Israel Stories

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Shorts Incident…..

My shul has in the past few years been tied up in quite a heated debate regarding appropriate clothing, especially during the summer months. In London there is no doubt as to the official dress code, suite or jacket, tie and smart shoes. Even in the heat of the summer, when it happens, people attend shul in all their finery. But when the temperature is nearing 100o the last thing you want to be wearing is a jacket and tie. But where does it end. The standard dress for national religious Jews is blue or black trousers and a white shirt. In my shul this is complimented with either shoes or sandals. On my brothers kibbutz, where anything seems to go, if you are wearing clothes that’s good enough, although, the more religious members do wear the national religious uniform.

The argument in my shul is whether at Shabbat mincha one is allowed to wear shorts and if so is he allowed to be the chazzan. The argument for the shorts is the fact that Ramat Bet Shemesh is so hot that its makes perfect sense. The Jews in the desert didn’t wear suits and ties, or streimals and long black coats. Needs must and in the heat of summer less is more. On the other side of the coin is the fact that our community is over 70% immigrant and as we are all used to dressing smarter we should maintain those standards. Which brings me to, what is rapidly becoming known as, the ‘shorts incident’.

One very, very hot summer afternoon, when even the sun was considering calling it a day, a friend of mine entered shul wearing shorts, albeit smart shorts, but nevertheless, shorts. There was the usual comments from the anti-shorts brigade and the unusual commendation from the short-wearers association. My friend, we’ll call him Ilan for want of a better name, sat himself down next to a chassid who had strayed off the street to catch mincha. Picture this the clash of all clashes, a match not even the WBA would consider for fear of too much mental anguish, the holy and the profane, the dark and the light, the ultimate clash of the titans the streimal meets the shorts where there only is one winner. And sure enough as we watched Ilan and chassid began to chat, the chat became more animated with ever wave of the hand, hands went down signifying ‘what are you talking about?’, fingers drawn together at the tips signifying ‘just wait and listen to me’, and then the pointing, mainly at Ilans shorts.

After the service and rather baffled and drawn Ilan shook the chassids hand and they parted at which point we descended on him. Ilan looked up to his silent audience and began to relate his conversation:

“Nice shorts” said the Chassid, “where did you buy them?”
“Oh, thanks, er, at HaMashbir.”
“You know there may be a problem with your shorts.”
“Look if your going to tell me I can’t wear them for shul forget it.”
“No, no, you wear what you like, if you think its smart enough to stand before your maker, fine.”
“So, what then?”
“Do you know what they are made from?”
“Yes, linen, and they don’t half crease badly.”
“Well my brother-in-law works as a tailor in a factory in Petach Tikva that makes shorts for HaMashbir, and he says they have a wool and linen mix.”

At that moment we started to laugh, not concerned with why or where he was wearing the shorts, the chassid was concerned with grass roots halacha and the negative command of wearing garments with a wool and linen mix, shatnez.

If only all religious differences could be solved by seeking the root of the problem and correcting the situation rather taking things at face value.


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