Jewish religious clothing
Jewish religious clothing has been influenced by Biblical commandments, modesty requirements, and the contemporary style of clothing worn in the many societies in which Jews have lived. In Judaism, clothes are also a vehicle for religious ritual.
Tallit, tzitzit, and tallit katan
The tallit is a Jewish prayer shawl worn while reciting morning prayers as well as in the synagogue on Shabbat and holidays. In Yemen, the wearing of such garments was not unique to prayer time alone, but was worn the entire day. In many Ashkenazi communities, a tallit is worn only after marriage. The tallit has special twined and knotted fringes known as tzitzit attached to its four corners. It is sometimes referred to as arba kanfot (lit. 'four corners') although the term is more common for a tallit katan, an undergarment with tzitzit. According to the Biblical commandments, tzitzit must be attached to any four-cornered garment, and a thread with a blue dye known as tekhelet is supposed to be included in the tzitzit. Jewish men are buried in a tallit as part of the tachrichim (burial garments).
Since they are considered by Orthodox tradition to be a time-bound commandment, only men are required to wear them. Authorities have differed as to whether women are prohibited, permitted or encouraged to wear them. Medieval authorities tended toward leniency, with more prohibitive rulings gaining in precedence since the 16th century. Conservative Judaism regards women as exempt from wearing tzitzit, not as prohibited, and the tallit has become more common among Conservative women since the 1970s. Some progressive Jewish women choose to take on the obligations of tzitzit and tefillin, and it has become common for a girl to receive a tallit when she becomes bat mitzvah.
A kippah or yarmulke (also called a kappel or skull cap) is a thin, slightly-rounded skullcap traditionally worn at all times by Orthodox Jewish men, and sometimes by both men and women in Conservative and Reform communities. Its use is associated with demonstrating respect and reverence for God. Jews in Arab lands did not traditionally wear yarmulkes, but rather larger rounded hats, without brims.
A kittel (Yiddish: קיטל) is a white, knee-length, cotton robe worn by Jewish prayer leaders and some Orthodox Jews on the High Holidays. In some families, the head of the household wears a kittel at the Passover seder. In some circles it is customary for the groom at a Jewish wedding to wear a kittel under the wedding canopy.
Married Orthodox Jewish women wear a scarf (tichel or mitpahat), snood, hat, beret, or sometimes a wig (sheitel) in order to conform with the requirement of Jewish religious law that married women cover their hair.
Jewish women were distinguished from others in the western regions of the Roman Empire by their custom of veiling in public. The custom of veiling was shared by Jews with others in the eastern regions. The custom petered out among Roman women, but was retained by Jewish women as a sign of their identification as Jews. The custom has been retained among Orthodox women. Evidence drawn from the Talmud shows that pious Jewish women would wear shawls over their heads when they would leave their homes, but there was no practice of fully covering the face. In the medieval era, Jewish women started veiling their faces under the influence of the Islamic societies they lived in. In some Muslim regions such as in Baghdad, Jewish women veiled their faces until the 1930s. In the more lax Kurdish regions, Jewish women did not cover their faces.
Jewish vs. gentile customs
A question was posed to Rabbi Joseph Colon (Maharik) regarding "gentile clothing" and whether or not a Jew who wears such clothing transgresses a biblical prohibition that states, "You shall not walk in their precepts" (Leviticus 18:3). In a protracted responsum, Rabbi Colon wrote that any Jew who might be a practising physician is permitted to wear a physician's cape (traditionally worn by gentile physicians on account of their expertise in that particular field of science and their wanting to be recognized as such), and that the Jewish physician who wore it has not infringed upon any law in the Torah, even though Jews were not wont to wear such garments in former times. He noted that there is nothing attributed to "superstitious" practice by their wearing such a garment, while, at the same time, there isn't anything promiscuous or immodest about wearing such a cape, neither is it worn out of haughtiness. Moreover, he has understood from Maimonides (Hil. Avodat Kokhavim 11:1) that there is no commandment requiring a fellow Jew to seek out and look for clothing which would make them stand out as "different" from what is worn by gentiles, but rather, only to make sure that what a Jew might wear is not an "exclusive" gentile item of clothing. He noted that wearing a physician's cape is not an exclusive gentile custom, noting, moreover, that since the custom to wear the cape varies from place to place, and that, in France, physicians do not have it as a custom to wear such capes, it cannot therefore be an exclusive Gentile custom.
According to Rabbi Colon, modesty was still a criterion for wearing gentile clothing, writing: "...even if Israel made it as their custom [to wear] a certain item of clothing, while the Gentiles [would wear] something different, if the Israelite garment should not measure up to [the standard established in] Judaism or of modesty more than what the Gentiles hold as their practice, there is no prohibition whatsoever for an Israelite to wear the garment that is practised among the Gentiles, seeing that it is in [keeping with] the way of fitness and modesty just as that of Israel."
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- Brody, Shlomo (October 15, 2010). "Why Do Orthodox Women Not Wear Tefillin or Tallit?". The Jerusalem Post.
- Signs and Symbols
- Rebecca Shulman Herz (2003). "The Transformation of Tallitot: How Jewish Prayer Shawls Have Changed Since Women Began Wearing Them". Women in Judaism: Contemporary Writings. University of Toronto. 3 (2). Archived from the original on 2012-03-17.
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- Judith Lynn Sebesta; Larissa Bonfante (2001). The World of Roman Costume. Univ of Wisconsin Press. pp. 188–. ISBN 978-0-299-13854-7.
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- Questions & Responsa of Rabbi Joseph Colon, responsum # 88
- Questions & Responsa of Rabbi Joseph Colon, responsum # 88
- Rubens, Alfred, (1973) A History of Jewish Costume. ISBN 0-297-76593-0.
- Silverman, Eric. (2013) A Cultural History of Jewish Dress. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-1-84788-286-8.
- Media related to Jewish clothing at Wikimedia Commons