Rav Avigdor Miller on Jewish Clothes

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Q:
How come we don’t dress like the chachomim of old dressed?

A:
First of all, we don’t know how they dressed. Secondly, even they didn’t always dress the same way. There were generations when they dressed one way and there were generations when they dressed differently. I will explain it to you. There were twelve shevatim. Each shevet was entirely different. They lived by themselves, and they didn’t intermarry. They had their own minhagim, they had their own malbushim, ways of dressing. Even the way they spoke lashon kodesh was different. So today, we don’t know whom to emulate. And therefore, we are not breaking the tradition of the past – we have no way of knowing the tradition.

So, what the Jews have done today is to maintain the traditions that the frum Jews of the last century have done, and that’s wonderful. It’s very good; it’s enough. Today we say that all of the generations of shomrei mitzvos are also one shevet – the tribe of Hashem. So, that much we know, and we follow the minhag as much as we can.

We don’t know what the chochomim wore. I’ll give you an example. In the times of the gemara, they wore only white shoelaces, not black shoelaces. The gemara tells a story about a man who wore black shoelaces and  was arrested by a policeman, “Why don’t you listen? What are you wearing black shoelaces for?” So he said, “I am mourning for the churban beis hamikdash.” And the policeman said – it was a Jewish policeman, the Jews had their own policemen – “You think you’re chashuv enough to mourn for the churban beis hamikdash? No, you’re just showing off!” And he arrested him – for showing off. Later, they released him because he proved himself to be a big talmid chochom.

So, we see that they even had a different kind of shoelaces in those days. And since we don’t know exactly what it was that they did, so we can’t follow their minhagim. And so, today, if you wear the clothing that the frummeh wear, that’s how you identify with the shevet of Hashem, and that’s what Hashem wants. You don’t have to worry about turbans and shoelaces.
TAPE #E-91  (November 1996)