Is It Proper For A Man To Not Wear A White Shirt On Shabbos?
While it is an ancient tradition to wear white on Shabbat (Shabbat 25b), a practice popularized by Kabbalists, the primary obligation is to wear special clothing for Shabbat – clean, laundered, and superior to our weekday clothing. We honor Shabbat by not wearing the same clothing on Shabbat that we wear during the week (Shabbat 113b). This sounds easier than it is in practice, and especially here in Israel, the casual dress that typified Israeli society for decades still lingers on Shabbat in many places, and even where more formal dress has become prevalent in many business settings.
How should our dress be unique? Someone who wears a white shirt every day should set aside a special white shirt for Shabbat. Someone who never wears a white shirt during the week should certainly wear a white shirt on Shabbat because that honors the Shabbat and brings dignity to the wearer. Shabbat is defined not only by what we can’t do – the prohibitions – but perhaps even more by what we must do and how we distinguish this day from the other six days. Just like our homes must have a special Shabbat feel to them – table set with our finery, special dishes served, the whole family dining together – so too our sartorial presentation must reflect the grandeur of Shabbat as well.
And here is the unfortunate reality. People who do not dress like it is Shabbat eventually behave as if it is not Shabbat. They might avoid explicit prohibitions at first but will eventually succumb. Children dressed in suits and white shirts (and ties!) are less likely to be found playing ball or engaging in some other weekday activity. Clothing is a constant reminder of the special quality of Shabbat.
There is chol clothing and soul clothing. White is soul clothing. Wear it on Shabbat.
– Rav Steven Pruzansky is Israel Region Vice-President for the Coalition for Jewish Values and author of “Repentance for Life” (Kodesh Press).
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It is difficult to define exactly what colors and styles should be worn, as different communities have different lifestyles and expectations. I believe a good general rule would be that one should dress on Shabbos for shul, as he would for a formal business meeting.
Whatever would be acceptable in his circles for a formal presentation or a formal business meeting would be the style of dress appropriate for Shabbos. The dress of a casual lifestyle might be appropriate for relaxing on Shabbos, but certainly for shul and even the Shabbos meals, there is a much greater requirement for being appropriately and formally dressed.
It is important to remember that there are two main concepts of Shabbos: zachor and shomer. Shomer is just to guard, not to do melacha, not to do the forbidden acts. Zachor is to honor the day of Shabbos, to treat it as a holy day. Included in that are to set the table, have proper meals, and certainly dress. For one to properly fulfill the mitzvah of zachor, remembering the Shabbos and keeping it holy, it would be appropriate to dress as one would for a formal setting. It would seem that anything less than this would not be a fulfillment of the mitzvah.
– Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz and author of 10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make (available at theshmuz.com)
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The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 262:2-3, citing Shabbos 113,118) rules that one is to strive to have nice clothing for Shabbos as one is preparing to greet the King [Hashem] and the Sabbath queen. Rema (ad loc 262:3) Refers to such clothing as Sabbath garments, or in our popular vernacular as “Shabbos clothing.”
It is obvious as we honor the Shabbos when we wear our Shabbos clothing, they not only honor the Sabbath but they also effect an impression upon the wearer him/herself. Yet they create an even greater impression as we see from the following episode.
Two of the great geonim of the past generation served as rabbonim in the city of Dvinsk in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century: Rabbi Meir Simcha Ha’kohen (1843-1926) and Rabbi Yosef Rosen, also known as the Rogatchover Gaon (1858-1936).
A young couple found themselves in an unusual predicament. Try as she could, every Shabbos she found herself unable to nurse her infant child, though during the week she had no such difficulty. In searching for a solution, they approached Rav Meir Simcha. Rav Meir Simcha could think of no reason for this occurrence nor any solution; he, therefore, suggested they approach Rav Rosen.
When they retold their story to the Rogatchover, he told them to go back to Rav Meir Simcha with the following message. “It’s a Tosafos in Bava Kamma.” With that message, Rav Meir Simcha realized that he was referring to a case where an ox that would only gore on the Sabbath. Tosafos explain the mystery. The ox sees the people dressed differently from how they dressed during the week, in their Shabbos garments, and thus gores only on such a day. Rav Meir Simcha told the mother to put on her weekday clothes and lo and behold the infant nursed. Thus, we see that even an animal and an infant who as yet has no understanding are able to perceive the difference Shabbos clothes make.
A number of years ago, one of my friends, knowing that I would go with my she’elos to a certain rav, a gaon of note, prodded me to ask the gaon, “May one wear a colored shirt on Shabbos?” The Rav answered very simply “Tzu se’iz rein, tzu se’iz shmutzig” – Is it clean or is it soiled? The answer though short needed no further elaboration.
Times change and so do styles. The clothing we wear today is so different from what our ancestors wore in antiquity or even what they wore one hundred years ago. It’s important to dress for Shabbos but how we do so leaves some wiggle room.
– Rabbi Yaakov Klass is chairman of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America; rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn; and Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at [email protected] and [email protected].
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A major element of shmiras Shabbos is the mitzvah of kavod Shabbos. Treating Shabbos with a high level of respect brings home its importance to our hearts and minds. When we make a big deal out of a Shabbos it allows the message of the holy day to make a bigger difference in our lives and in our connection to Hashem and His Torah. For this reason, we prepare special seudos with special lights, we clean the house and clean ourselves. All this goes into the mitzvah of kavod Shabbos.
Another component of this mitzvah is to wear bigdei Shabbos, specially designated clothing for Shabbos. Each community has different styles and customs when it comes to what clothing is worn. If a person is not in line with the kehilla that he associates with, it would seem that he isn’t fulfilling the mitzvah properly. Some communities are more formal and don more special garments and others less so, to this Chazal say, “Echad hamarbe vechad hamamit, ubilvad sheychaven libo lashamyim” – one can do more or one can do less, as long as one has the proper intentions.
– Rabbi Yehoshua Heber is Rav of Khal Tomchai Torah at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and Dayan at Bdatz Mishptai Yisrael.