Jewish Dress Customs

Written by laurie rappeport
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Jewish Dress Customs
Observant Jews have specific customs of dress. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Historical events have dispersed Jewish populations throughout the world. In each country the Jews often adopted the dress of the local population. Today observant Jews maintain dress codes that mandate that they wear certain clothes that conform to Jewish law and tradition. Additionally, among many traditional Jews, a person's clothing combines religious expectations with outward signs that identify him as a member of a specific Jewish community.

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Ritual Clothing

Observant Jewish men wear a tallith katan, an undershirt which is open at the sides and has ritual fringes that hang from the shirt's four corners. Married men wear a larger tallith during prayer. This tallith, also called a prayer shawl, is a large piece of material which also includes the ritual fringes found on a tallith katan. Observant Jewish men wear kippahs on their heads. The various styles and shapes of the kippah indicate the sect of Judaism that the man belongs to. Many Orthodox men also wear a hat on top of their kippah. Men belonging to the Lithuanian, or non-Hasidic community, wear a black wide-brimmed felt fedora hat. Some Hasidic Jews, notably the Chabad Hasidim, also wear their own type of fedora. Many Hasidic men wear "shtreimels" or "spodiks," fur-rimmed hats, on the Sabbath and holidays. Some Breslev Hasidic men wear a white beanie. Jewish men from Yemen and different Sephardic communities wear various types of turbans.

Modest Dress

Within the Orthodox community modesty is a tremendous virtue and men and women dress as modestly as possible. Ultra-Orthodox women wear high-necked shirts with long sleeves, below-knee-length skirts and stockings in all weather. Ultra-Orthodox men generally wear, over their tallith katan, a white shirt and a black jacket. Hasidic men wear "bakeshes," knee-length black overcoats and "gartels" with which they close and tie their bakeshe.

Wedding Clothes

Jews who have roots in both Ashkenazi (Eastern European) and Sephardic (Mediterranean and North African) countries have special wedding customs that involve the bride's and groom's clothing. Many Ashkenazi grooms wear a kittel, a white knee-length robe, at their wedding ceremony. The kittel symbolises purity. Some men also wear kittels at the Passover Seder and at High Holiday services. The bride's wedding veil takes various forms among the different Jewish communities. Some Hasidic brides wear a heavy cloth veil that, Hasidic Jews believe, protect the bride's modesty by allowing her to avoid guests' gazes while she stands under the wedding canopy. Other Jewish brides generally have a gauze veil that the groom places over the bride's face before the ceremony begins. (This is an explanation of how the Jewish patriarch Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah before Rachel because Leah came to him veiled).

Women's Head Coverings

Among observant Jewish women, head coverings are mandatory after marriage. The spectrum of head coverings is wide, ranging from wigs among some Hasidic and Lithuanian communities to wigs with attached hats within the Ger Hasidic group. Sephardic rabbis discourage wigs because they believe that they mimic hair and Sephardic women generally wear hats, scarves or kerchiefs. Some women switch off, wearing a scarf or snood at home and wearing a nice "sheitel" (wig) when they go out. A woman generally follows her community's rabbis when deciding on the type of head covering that she wears after she gets married.

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