Monday, May 21, 2012

Orthodox Jewish Clothes: What They Mean

[the clothes make the man, or woman]

Clothing plays a practical role in protecting us from the elements. In cold climates, it prevents hypothermia while in deserts it can provide protection from the sun and wind.

Clothing however also plays an important role in communication. When we get dressed, we are often making various statements about ourselves. Obviously, professionals who wear a uniform such as law enforcement or the military are conveying their special roles with their clothing. Outlaw motorcyclists wear special vests indicating their rank and membership. Corporate executives usually wear a special type of outfit indicating their status - the business suit. Mark Zuckerberg, new Internet billionaire, wears a hoodie, supposedly to communicate to the public that he is an artist, not a salesman.

When a Jew gets dressed in the morning, what statement does he want to make?

In Judaism, sex outside marriage is prohibited. A Jewish woman wants to communicate that she is not available sexually. Clothing indicating sexual availability would include clothing revealing too much skin, wearing tight clothing, long, loose hair, high heels and brightly colored clothing. Therefore a Jewish woman's priority is to avoid dressing in a way which waves a flag in front of men reading "Come and get it!" On the contrary, an Orthodox Jewish woman in public wants to send a message "Men: leave me alone."

For men, clothing has little to do with sex appeal. However  for an Orthodox man, clothing is significant in other ways. Tzitzis are a Biblical commandment. Wearing a beard is Biblically mandated. Wearing a skullcap is an ancient Jewish tradition. Among most Hasidic Jews, an elaborate special dress code is customary. Essentially, the Jewish man, when dressing, wants to communicate that he is first of all an Orthodox Jew and additionally he may be communicating which Orthodox subgroup he is a member of. The Jewish man's clothing are a special uniform announcing "I'm a Jew".

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts:

First, I am reminded of the saying:

Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes

Henry David Thoreau

The verse is longer. The idea behind it rather trite. But it still reminded me of that line.

Second: how did it come to pass that dressing like Ozzie and Harriet (or gentiles from the nineteen fifties) was the height of Jewish sartorial expression? You don’t watch Mad Men I assume – but in the first season of the show (which is about the advertising industry in the early 1960’s) everyone dresses like they woke up that morning in a Litvish frum neighborhood!

Tuvia

jewish philosopher said...

Let me ask you: How did it come to pass in the general American society that the clothing worn by little boys in the 1950's became the height of sartorial expression for everyone of all ages and both genders?

http://childrens-clothing.lovetoknow.com/1950s_Kids_Clothing

Anonymous said...

Because people are silly. Are you saying jewish copy cat clothing is equally silly? Agreed.

BTW, if you really want to see examples of women who take “the male gaze” seriously – you have to give it up for the bhurka wearing women of Beit Shemesh.

If the idea is to cut down on leering and attractiveness – mission accomplished!

Tuvia

jewish philosopher said...

Different communities have different styles of clothing. The idea of everyone dressing like a child hasn't caught on in all orthodox circles.

Even in general society, you'll find that diplomats, executives and so on basically stick to 1950 era clothing, minus the hats.

Judaism discourages burkas.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/7919501/Israeli-rabbis-clamp-down-on-burka.html

Anonymous said...

All I was getting at is that the burka actually achieves what tznius dress codes say they are trying to achieve. With burkas, women are unattractive, and not subject to men’s leers.

I have spent enough time around Orthodox women to know that their attire is in no way unattractive. Wearing dignified, tailored clothing can increase attractiveness. You’ve heard of the “sexy” librarian look?

The shaidel too is hardly an unattractive item on a pretty woman. A full head of rich, healthy hair (even if it isn’t your own) is well known as an attractive feature for women.

Leaving more to the imagination (the brain being the most important sex organ) is actually a way to enhance attractiveness. Ever been to a nude beach? Not a particularly sexually charged atmosphere (in fact, something of a turn-off.)

I actually believe the rabbis know this. That they won’t approve of the burka has much more to do with its “non-European” look, and that it interferes with Ozzie and Harriet style Judaism. Whether we admit it or not, the “look” Orthodox Judaism most admires comes out of the 1950s style magazines of our great, goyishe, nation!

Tuvia

jewish philosopher said...

For Jewish women, the goal should be to tone down and send a message of sexual unavailablity.

There were Jews before 1950 and they wore something I believe.

Ironmistress said...

The step from covering your hair to burqa is incredibly short.

I wear my blonde long hair long and flowing. Not because I was a nympho but because it is my crown.

From men suffering from overtly strong sexual instincts, there are several drugs which can be used to lower sexual urges. IMO rapists should be castrated. My right to walk freely where I want is a stronger judicial good than rapists' right to their sexuality.

jewish philosopher said...

You're sending a certain message and that's your choice, like a biker with his vest or a businessman with his tie.

Ironmistress said...

Yes, I am sending. Especially when combined with T-shirt, docksides and jeans.

I am sending the message that I am a Finnish woman, I know who I am, I appreciate myself and my freedom and do not mess with me.

The wedding ring on my left annular finger sends the clearest message there can be. Far stronger than any clothes or hairstyle.

jewish philosopher said...

Women of your great-grandmothers generation didn't dress at all the way you do because they wanted to make it clear that they were not sexually available. And how many of them lived as single moms?

Ironmistress said...

My great-grandmother was a single mom. She was raped.

No matter of how she clothed or signaled being sexually unavailable helped her. A weapon or knowledge of martial arts would have helped.

The Israelis have resolved the issue by conscription and giving their women both weapon training and unarmed fighting training. I do martial arts and I can use both firearms and edged weapons.

And I am living year 2012, not 1882.

jewish philosopher said...

"My great-grandmother was a single mom. She was raped."

All four of them??

jewish philosopher said...

Notice the change in women's fashions in recent decades

http://youtu.be/xSVa3naCOOw

and the change in nonmarital births in recent decades

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db18.pdf

This is in spite of the huge advances made in birth control

http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=52188

and the legalization of abortion

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roe_v._Wade

Slutty fashions have followed with slutty behavior.

Ironmistress said...

JP, no. Only one of them. But what difference does it make?

Illegitimacy is a red herring here. Rapes will occur, no matter how women dress. Most illegitimate births today are planned: women simply want a baby but not a man.

And who can blame them? If nice guys are boring and dull, and bad guys are exciting and hot but violent and narcissistic, and you can live both yourself and your baby, why bother with a man?

jewish philosopher said...

"And who can blame them?"

Me. Even if the women are just fine with living promiscuous, single lives, what about the kids?

http://www.fathers.com/content/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=391

David said...

Ok, but how important is this clothing deal really in Judaism.

I mean, I heard that in some ultra-orthodox communities (Such as Meha She'arim and Bnei Brak) people often physically abuse women who don't wear the most modest clothing, even if they are simply walking by the neighbourhood.

Is it really THAT bad, that they will beat fellow Jews over it? I thought that Jews are now basically pacifists, and hitting a fellow Jew over most sins is strictly prohibited.

Plus, dress doesn't always mean as much as you think. You never know who is a good Jew and who isn't. A man could wear a T-shirt, Jeans, and a baseball cap outside, but when he comes home, he could be studying Gemara for 4 hours. Meanwhile, someone could dress in a black suit, kippah, tzitzit, and have peyos, and come back home to play his Wii all day.

jewish philosopher said...

" I heard that in some ultra-orthodox communities (Such as Meha She'arim and Bnei Brak) people often physically abuse women who don't wear the most modest clothing, even if they are simply walking by the neighbourhood."

I've heard that in some US colleges women are raped. Does that mean academia is OK with rape?

David said...

"I've heard that in some US colleges women are raped. Does that mean academia is OK with rape?"

It means that those that rape are OK with it, in the same way that those who attack women are OK with it.

Now, I am aware that this type of behaviour is NOT OK with most Jews, however (in Meha She'arim and Bnei Brak)it seems to be more common than rapes in colleges.

This can lead one to believe that those communities are in fact OK with it. Which is very ironic, because those communities are supposed to reflect the best of Judaism, not the worst of Al-Qaeda.

Furthermore, some things you mentioned in this post seem odd to me. For example, wearing a beard is not mandated, it's just that shaving with a razor (blade) is prohibited - some Rabbis allow electric razors however. Also, I thought Tzitzit was only biblically mandated if you are wearing a 4 cornered cloth and the Rabbis made one for you so you can fulfil the Mitzvah.

jewish philosopher said...

You know I've been hearing for years about rocks being thrown, however how many people do you know who have actually gotten hit by one and injured by one? They can probably be counted on your fingers.

In any case, in any community of a couple of million people you'll have a few nuts.

As far as other ultra-orthodox tolerating the extremists, maybe up to a point, but not really too much.

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/violence-between-ultra-orthodox-sects-rocks-jerusalem-neighborhood-1.392357

http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/article.php?p=109376

jewish philosopher said...

"wearing a beard is not mandated"

Removing the beard is really very questionable. If anyone asks me, I'd say grow a beard. Trimming it is OK.

Ironmistress said...

JP, again a red herring. Most kids in single-parent homes grow up perfectly normal.

A religion which states sumptuary laws is a disturbed one. It sets form before function, the style before substance. And when the appearance is correct, it can be used to cover just the most horrible atrocities around.

Just like Islam.

jewish philosopher said...

"Most kids in single-parent homes grow up perfectly normal."

Even if true, what about the many who don't? That's just too bad, my having fun comes first?

You might want to check out this article

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinderella_effect

and this book

http://www.amazon.com/The-Unexpected-Legacy-Divorce-Landmark/dp/0786886161

At some point, we have to become adults and accept responsibilities and stop imagining that we can be lifelong teenagers. This idea of lifelong adolescence is probably the main reason why the West is falling.

Ironmistress said...

Even if true, what about the many who don't? That's just too bad, my having fun comes first?

Many children who grow up in nuclear families are also subject to abuse and mistreatment. Not necessarily by fathers, but mothers can be rotten eggs as well.

This is again a red herring. No burqa can save a woman from getting raped any more than dressing modestly. Right to defend yourself and bear arms does. In the past everyone in Finland, both men and women, carried a knife, and getting one's first knife was a signal of coming to age. Not only as a sidearm, but as a tool and dining utensil as well. Disarming the populace has made the populace weak - and disarming women has made women prone to sexual violence.

Ironmistress said...

" I heard that in some ultra-orthodox communities (Such as Meha She'arim and Bnei Brak) people often physically abuse women who don't wear the most modest clothing, even if they are simply walking by the neighbourhood."

I've heard that in some US colleges women are raped. Does that mean academia is OK with rape?


No, it means that rapists are OK with rape even in the academia, and that the Ultra-Orthodox religious people (no matter what religion!) are not OK with women's rights.

A rapist will rape, no matter how his victims are dressed. There is one thing no dressing can hide and it is the scent of a woman and her pheromones.

But dressing code has always been used to abuse and oppress women and will be.

Ironmistress said...

On dressing code: when wearing the thermal suit, there is no way of telling whether the worker inside is a man, woman or small furry critter from Alpha Centauri.

Pyrometallurgy involves high temperatures, and sometimes an engineer has to put the silvers on him/herself.

jewish philosopher said...

"Many children who grow up in nuclear families are also subject to abuse and mistreatment."

I think that any psychologist or family therapist would tell you that if at all possible a child should be raised to maturity by both biological parents living in the same home with him, unless the parents are really physically violent. There isn't anything "casual" about sex. Sex implies a 20 year commitment to stay together and raise a child.

"No burqa can save a woman from getting raped any more than dressing modestly."

I'm concerned about seduction, not rape.

"that the Ultra-Orthodox religious people (no matter what religion!) are not OK with women's rights."

What makes you think that rabbis approve of some dumb teenager throwing a rock (they don't) any more than college professors approve of rape on campus?

Michael said...

"And who can blame them? If nice guys are boring and dull, and bad guys are exciting and hot but violent and narcissistic, and you can live both yourself and your baby, why bother with a man?"

I kind of appreciate this comment from Ironmistress. It highlights that she really is just a scumbag, and her occasional moral outrage at statements made by JP really conceals a rather weak moral conscience.

Ironmistress said...

Michael, my moral conscience is exactly as strong as anyone else's. It is just different from yours.

Mine is that of the 21st century, not that of the Bronze Age.

Ironmistress said...

"Many children who grow up in nuclear families are also subject to abuse and mistreatment."

I think that any psychologist or family therapist would tell you that if at all possible a child should be raised to maturity by both biological parents living in the same home with him, unless the parents are really physically violent.


Maybe, maybe not.

There isn't anything "casual" about sex. Sex implies a 20 year commitment to stay together and raise a child.

That is how it was before the invention of contraception. Technology has changed everything. Technology has enabled to detach sex from commitment.

"No burqa can save a woman from getting raped any more than dressing modestly."

I'm concerned about seduction, not rape.


Anyone who equates seduction with rape really should look at mirror.

What makes you think that rabbis approve of some dumb teenager throwing a rock (they don't) any more than college professors approve of rape on campus?

What makes you think college professors approve rape at first instance?

jewish philosopher said...

"Mine is that of the 21st century"

21st century where? North Korea, France, China, Congo, Colombia?

"That is how it was before the invention of contraception."

That's just an excuse for selfishness. Contraception makes little difference. Worldwide, 38% of pregnancies were unintended in 1999.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unintended_pregnancy

Ironmistress said...

"Mine is that of the 21st century"

21st century where? North Korea, France, China, Congo, Colombia?


21st century Finland.

"That is how it was before the invention of contraception."

That's just an excuse for selfishness.


And exactly what is wrong with healthy selfishness? What makes you think I should sacrifice my life because of someone else?

Contraception makes little difference. Worldwide, 38% of pregnancies were unintended in 1999.

Worldwide those unintended pregnancies occur in countries where contraception is either unavailable or banned. Or the participants are too dumb to not use it.

Numbers of unintended pregnancies are lowest in countries where religion has least influence on the society. Likewise, the more religious the society, the higher the number of unwanted pregnancies. USA is the leader in the industrialized countries in this respect.

jewish philosopher said...

Which with a fairly high rate of suicide

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

and alcoholism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_alcohol_consumption

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6106570.stm

is the model we should all aspire to.

Ironmistress said...

JP, the suicide rates in Europe have actually decreased during the last decades.

Europeans drink a lot of alcohol mainly because they are fairly immune to it and its effects. They have used wine and beer for millennia as everyday drink. Those who cannot stand alcohol usually either refuse from it - or die from it. It is called natural selection.

That is the reason why Prohibition was a peculiarly American and Scandinavian idea - and why it never caught on at Central Europe and its wine and beer countries.

jewish philosopher said...

I think I'll look elsewhere for moral inspiration.

Ironmistress said...

Your choice. This is a free world.

jellyrollfortheearhole said...

The uniform says "I am a Jew!" More importantly it says "and you're not!" It's been said that a future of prosperity and coexistence will not be about exclusion but inclusion. Of course, orthodoxy of any kind has separation as its main purpose. I suppose your version of g*d needs separation to prove the chosenness of his "chosen" (a concept just on its face is offensive). Nature tells us we are not only the same as people but we're pretty much one with the inanimate universe as well.

But how can you be special if you're just like me? If you got your way, when the Day of Judgement comes I'll be bowing down to Israel. Islam says the infidels and the Jews will have to go before that day can even come and Christianity says once it does the Jews will have to convert or be cast away with the rest of the goats (as opposed to sheep). As for me, I'm Agnostic, I think that when we perish we'll all go into the great darkness together. And you say I'm the one who doesn't understand the Truth! Your exclusionism is a sad and dangerous choice to make but I wish you well. Sorry we must go down fighting instead of going together. Ah well, call me a savage.

jewish philosopher said...

I'm sorry to offend you, but we really are better. When was the last time you saw an orthodox Jew convicted of murder?

Vanessa Morrow said...

thank you for the beginning of the conversation. this topic seems to have run slightly off course. i am in conversion right now, and i was looking for non-biased facts about the reasons why i should change my attire options. what i found is best dais by JP.. "For Jewish women, the goal should be to tone down and send a message of sexual unavailability".. but this says that she would be unavailable, but unmarried men dont want a "prude" or a "heathen" so what is appropriate for unmarried women who are looking?

jewish philosopher said...

I would look to the common practices of the mainstream orthodox comminity as a guide, since these practices are undoubtedly based on the guidance of rabbis.

The common practice seems to be that when single women meet single men on a date they do try to look attractive but not slutty - communicating an interest in marriage but not casual sex.