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The Priestly Garments and Yankees Pinstripes

04/26/2012 11:19:46 AM


The priestly garments and Yankees pinstripes- a few thoughts about shul attire. Please take a moment to read.

With the increasingly warm weather of spring upon us, I wanted to spend a few moments to address the somewhat sensitive issue of shul attire. I know there are some who will loudly applaud my remarks and others who will not. I warmly and fully encourage any discussion on this topic, even if your feelings may differ from my own.

To start our discussion, let us restate what the identity of a shul should be. A shul in reality has several dimensions. There is the element of a beis knesses as the place where people gather to daven and form a community, and there is the element of the shul as a makom kadosh, a place of the greatest sanctity. Sometimes it can be a challenge to mesh together these two different but related visions of what a shul should be. The shul as a makom kadosh has very specific regulations that dictate behavior in the shul. This behavior, is of course patterned after the Beis HaMikdash - the mikdash gadol after which themikdash ma'at is patterned. Included in the laws that dictate behavior in the shul are not engaging in any frivolity, not sleeping or eating and not even coming into a shul with a little bit of dirt on one's shoes. In short, the shul needs to be a place where one maintains an active consciousness of the sanctity of one's surroundings.

That brings me to the issue of clothing. The priests were instructed that they could only come in the Beis Hamikdash if they were dressed in their priestly clothing for the purpose "l'khavod u'ltiferes" - for honor and for glory. The necessity of the priestly clothing is twofold, and apply to clothing in the shul as well. One reason is that by dressing a certain part, one can feel the seriousness of a place or of the task at hand. To that end, I recall about ten years ago when the Yankees wanted to sign a certain player with a reputation for being something of a wild man. There was legitimate concern whether he would fit into the rather conservative culture that the Yankees try to promote in their organization. The Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner, said that (and I paraphrase) "once Jason gets on the pinstripes he will become a Yankee through and through." In other words, that there is something about putting on a certain uniform or clothing that makes a person conscious of their surroundings and makes them rise to the demands of time and place. That certainly is true by shul as well.

The other aspect of the priestly clothing, and by extension shul clothing, is that very simply - clothing reflects respect for a place and for the activities within that place. Can you imagine showing up to a black tie affair in a pair of khakis? It would be an affront to the class and elegance of the event. No less thought needs to be put into the thought process of what a person, man or woman, wears when he or she walk into the miniature beis hamikdash- namely the shul. What statement does it make to fellow congregants and to one's children, not to mention to the Ribbono Shel Olam, if one walks into shul dressed in a way that does not reflect sensitivity towards standards of modesty. I can not emphasize enough how significant an issue this is and to what degree respect for sanctity is such a fundamental part of our world outlook- whether it be the sanctity of a person, time or place.

A person might claim that these demands for modesty are part of the tenets of the 'black hat' community, but that we are proudly Modern Orthodox and thus they do not apply to us. To that claim I would answer the following: Modern Orthodoxy is a philosophy that dictates how one views the world around them. It is not a license to shirk halachic standards and restrictions, and the halacha in these areas are generally clear. There are many hundreds of shuls that proudly consider themselves Modern Orthodox, and are sensitive to standards of dress - especially inside the Beis Knesses. Additionally, this does not appear to me to be an issue of orthodoxy. The New City Jewish Center often sends a card to people who attend simchas there to please be sensitive to the sanctity of their synagogue by dressing modestly. I would like to think that our standards and sensitivities towards kedusha should be no less.

Again, I want to reiterate how proud I am of our community. In big and small ways, our members are constantly sacrificing in order to live lives dedicated to Judaism that are saturated with a beautiful and noble Jewish spirit. That being said, I would like to make respect for the synagogue a priority and beseech all of the members to ask of ourselves before we enter shul if our behavior and dress reflect the place of sanctity that I am about to enter.

I ask again that if there is any feedback to this e-mail, of any sort, that you contact me directly at

Fri, May 7 2021 25 Iyyar 5781