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What is shatnez?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

Library » Daily Life » Clothing » "Jewish" Clothing | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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"You shall not sow your field with a mixture of seeds, and a garment which has a mixture of Shatnez shall not come upon you."1

"You shall not wear a mixture of wool and linen together."2

A. Like all of life, your wardrobe has a Jewish way to it, too: shatnez.

B. Shatnez (pronounced SHOT-nezz) means "mixture." Shatnez is a spiritually unhealthy mix of materials. In Negative Mitzvah #42, wool and linen materials may not be spun, woven, sewn or worn together. Shatnez only applies to a mixture of wool and linen. Any other materials may be combined, such as silk and cotton.

C. Shatnez is a Chok -- a mitzvah whose complete reason will always elude human intellect. However, several partial reasons have been suggested: 1) Shatnez was worn as a sort of uniform by clergy of idolatrous religions; 2) the Kohanim wore shatnez uniforms, therefore, we may not; and 3) Flax (linen) was Cain's sacrifice, while sheep (wool) was Abel's, and bringing the two together brought about negative consequences.

How do I check for shatnez?

1. Episode I--On the Trail

You are an undercover shatnez detective, sneaking about Macy's. Wool/linen combos are your targets. 100% cotton shirts/socks/underwear? Harmless bystanders. Silk ties? OK. Polyester/rayon/nylon sportswear? Dead-end lead. Denim? Distraction. "One hundred percent" wool suits or slacks? Buy 'em. Proceed with extreme caution. Call for back-up. Dangerous suspects.

2. Episode II--Investigating the Evidence

You pay at Checkout and secure an item return slip--just in case. You head out the door with the woolen suspects, acting calm. Your back-up is waiting. You head to your rendezvous at the Shatnez Lab.

3. Episode III--The Verdict

The expert at the Lab hunches over his workbench, inspecting the suspects intensely. He surgically removes a pinch of threads from their inside linings for analysis. "It mostly depends on where they're made," he tells you without looking up. "Companies constantly switch factories all over the world--so you always gotta check stuff out. Also, which companies--some cheat by mixing linen into their wool, and some are more honest." "Great, Dr. Rabbi," you grouch from under your rakishly-angled-standard-issue-undercover-detective hat, "but what about my Armani? What about my pants?" "Well..." he pauses, painfully increasing the suspense, "...they're good." You breathe deeply. "But it's a good thing you brought 'em in. You never know." You sweep out the door, trenchcoat billowing behind you, new clothing in hand. Case closed.

Footnotes

  • 1. Leviticus 19:19.
  • 2. Deuteronomy 22:11.
TAGS: shatnez

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COMMENTS

Wool mixing

Posted by: Anonymous on Jan 30, 2007

Do people really check their clothes today or is it just those that are fanatics about being Jewish?

Thanks,

Sam

Editor's Comment

As far as I know, every city with a major Jewish community has a Shatnez checking lab. It's not just a custom, it's from the Torah. If there is a possibility that a garment may contain a mixture of wool and linen, it must be checked.

Linen woven into wool suits

Posted by: Anonymous, Milwaukee, WI on Aug 13, 2007

Just because a suit is listed as 100% wool, does not mean that there is no linen mixed in. Oftentimes linen is sown into the collar to add stability and strength to the shape. So watch out for extra horizontal threads running under the collar.

RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Prohibitions

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Kohanim
Plural form of Kohain. Priests of G-d. This title belongs to the male descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses. The primary function of the Kohain was to serve in the Holy Temple. Today the Kohain is still revered and it is his function to recite the Priestly Blessings on certain occasions.
Shatnez
A garment which contains both wool and linen. A Jewish person is forbidden to don a Shatnez garment.
Abel
Second son of Adam and Eve, born on the Sixth day of Creation. Murdered by his older brother Cain.
Cain
Eldest son of Adam and Eve, born on the sixth day of creation. When his brother Abel's sacrificial offering was accepted in place of his own, he killed him. He was exiled for this deed.