Rav Moshe Feinstein on Clothing

Another issue – clothing – if your parents in Europe wore long coats and the non-Jews there didn’t are you allowed to change your clothing when you come to America?  After all, imitation of Gentiles is prohibited.

שו"ת אגרות משה יורה דעה חלק א סימן פא

 בענין המלבושים שבמדינה זו שאין חלוק בין ישראלים לנכרים אם מחוייבין בני פולין שבאו לפה וגם הנולדים מהם בפה ללבוש אותן המלבושים שהיו נוהגין בפולין מצד האיסור דמלבושי נכרים ואף שהאב כבר שינה בבואו לפה היה זה באיסור שנשאר האיסור.

...on the issue of clothing in this country in which there is no difference between what Jews and non-Jews wear, if the Polish Jews who have come here and who have been born here are required to wear the clothing that was customary for them to wear in Poland because of the prohibition of dressing like the gentiles.  Further, what if the father already changed his manner of dress when he came here, if it were prohibited, does the prohibition remain?

Basic question – are we allowed to wear the clothes that we’re wearing?  After all, our not-too-distant ancestors dressed completely differently than the non-Jewish world around them.  So what does common sense tell us –

 ... וא"כ פשוט שאין שום שמץ איסור בסתם בגדים שלובשין במדינה זו אף שגם הנכרים לובשין בגדים אלו מדין מלבושי נכרים דאין בהם חשש שמץ עכו"ם ונחוש וגם לא דבר תמוה אלא לנוי וכדומה.


 (after further discussion)...if so, it is obvious that there is no hint of prohibition in ordinary clothing that is worn in this country, even though the gentiles wear it.  There is no suspicion of even a hint of a religious quality to the clothing and whatever is worn is not to look absurd but to look appropriate.

And this is something that we all know – what’s interesting is that as late as 1953 this was still a question that was being dealt with.  Another interesting thing is that his answer has nothing to do with America per se, but rather is simply a broader Halachic reality that so long as people’s clothing is not a reflection of religious practice and is not immodest or involve some other Halachic violation, then there is absolutely no prohibition of wearing whatever the culture around you wears.  Perhaps then, that if a Jewish woman were in Afghanistan, wearing the clothing of the secular afghani woman, whatever that might be, would be completely permitted while dressing in the manner prescribed by Taliban might in fact be prohibited – interesting question, fortunately entirely theoretical.


Based on a shiur March 2010

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Last Updated February 17, 2011
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Adam M. Charney
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