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Debatable: Should We Require Dress Codes for a Shabbat Aliyah?

Dress to treat the Torah with respect.
Don Levey


As Jews, we are very fortunate. The holiest day on our calendar comes every week: Shabbat. It is the time when we Reform Jews most often hear the Torah read, making it extra special. And being called to the bimah to chant the Torah blessings is perhaps the highest honor any of us will ever receive in our congregations.

And yet, sometimes individuals who receive this honor are dressed in a disrespectful manner. It is as if they forget that an aliyah is not only for themselves and for the congregation, but for all those who have come before us. So precious is the Torah that a b’nai mitzvah prayer reads: “It was carried in the arms of parents that their children might not be deprived of their birthright.” Esau may have scorned his birthright, but we are the children of Israel.

Some of us contend that to remain fully inclusive and not drive anyone away, we should not impose a dress code of any kind. But some people have left precisely because they feel we do a disservice to Shabbat, Torah, and Judaism by failing to take a position on this issue.

I am not advocating that we legislate that men wear jackets and ties, and women blouses and skirts; nor do I propose that any dress code for Shabbat aliyot be instituted Movement-wide. But I believe that each congregation does need to set a minimum standard to ensure that the Torah is treated with honor and respect—particularly when we ascend the bimah for an aliyah.

We rise as a congregation when the ark is opened, out of respect and honor. Is it too much to ask that we show the same respect as individuals?

Don Levey, a member of Temple Beth Am, Framingham, Massachusetts, has been teaching in Reform religious schools for more than 30 years.

Clothes don’t make the man spiritual.
Rick Blumenthal

At my temple there is no dress code, and I am relieved. Many a Friday, after a long day of work, my family and I have a Shabbat meal and we go to temple. Slacks (occasionally jeans), a polo shirt, and sandals are my typical attire. Since I am comfortable in my clothes, I am able to focus on why I am at temple, not how much my feet hurt or what a schlep it was to hurry home and get changed. I relax and try to get in tune with my spirituality, rethinking what I could have done better this week and letting the prayers and songs
fill me up.

If I know ahead of time that I am being called to the bimah for an aliyah, I usually wear shoes and put on my tallit, but if I’m called upon to open the ark while wearing sandals, I ask myself, what would Moses do (WWMD), and accept the honor. After all, did he wear a tie and jacket? Did God like Moses any less for praying in sandals?

To those Jews who feel that I am distracting worshipers by dressing down, I say, “Spirituality needs to start from within and work its way out.” And to those who want to legislate what we wear in temple, I ask, “What about other potential distractions, such as strong perfumes or ostentatious dress with jewels galore?”

I prefer to focus on the things I have in common with my fellow congregants—the rich heritage of Judaism that has survived so many attempts to destroy it; the belief in one God and in peace, community service, shared lifecycle events, and friendships.

So if you see me on Shabbat in jeans and sandals, wish me “Shabbat Shalom.” I will wish you the same, regardless of what you are wearing.

Dr. Rick Blumenthal serves as religious practice vice president of Temple Beth David, Westminster, California.


Union for Reform Judaism.