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October 10, 2015 | 27th Tishrei 5776
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Dress for Clergy

  1. I have always worn a robe at ALL services, as did our (now) Rabbi Emeritus. Our new Rabbi prefers to wear a robe primarily on the High Holy Days, but not on Shabbat. Since I have been here for 24 years, he respects my preference, which I greatly appreciate.

    It does not seem to be a problem for the congregation. When we began to discuss this, I told him that it would not be a problem for our congregation if we were not dressed identically, and it seems to be working.

    While I recognize the reasons many no longer appreciate the robe, my reasons for wearing it are many: I grew up with it and to me it says that the wearer is a member of the clergy and is functioning in an official role. Personally, I feel as comfortable in relating to people before, during and after services wearing it as I do in a suit. I do not feel that there is any greater sense of separation between people and me. In my opinion the separation comes from WITHIN and is projected regardless of garb.

    At the retirement event for the late chazan David J. Putterman he spoke of looking forward to "no longer having to put on the ol malchut shamayim."He was quoting the traditional daily morning service which uses those words, literally translated as "the yoke of the Kingdom (sic) of Heaven". The intent of the prayer is to acknowledge that each Jew accepts the responsibility to serve God by accepting and putting on that Divine Yoke. What chazan Putterman was referring to was, of course, the robe with its (tallit).

    That was a very powerful image, at least to me. It said, and continues to say, that when I wear the robe, I am performing a very special function, one that carries with it great weight and responsibility. It says that I am representing the congregation before the Holy Blessed One.

    500 Families

  2. I personally think that the clergy?s attire is a matter for the clergy to determine. I am not sure the ritual practices committee should get involved. In any event here is what the movement has said about this in the past:

    CCAR Responsa from Contemporary American Reform Responsa

    130. Pulpit Robes

    QUESTION: Some members of the congregation feel that it would be more appropriate for the rabbi and cantor to appear on the pulpit in robes. At the present time it is the minhag of the congregation to have them conduct services wearing a dark suit. Is there some Jewish tradition that favors robes?

    ANSWER: In recent centuries, Hassidic Orthodox authorities have opposed any change in the garb worn by their followers; for that reason, their members continue to wear garments commonly used in Eastern Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Sofer, Mahaneh Hayim, Vol. II, #2; Joseph Schwartz, Vayitzbor Yosef, 12.7, etc.). These authorities have also opposed the innovation of rabbi and cantor wearing robes, which was introduced into the liberal congregations of Hungary. They felt that this followed the customs of the Gentile community around us, and that has always been prohibited (Zeph 1.8; Yad Hil. Akum 11.1; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 178.1). This, however, was a later interpretation of these citations, for both Caro and Isserles refer to garments that were overly decorative or ostentatious (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 178.1).

    It is, therefore, clear that although in a large number of congregations rabbis and cantors wear robes, there is nothing in tradition that would encourage it. In fact, the democratic tradition of Judaism that gives no special liturgical role to rabbi or cantor would indicate robes as inappropriate garb of distinction. The minhag of the congregation should, therefore, be followed.

    230+ Families

  3. Our rabbis continue to wear robes for Shabbat Morning in the main sanctuary and Friday night in the main sanctuary. [At] [a]ll other services whether in the chapel or the atrium (an informal worship space) they do not wear robes.

    This was a rabbinic decision that was discussed informally with Religious Practices. That is there was no motion and vote, the rabbis presented the topic, there was discussion that confirmed what they wanted to do and they have done it. Although we are a large and structured congregation, much decision making about rabbinic practice is handled in this manner because the rabbi has the final say about what is done on the bimah. Paul

  4. I'm a rabbi and I stopped wearing a robe back in the 1970's. It increases the barrier between me and the congregation. The only time I wear one is on the High Holy Days. Michael

  5. I coordinate the "Worship Initiative" at [our congregation]. For the last year or so, our rabbi and cantor have not been wearing robes for Shabbat services. Of course, this was discussed in our Ritual Committee and it was amazing to me, at least, how much emotion this generated. There was a woman who threatened to leave the congregation because the absence of robes went against a tenet of strict Classic Reform, in which she had been brought up. Another person said they wanted to be able to recognize their rabbi on the bimah (?). Things have died down for now. Robes will be worn for High Holy Days and other major holidays and for B'nei Mitzvah and Confirmation Services.

    For me, personally, seeing the rabbi and cantor in their tallis and kippa, evokes an ancient memory within me, and gives me a feeling that what is, has always been and always will be. Abby

  6. Four years ago, after reading Parashat tzaveh, our temple discussed this issue. We concluded that for Saturday morning services in which many b'nei mitzvah are celebrated, our clergy would wear robes. We have found the congregants prefer this distinction and it enhances the worship experience. FYI... The robes are black. During the High Holydays, the robes are white. Martin 540 family units

  7. There are a whole bunch of interesting issues raised by this question. Should robes be worn by clergy leading Jewish services? Who decides what clergy wear on the bimah? Do dress codes vary with the locale and/or timing of the service?

    Let me turn the clock back to the days of my pre-denominational childhood, when I often attended services at Reform, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues. At the Orthodox synagogues, the rabbi was typically wearing a black suit; at the others, it was a robe. (Off the bimah, the rabbi was likely to be in a long gray frock coat and black trousers.) My "read" is that the Reform rabbis were modeling their attire on that of their Christian colleagues, and that the Conservative rabbis were modeling theirs on that of their Reform colleagues. In any event, the effect was to differentiate the attire of clergy from that of congregants. This was in keeping with the high bimah--in my own congregation in days of yore, at key moments in the service, like Kol Nidre, the house lights would dim, and the spotlight would beam down on the rabbi. The rabbi was elevated into a distant figure of mystery, God's surrogate inspiring us to awe, and a priestly figure doing for us what we were not qualified to do for ourselves. I don't think that's who we want our rabbis to be today.

    Who decides what clergy wear on the bimah? Does this decision differ whether it's robes or kippot/talitot? Dark suits or more casual attire? When our congregation introduced a 6:00 pm Kabbalat Shabbat, designed to be less formal than the 7:45 service, the just-out-of-school young rabbi wore a shirt and tie, chinos, no jacket. (The senior wore a suit.) The old ladies (of both genders) were shocked--I thought it was perfect. To the best of my knowledge, the lay leaders were not consulted. Nor should they have been.

    Do dress codes vary with timing or locale? Do you think God is wearing a different pair of glasses when entering the chapel instead of the sanctuary? The people on the bimah--lay as well as clergy--serve as role models for the congregants. I think they ought to set a tone of respect for the occasion, and for one another. I don't think I--or anyone else--should come to Shabbat services in jeans (although I wouldn't send anyone away), but I also think that my Shabbat attire can be different from business attire. Robes? Kipot/talitot? Chinos? Business suits? What's best suited (pun partially intended) to create the mood of spirituality and community that the service is meant to inspire?

    Larry 1400 units

  8. Our rabbi and cantorial soloist do not wear robes. When the question came up in our Ritual Committee, the answer from our rabbi was loud and clear "No!" Edmond 100 Households

  9. Our clergy stopped wearing robes at least six years ago. Except for High Holidays and Purim or other costumed events, we don't see robes at all. I have no idea how the decision was made or by whom. Alan

  10. We have student rabbis from HUC, so we have someone new every year or two. Our Ritual Committee prefers a robe on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but has not requested it at other times. Some rabbis agree to wear one; others do not. Most of the rabbis, men and women, wear a suit, tallit and kippah for Shabbat services. We have also had rabbis who didn't want to wear the kippah or tallit; this has bothered a few congregants, but they still come to services. When we have had visiting cantors they also wore a suit and no robe. I guess the Ritual Committee makes the suggestions or requests, but we let the rabbis do what they want. Carol 20 families

  11. I'm not certain whether we have a formal written policy, but, by convention, our rabbis wear dark robes at all adult services and life cycle functions in either our main sanctuary or smaller chapel. White robes are worn on the HHD. At less formal activities (Blue Jeans or Tot Shabbatot, Religious School functions) they wear street clothes with tie and jacket. David 1250 units

  12. I can't believe that there are still so many clergy who wear robes!!! I haven't seen them (with the exception of white ones on the High Holidays) for what seems like forever, at a large number of congregations around here (suburban central New Jersey).

    And on the tallit/kippah issue.... we have two rabbis now, one male, one female. The male wears a tallit, no kippah, and the female wears both. (The student cantor wears only a tallit.) They both are on the bimah at the same time, and no one seems to object to their personal preferences. Debbi

  13. I belong to two congregations; we are in the middle of consolidation negotiations. We no longer have our own rabbi for weekly services--we either attend in the sancutary with the 'home' congregation, or we have services a couple of times a month, either lay-led havurah in the social hall (there is no chapel), or in people's homes.

    At my original congregation, which was more traditional and also more informal, the rabbi generally wore black robes. It was not clear to me who made this decision, but when she went on sabbatical, we did not require the student rabbi serving in her place to wear robes...Our student rabbi continued with us, and still, no robes. When she left, however, we bought her robes as an ordination gift, because we knew that the congregation to which she was going (large Classical Reform congregation, where she is now junior rabbi) required it.

    ...After our student rabbi moved on, we needed a new rabbi. The one we hired came from a congregation that required robes, but we told her that we did not, having gotten used to the suit/nice dress look with our student rabbi. This suited (pun also only partially intended!) the new rabbi just fine.

    By the way we still have our own RH/YK services, during which the officiants (rabbi and cantorial soloist) wear white robes.

    In the new congregation, the rabbi and cantor both wear black robes for all services. For RH/YK they wear white robes, and the cantor also wears a square pointed hat, in the 19th C high Classical Reform German tradition.

    Personally, I do not favor robes. Well, OK for RH/YK, but seems too formal for year 'round use. That said, I can think of so many more things about which to get excited, that it's never occurred to me to give it much thought until now. Elizabeth

  14. As for the subject of robes, our congregation leaves clothing decisions to clergy. Our clergy team has decided to wear white robes for the High Holy Days and no robes during the year. They all (rabbi, assistant rabbi, cantor) wear "street clothes" with kippah and tallit for all services during the year. Our congregation is large (1250 families) and, as far as I know, there has not been one person that has commented on their apparel one way or another. David

  15. Our rabbi suddenly stopped wearing his black robe one Friday evening. No one seemed to mind; in fact, some didn't really notice. However, he will continue to wear his white robe for the Yom Tovim. Phyllis

  16. Personally...I think this whole discussion of whether the rabbi should wear a robe is a tempest in a teapot. With so many congregations without a rabbi I can guarantee you that many of those congregations would not care what he/she wore, they would be welcome. As for the robe, I think that should be the decision of the rabbi. Each rabbi has his or her own personal style and I think probably none would show up in jeans. We have had rabbis who wore a robe (okay), rabbis who wore a suit (okay), rabbis with tallit (okay) and those without (okay). The important thing is what the rabbi brings to the congregation, how they inspire us in our worship. Sherry

  17. When our rabbi initially came to our temple in August 1995, she wore appropriate street clothes and a tallit for all services. The congregation was fairly evenly divided on this with some feeling that the rabbi was "closer" to the congregation in street clothes and others wanting the distance and "station" that formal robes would provide. In 2000, the rabbi began wearing a robe and tallit for Shabbat evening services. When asked, she responded that she wanted congregants to be more involved with the service [rather] than [with] discussion about what she was wearing. Our Shabbat morning services have always been very informal (with approximately ten to fourteen congregants attending) and our rabbi continues to wear street clothes and a tallit and to join congregants in the pews for services. When we have a bar/bat mitzvah service on Shabbat morning, our rabbi wears a robe. Our rabbi has always worn a white robe for High Holy Day services. Anne


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