you all the time. All you guys look the same! There must be some Chassidic clothing store that sells only one style. It must be easy to get dressed in the morning. "What should I wear today — the black jacket or the blue?" How boring! Where's the individuality? Where's the freedom of expression? Do you people have no originality at all?




Dear Max,

Firstly, I must apologize for seeming to ignore you — even though it wasn't me. I can imagine how offensive that must have been for someone with such impeccable manners as yourself.

As to your claim that Chassidic Jews don't have originality because we dress the same, I must disagree. In fact the opposite is true - it is precisely because we dress the same that we can truly be individuals.

Being an individual means having something unique about you that no one else has. According to you, to be original I need a weird shirt, cool shoes and an unusual haircut. The more unusual, the more you stand out from the crowd. But let me ask you, is that really what makes you different from everyone else? Is that all you can do to be unique — put on this outfit or that? Couldn't just anyone look the same?

In Jewish tradition, what makes an individual is not the clothing, but the character. When you are a part of a community of people that all dress the same, there is only one way to stand out: you have to be original, not your clothing. The people around you notice you for your character, the way you treat people, your manner of speech. You can't hide behind a superficial individuality based on hairstyle and fashion — you have to be a real individual.

Max, I'm not telling you to go out and buy a black jacket. But perhaps you should rethink how you look at yourself, and how you are projecting your image to the world around you. If you become sensitized to what really makes you an individual, you'll never again mistake me for someone else next to the frozen chickens in Coles just because we wear the same color scheme.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to
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Dale Cincinnati August 30, 2017

I believe the focus on knowing the tulmud and filling oneself with knowledge is much more important than vanity . Reply

Anonymous Asia April 25, 2016

Even though I'm not Jewish & I don't follow Judaism, I think wearing the black coat & hat is very cool.

Less is more.

Chabad Jewish fashion style for the win! Reply

Anonymous Pittsburgh PA February 25, 2016

But dear Rabbi Moss

You are not yet telling us, what is that make you special or just different because just yout clothing? Because in esence all humans, each one is special in his or her unique way. All humans have character and also each one has personality. I do not understad. Whould you explain?
Oscar Reply

Tzvi Friedl Perth Australia September 4, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I suppose that the point is that the uniqueness of a human being is not manifest by an external expression like clothes, hairstyle, outlandish behavior etc., but through allowing their inner G–dly qualities to shine through the various shells of assumed identity we are wearing in order to attract the interest of others or at least, in order not to become absorbed into our nameless grey social environment. It's just a stab in the dark, but how do you feel about that? Reply

B ferfes February 23, 2016

First thoughts My first thoughts were in line with the reasoning behind the thought that simplicity allows one to rely on his character be noticed, and let's just say that there is a certain amount of justification however creation revieals another side of this line of thought. Look at the flowers, oh the colors and the deversity! And how about the precious colors of gems and such. g d controls and created the univeres not just ours but the entire cosmos and to say that we should all dress alike I think is disrespectful of appreciation. The heart know what it seeks in why it dresses the way it does. Let us not judge one another of how we dress it as to why we do. Reply

mitchel February 18, 2016

whether you agree or not, what a superbly great answer Reply

Peter Herman Brooklyn February 17, 2016

I disagree. Hashem has made many different textures, colors, fabrics etc... to use as garments. If one serves G_d with all his heart, mind & soul, and is humble before him, then various, beautiful colors and garments are an extension of that. From that humble stance, one can wear the Beauty that Hashem has provided yet still assert their individuality. When you invite the Divine Light into your thought, speech & being, there is no need to fear wearing bold colors & beatiful, comfortable clothes & shoes. Reply

Anonymous PA April 25, 2017
in response to Peter Herman:

Not necesarily.The colored fabrics are supposed to be used for things like chalah covers,velvet for Tefilin bags,etc. Reply

Christina Green March 27, 2015

I have to say reading this letter from the Rabbi to Max cleared a question up for me. I have recently moved to a ha area which is highly populated with a large Jewish Community. I at times feel estranged from the daily hustle and bustle. With so many questions but seemingly no one who seems to be approachable to ask. My Jewish neighbors seem very blinkered on to thier society and culture. Quite often, Infact more often than not Than not there's not so much as a thank you or good morning. I have come to believe that I must stop expecting to engage in friendly activity or the hope of securing friends amongst them. I have read copious amounts on line to try and understand the different aspects of thier lives. Answer the "I wonder why's.".
Your letter beautifully describes why the modest plain clothes are worn. Thank you.
I still wonder do the women, many young feel drab and glum with thier plain attire, do they secretly dream of more. Or is faith enough to secure happiness in the choice. Reply

gray Bristol, UK January 13, 2015

The answer is one of those nuggets of calm wisdom that will stay with and inform me forever. Thank you. I'm agnostic, btw. Reply

Tom Brennan USA December 6, 2014

Head coverings I write a newsblog for an Isaeli news page. We work to support Israel-US and world relations.

Your website is an incredible assembly of accurate, direct and valuable information about Jewish faith, customs and traditions. I will share it with my colleagues and contacts ! Reply

Palmira Lopez Hialeah July 13, 2014

Very wise answer ;-) Reply

Anonymous NM August 3, 2013

It's like private/some public schools...students wear the same outfits as not to draw attention or compete...personally the traditional black, long coats and hats add a mystic and gentleman quality...makes a person want to draw close and inquire their unique Reply

anon June 14, 2011

in fact...... I think I should get myself a ladies fedora and wear it to shul. That will really get the tongues wagging. Reply

anon June 14, 2011

individuality I disagree that dressing the same makes you and individual in character because you are now forced to stand out in another way.

I also disagree that someone who dresses according to trends is a conformist and is only an individual in a superficial way.

Character and individuality we all have, maybe some are more developed , and some less. These things are formed through life experiences and choices and have nothing to do with the clothes you wear.

Chassidism is a club , like any other club, there is a dress code and certain way of speech and mannerisms that get you into the club and accepted by the club members.

There is no intrinsic significance to the dress code, people will make anything religious. Golf clubs have certain dress codes and so do shuls. None of it is truth and none of it in and of itself is valuable.

The guys look smart in their suits and hats, I like it but I am not about to claim it as some tool to higher spiritual growth. come on! Reply

rhl June 14, 2011

dress Yes we all conform etc I do not accept that someone is more or less conformed if they were chassidic garb or trendy modern clothes.

I personally like the hareidi/ chassidic look, it is stylish but it has nothing religious too it. Every club you join has some type of dress code, yogis, martial arts, corporate suits, or a ceramic class. I think appropriate attire is more important - if you are exercising please wear the appropriate gear and if you are in shul or going to dinner dress appropriately.

We make a religion out of these appropriate forms of dress when we claim it has some type of intrinsic value. Nonsense! Reply

Mattityahu Brooklyn, NY June 13, 2011

The color black Black symbolizes "bitul" or nullification of ego. When you know you're nullified—like nothing—in front of the Creator, you can then fully be yourself, your soul self.

The wide-brimmed Fedora was apparently the Lubavitcher Rebbe's personal choice, and the prevalence of this hat among many Jewish sub-communities could be because of his influence. But many different Chasidic communities wear black hats of different kinds and different shapes. Reply

Menachem Posner for Montreal, QC May 9, 2011

RE: Black hat The black hat commonly worn by religious Jews is simply a black fedora, once a staple of any well-dressed man's wardrobe. While the rest of the world stopped wearing them in the Kennedy era, we just never took 'em off. However, there is no mystical or religious significance to its dimensions or shape. Reply

Anonymous NY, NY April 22, 2011

Black hat I was just wondering what meaning a regular black hat has? Reply

Anonymous Wigtown November 28, 2010

the Chassidic uniform I appreciate your reply, particularly the importance of our inner qualities and the fact that conforming to "non-conformism" is, of course, simply conforming.
Nevertheless, as a pragmatist, I would argue that the Chassidic uniform is not always practical or comfortable, depending on the climate in which you live and the activity in which you are engaged. G-d created colour, texture and pattern in nature for us to enjoy and it is a tribute to Him for us to celebrate and interpret His design in our attire and the other material objects we need in order to live.
For example, a man or woman wishing to live a G-dly life can be modest and still wear interesting clothing. Certainly our inner character counts more than the superficial, that's obvious to anyone even mildly enlightened. But G-d created us to enjoy life and to express ourselves in all kinds of ways. A sea of black hats as an expression of G-dliness? no more than a sea of burkhas. Reply

Raziela August 17, 2010

dress I am an artist and I love to come up with outfits to wear, cos its a stretch of my creativity to make a working character with my limited wardrobe, budget etc. It's an expression of the universal unconsciousness to put together an outfit. and it allows me to play that part of myself out. its fun and a laugh.

Artists by nature are people who struggle to focus. we always have a million us's, and a million creative projects on the go.

The only way i can reconcile the frum dress for women is that maybe by restricting me there, it allows and forces me to dig deeper and find my true essence creativity. To find a deeper, purer, richer creativity. a more fulfilling creativity. because, pretty sure, i would eventually get bored of dressing up. plus it can cost money and i would rather give tzedaka (charity)! Reply

Zakhe London, UK January 6, 2010

black outfits I am a black christian (african) living in London UK. I have a black suit and a black hat that I once wore with black shoes and socks. Then I took my prayer shawl and walked into a train to Wood Green (north London). I was amazed at the stares I got from a lot of people! I also observe Shabat and have stopped celebrating the pagan holiday of christmas and easter. This is good stuff. Reply