Torah For Today! This week: National Dress

Torah For Today! This week: National Dress

After Prince William wore a sherwani during a visit to Pakistan, Rabbi Ariel Abel reflects on how Judaism sees respecting culture

Rabbi Ariel Abel

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

Prince William and Duchess Kate in Pakistan
Prince William and Duchess Kate in Pakistan

 On a recent visit to Pakistan, Prince William wore a sherwani, the country’s national dress for men. What does the Torah say about wearing national dress?

At first glance, it may seem Jews do not have a national dress. Yet the tallit is more than a religious article. It is in fact a desert shawl wrap, and the fringes are there to distinguish the wearer as an observer of the Israelite faith.

While the modern custom has not kept up with halachic expectation, women and men are required to affix tzitzit to clothing with four or more corners.

The Turban is another article which merits the recital of a daily blessing each morning. The Turban is referred to as “the glory of Israel”. In modern Jewish communities, devout women wear turbans and other headgear and men now wear the kippah or yarmulke.

In fact, the original Jewish dress was in the reverse. In the Talmud, the daughters of Talmudic scholars wore a kippah-style headdress and the men wore turbans.

As Jews travelled constantly throughout the last several millennia, Jews have adapted to others’ national dress.

If clothing is modest and conforms to the Biblical injunction against twinning wool and linen together, it is permitted to wear.

Dress from hot countries is usually very modest and healthy, as it allows for the proper circulation of air around the body, eliminating the chance of bacteria gathering and soreness.

However, not all modern Jews appreciate the beauty of foreign national dress.

One warm summer Friday night, my wife and I wore comfortable cotton Tuareg and cool Indian dress in north Manchester. Our Jewish neighbours turned their heads in embarrassment and did not wish us Shabbat Shalom.

I wonder what they would have done to avoid Maimonides and his wife in the street!

  •  Rabbi Abel serves Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and is padre to Merseyside Army Cadet Force
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