May 30, 2024
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Walking home from our outdoor minyan at shul on a recent Shabbat, my friend Milty was very agitated. He was upset that some men came to daven in shorts. He felt that someone should say something. I commiserated and agreed with him wholeheartedly. Walking the rest of the way home I began to reflect on this, hence this article. To tell the truth, I have written about this before in professional and scholarly journals but not in the popular Jewish press. I am told that too often I sound like an angry old man when I let go about certain pet peeves, especially when my perceptions are in conflict with common practice. However, Milty’s frustration at this lack of propriety at a Shabbat davening seem to indicate that perhaps others feel the same way, so once more we enter the fray.

There are basically three issues related to this topic: appropriate attire for Shabbat in general, appropriate attire for davening in general, and when and how to offer rebuke when someone is in violation of halachic practice and/or norms. For a detailed halachic analysis of what is considered appropriate attire for Shabbat, please go to ttps://web.stevens.edu/golem/llevine/Casual%20Saturday.pdf. Generally speaking, based on the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch, one should dress on Shabbat the way one does for a wedding or similar simcha. If you live in Israel, the accepted norms are much more casual. In North America, the generally accepted attire for men at a wedding is a suit and tie. Similarly, women ought not to wear open-toed beach sandals or flip flops to shul. If and when this standard changes, then our poskim will so inform us. When I wrote my original article I confirmed my analysis with Rav Schachter.

I understand that in the summer it is hot, humid and sticky as one walks to shul. Now that many still daven outdoors, there is no opportunity to cool off. Yet, that is the halachic standard. Shabbat is a special day which is honored with special foods, prayers and clothing. Many individuals have special Shabbat clothes, shoes, cufflinks etc. Rav Soloveitchik zt”l once chastised someone who left his suit jacket in shul on a hot Shabbat since he felt it was important for people to see someone who honors Shabbat by dressing a certain way even on a hot day. When I would attend CAJE conferences in August, I and a few others would wear our suits on Shabbat, even in San Antonio. Based on the approbation we received from most of the more casually dressed participants, it was a kiddush Hashem.

In general, I am disappointed in the failure of our educational systems in schools and shuls to convey the depth and importance of tefilla. See http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/english/ten-daat/greene-1.htm. Very briefly, if we understand that davening is standing in God’s presence, then not only how we daven, but how we dress when we daven will change. Our black and white yeshivish brethren are always dressed appropriately. We may not need a jacket and tie and hat, but excessively casual dress is inappropriate, even during the week. ‘Nuff said.

The Torah (Vayikra 19:17) tells us to rebuke and admonish sinners. The Talmud and Rishonim slice and dice this mitzvah into many component parts. [https://www.etzion.org.il/en/mitzva-rebuke] We should correct individuals who are violating mitzvot, even rabbinic ones. If they don’t change, keep at it. However, if they refuse to listen or to change, maybe it’s better not to criticize them. Granted, it’s always hard to tell a friend that he is doing something wrong. If he/she is a good friend maybe they will appreciate it. Often people may not be aware that what they are doing is something inappropriate. Since the Talmud advises us that we no longer know how to properly offer criticism, perhaps rabbis ought to try to teach about this admittedly sensitive subject.

When Congregation Beth Aaron was first established, Rabbi Stanley Fass worked very hard to inculcate proper understanding of tefilla. Every speech, dvar Torah, seuda shelishit, Mincha/Maariv, drasha, etc. was devoted to aspects of tefilla. Many of the shul’s current practices are based on his shiurim. Davening in a yeshiva is different from davening in shul. It shouldn’t be. Schools and shuls, teachers and rabbis need to up their game regarding davening. Not talking during Torah reading or the repetition of the Amidah is praiseworthy. So is proper attire.

Jackets and ties are hard to wear in the summer. Keeping Shabbat, kashrut and taharat hamishpacha are no walk in the park either. In camp we said Shabbat was a “big day” so we wear our bigdei Shabbat! Walking around town on Shabbat I observe youngsters and adults who would never be mechalel Shabbats actively, but they dress like it’s a Sunday at the beach. By the way, Shabbat lasts until Havdala. Dressing down for Mincha is also a problem.

People dress up for special occasions. Shabbat is a special occasion. Milty is right.


Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene is grateful to the Jewish Link for allowing him to sometimes address controversial topics.

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