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Question

We are 11/12 year old children from Glantaf Welsh Secondary School in Cardiff, Wales. As part of our Religious Education studies, we are looking at the clothing that are worn by people of different religions. We were allowed to choose whichever religion we wanted, and we choose to try and find out what Jewish people wear, and why. Is there a special dress associated with the Jewish religion, if there is does each item/garment have a special significance?

We would be very grateful if you could answer our questions.

Thank you very much.

Answer

I'll try to discuss a few laws regarding clothing. The first law I'll discuss is...

SHATNEZ

The Torah prohibits wearing clothes made out of wool and flax, as it is written, "You shall not wear combined fibers, wool and linen together." (Deuteronomy 22:11) In Hebrew, this forbidden mixture is called "Shatnez."

The Torah does not explain the reason for Shatnez, and it is categorized as a Chok - a law that cannot be explained. (As opposed to a Mishpat - which is law that can be derived from logic).

Nevertheless, different reasons have been suggested.

Rabbi Aaron Halevi of Barcelona wrote in his book "Sefer HaChinuch - The Book of Mitzvah Education" the reason why it is forbidden to mix wool and linen together is because it destroys the spiritual fabric of the universe. This can be explained as follows:
Each and every thing on earth, except for man, has its own spiritual force that influences it. When some of these earthly items are mixed together, they cause their spiritual counterparts to become entangled. Once entangled, they cannot perform their tasks as originally designed, thusly destroying the spiritual fabric of the universe. However, after the explanation, the author tacked on "We still need a Mystic to explain this." (Sefer HaChinuch - The Book of Mitzvah Education #62)

Another explanation, from the Talmud suggests that the reason stems from the fact that when Kain and Abel brought offerings to G-d, one of them brought flax (the plant that linen is made from) and the other brought a sheep (where we get wool from). For some reason, this mixture ended up being lethal and Abel lost his life. (See Genesis 4:1-17 and the Midrash - Genesis Rabbah)

Whatever the reason, the laws of Shatnez are still applicable today, and one can find many Shatnez laboratories that can check to see if one's clothing contains Shatnez or not.

To learn more, read "Sefer HaChinuch - The Book of Mitzvah Education" (published by Feldheim).

MEN'S CLOTHING AND WOMEN'S CLOTHING

Even though in the old days everyone wore robes, the robes made for men were different than the robes made for women. Therefore, if a man were to wear a woman's robes (or vice versa) they would be in violation of the Torah commandment that states: "Male garb shall not be on a woman, and a man shall not wear a feminine garment, for anyone who does so is an abomination of the Almighty." (Deuteronomy 22:5)

The Book of Mitzvah Education, Sefer HaChinuch, explains that the purpose of this mitzvah is to help maintain a separation between the sexes. If, however, men and women were to wear each other's clothing, they would eventually become intermingled with each other constantly until they would be so mixed together they would fall into licentiousness. (The Book of Mitzvah Education, Sefer HaChinuch #542)

KIPPAH (YARMULKE)

The Talmud relates two stories about the custom of covering one's head. In one place it says, "Rav Huna the son of Rabbi Joshua never walked four cubits with his head uncovered. He said 'because the Divine Presence is always over my head.'" (Talmud, Kiddushin 32a)

In another place, the mother of Rav Nachman bar Isaac was told by a stargazer that her son was destined to be a thief. She therefore told him to cover his head so that the fear of heaven would never leave him, and prayed that he should never come to this temptation but never told him why. One day, Rav Nachman was sitting under a date palm tree learning Torah, when his scarf that covered his head fell off. Immediately the temptation to steal seized him and he took a cluster of dates from a tree that wasn't his.(Talmud, Shabbat 156b)

The Taz (17th century, Eastern Europe) said that in the time of the Talmud it was an act of piety to wear a head covering, which is apparent from the admonition of Rav Nachman's mother "the fear of heaven" should never leave him. However, as time progressed, what was simply a display of piety became a Torah law. The reason is because of the commandment "Don't follow any of their traditions." (Leviticus 18:3) In olden days, a tradition amongst gentiles started in which they would take of their hats as a sign of honor. In order not to "go in their traditions," Jews began to keep their heads covered at all times. Today, non-Jews are accustomed to walking with their heads uncovered and so the status of Torah law does not apply to head covering anymore. However, the eminent Torah authority, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote that being all religious Jews have accepted the custom of wearing a Kippah, it became as an Halacha that it is forbidden to go around otherwise. This is why the Code of Jewish Law says, "It is forbidden to walk four cubits without a head covering."

The Marharsha, (16th century Poland) asked: after Rav Huna the son of Rabbi Joshua stated that he covered his head is to remind him that the Divine Presence is over his head (see top paragraph), what does the story of Rav Nachman add? The answer is, the bigger the head covering the bigger the fear of heaven! This is why Rav Nachman covered his head with a "scarf," which was larger than other head coverings, in order to have extra "fear" so as not to turn into a thief! According to the Book of Customs and Their Reasons, this is the source for wearing a hat and a skull cap, or a two-layered skull cap, in order to have even more fear, than one who just wears one head covering. Appropriately, it is interesting to note, that the Yiddish word for head covering, "yarmulke" actually comes from the Aramaic, "yirae malkah," which means "fear of the King."

Also, go to http://aish.com/issues/society/The_Kippah_Debate.asp for more information on this topic.

TZITZIT

The purpose of the Tzitzit is to give us an anchor to the world of spirituality as we go about our daily chores. No matter where a man is, in the work place or in an amusement park he can always look at the Tzitzit and get in touch with G-d, Torah and his mission as a Jew. In relation to tzitzis it says explictly in the Torah that tzitzis are the key to reminding one of all of the mitzvos. We go out of our way to put on tzitzis in order to remind ourselves that we are servants of the King. Even though there may other mitzvos that we can fulfill if we bring ourselves to the point of obligation, in example, buying fruits from Israel to tithe them, there is no other mitzvah like tzitzis that serves as a constant reminder to us, that we are servants of the King.

Just how do the tzitzis remind of us this?

The five double knots on each fringe remind us of the 5 Books of the Chumash. The two fringes in front of a person have a total of 10 double knots and 16 strings which equals 26 the numerical equivalent of the name of G-d. (The number 10 should also remind a person of the 10 sefirot)

There are 5 double knots on each fringe making a total of 10 knots which represent the 10 commandments. In between the four spaces that are found between the double knots the strings are wrapped a specific number of times. 7 - 8 -11 -13 to be exact. 7+8+11 = 26 which is the numerical equivalent of G-d's name. And 13 is the numerical equivalent of Echad meaning One. Thus, every time we look at one corner, we are reminded that G-d is One. (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 1-5) The numerical value of the Hebrew word "tzitzit" is 600. Add to that the 5 knots and 8 strings on each corner, and you get the number 613, which is the amount of mitzvot in the Torah. (Rashi in Bamidbar 15:39)

Being that this is the purpose of the mitzvah of Tzitzit it is better to wear them outside so that we can look at them often and use them as an anchor to connect to the ideas I mentioned above.

The RAMA in Orach Chaim 9:1 says that the halacha is that four cornered garments of all types of material are obligated in tzitzis and that this is a Torah obligation.

If one focuses on the mitzvah of tzitzis properly, no matter where he is he becomes aware of the obligations that are incumbent upon him.

In addition, the mitzvah of tzitzis carries with it a meta-physical "fringe" benefit, (pun intended) in that it carries a special power that helps keep a person away from sin, more so than other mitzvos. (Mishna Berura, Orach Chaim, 24:2 mb:5 )

MODESTY

This letter wouldn't be complete, without discussing the fact that clothes must be modest.

When G-d created Eve, He said, 'From which part of Adam shall I create Eve? If I form her from Adam's head she may become pompous. If I make her from his eye, she may become a flirt! But if I create her from the rib, she will be modest! Since that the rib is always covered, even when he stands naked, that part is still covered!" (Bereshit Rabba 18:13)

One of the great positives of dressing modestly, is that it draws attention to your personality - which is your greatest asset. If you are really looking for your soul mate, you will be searching for someone who loves you for who you really are, not for what your body looks like. Nevertheless, we see from the first love story ever to take place that not only did the young lovers walk around with few clothes -they actually walked around naked! Of course, I am talking about Adam and Eve, as it is written, "they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed." (Genesis 2:25)

This is because they were at a level that they could see each other as souls, not just as physical beings. However, when they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they fell from this high level, and began to see each other as physical entities, as opposed to a personality, or a soul. This is why they became embarrassed, because they realized that their sexual drive was so strong, that they began to reduce each other as beautiful sacks of flesh, and failed to see the holy soul that was enveloped within. (Genesis 3:7)

With blessings from Jerusalem,

Rabbi Shraga Simmons
Aish.com

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