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October 9, 2015 | 26th Tishrei 5776
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Dress for Services (General)

  1. While not perfect, I have had some nice results with encouraging kids to wear white shirts (not T-shirts) on Shabbat. I also tell them to wear nice slacks or a skirt. The idea behind this is twofold. One, I can teach them about the Sabbath Bride and the Jewish custom of wearing white and getting dressed up for a wedding. Second, I am able to tell them what to wear and why as opposed to telling them "Cut off Jeans are not appropriate for services!"

    It is not a perfect strategy, but it does seem to work a lot of the time.


  2. We have not been able to draw a dress code because we are not prepared to have "dress police." We attempt to model appropriate dress by way of our leadership and in conversation with b?nei mitzvah families.

    The standard of dress at our services is no longer as formal as it once was and business casual has become quite acceptable.

    1300 Families

  3. We too are grappling with the issue of proper attire. Our Religious Practices Committee has been asked to develop a responsum on the subject of appropriate attire for those who are leading/assisting/participating in services -- since it's impossible to mandate a dress code for attendees, we're hoping that modeling will work to inspire others to dress in more appropriate fashion. We are emphasizing that Jewish tradition values both modesty and non-ostentatious dress. We want to develop the congregation's awareness that a person on the bimah represents the community, and what one wears has symbolic significance. Clothing should not distract from the service, or make congregants feel uncomfortable.

    650 Families

  4. It was my impression that we wanted to figure out how to bring people into our synagogues. People who come to synagogue in order to worship God and to be part of a community should be welcomed and not judged. Certainly not judged based on dress alone.


  5. We came to the issue of attire a number of years ago with 2 major conclusions:
    1. We are delighted whenever folks (especially our students) come to worship on Saturday mornings. While we might not agree with their choice of dress, neither do we wish to be fashion police, barring anyone from praying in their "house."
    2. That said, we also created a dress policy for those who will be on the bimah in any capacity. No sports uniforms, sweats, jeans, or shorts (except for very young Ark openers); no clothing with offensive or inflammatory slogans and no undergarments may show. Our Bat Mitzvah celebrants must have their shoulders and backs covered. Hemlines need to be long enough to allow the girl to reach for and carry the Torah with modesty (I also discourage girls from long hemlines which can catch their heels during the hakafah). I tell all B/Mitzvah candidates and their parents that they are not to fight over clothing. In case of question or disagreement, they simply telephone me.
    This system has worked well for years now. Yes, styles are dynamic and standards of modesty are less relevant to many of today's young teens and their parents. As far as we are concerned, worshipers should wear what they wish in the pews, but we do attempt (and generally succeed) to teach them how to come properly to the Torah.

    300 Families

  6. Today we had a Torah Study discussion during the Virginia Regional Hillel Shabbaton and the Torah portion dealt with getting closer to G-d without sacrificing morality and proper conduct. We came to the conclusion that as college students (or even for high school and middle school students) that we should comply with the minhag of the place we are worshipping. We decided that it is appropriate to pray in jeans or comfortable clothes when we are in our Hillel or NFTY setting, but when we are at our synagogues, we should dress nicely, in skirts or nice slacks and nice shirts, to be respectful of the other congregants so that we do not distract them from their worship. I think that is a reasonable compromise. While we still want to retain our individuality and fight conformity, it is only appropriate to respect the setting in which we are worshipping.

    850 Families

  7. At last night's Ritual Committee meeting, discussion arose regarding the lack of appropriate dress on the bimah by many of our children (family worship), 13-year-olds (bar/bat mitzvah) and occasionally, adults (various honors). We know we are not alone and are wondering if any congregation has developed (and would be willing to share) a "dress code" or guidance document so that we do not need to begin from scratch.

    In addition, someone floated the idea of having all b'nei mitzvah wear robes to avoid the issue entirely.

    680 member units

  8. [Below is the] latest draft of a dress code guidelines developed by our Worship Committee to hopefully be approved by the board next week. These guidelines will be printed in our Bulletin, included in the B'nei Mitzvah Handbook, and included in the High Holiday Participation letter.

    "A Message from the Worship Committee"

    In the spirit of providing appropriate role modeling for our community, the Worship Committee suggests the following guidelines for members of all ages who have the honor of participating in a Shabbat or Holiday service:

    • Women and girls--Skirts, dresses or dress pants (no jeans). Dresses or tops should cover the shoulders. No micro-mini or midriff exposing skirts, no low-cut tops or dresses, nor athletic shoes.
    • Men and boys--a dress shirt and slacks (no jeans) with non-athletic foot wear. Jackets and/or ties are optional but encouraged.

    250 Families

  9. Digest #2006-134

                Through the hot summer, notice has been taken regarding informality and at times carelessness of attire in the sanctuary. How do different synagogues deal with a "dress code" issue? Our rabbi feels we should educate regarding "beatification for ritual purposes" and "honoring the sacred times." We feel that dress code guidelines will not work. Any ideas out there?

  10. Digest #2006-134

                If the kids show up, they can dress anyway they wish, and if we give them a reason to come back, in time the dress will be better.

  11. Digest #2006-134

                It is what is on the inside that counts. Dressing up means that you had the luxury of going home--with traffic, working late, boss expectations, etc, it is just not always possible. I'd rather see each of us at synagogue every week than worry about what you or I are wearing…I try to dress up when we think we will get to synagogue. I like doing it too, but there are times when I don't go because I'm not dressed--even though I feel like going. I think we would do a lot better if our expectations were relaxed rather than tightened…

  12. Digest #2006-134

                …I think it's up to the parents to teach "by precept and example…"

  13. Digest #2006-134

                …I think we need minimal standards at least for the bimah. I wonder if we don't in effect send the very worst signal by saying "anything goes"--particularly "anything goes if please, please, please you act like you care about being Jewish." I think kids smoke out the latter, and

    they interpret it as desperation and lack of sincerity.

                We need reasonableness and flexibility and diversity--with integrity and minimum expectations of respect and a sense of reverence and awe in a sacred place…


  14. Digest #2006-134

                We need to differentiate between what's appropriate on the bimah, what's appropriate in the pews, and what's never appropriate. And the rules may be different for adults than for kids. And the rules may be different in the city than in the suburbs. And the rules may be different on the High Holy Days than during the rest of the year.

                In keeping with my usual philosophy about decision-making in the synagogue, I believe the rabbi should have major input, if not ultimate authority, over bimah attire--and the laity should decide what's appropriate in the seats.

                We're long past the days when an usher might ask a man to remove a head covering--and hopefully we're not yet to the point where he'd be asked to put one on. But we have had reports on this list of congregations that expect Torah readers to wear talitot. That's also a dress code issue.

                The bottom line is that people should feel comfortable about what they wear to the synagogue, and should be careful not to make other people uncomfortable in the process. And people have to lighten up in judging others, especially if they are judging by the standards of yesteryear.


    1000 members
  15. Digest #2006-134

                At our temple there is a dress code for b’nei mitzvah students--no sleeveless dresses (the tallit is not considered appropriate shoulder covering), no bare midriffs. I don't think skirt length is discussed, but has always been appropriate. Most boys wear a suit, but at least dress slacks and shirt--usually a tie. People with handicaps/learning disabilities are accommodated if they have clothing issues, but still no tee shirts as a previous responder indicated. For our congregants, relaxed attire is common. I think respect is an issue of how you act, not whether you have a tie or not. None of the adults/teens come in tee shirts and shorts, but there is no rule prohibiting it. The issue with bimah attire is sometimes difficult. Our rabbi will sometimes ask children from the congregation to help come and undress the Torah based on who come to services. Allowing them to participate based on actually coming, rather than discriminating based on clothing, creates some of the awe and respect for the Torah and the service. Did Moses wear a tie and jacket? Did GD like him any less for praying in sandals and the clothing of a sheepherder? I think the issue should be--wear what you are comfortable wearing to services based on your beliefs (or what you are comfortable letting your children wear), and let everyone else do the same.


    315 families
  16. Digest #2006-134

                When I was a teenager, I would go to services with my mother and sister. My mother asked the rabbi to talk to me about my dress, as I wouldn't listen to her. He responded "at least he's here." I was wearing jeans and a collared shirt, and sneakers. My jeans were clean, and not ripped, as was my shirt, which was always tucked in.

                In contrast, I've seen a lot of kids show up in ripped jeans, dirty t-shirts, and a mode of dress which is generally disrespectful. I've not seen a bar or bat mitzvah in such clothing, but sometimes it is something more suitable to an awards ceremony than a religious occasion…

                In my mind, the key here is *respect*. I've had kids ask me what they should wear to services; I tell them to dress as if they were going to a wedding. And, traditionally, they are.

                We want to remain inclusive, so as not to drive people away…Should we require jackets and ties for the men and skirts for the women? I wouldn't say so--but we need to draw a line somewhere, each community. Again, the key word is *respect* and there are people leaving who feel that we do a disservice to Shabbat and to Judaism by keeping silent on these issues--whether it be dress, or other things that happen in the sanctuary. How many congregations permit flash photography during a service? How many would stand for a photographer that says "wait, do it again--I need another shot"?

                …I think there should indeed be a minimum code for the bimah--defined (in my mind) as anyone who expects to be called up when they're getting dressed. A religious school service, for example, would qualify. I've been shocked at the way some parents will permit their children to dress *knowing* that they would by participating in the service. Adults, who should know better, are sometimes even worse, and they're the examples the children see. This is different from someone who is asked to participate in the service fifteen minutes beforehand; how would they know? But if you know the week before...?

                There is a *reason* why we go to the synagogue in the first place. We're looking for a separation between the workweek and a Shabbat-like experience. We're looking for something special, something different from the mundane. Why is it unreasonable to expect that people will arrive there in a manner conducive to worship?

  17. Digest #2006-134

                …we all understand that walking into another American Reform synagogue may mean a completely different worship experience than that with which we are accustomed….Part of this "dress code" issue is also letting worshipers know a bit about what the local customs are, so that they can feel comfortable when they come to participate in communal worship. So, while "dress code" may dredge up memories of a junior high school vice principal, the reality is that by providing some resources, you may help a wider range of worshipers understand the environment so that they, too, can come and participate in a way that is more meaningful to them.

  18. Digest #2006-134

                Although it is easy to point to modern fashion to explain torn jeans, ripped t-shirts, inappropriate messages on clothing, bare midriffs, public display of underwear, [etc.,] is it also reasonable to wonder whether kids are bringing models of service behavior home from summer camp that are deemed appropriate because "it's the way it's done at camp"?

                Is it also reasonable to wonder whether, as those kids grow up, the standards of camp will become the standards of the congregation?

  19. Digest #2006-134

                …We, as parents, need to teach our children about these differences. There are things you do at camp you don't do at home, and vice versa. It's a matter of time and place; we teach them that for other things, why not this too?

  20. Digest #2006-135

                …we are careful to invite people up to participate only if they are appropriately dressed. Indeed, it has happened that a pre bar mitzvah kid whom we usually invited up on the bimah for several months before the bar mitzvah, was totally inappropriately dressed. We did not allow him to come up. His mother[, ultimately,] understood why we had made this decision. The issue has never been repeated again.

  21. Digest #2006-135

                …While I certainly agree that showing up to shul with T-shirts advertising beer, cults or sexual acts is completely inappropriate, as  is clothing that would make a medical exam easy, I think that it is fair to say that kind of dress is inappropriate anywhere. When it is 100 degrees out, and people show up in sandals, short sleeves, and yes even shorts, it is understandable.

                …Our tradition teaches us that our material possessions are ultimately insignificant; after all in a traditional burial, we are interred only in a cloth. Our tradition also teaches us, that to embarrass someone, to bring a flush to their face is like "killing" them. Perhaps the solution is to keep a few items available to correct any offensive wardrobe choices, and that suggestion and change be made discretely…


    450 families
  22. Digest #2006-135

                …I did go to "adult camp," to our wonderful Kallot, both in California and New Hampshire. We, too, were casual. Sometimes it was pretty warm on those campuses. But we were never, in my mind, inappropriate or disrespectful, not to our teachers, to our surroundings, to our Torah, or to our God. And not to each other either.

                Would that we could bring that spirit of "respectfully casual" to our synagogues.

  23. Digest #2006-135

                …my own brief camp experience treated Shabbat like a holiday. The campers were all instructed to wear their best clothing, the counselors too--no t-shirts, no jeans, no shorts, no sandals. Simply putting on different clothing was a transformative experience; it was as if peace had descended upon the camp. And no, this was not a Conservative or Orthodox camp.

                While material things are ultimately meaningless, we haven't reached that "ultimate" while we're still alive. We are still taught that outward appearances and effort can show respect outwardly and produce a transformation inside…I am familiar with several local congregations. One of them, of perhaps 160 families, has perhaps as many as twenty of those reevaluating their memberships due to "relaxed" attitudes toward worship (according to personal conversations I have had)…

                Liberality is nice, but when it equates to indecisiveness, wishy-washiness, or a perception that we don't really stand for anything then we do ourselves no favours.

  24. Digest #2006-135

                …In essence, we are struggling, as have progressive Jews for nearly 150 years on how to display appropriate respect to our fellow congregants and to our Torah, while living modern lives. Though profoundly liberal by nature, this is an area where I believe strongly in differentiating sacred time, space and behavior from the secular.

                As practicing Jews who are more than just a "remnant" of a glorious people, we ought to have a deep appreciation for the "sanctity of the sanctuary, our teachings, our artifacts and our ancestors' vision." It is an appreciation whose outward manifestation must, in our modern age, be the same way that, in these informal times, we must remember that certain situations require us to adopt the verbal and visual language of etiquette. Keeping a few collared shirts, shawls, and other modesty "cover-ups" handy feels lazy to me--an easy way out... like the elegant restaurants that used to keep a coat and tie on hand for those who lacked the sensibility or judgment to show up appropriately attired. I am all for accessible religion, and while I agree that putting up a sign that says "No shoes, no shorts, no services" is, indeed extreme, I also posit that, as Jewish educators and lay leaders, we are entrusted (and expected) to help congregants learn when decorum is required...not as some artificial bourgeois standard but as a reflection of our deep love for our heritage and our living Torah.

  25. Digest #2006-136

       daughter attends URJ Camp Harlam, where the Shabbat dress is "white." Any type of white is acceptable, but the intent is clearly that it is different from the rest of the week. Because of this "dress code" experience, she will not wear everyday school clothing to shul Friday nights, but knows that she must "dress up" a little to differentiate Shabbat from the rest of the week. Even if I don't change my outfit, she will change hers! (She's now 14) So much for the kids being at the forefront of the unacceptable!

                Frankly, IMHO, God isn't concerned with our outer appearances, but rather the motivations and intentions that we arrive at Temple with.

  26. Digest #2006-136

                How about a different spin, from an adult perspective....I prefer to mark Shabbat and differentiate it from the rest of the week by not wearing "business attire," and therefore am likely to choose chinos and a blazer, possibly with a turtleneck, instead of a suit and tie.

                Davar acher...another perspective. There is a difference between ignorance, and lack of respect, and disrespect. Is the person who shows up in shul inappropriately attired because s/he doesn't know any better, or hasn't stopped to think that maybe the occasion calls for something else, or in order to "make a statement?" (Still keeping in mind that not everyone has the same definition of inappropriate)


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