A kittel, also spelled kitl, (Yiddish: קיטל, robe, coat, cf. German Kittel ‘[house/work] coat’) is a white robe which serves as a burial shroud for male Jews. It is also worn on special occasions by Ashkenazi Jews. In western Europe this garment is called a Sargenes. The word Sargenes is related to the Old French Serge as well as Latin Serica. The term has mainly fallen out of use in modern times, except in certain neighborhoods such as Washington Heights in New York.
The kittel, or sargenes, is used as a burial shroud, providing simple dress that assures equality for all in death. Because Jewish law dictates that the dead are buried without anything in the coffin other than simple linen clothes, a kittel has no pockets.
It is also worn by married men on Yom Kippur and in some instances on Rosh Hashanah. The wearing of a kittel on the High Holidays is symbolically linked to its use as a burial shroud, and, to the verse "our sins shall be made as white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18).
Many Jews also wear a kittel when leading the Passover Seder. In some communities, the cantor wears it during certain special services during the year, such as the first night of Selichot, the seventh day of the Holiday of Sukkot (also known as Hoshanah Rabbah), the Musaf prayers of Shemini Atzeret and the first day of Passover, where the prayers for rain (Tefilat HaGeshem) and dew (Tefilat HaTal) are respectively recited. According to many traditions a bridegroom wears a kittel on his wedding day.
The white color is said to symbolize purity, which partly explains its use during weddings. It is also felt to signify unity with the bride (who also wears white) and the beginning of a new life together. Another reason worn at the wedding is because it has no pockets, showing that the couple is marrying for love, not for what they possess.