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Why do many religious Jews dress only in black?

by Mrs. Sarah Levi

  

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They don't.

While Halachah emphasizes the qualities of the color black, and indeed, many Chassidic groups literally wear only black (and white), religious Jews generally dress in dark, solid, conservative, and businesslike styles, not necessarily in stark black.

There are several reasons for this code of conservatism:

1) To maintain a distinct identity

Our sages tell us that our forefathers survived the Egyptian exile for three reasons: they did not change their language, their names, or their style of dress. They maintained a distinct identity that helped them to prevent assimilating into Egyptian society.

Our forefathers survived the Egyptian exile for three reasons: they did not change their language, their names, or their style of dress... to prevent assimilating into Egyptian society
2) To maximize human potential

There are two reasons human beings wear clothes: to protect the body from the elements, and to draw attention from other humans. In contrast to modern fashion that draws (unwarranted) attention to various base features of the human body, the Jewish dress code is unassuming, covering what we have in common with the animal kingdom (no details necessary), and exposing what distinguishes us from the animal kingdom (the head and hands).

3) Uniform responsibility

When you wear a uniform, it identifies you to others as someone bearing certain responsibilities. It also serves as a reminder to the one in uniform that his or her responsibilities are different from those not in uniform.

The Torah tells us that Jews are a "...nation of priests and a holy people (Exodus 19:6)." The Jewish dress code serves as a constant reminder of this.

See also What is the purpose of the uniquely Chassidic attire?


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COMMENTS

Jewish dress

Posted by: Shira on Nov 27, 2004

Regarding your explanation of Jews dressing very soberly, you said that this is partly to preserve Judaism, as in the example of the Jews in Egypt. I was told (I don't remember where or from whom), that the way the many Chassidim dress was the normative dress for even non-Jews in the past (the example I think was Lithuanian Jews) and that they just decided not to change their style since then. If that is true, then they weren't maintaining their distinction from non-Jews in that time. In addition, I find that the clothes that you described do not stick out so much from non-Jews, unless there is a streimel or a hat included. As well, I've noticed that religious women wear very modern (and sexy) clothing all the time, and don't look out of the ordinary at all (except that they wear skirts every day, instead of once in a while like most girls). If the goal was to look distinct so as not to be easily assimilated, why not have a dresscode more like the Indian's saris, or the muslims dress-like garb?

Editor's Comment

1. It is a common misconception that Chassidim used to dress like their neighbors in the old country. It is not true. Even in the old country it was easy to tell a (Chassidic) Jew apart just from the clothing he was wearing. 2. The level of distinction in the clothing depends on the people wearing those clothing. Chassidim, for example, wish to remain very distinct, and their clothing is in fact very distinct. Other orthodox people don't want to be very distinct, and their clothing is in fact less distinct. But at the end of the day religious Jews are almost always recognizable as such merely from the way they are dressed. 3. Although this article is referring primarily to the "dress code" or religious men (since religious women do not only wear dark colors), nonetheless, I think most would agree that it is very easy to single out a religious girl by the clothing she is wearing.

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Jewish Identity » Jewish "Labels" » Orthodox

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Halachah
Jewish Law. All halachah which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.
Chassidic
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) A follower of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.