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Why do the chassidim dress in the manner of 18th century Russian non-Jewish gentry?

Why do the chassidim dress in the manner of 18th century Russian non-Jewish gentry?


The dress thing is just a classic social psychology issue. For a community to stick together they need some distinct dress. It's actually written into the Code of Jewish Law that a Jew is supposed to dress differently from those around him. Every once in a while in history, for whatever reason, that falls apart--and then starts up again. So the dress gets fixed at that "healing of crisis" point.

Now, if you'll allow me to make a small comment: I notice you are asking questions about very external matters--the things you see, but don't really count. Proof that it's external: A person can wear all the right clothes, and be sinking terribly on the inside.

But don't you have any questions on what these people believe? What drives them? Why are they still around? I mean, about the engine under the hood.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman for

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Reuven Mordechai Eretz, Israel December 27, 2010

I don't think you can ask such a broad question, especially since the Chabad Chassidim actually dress quite a bit differently than other Chassidim. But here are some general answers:
--Hat: Keter, crown, represents higher thoughts, and a desire to aspire to their understanding
--Suit: Always in the presence and service of the King (G-d), you should be dressed your best
--Colors: Black & white signify humility
--Old school: The Tzaddikim behind Chassidus lived in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and who could blame a follower for wanting to dress as fashion
--Beard & side burns: this is the hair associated with holiness, as opposed to head hair, associated with the non holiness
Hopefully this explains at least a little. Anyway, it's a Kabbalistically oriented lifestyle, and the dress reflects this. Reply

Anonymous Roanoke, VA March 19, 2010

Rabbi Freeman...I have to respectfully disagree with your response. If people were not interested in learning the deeper significance of seemingly trivial outward expressions of faith, Judaism would not be a religion at all. It would merely be a bunch of crazy people following half-cocked archaic habits. I, for one, am glad the querier queried. :) Reply

Thought I'd mention January 26, 2010

I learned it like this: traditional Ashkenazi clothing derives from Babylonia, originally. The ancient Babylonian dress code for men consisted of a silk or linen robe (without pockets or lapels) tied with a sash, along with slippers and a turban. This clothing was later picked up by both Persians and Turks, as well as Jews during the Babylonian Exile. Jews brought this clothing to Europe, where the turbans were switched for shtreimels and the overall color was switched from more colorful designs to black. The rest of the outfit - the pocketless, buttonless robe, white undershirt and slippers- was retained. 17th century Polish gentry got their clothing from contact with the Turks- hence the similarity between Ashkenazi Jewish and Polish dress.

However, the idea that Jewish garb came from Poland was a rumor spread by Maskilim during the Haskala, as a way of persuading young Jewish men to abandon their traditional clothing. However, Hasidic garb's Oriental origin can still be seen when compared to traditional Persian and Turkish clothing. References to the "Jewish kaftan" by Christians have been found dating back to the 1500s, and no Yiddish Haskala writers (including Shalom Aleichem) seem to have been aware of the Jewish clothing having a Polish origin.

In fact, according to the Klausenberger Rebbe, traditional Jewish garb was invented by Jews first, and picked up by the Babylonians during the Babylonian exile.

Ideas on this? Reply

Rachel Nyack, NY April 11, 2008

Get to know some of these poeple. I have found they are the sweetest most giving people I have ever met in my life. I now look at them differently- I admire them. Reply

Leyzer Silver Spring, MD December 2, 2007

According to what I've heard, the whole thing about Chassidic clothing being the same as 18th century Russian Nobility is really an urban legend. Actually, the most common version says that it is 17th-century Polish nobility. Until you can find a source for it, I would assume that it is not true. Reply