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Why do very religious men wear long black garments only, even in summertime? I mean, doesn't it get sort of hot?

Why the Long Black Coat?

Why the Long Black Coat?

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Question:

Why do very religious men wear long black garments only, even in summertime?

Answer

Black, scientifically, is the absence of color. Wearing black only indicates lack of concern for color and other dictates of fashion, and thus helps keep priorities straight. In old sociological terms: to be inner-directed rather than other-directed. Anyway, it certainly eliminates the pressure of deciding what to wear each morning!

Long garments are a sign of respect. Nowadays, most people wear them only at the fanciest of affairs. Some religious Jews wear them only on special occasions, such as Shabbat and the Festivals. Others feel that every moment is a special occasion, because at every moment one has to be constantly prepared for prayer, Torah study, etc.

Now, if there are good reasons for wearing long black garments (at least, you'll grant, in the minds of those that wear them), why should summertime with its higher temperatures make a difference? If you were invited to a formal affair or to an important meeting that you would wear a suit-and-tie or a long dress in the winter, if it were in the summer would you wear a tank-top and shorts instead?

"Aha!" you say. "My summer outfit would be made of much lighter material." Believe me, the thinnest cloth you will ever encounter is that black stuff draped over some of those very religious men. And if you say, "Well, white would be cooler still," my answer would be, "Maybe it is not the most important thing in life to be as cool as possible" (pun intended).

By the way, in this latter part of the question, about comfort in summer, I detect some chauvinism. You look for overdressed-for-summer religious people and see only men! What about the long sleeved, stockinged, and bewigged women?

Seriously: those long black coats you see on the men is at most a custom. For women, these matters are tied up with the laws of Tzniut (modesty of dress and behavior). Varying traditions and interpretations play a role too. Thus, the different "dress codes" traditionally adopted by different communities. But covering the hair (for married women) and the body (for all women and men) is a matter of Torah law.

Some women wear a wig because they feel it is ultra modest, as it securely hides every strand of their own hair. Others prefer scarves and the like because they feel wigs are too natural-looking and attractive, which is the very reason that yet another set of women prefer wigs to scarves. I guess from every perspective, wigs are the hottest items (again, pun intended). On the other hand, some women wear scarves or hats in a manner that allows some hair to show, relying on the authorities that permit such and not wanting to appear too extreme.

I once overheard a conversation where a girl in shorts asked a woman in stockings on a 90 degree day, "Aren't you hot?"

The latter shot back, "Aren't you hot?"

"Yes."

"Okay, so I’m a little hotter."

She didn't add, "But I don't care because it’s worth it," but you could hear it anyway.

The person who suffers most from heat is not the one with the heaviest clothes -- it's the one with nothing else to think about other than one's own comfort. Next time you get caught in a heat wave in Israel or New York, look at faces as well as clothes, and see who seems to be bearing up the best.

A master storyteller with hundreds of published stories to his credit, Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder of Ascent of Safed, and managing editor of the Ascent and Kabbalah Online websites.
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Tzvi Friedl Perth Australia September 4, 2017

Interestingly enough, when I lived in Israel I wore a kapote (wool, heavily lined with cotton wool materials because it was cheaper than 'meshi') every Shabbos, never wore shorts and T-shirt, but never felt the heat, even on the most stiflingly humid days. It's all in the head... Reply

Anonymous Malaysia July 21, 2017

The Quran did not say that Muslim women need to cover their heads to hide their hair.
The Quran did say that only (Married) Muslim women need to cover their heads to hide their hair. Reply

Anonymous April 24, 2016

Fascinating and I had no idea! Thanks for posting! Reply

Rochel Chein for chabad.org December 3, 2015

Wigs There are a wide variety of hair coverings worn by Jewish married women, including hats, scarves, and wigs. In some communities, including Chabad, wigs are preferred, as they completely cover the hair and do not slip back as a hat or scarf might.

Hair is sensuous, and a woman covers her hair for herself and for her marriage. Covering the hair is not meant to conceal a woman's beauty - she can cover her hair with lovely hair coverings - but rather to channel this aspect of herself into her relationship. No matter how beautiful a wig might be, the woman wearing it is always aware that this is not her natural hair.

See also here . Reply

Richard Florida November 29, 2015

I must admit that I don't understand the practice of covering hair with more hair, a wig, for the sake of modesty when most wigs are as attractive if not more so than one's own hair. Many orthodox women's sense of modest style in clothing, in too many instances just looks careless and sloppy. A fashionable scarf with matching color blouse and skirt or pants would be just as modest. Some of my Moslem, female students wore such outfits and looked smartly modest. Being Jewish, I would not be attracted to a modest female who instead looks like a comic book character. Reply

Anonymous Toronto September 10, 2012

Picking out the religious People do seem to pick out the religious for commentary about clothes and the heat...sometime to the point of hypocrisy.

Once I was walking (indoors in a mall, no less) and a woman was walking ahead of me dressed head to toe in skin tight leather, including a long sleeve jacket. I had on a light coloured cotton blouse with half sleeves and a black linen sleeveless jumper-dress on...very breathable.
A man coming the other way passed her without comment, then looked me up and down and asked "Aren't you hot?!"

In all fairness perhaps she was too intimidating to comment to...thought she wasn't in "biker gear" but quite a posh pantsuit.....or maybe her being overheated was such a foregone conclusion that he didn't bother to ask.

I get enough commentary though, that I suspect concern for my core temperature is not the true motivation. I think it's a sneaky way to express disapproval of my clothing and contempt for what it represents, modesty and religion. Reply

Shula D.C. June 28, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Or perhaps the man could accept a woman choosing to wear clothing that is overly warm for the weather if she is doing it to look sexy, but couldn't accept doing it for religious reasons. Reply

Jeff G. Springfield, MO/USA August 23, 2012

Uniformity Simplest answer I think is it's our uniform. Much as we're commanded to keep our beards to distinguish us from idolaters, we dress alike to further distinguish ourselves from them. Reply

Bettino mexico October 25, 2011

Partially true The answer is partially true, the origin of wearing black comes from the middle ages, in that era black clothes where the more expensive, so black dressing was only for mayor ocassions, so it became a custom to wear black in special ocassions, when black clothes becames less expensive people still tought of it as special, so it became everyday clothes for many jews, and with time it became asociated with the idea presented here. Reply

F New York, NY November 9, 2010

Well, I am having a great time in my cheap wigs Anybody can have a great synthetic-hair wig these days, for about fifty dollars. Very natural-looking. Believe it or not. Wash and wear. No maintenance costs. No styling; it re-sets itself. No frizz in the rain. Any look you want. Paula Young website, or, do a search, if you shop online. Try a long or medium length bob, about eleven inches long at the crown. The hair of your dreams. It is so easy. Reply

Concerned Believer of the same story. lakewood, NJ November 1, 2010

Garb choices I have one comment, merely a deep concern for the families in Lakewood who dress in such dark clothing with no reflective patches of any kind. Every Shabbat they risk getting hurt by cars who's drivers can not see them. I understand the modesty in the dress, but i have seen many, but not enough, weaing HIP (high intensuty prizmatic) reflective stripes. There are very CLEAR versions of the material used which show very little unless ambient lighting is low.. Similar to the stripes on a Tuxedo, but much more reflective at night, and not flashy or self indulgent. Simply self aware and safe. There are even threads which can be sewn in as an even more inconspicuous approach. I Love all of my brothers and sisters, Jews and non. I subscribe to a very Jewish based, Almost Christian, NON CATHOLIC (worshiping men as idols) faith in G-d, Ha-Shem, Yahweh, Allah, however they call their father. I hope to see them all in heaven, but not tragically before they are supposed to be called by him. Reply

Anonymous Roanoke, VA March 19, 2010

In defense of Hope Liebersohn 1. She didn't say to not wear a head covering...she did say to not waste money on a wig. There have probably been billions of beautiful scarves throughout history. They are cost efficient and equally attractive. (They also seem less likely to lead to vanity and coveting.)

One response to her would be that when we do a mitzvah, we are supposed to select the most beautiful item that we can afford. It is just as important to have a beautiful pushka (charity box) that awakens the soul as it is to put money in it.

Caveat: the most expensive choice is not always the most beautiful. I LOVE my menorah, even though it is not silver.

2. Although her yellow star comment came across in a way to rankle nerves, I understand the point she was trying to make. If we are against being segregated, why segregate ourselves? This can seem hypocritical. (Honestly, if it hadn't been for the accompanying abuse, I'm not sure the yellow star would have bothered me. I am who I am.) Reply

sarah Brooklyn, NY January 10, 2010

Modest in the summer I was born and raised chabad. I always cover myself even in the summer. I do not think I am at risk of a heat stroke at the rate the ACs are going all over in America!! I am freezing every time I go indoors so I am glad to be covered!!
And did you notice how you can find long sleeved bathing suit almost everywhere? (land's end, children's place, gap...) People start to think of protecting their skin to avoid skin deseases G-d forbid.

So you see my friends, you can see the bottle half empty or half full, IT'S UP TO YOU!!! Reply

Rob W. Pittsburgh, PA / USA July 7, 2009

Fine Line: Faith versus Heat Stroke It is one thing to scrifice a bit of comfort in the summer for the sake of modesty. It is another thing to risk health and safety. If you can dress modestly on a hot day without detriment to your health, then G-d Bless you. My advice: Drink plenty of water, and do what you gotta do to keep cool. G-d gave us life, so it is our duty to take good care while glorifying G-d. Heat Exaustion and (even worse) Heat Stroke are terrible experiences which I wouldn't wish on anyone. Reply

Anonymous Londo, Uk June 20, 2009

Black suits and hat I still do not understand who was the first to it important for Jews to wear black suit and a hat. Reply

Anonymous February 23, 2009

long black coats To "Anonymous in ChabadGermantown.com" - Lubavitch Chasidim do NOT wear a "long black coat" known as a kapote every day. They wear it only shabbos and yom tov or their wedding or the wedding of a relative. It is not everyday garb.

And to Hope Liebersohn, covering the hair is a very important mitzvah - it is in the Torah pertaining to Sotah. So to make such a flippant comment about giving the money to tzedaka instead of wearing a wig just shows that you need to learn. I hope you have a Rabbi and Rebbetzin who can explain these things to you. Wearing a wig is a hard thing to understand if one didn't learn about it. The Lubavitcher Rebbe made a point of giving money to brides specifically to ensure they would buy an especially beautiful wig - so they would feel good while doing this important mitzvah. Please learn about the beauty of this mitzvah before making such derogatory comments. It may be hard to understand if one wasn't raised this way. I wasn't raised this way and I wear a wig! Reply

Wendy Geneseo, NY February 23, 2009

The Men in Black Personally, I am comforted by the ability to see that there are still people who believe in obeying the G-d of Abraham,Issac and Jacob. Nowadays, a Jew can be an atheist and still call himself a Jew. I realize there is a difference between faith and ethnicity, but since Jews come in every ethnicity one would assume in this particular instance that the uniting bond that makes one a Jew is faith in G-d. Reply

Anonymous January 14, 2009

Sounds similiar Sounds quite Islaamic. Well, I hope the violence between you two stops some time. It would feel kind of nice to see Muslims and Jews practicing their religion in harmony Reply

Anonymous October 10, 2008

wigs I'm sure that the author must know that many women wear a wig or "shaitel" because the Lubavitcher Rebbe wants women to do so because every hair is covered, whereas with a scarf or snood, it's nearly impossible to not have some hair showing. The Rebbe said that Jewish women are inherently modest, so it is not necessary for a married woman to wear a scarf or snood so that everyone will know she is married. The Rebbe's emphasis is on covering all of the hair. Reply

Anonymous February 11, 2008

what is a very religious man? I just would like to point out that plenty of "very religious" men don't wear black coats. Being hassidic is not the only way to express religiosity. It really would be proper to say either "hassidic" or "mahmir." Reply

Anonymous Kansas City, MO February 6, 2008

Tradition I personally am comforted knowing that there are those that keep the traditions alive. Even more, I admire it, whether they sacrifice some comfort or not.
On a seperate note..."chabadgermantown" must be a very interesting and lively spot!!! Reply

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