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The Mysteries of Shaatnez

The Mysteries of Shaatnez

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Of all the ancient laws and customs of the Jews, one of the most mysterious is that of the law forbidding shaatnez. Most Jews probably have never heard of it. Some may have heard of it but do not know what it is. Even those who may be scrupulous in following the kosher dietary laws may not concern themselves with shaatnez. The reality is that both are of equal standing in the Torah’s 613 commandments.

What is Shaatnez?

Shaatnez is the biblical prohibition against wearing wool and linen together in the same garment. (Wearing one piece of clothing that is linen and another that is wool at the same time is permitted.) This prohibition against shaatnez is found in Deuteronomy 22:11 and Leviticus 19:19. A combination of any other materials does not create shaatnez.

The reference to wool refers to wool from sheep or lambs. It does not refer to camel wool, mohair, angora, cashmere, alpaca or vicuna. The reference to linen applies only to fibers from the flax plant, not hemp or jute. However, reprocessed fibers may also contain shaatnez.

The prohibition also includes any combination of wool and linen, regardless of whether the two are combined in one cloth or are separate pieces of cloth within the same garment. Even suits that are 100% synthetic may contain shaatnez. American law allows some leeway in labeling. A label that states that a garment is 100% wool may contain as much as 2% of other materials. In addition, the label refers to the fabric, not any threads or material in the padding and ornamental trim. According to experts in the field, shaatnez is more likely to occur in European clothing than in clothing made in the United States or Canada.

The prohibition applies not only to suits, coats, dresses and pants, but to any type of clothing, including socks, pajamas, gloves and ties. It is also forbidden to wear a garment in which an ornamental part, such as a tassel that does not touch the body, has shaatnez. However. it is permitted to try on a garment in a clothing store without knowing whether it has shaatnez or not. If the label clearly states that the garment includes both wool and linen, then it is prohibited.

Why Such a Law?

The law prohibiting shaatnez falls into the category of what is known as a chok, a law that cannot be explained. Various reasons have been suggested, however. The explanation given by Maimonides is that pagan priests were required to wear garments made of wool and linen. The prohibition may have been established to separate Jews from pagan practices. It is interesting to note, however, that the clothing of the priests in the Temple was exempt from this prohibition, giving rise to an alternate explanation, that the prohibition was designed to separate priestly from public practice.

Another and more colorful explanation is that Abel brought wool as an offering, whereas Cain brought flax. The mixture was lethal and Abel lost his life.

A more esoteric explanation is that everything has its own spiritual force. By mixing certain items together, these forces are compromised and cannot perform their assigned task.

The Shaatnez Checkers of Today

From two verses in the Torah, plus the complexities of modern clothing manufacturing, there has arisen an international service to test for shaatnez.

Since clothing labels cannot be relied upon, there must be another way in which to determine whether or not an article of clothing contains shaatnez. The answer is the shaatnez sample taker, and the shaatnez tester in the shaatnez laboratory. The sample takers are trained to take appropriate samples from a garment (without damaging the garment) and to send the samples to the shaatnez laboratory. At the laboratory, shaatnez testers examine the sample under a low-powered (about 100X) microscope, either binocular or monocular, and are able to identify the fibers.

Laboratories exist in most major Jewish communities in North America. Most of the laboratories do not operate full-time, but have a reasonable short turnaround time of a few days. They also will receive and return garments by courier or regular mail. It is rare that a laboratory is not able to determine if a garment is shaatnez.

There is no doubt that with the widespread use of synthetic fabrics, the issue of shaatnez is not as prominent as it once was for the traditionally observant. However, the issue still arises, especially since many garments are manufactured in various parts of the world, in some cases with parts of a garment being manufactured in one country and parts in another. The result is that it is difficult for consumers to know everything that is in that garment. New fabrics are also being developed, as are new combinations of fabrics.

Considering these developments. the shaatnez testers of America and their contacts in other countries have an informal network by which alert notices are sent out as new developments are discovered. This is all part of a vibrant support system that has been developed around this ancient and mysterious prohibition.

Lorne E. Rozovsky (1943-2013) was a lawyer, author, educator, health management consultant, and an inquisitive Jew.

This article is based on the author’s article which originally appeared in The Jewish News, Richmond, Virginia.
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Jacob Scharff Minneapolis, MN December 12, 2014

Shatnez (un)explained Chana Miriam, that explanation is incomplete, considering the fact that the Kohen Gadol's garments were required to be made of mixed linen and tekhelet wool, and were thus Shaatnez. That's part of why it's chok. Reply

Chaya Sarah Silberberg west bloomfield October 28, 2012

What you need to be concerned about in any knitting project is the possibility of "shatnez" - wearing a mixture of wool and linen, which is prohibited by Torah.

So, knitting with a combination of wool and linen yarns, sewing a linen patch or applique on a wool garment, using linen thread on a wool garment, a wool garment with a linen lining (or vice versa on all the above) - all of these would constitute shatnez.

No need to worry about camel wool, mohair, angora, cashmere, alpaca or vicuna. For the purposes of shatnez, “wool” refers only to wool from sheep or lambs.

Also - simultaneously wearing one piece of linen clothing and another of wool is permitted—as long as the two are not connected, so that one can be removed without removing the other. (Otherwise, they are considered one garment.) Reply

Anonymous NY, NY/USA October 25, 2012

Shatnez Are there any restrictions as to the type of yarn allowed for hand knit baby sweaters? Reply

Martin Cape Town June 6, 2012

Shaatnez testers would someone know who would do Shaatnez testing. And whether there is some kind of symbol for this, as we have for Kashrut. Thank you Reply

Chana Miriam Los Angeles, Ca USA June 5, 2012

Shatnez explained If you consider this... Shatnez is the mixing of 2 species-Wool and Linen. Hashem destroyed humanity during the Flood because of impure DNA. Today, we are again 'mixing species' by cloning and transhumanism. The law of Shatnez is to remind us not to mix species. It is not chok, this is very simple to understand when you think about it. Makes sense! Reply

Martin Cape Town May 7, 2012

Bedding Would Shatnez be applicable to our bedding and what we sleep under? Reply

Mrs. Melzora Towne March 31, 2012

a spark I wonder if it may be because some things rubbed together make a spark known as static electricity, and can therefore ignite gasses or even cause spontaneous combustion.
That would help to make sense as to why these mixes are forbidden to protect us from accidentally catching fire. Just a thought. Reply

Dr. Brian Sandridge April 25, 2010

I agree with the author. A good possibility that the shaatnez being a part of the high priests clothing is denied others so as to maintain separation of holy from profane. Two description of the High Priest's garments make clear the nature of the fabric: Exodus 28: 6 "Make the ephod of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen—the work of a skilled craftsman." And :5 "Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions—the work of a skilled craftsman. Make it like the ephod: of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen."
Is this not therefore similar to the injunction against producing "bootleg" Holy Incense or Anointing Oil?
BUT: the injunction was to prevent the blurring of Holy from mundane. Today, the absence of the Mishkan or Temple and of the office of High Priest, makes the basis of the injunction redundant. It has become another Pietistic practice common to many religions. It is actually easier to scrutinize fabrics than:? Reply

renata liverpool, UK April 24, 2010

thank you hi
with your explanation i have a more clear idea about many other forbidden commandments - especially about chok, law that cannot be explained.
thank you and compliments
regards, Reply

Yocheved La Paz de Chame, Panama April 20, 2010

shatnez in today's world being an observant Jew comes at it cost; at $12.00 per item a family of 12 has a very hard time affording such an expense, especially on the eve of Pesach where food costs seem to rise. I would be nice if the community has a print out of clothing manufacturers that qualify for the wearing of pious Jews, since sending these items to a lab will cost not only the expense of the rabbi checking the item but the lab. I hope chabad. org will consider this as a mitzvah and assist by creating a page for this so much needed info. Reply

Itche April 19, 2010

Re: Sean According to the explanation of Rashi and Metzudos, this verse is refering to the high priest on Yom Kipur when he enters the holy of holies (see Levitcus 16, 4). Reply

Lisa Providence, RI May 1, 2008

Shatnez I try to keep my life as simple as possible by spending the majority of my time wearing 100% cuddly cotton! Reply

Sean O'Neill Pearl River, New York January 31, 2008

shatnez It is apparent that we are relying on the traditions of men rather than the written word of God. Perhaps someone can please expand on this as I read in Ezekiel 44:17
"When they enter the gateway to the inner courtyard, they must wear only linen clothing; They must wear no wool while on duty in the inner courtyard or in the Temple itself. 18 They must wear linen turbans and linen undergarments. They must not wear anything that would cause them to perspire." Reply

Lorne Rozovsky Bloomfield, CT/USA January 30, 2008

shatnez Despite the prohibition against wearing shatnez, Exodus 28:6,8, and 15, and 39:29, require certain garments worn by the priests (kohanim) in the Temple to be a mixture of wool and linen, that is shatnez.This requirement is an exception to the shatnez prohibition.

Maimonides confirms this in the laws of Kilyim 9:1 where he says that the law of shatnez does not apply to priests who are engaged in their Temple duties.

In many English translations of the Torah, both Jewish and Christian, there is no mention of the word "wool" in the description of the priestly garment, only linen. However, in reading the text in conjunction with the Oral Tradition, it is understood that the description of the garment is referring to wool, and to linen, in other words, shatnez. Reply

Sean O'Neill Pearl River, Neww York December 24, 2007

Shatnez I am interested in learning more about the article on Shatnez. Of particular interest is a quote from your article, as follows:

It is interesting to note however, that the clothing of the priests in the Temple were exempt from the prohibition giving rise to an alternate explanation that the prohibition was designed to separate priestly from public practice.

Can you please direct me to the scripture reference for this quote. Reply

Lorne Rozovsky (Author) Bloomfield, CT May 20, 2007

shantnez Surely anything we do will never be 100%. What we as humans do will never be flawless, but surely with life long learning we can strive in this direction. Reply

Reza Hakim ny May 19, 2007

Interesting its absurd that you need a 100x microscope to check clothing. nothing can ever be 100%. nothing is flawless. Reply

Lorne Rozovsky Bloomfield, CT December 4, 2006

shatnez To Larry Klein. You are quite right. Cain and Abel have been mixed up in the article. Thank you very much for pointing this out. It is being corrected. The lesson is not only to write more carefully - but also to read more carefully. Reply

Larry Klein LA, CA November 6, 2006

Shatnez and Cain & Abel RE: The Mysterious World of Shatnez

I think you have it backwords. You state that Cain brought wool & Abel brought flax. But it says, Cain brought the fruit of the ground. Abel brought the firstlings of his flock (Gen., 4.3-4.4).

An interesting thought may be that mixing wool (sheep/lamb) and flax (linen) is mixing a primary food source of life (flax)with a sheep/lamb's outer garment. If flax was used to feed and grow shhep/lambs, it would be a perversion to mix wool & flax together, because it's pagen and resembles trying to raise the dead. Because only God can decide to do these things (life & death), it is permitted to wears Shatnez ONLY when approaching God in purity. There is a similarity with boiling/cooking meat in it's mother's milk. While it's not like trying to raise the dead, it's like not having sympathy on the neshomah of the meat. Reply

David LA, CA May 4, 2006

What a great article Thanks. Reply

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