Jewish people have inhabited Scotland for more than 300 years, but in all that time, the group hasn’t been able to lay claim to a tartan of its own.
According to Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Mendel Jacobs, reputed to be the only Scottish-born rabbi living in the country, the recent unveiling of the first distinctly Jewish tartan – a patterned cloth known in America as plaid – now gives Scotland’s Jewish community an important measure of distinctly Scottish pride.
“Scotland has a rich tapestry of culture and history,” says Jacobs, noting that the first Jewish resident of Edinburgh was recorded in 1691. “When England was exiling its Jews in the Middle Ages, Scotland provided a safe haven from English and European anti-Semitism.”
The addition of a tartan – worn throughout the ages by Scotland’s traditional family clans, and adapted in modern times by everything from soccer clubs to manufacturing houses – was a logical step in asserting the Jewish community’s place in the country, says the rabbi.
Featuring a decidedly blue pattern with intersecting lines of red and gold, the tartan was designed with Jewish heritage in mind, says Jacobs. In addition, its manufacture conforms to the Jewish laws against mixing threads of wool and linen in the same garment, known as shatnez.
“The blue and white represent the colors of the Israeli and Scottish flags, with the central gold line representing the gold from the biblical Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant and the many ceremonial vessels,” explains Jacobs, director of The Shul in the Park in Giffnock. “The silver is from the decorations adorning our Torah scrolls, and the red represents the wine we use for Kiddush.”
Brian Wilton, director of the Scottish Tartans Authority, which certified the design as part of its registry, says that the existence of a Jewish tartan is a necessity.
“Generations of Scots are of the Jewish faith,” he says, “so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be [popular].”
Jacobs asserts that the tartan gives a new way for people to express their Judaism: “People can wear this tartan design as a yarmulke, tie or kilt at formal events.”