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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q11.1.5 TOC Q11.1.7 >

Question 11.1.6:
Dress: Why do some Orthodox Jews, especially Chassidim, wear a distinctive style of clothing (i.e., fur hats, black coats, gartel)?


The particular appearance is a matter of local custom for the group.

Black Clothes:

Black is the color of Gevurah (severity), and thus is a symbolically appropriate garb for serious and important events (praying, holidays, etc.) Those who wear such clothes all week are thus indicating that their daily life is also bound up in divrei yirah shamayim [fearing heaven].

It is worth noting that black was the traditional colour of formal wear among many circles in the 18 Century CE. Hassidic garb is based on what the first Rebbes wore, and by and large represents the colours worn by Polish and other central Europeans.

Is there a source for the wearing of black, especially black fedoras when davening? No. Rather, the fedora and general outfit is an attempt to present a uniform appearance. This is similar to Chassidim, who turned the dress at the time of their founding into a uniform by which to define membership and preserve their cultural uniqueness. The contemporary, post-WWII version of the yeshiva world did the same with the clothing of the 40s and 50s, current when they got started.


It is required by the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law) to have a separation between the top half of the body and the bottom while praying. Those who do not wear a gartel hold that other clothes satisfy the halacha; e.g., a regular belt or the waistband of his pants.


There is an idea that one should have a special head covering for davening. This is drawn from Chullin 138, from a discussion of the kohein gadol's turban (the mitznefes). See the Shulchan Arukh O"Ch 282:2. It is arguable that this is in fact the yarmulka, which was not worn all day until the period of the acharonim, and even later in some Sepharadi locales. It is also the source of the custom to wear one's tallis over one's yarmulka at least for the core part of davening, Shema with its berakhos through Shemoneh Esrei. In other words, it is understood to refer to a second head covering. This is the position in the Mishnah Berurah 8:4, citing the Ba"ch, who requires it for all of davening. Rav Herschel Schachter (a Rosh Yeshiva at YU's RIETS) cites the Pishchei Teshuvah who in turn cites the Shlah that a tallis or hat is necessary from the point of view of atifah, being cloaked while being aware of G-d's presence.

There is also a more general idea of dressing up to address the King no less than one would for a head of state, particularly one with the power of life or death over you (Shabbos 10a). This is the origin of wearing a jacket. I do not see how wearing a ratty old sports coat would qualify, or not talking off one's windbreaker, but at least that's the source it devolved from.

Some choose to wear a double head covering all the time, but it is not required. Some wear it while eating.

The style of hat varies by groups, and the black hat is relatively modern. In the pre-war Lithuanian Yeshivot, grey suits and grey fedoras were the style and many in the Litvish tradition still wear grey and blue suits. In Jerusalem until the 1960s, Panama Hats were worn in the summer by some Haredim, and one very occasionally still sees Haredim wearing them. Right now in the yeshivah world, black suits and black Borsalino hats seem to be de rigeur; yet it wasn't that long ago that many yeshivah bocherim wore black berets, and flat caps were not unknown.

In general, the current hat is any Italian fedora (or knockoff). Borsalino is the brand name in laws would buy their new son-in-law. Top-of-the-line. The Toranto or Genoa models are designed for the single-line crease. Lubavitchers tend toward the more triangular creases of some of the other models. (Not Venis or Sassari, those come up in a dome in the middle.) If you look at, you'll see examples. However, these hats are expensive -- Borsalinos are $300 hats. Stetson would be about half the price -- what you get the new bar mitzvah boy for his big day. In addition to that one-line crease, black even for the band, no feather! Bottom line: It's a top-of-the-line fedora, not made by a particularly Jewish company.

Some wear a (distinctive) gartel or hat (or simply a not-so-distinctive jacket) just for davening, to provide extra honor when talking to G-d. There is also a kabbalistic justification of the double head covering that refers to two distinct aspects of one's soul.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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