Living Torah Class #3: Getting Dressed

Living Torah

Getting Dressed Lesson III

“This is my G-d and I shall glorify Him. (Ex. 15:2)”

This teaching and those that follow include rabbinic laws regarding various subjects. Some of these teachings are specific to certain sects of Judaism and the information provided should be gleaned for that which appropriate for your specific sect. Messianic Jewish believers can benefit from reviewing this material and implementing applicable concepts to their lives that will enhance living a life consistent with G-d’s Torah. Please feel free to address any questions or concerns with me by clicking on the “ask the rabbi” link on the website. I will be happy to assist you in your continued Torah walk.

The Shulchan Aruch says:

It is not permitted to follow the customs of pagans (gentiles) or to be like them in the way they dress, cut their hair or the like; as it is said, “And you shall not walk in the customs of the nations” (Lev, 20:23

One reason why the Israelites adopted a strict dress code was to keep their identity clear. Wearing different clothes helped separate Jews from the rest of society. This posture taken by Jews past and present helped them from becoming hopelessly mingled with the pagans. Today within society on the whole the tendency is to assimilate. Halacha has taken the position that today we understand the idea of choosing proper clothing is by dressing modestly.

Only a century ago people owned few clothes. Today, we have a wide variety of choices and these choices will determine the way you feel during the day.

There is actually a Jewish way of dressing in today’s society. By choosing what we will wear will reflect and remind ourselves of our Jewish tradition. Jewish tradition prefers that clothes do not cost too much because expensive clothes will give you false pride. The danger in false pride is that you forget that everyone is created in the image of HaShem. Wearing very expensive clothes will tend to make you treat others who are dressed less expensively with contempt or as inferior. That is definitely not the Jewish approach to life.

There are times when it is appropriate to wear more than shorts and flip-flops such as on Shabbat. We know that being created in the image of HaShem is more of an inner experience than an outer appearance; nevertheless, the idea is that when we go to Shabbat services, we are in a sense, “coming to a holy place to worship our King.” What you wear is the first impression you give others of who you are and what is important to you. This is not to say you should go out and spend more that you can afford on clothes. Rather, we should wear clothes that would honor our L-rd; clean and conservative dress.

We do not wear dirty or tattered clothes for that reason. Judaism teaches that HaShem created the good things of this world so that we might enjoy and share them. Sharing and using the things HaShem created is part of living a full Jewish life. The Talmud teaches, “Three things enhance a person’s spirit: a beautiful home, a beautiful mate, and beautiful clothes” (Bere 57b). Remember this saying is from a rabbinic perspective and “beautiful” has more than one meaning.

Judaism also stresses the need to make a balanced choice when choosing our clothes. Rambam summed it up this way:

“The dress of a wise man must be free of stains; he should not wear apparel of princes to attract attention, nor the raiment of paupers, which incurs disrespect. (Laws of Belief, 5:9)

This cleary implies that you should dress in moderately priced, clean, and neat clothing. This kind of clothing protects you from false pride, keeps you from making others feel uncomfortable, and prevents you from appearing to not care what others think of you. You should also wear clothes that are appropriate for the time and place. You are not to wear revealing and inappropriate clothes on Shabbat.

The word penimah in Psalm 45:14 actually refers to the interior of a place but is often used to mean the inner you. You are to select clothes that best fit not only the outer but the inner self as well. This relationship between the outer and the inner becomes clearer by a parable of the Baal Shem Tov, the great Hasidic teacher and leader.

A king was informed that people who were humble and lived simply were given long life. The king changed his wardrobe for work clothes, left his palace and went to live in a hut. As time went on, however the king found that he was less humble than before. He was actually proud of living so simply. Then a wise teacher said to him, “Dress like a king and live like a king, Let people bow down before you. If you really wish to be humble, be humble in your heart.”

The moral of the story is that the good things we enjoy can make us too proud of ourselves-but not if we learn to be humble in our hearts.

The Jewish standard is: Hukkat hagoy, “The law of the nations.” This is a negative standard telling us what we should do by warning us about what to avoid. It comes from Leviticus 20:23, “An you shall not walk in the customs of the (other) nations.” This law tells us we must not dress in a slavish manner wearing only and always what fashion or what others wear. Yet, it does not mean we always do the opposite of what other people do that too would be kinds of slavery. We are to find a place between two extremes.

When fashions become outrageous, we are to employ better sense and not follow what is considered in vogue. Some people follow fashion just to be popular. Judaism says that popularity should come from acting in ways that earn the genuine respect of others. A Jew who dresses like the nations soon forgets to act Jewish.

1. Dress with tzni’ut, an intelligent, discreet person-a high term of praise in the Jewish vocabulary. Be a Tzanu’a.
2. Dress with dignity.
3. Dress discreetly.
4. Dress appropriately
5. Do no dress to make others feel inferior.
6. Do not dress shabbily.
7. Do not dress sloppily.
8. Never wear stained clothes.
9. Follow religious guidelines. Observe traditions for covering the head. Do not wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur. Follow the prohibitions in the Torah (Lev 19:19, Deu. 22:11) against wearing sha’atnez, fabrics that mix wool and linen.
10. Remember hukkat hagoy. “And you shall not walk in the customs of the (other) nations.” (Lev. 20:23)

Clothing and Gender:

“A woman shall not wear things (normally) worn by a man…neither shall a man put on a woman’s dress” (Deu. 22:5). This is one reason orthodox women don’t wear pants because pants are normally worn by men. However, pants cut for women may be acceptable if they are not too tight or revealing. The chief Sephardi of Israel Ovadiah Yosef noted in 1987 that often pants are more modest than some women’s skirts.

Jewish law pertains to more than just clothing. Men should not wear women’s jewelry or makeup, nor should a man shave his beard if his only reason is to make his face more like a woman’s or to be more attractive. If for a medical reason that is a different matter.

Both men and women are created in HaShem’s image, But, you may ask, “How can that be when we are so different?” We all have a purpose and were created for that purpose whether in the role of a woman or a man. When a man or woman tries to be like the opposite sex, they are saying HaShem’s will is less important than theirs.

Yirat Shamayim (The Fear or Honor of Heaven)

Jews have a distinctive way of dressing. Kippah, tallit, and tefilllin. These special forms of dress help us to establish our identity every day. In the western world it is a sign of respect for men to take their hats off when entering a building. For Jews it is a requirement to cover our heads as a sign of respect for HaShem. In biblical times Jews did not normally wear a kippah but the sages of the Talmud regularly covered their heads as a sign of yirat shamayim, and head covering became a Jewish mark of piety and learning.

Married women cover their hair and expose it only to their husbands as a sign of yirat shamayim and tzni’ut. All married women should cover their head in the synagogue as all men should wear a kippah. A married woman covers her hair to signal to the outside world that they are unavailable.


In biblical times men wore a robe with four corners. The Torah commands us to wear tzitzit. “The L-rd spoke to the children of Israel and commanded them to make for themselves tzitzit on the corners of their robes throughout their generations. Let them attach a cord of blue to the tzitzit at each corner. These shall be your tzitzit: look at them and remember all the commandments of the Lord and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in the ways of the evil urge. In this way you shall be reminded to observe all My mitzvot and be holy to your G-d (Num. 15:37-40)

Since we no longer wear clothing with four corners, the tallit, or prayer shawl, is meant to enable you to fulfill this mitzvah.

Because we are commanded to wear tzitzit at all times Jewish men and boys should wear a squared cloth under their shirt. This cloth has tzitzit at each corner and is called the tallit katan (small tallit).

The tallit usually white and must be large enough to cover most of one’s back. It is commonly made of wool or cotton. Because most tzitzit today is all white signifying mourning for the destroyed Temple and the blue thread is missing a blue stripe is added to the Tallit. The tallit has a collar called an atarah at its top. This means “crown,” the part of the tallit worn on the neck and shoulders.

The numerical value of the word tzitzit Is 600 and you add that to the eight threads and five knots and you have 613 the number of mitzvot in the Torah. In Messianic Judaism the blue thread signifies Yahshua. Originally the blue thread was made from a Mediterranean snail shell that was thought to become extinct and since the organism that produced this blue color was no longer available the blue thread was not made. Today this snail has been rediscovered and the making of the blue thread is slowly being made again.

The commandment calls for us to look at the tzitzit so Halacha said that this means by natural light and not artificial light. So tallits are worn only in the daytime in the Shacharit service except on Tisha b’Av. On this special day, when we mourn the loss of the Temple, the tallit is not worn until the afternoon. On Yom Kippur, to signify the special holiness of the day, the tallit is worn for every service, beginning with the evening of Kol Nidre service. Before burial the tzitzit are removed or torn because the dead can no longer perform the mitzvot of looking at them.

Should women wear the tallit? The Talmud tells us that Rabbi Judah the prince attached tzitzit to the aprons of women in his household. He believed the commandment was binding on women as well as men (Men. 43a). Other rabbis have ruled that since women are exempt from commandments that have to be done at a set time-only during the daytime- women need not obey the commandment.

To fulfill the mitzvah of tallit, we begin by reciting the berakhah:

Blessed are You, our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us through His commandments and has commanded us to wrap ourselves in tzitzit.

First, the tallit is put over the head, with all four corners thrown over the left shoulder. Then two corners are put on each side of the body, two is front on each side and two in back. On weekdays, we put on the tallit before putting on the tefillin. We are commanded to wear the tallit everyday. We do not put on tefillin on Shabbat.