Hasidic Judaism - Hasidic Practice and Culture - Dress

Dress

Within the Hasidic world, one can distinguish different Hasidic groups by subtle differences in dress. Some details of their dress are shared by non-Hasidic Haredim. Much of Hasidic dress was historically the clothing of all Eastern-European Jews, but Hasidim have preserved more of these styles to the present day. Furthermore, Hasidim have attributed religious origins to specific Hasidic items of clothing.

Contrary to popular belief, Hasidic dress has little to do with the way Polish nobles once dressed. (The Emancipation movement probably started this myth in the late 19th century in an attempt to induce younger Jews to abandon the outfit.) Interestingly, secular Yiddish writers of old, living in Eastern Europe (Sholom Aleichem, for example) appear to have no knowledge of the "Polish origin" of the dress. Likewise, numerous Slavic sources from the 15th century onwards refer to the "Jewish kaftan". The Tsarist edict of the mid-19th century banning Jewish clothing mentions the "Jewish kaftan" and the "Jewish hat" and, as a result of this edict, Hasidim modified their dress in the Russian Empire and generally hid their sidelocks. Modern Chabad Lubavitch wear the Prince Albert frock coat substitutes for the bekishe reflecting this change, while many Polish Hasidim do so by wearing a redesigned shtreimel sometimes known as a spodik.

Hasidic dress did change over the last hundred years, and became more European in response to the Emancipation Movement. Modern Hasidim tend to wear Hasidic dress as worn just prior to World War II. Numerous pictures of Hasidim in the mid-19th century show a far more Levantine outfit (i.e. a kaftan lacking lapels or buttons) that differs little from the classical oriental outfit consisting of the kaftan, white undershirt, sash, knee-breeches (halbe-hoyzn), white socks and slippers (shtibblat). This outfit allegedly had a Babylonian origin before its later adoption by Jews, Persians and lastly the Turks, who brought it to Europe. The Polish nobility adopted its 16th century outfit from the Turks, hence (allegedly) the similarity between the Hasidic outfit and Polish nobles' clothing. (Similarly, Hasidic dress has a vague connection with Shia Muslim clerical dress, the Shia clergy adopted this dress from the Persians.) One Hasidic belief (taught by the Klausenberger rebbe) holds that Jews originally invented this dress code and that the Babylonians adopted it from Jews during the Jewish exile in Babylon of the 6th century BCE. This belief is not widely held or even well known among Hasidim.

Hasidic men most commonly wear dark (black or navy) jackets and trousers and white shirts. They will usually also wear black shoes. On weekdays they wear a long, black, cloth jacket called a rekel and on Jewish Holy Days the bekishe zaydene kapote (Yiddish, lit. satin caftan), a similarly long, black jacket but of satin fabric traditionally silk. The preference for black comes from a decree made by community rabbis in the 18th century stipulating that black outer garments be worn on the Sabbath and Jewish Holy Days out of the home, as opposed to the shiny, colorful kaftans that were worn prior to that time. The rabbis thought that brightly colored clothes might arouse resentment amongst non-Jews, which could lead to violence. Indoors the colorful tish bekishe is still worn.

On the Sabbath the Hasidic Grand Rabbis (rebbes) traditionally wore a white bekishe rather than a black one. This practice has fallen into disuse except for a minority of rebbes, such as Toldos Aharon and Lelov, and by Hungarian rebbes such as Tosh and Satmar. Many rebbes wear a black silk bekishe that is trimmed with velvet (known as stro-kes or samet) and in those of Hungarian lineage a gold designed or other coloured, tish bekishe or khalat (especially during the tish or during the prayers that come right before or after the tish).

Some Hasidim wear a satin overcoat, known amongst Hungarian and Galitsyaner Hasidim as a rezhvolke, over the regular bekishe. A rebbe's rezhvolke might be trimmed with velvet. Some rebbes wear a fur-lined rezhvolke known as a tilep (Yiddish: טולעפ fur coat).

Most Hasidim do not wear neckties (with the exception of some Russian Hasidim, such as those stemming from Ruzhin, Karlin, and Lubavitch).

These are some of the religious aspects claimed by Hasidim of their dress code. The connections are quite tenuous and the real reasons for the Hasidic dress code are historical and sociological and not theological.

  • Bekishe or rekelech serve as a sign of modesty and cover almost the entire body.
  • The bekishe (kapote) is made of silk because of the Biblical prohibition of shaatnez (today it is common to make it out of polyester).
  • The fur lined shtreimel alludes to the law of shaatnez and began as a way of keeping warm without wearing wool.
  • Shoes worn on the Sabbath may be plain black slip-ons so as not to have to make a knot which is prohibited on that day and so as not to touch the shoes (which would ritually defile one's hands, requiring ritual purification through washing with a special vessel).
  • A gartel divides the Hasid's lower parts from his upper parts, and are mentioned in the Talmud and Shulhan Arukh as a way to "prepare to meet your God".
  • For Kabbalistic reasons Hasidim button their clothes right over left.
  • The Sabbath dress of Hasidim resembles the description of the High Priest's dress in the Bible (this is particularly tenuous and the similarity is not apparent at all).
  • Some Hasidim wear breeches tucked in white socks so the trouser-bottoms do not touch the ground (which in former times was likely to be a source of waste, which is a Biblical prohibition).

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