Tuesday, July 05, 2005

It Made Me Sad

A number of years ago I was out and about the fine metropolitan city I currently reside in, when I suddenly felt an overwhelming need to daven. I can't tell you why or what, just that I felt the need to commune with Hashem, but not alone.

As it was a summer day and the temperature was well over a 100 I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. I was momentarily concerned about going to shul dressed that way, but two things stopped me from running home to change.

First, there wasn't time to change and still make the minyan and more importantly to me it is nobody elses business how I dress. If I am coming to shul in clothes that cover my body are not unnecessarily provocative, do not have obnoxious slogans or whathaveyou, then it is between me and Hashem.

When I arrived at shul I quickly hurried to make the minyan when I was accosted at the door by someone who had decided to serve as the gatekeeper of who should or should not be allowed to enter.

He blocked my path and began to chastise me for not being respectful, for showing up in this fashion in his eyes was a complete affront to all of the members and to G-d.

I don't do well with being told what to do by anyone so I politely asked him to step by and when he wouldn't move asked the others in the minyan if there was anyone in there who could cite chapter and verse as to why their tefilah was more important and or more likely to be heard than my own.

It made me sad to have this fight, but darn it, I hate people who think that fancy trappings, gold wrapping paper, silver bells etc make a difference. Cliche or not, it is what is inside that matters.

None of these people knew whether I was rich or poor. I could have been wearing the finest clothes I owned, it really shouldn't matter.

A suit and tie are worthless if there is no kavanah in your davening.


A Simple Jew said...

Jack: You are not alone with these thoughts. The Kotzker Rebbe once said:

"I don’t understand the people who come to me. All week long they do as they please. When the Shabbos comes along, they dress in all their finery and consider themselves members of the wedding family to welcome the Shabbos bride. And I say that their dress is a façade. Their behavior on this Shabbos is just the same as their behavior on all the other days of the week."

Just Shu said...

I couldn't agree with you more. When I was in High School if you came to davening without a jacket, you would be suspended for the day. I thought this was teh dumbest thing I'd ever heard, The jacket didnt help out my davening. I didn't think it should matter to G-d what I wear when I pray, and a a beat up jacket, didnt neccesarilly make me look more presentable when i prayed

Just Shu said...

I understand that G-d is compared to a king, and if you went in front of a king then you should dress up. I have two issues with this, if i was so tight with teh king that I spoke with him 3 times daily, I dont think I would have to be so dressed up, we would be comfortable with each oither.
2. to compare G-d to a flesh and blood king is insulting to him, a regular king may need you to drfess up for his ego, since you have to look your best for the king. Hashem, is above that, to him what you're saying is what counts

Chaim said...

Jack, when I was in high School I sometimes would try to get away with wearing sandals. I got so much crap, people were always coming over to me saying, your not allowed to wear sandals when you daven!

I asked them two questions.

1) On Tisha Bav and Yom Kippur, don't many people wear sandals instead of Leather shoes? If it's good enough for YOM KIPPUR! ?

2) 300 years ago, do you think they had Florsheim or Kenneth Cole?

It also reminds me of the alef beis kol nidrei story, where a man came in to shul during Kol Nidirei and shouted out giberish alef beis combinations, cause he didn't know how to read or speak hebrew. The daveners all laughed at him, and later the Rebbe at the shul told them, his davening reached a higher part of shamayim, cause of his kavanah.

Gella said...

I really don't have any opinion on this one way or the other, but I'd like to add something that may be worth thinking about. If you had a sudden meeting with a very important person, and were wearing what your were wearing, would you have run home to change? or would you have kept on the shorts, etc? How would you compare God to a very important person?

Jack Steiner said...


To me this is not the same thing. I expect G-d to be able to see my heart and a person I do not have the same faith in.

That doesn't mean that I would run home to change for the person, I still might not do so.


Love the quote.

PsychoToddler said...

I think it was last year the Rabbi got up and said that it's not respectful to show up to shul in jeans and a sweatshirt. You wouldn't show up that way to a business meeting or to court, right?

Problem was that Sunday I like to wear jeans and a sweatshirt. So I had to decide if I wanted to get dressed up in my work clothes on sunday or just skip shul. I shouldn't have to make that choice. There are a lot of forces working at me to keep me in bed longer on my day off. This shouldn't be one of them.

Jack Steiner said...

There are a lot of forces working at me to keep me in bed longer on my day off. This shouldn't be one of them.

So very true.


you should've come to my shul,on shabus we have up hats, black hats,straw hats,no hats,gray hats, striemlach and spodiks and aside from the rebba,the mizrach vont consists of men in jeans and t- shirts.(& we are in brooklyn)

PsychoToddler said...

Amshi, I don't know what your shul is like, (or even if you're serious--who can tell?), but I'm assuming if the jeans and tee shirts crowd are tolerated it's because it is assumed that they are "transitional" and will eventually adopt some uniform as they become "more frum."

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

In Israel i saw a lot of people in shul on shabbos wearing jeans. It seemed to be more of the fashion among Sefardim/Mizrahhim than Ashkenazim.
I never did that though, because it wasn't really part of my culture. I wore khakis instead, which was definitely the dominant style in the Valley of the Aboriginal Ghosts.
Once i was hanging out with some Israeli friends, though, and i happened to be wearing (you might appreciate this, PT, it was for LARP reasons) jeans and a white shirt, and one of them said i looked like i was dressed for shabbat.

I've always thought that the "dress for davening like you would for a meeting with an important person" idea was silly for the reasons already mentioned. I mean, God *knows* me, i don't need to impress the Creator by dressing (i.e. acting fake) in a certain way.
Lately, though, i've been getting a bit more sympathetic towards the idea. Not because dressing formally impresses God, but that it's supposed to lend more formality to the situation. Or something like that. I haven't really changed my practice (yet?), though. It'd be weird to be hanging around in t-shirt and jeans or whatnot and then change into a suit and tie or something just to go to shul for mínyan.


pt its more than that the rebbe is from denver where he had as i call it "a got what you get minyan" for so long that he does not care what comes,he is honestly non-judgmentel.that is why anyone sits on our mizrach wall.

Jack Steiner said...

I cannot daven unless I am comfortable in my clothes, it is just too hard to focus.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


That's another very good point!

Jack Steiner said...


It really is important, at least to me it is. I find it hard to get myself into the proper mindset and if I am uncomfortable than it becomes that much harder.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

That was actually one of my main problems with it too. I ended up becoming more open to the idea/practice once i became more comfortable with the clothing.

PsychoToddler said...

Amshi: Sounds like you got a good shul there.

(types this after he changes from his pants and shirt from minyan into teeshirt and shorts for rest of day)

Alison said...

We teach our children that it is who we are on the inside that matters, not our clothing. I do understand the need to be respectful, especially when modesty is a concern, but the bottom line is you are there to make a connection with G-d. Placing human emotions and expectations to G-d in this regards seems to be out of line, especially if it didn't come from the source itself. Saying that, last summer I started attending a torah class at an orthodox shul. The Rabbi is very well known and well respected. I went to the class, wearing a skirt and a blouse that had cap sleeves and a slight v-neck, though it barely drop below my collarbone. I asked the Rabbi if he would mind if I came to class wearing pants. He said he didn't. Afterwards, a woman come up to me and said, that 1) since all the women attending are orthodox, if I did decide to wear pants, then I may feel left out, 2ndly, that I shouldn't be concerned with what I wore below. Rather, I should be concern about my choice of shirt. That my shirt was too revealing (because of the cap sleeves) and that the Rabbi is not use to seeing such flesh. Oh my. Well, actually I am not sure what planet she has been living on, but the funny thing is, this very orthodox Rabbi, is a law professor at a nearby University. I am sure, the female law students that attend his class are not covering themselves from head to toe. In fact, the last time I was near a campus, it seemed the fashion was to wear as little as possible. So there goes the theory that this poor Rabbi was being contaminated by the exposure of my upper arms.

I am constantly asking what draws the line between orthodox Jews and the rest of us that are percieved as not being Jewish enough. Does it have to do with a level of observance, or perhaps a depth of talmudic knowledge and customs, or deisre to only focus and stay connected to a Jewish community and it's affairs? That if you go outside the circle and explore, learn and enjoy what the rest of world has to offer, you are an liberal and traitor.

There are certain rituals and ceremonies I have learn through word of mouth or by actual exclusion, that won't allow Jews who are not "orthodox"(I guess that covers the gamet)to participate in because they not observant enough. That their lifestyle removes any credibility and in the eyes of their more "spiritual, law abiding Jews" they are flaunting god's rules. I only bring this up, because I don't understand that line. How does it differeniates? What makes one person acceptable and another not. If I observe Shabbat and keep kosher, but choose to wear shorts and t-shirt, or if a man chooses not to cover his head. Am I or are we any less worthy in G-d's eyes than someone else who may do those things, but steals or cheats or commits numerous other questionable acts and lack basic moral conduct and values. I guess it all goes back to you wanting to pray and then being shunned for not wearing the right clothing. It's all so ridiculous. And it does turn off many Jews from wanting to learn more and taking pride in their their heritage.

Sorry to ramble on...but this a huge pet peeve of mine in which I am trying to find a real answer to.

Jack Steiner said...


I hate that double standard and I refuse to accept it. I do not buy into having to wear a uniform to be accepted. It does not make any sense.

There is a very shallow side to people that is exhibited when we allow ourselves to use clothing to define ourselves.

PsychoToddler said...


I've often noticed that it's not the Rabbi or the administration of the shul that gets all in a huff about what you wear; it's usually some over-zealous congregant. And often it's a recently observant one at that.

I know a woman (who is orthodox) who was really turned off by our community when one woman, whom I'm sure was driving on Shabbat not more than a few years ago, chastised her because her 12 month old daughter was wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur. Come ON!

And now for the other side:

It doesn't have to be this or that. It doesn't have to be wear a black hat or be honest in business. I think the goal of a lot of the "self-improvement" criticsm, and this includes what you wear to shul, is to keep striving for perfection.

Yes it's good that you come to shul. Now can you work on your attire? The feeling is that a Jew needs to keep growing. There is no stagnation.

While I understand the notion, I think people need to pick their battles intelligently, and not overemphasize the superficial at the expense of the important part inside.

Jack Steiner said...


The thing that you bring to the table that makes your insight/commentary valuable here is that you are not condescending our judgemental.

There is room for dialogue and disagreement and that is significant.

PsychoToddler said...

Where do you get off telling me I'm not condescending! As IF you could fathom the genious of...


Yes of course.