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Points of View
Are You Wearing That to Shul?
My Point of View, September, 2008
© Rabbi Jack Moline

My great-grandfather would never consider entering a synagogue without a hat – not a satin skullcap, but a fedora. My grandmother would never go to shul without her head covered. My mother would never allow my sister to wear pants to services. And though I would never think to show up on the pulpit in a tee shirt, I have no compunction about wearing a red tie (when I wear a tie) in spite of the fact that my rabbi once told me it was the height of inappropriateness.

We each have a personal or family definition of what constitutes appropriate clothing for Shabbat and holidays, and this column comes both to affirm and challenge. Let me give you the bottom line first: respect. How you dress makes a statement about the kind of respect you have for synagogue. Now to elucidate.

Too many of us disparage synagogues that became fashion showcases, particularly on the High Holy Days. Almost that number sniff disdainfully at houses of worship that encourage people to come in tee shirts or halter tops. Both of them represent the same problem: the individual puts his or her own needs ahead of the purpose of the gathering. Whether the need is for attention or personal comfort, the individual who dresses too far up or too far down has the wrong priority.

I have heard the arguments about Shabbat attire from both directions – Shabbat clothing should be especially fine to show honor, say some, and Shabbat clothing should be different and therefore more comfortable than workaday clothes, say others. Frankly, I agree with both positions and do not find them mutually exclusive. So I will not enter the tie/panty hose/slacks/fedora arguments – they are details that distract from the issue.

All of us have someone close (frequently a parent, in the case of kids) who can arch an eyebrow and ask, “Are you wearing that to shul?” Whether it is haute couture or a belly-baring top, something just shy of a tuxedo or low hanging jeans, that question ought to be enough to make you reconsider an outfit.

But just in case it isn’t, here are some tips. It is reasonable to expect that a shirt will have a collar and a blouse will cover all underwear (or where underwear should be). The only holes in pants should be where the feet come out, and a lady’s skirt should not provoke speculation on the effects of her dropping her siddur. And nobody wants to see any skin in your midsection, nor the brand of your boxer shorts. If you have an outfit for prom, cocktails or accepting the Nobel Prize, please invite us so that we can see how fabulous you look in it.

Beyond that, you are on your own.

The High Holy Days will be here sooner than you think. Please – consider a kittel. Think of the money you will save for fancy or funky outfits for other occasions!

Ann and our children join me in wishing you and yours a happy and healthy New Year. May 5769 bring each of us satisfaction, an end to conflict around the world and peace for all of Israel.


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