The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Casual Shabbos

I saw an interesting article, "The Perpetual Adolescent" by Joseph Epstein in the on-line Weekly Standard lamenting the institutionalization of the informality of today's dress. He compares the way men dressed (in suits and fedoras) to go to ballgames in the days of Joe Dimaggio with the way they dress today (jeans, tee shirts and baseball caps).

He points out that few restaurants could hope to stay in business if they required men to wear a jacket and tie. (I think of my parents, zzg. Growing up my father would never have thought of going to a restaurant without at least a sports jacket and tie if not a suit). Epstein attributes this to a lack of seriousness, what he calls the triumph of the youth culture.

Sadly, this phenomenon has seeped into the Shabbos dress code of much of the Modern Orthodox world. On Shabbos afternoons in many neighborhoods it is common to see grown men walking around wearing "Gap Casual"; khakis and tee shirts. You even see men walking around in shorts and sandles. The women tend to be dressed in comfortable skirts and blouses, not anything they would wear to shul. I also know that many men come home from shul and immediately change into casual clothes before sitting down for Shabbos seudah.

The dress-down effect has effected children in an even more profound way. It is not uncommon to see MO kids walking around in shorts, sneakers and tank top basketball jerseys. (I'm not talking about kids playing ball; that's a different topic).

I think this has come about because of a combination of a lack of seriousness about Shabbos, and ignorance about the kedushah (sanctity) of Shabbos, exacerbated by the general trend described by Joseph Epstein. You can hardly blame the kehilah. Since most MO rabbis would rather sermonize about the evil of Yassir Arafat than describe the kedushah of Shabbos (and are loath to give mussar to their congregants), and since many MO yeshivas do a weak job of giving over the beauty and majesty of Shabbos, what do you expect? People think of Shabbos as a yom Menucha; a day of rest, without understanding what yom menucha really means.

I don't have a solution. I fear this trend will get worse as the general trend in society gets more informal (could anyone working in Manhattan 20 years ago even have imagined that secretaries would come to work in the summers looking as if they were going to the beach?) and as a whole generation of kids sees their parents treating Shabbos like any other day of the week.

I guess we just have to give over to our own children what Kedushas Shabbos really means and set an example by dressing appropriately.


Post a Comment

<< Home