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Why the Jacket and Black Hat?

Why the Jacket and Black Hat?

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Question:

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?

Regards,

Max

Answer:

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 Chabad.org.
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Discussion (30)
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.
Christina Green
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.
gray
Bristol, UK
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 !
Tom Brennan
USA
July 13, 2014
Very wise answer ;-)
Palmira Lopez
Hialeah
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 personality...community.
Anonymous
NM
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.
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!
anon
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!
rhl
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.
Mattityahu
Brooklyn, NY
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.
Menachem Posner for Chabad.org
Montreal, QC
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