Parsha Halacha

Parshat Tetzaveh – Parshat Zachor

Wearing Shabbat Clothes

Sources and Customs

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In the Torah portion of Tetzaveh, we find the description of the special clothing of both the regular kohanim and the Kohen Gadol. The regular kohanim had four linen garments: short pants (michnasayim), a long shirt (ketonet), a belt (avnet), and a hat (migba’at).[1] Some say that all of them were completely white while some say that the belt was made of many colors.[2] The four garments of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur were made of linen and were completely white[3] while, during the rest of the year the Kohen Gadol wore three colored garments (me’il/long blue coat, ephod/backward apron and choshen mishpat/breastplate) and one gold frontlet (tzitz) in addition to the abovementioned clothes of the regular kohen.

Four White Clothes for Shabbat

The Zohar says[4] that one should wear white clothes (or other beautiful colors) on Shabbat. The Arizal was particular to wear four white garments on Shabbat: an inner and outer garment, pants, and a belt, corresponding to the four letters of G-d’s ineffable name.[5] The four clothes of the Kohen also correspond to these four letters.[6]

In the winter, in order to protect himself from the cold, the Arizal would occasionally add an upper, colored garment, but would always wear the above-mentioned four garments.

White like a Chattan

Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin writes[7] that the Shabbat clothes correspond to the clothes of the righteous in the World-to-Come which will be white (symbolizing purity).[8] Just as the (spiritual) garments in the future world are a reflection of the person’s soul since they are formed from the mitzvot he performed during his lifetime, so too our garments on Shabbat reflect how our soul is honoring (and experiencing) Shabbat.

Reb Tzadok points out that since Shabbat is like a kallah, the Jewish people on Shabbat are like the chatan. In ancient times it was customary for chatanim (grooms) to wear white garments.[9] In addition, since a kohen is called a chatan,[10] wearing white on Shabbat can symbolize these spiritual levels.

In the Talmudic Era

It has been pointed out[11] that even in the time of the Talmud there were Torah scholars who wore dark clothes on Shabbat.[12] It is possible that these scholars were too poor to afford a separate change of clothes for Shabbat and would therefore wear their weekday (colored) garments on Shabbat.[13] This is mentioned in the Midrash[14]where it says that when Rabbi Simlai taught that a Torah scholar should have a special set of clothing for Shabbat, his students wept because (due to their poverty) they (had no choice but to) wear their weekday clothes on Shabbat. He instructed them to wear their regular clothes longer in the manner of leisurely (non-working) people to indicate that Shabbat was a day of leisure.


Since it is not common practice to wear (only) white on Shabbat, some say that one should refrain from doing so in public as it may appear that one is showing off. One may, however, wear all white in the privacy of one’s own home.[15] Others say that, since according to the Arizal, the clothes we wear on Shabbat indicate what type of (spiritual) clothes we will wear in the World to Come, one should not be concerned with what others say or think but should rather do what they need to do for the sake of their souls.[16]

What did the Rebbes Do?

There were some Chassidic Rebbes who would wear only white on Shabbat as taught by the Arizal. In particular, it is known that the third Rebbe of Lubavitch, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, followed this practice as did his grandfather, the author of the Tanya.[17] His youngest son, known as the Rebbe Maharash, had a set of white silk Shabbat clothes, but he only wore them on special occasions and not on regular shabatot.[18]

Special Songs

The Rebbe Maharash would sing a special song when he would put on his Shabbat clothes on Erev Shabbat as well as a special song when he would take them off after Shabbat.[19] (According to the Arizal one should think about the angel Zarhariel at that time.[20]) In addition, he, and all of the Chabad Rebbes, were particular to wear silk garments on Shabbat.

Shabbat Clothes in the Tanach

Before Ruth went to meet Boaz on the threshing floor, her mother -in-law, Naomi said to her,[21] “Bathe, anoint yourself and put on your garments.” The Midrash[22]understands Naomi’s instructions to be referring to Ruth’s Shabbat clothes. Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen explains[23] that since one changes one’s clothes all the time, clothing can’t really be ascribed as “yours.” Only Shabbat clothes, which express the person’s devotion to Shabbat and thus to the Almighty, are considered part of “who they are,” which is why Naomi called them “your garments.”

By telling Ruth to wear Shabbat clothes, Naomi was alluding that she should refine the garments of her soul – her thought, speech, and action – so that they should be on the level of Shabbat (alluding to the World-to-Come) in preparation for her momentous marriage to Boaz on which she was about to embark.

Honor the Shabbat

The prophet Isaiah said[24] that וְכִבַּדְתּוֹ֙ מֵעֲשׂ֣וֹת דְּרָכֶ֔יךָ – one should honor the Shabbat by refraining from engaging in one’s own pursuits. The Talmud understood the word “honor” to be referring to wearing special clothes since clothes generally bring honor to the one who wears them.

Blessed By G-d – Repair or Replace

The Midrash says[25] that G-d blessed the Shabbat with special clothes. Practically, if one can, one should change his clothes. But if that’s not possible, the Midrash says that one should at least repair his weekday clothes and/or wear them in a longer manner (see above).

Shabbat Talit

If possible, one should have a special Talit for Shabbat.[26]

Shabbat Hat

The Aruch HaShulchan writes[27] that it is customary to have a different hat for Shabbat.

Head to Toe

The Vilna Gaon would change all of his clothes from head to toe in honor of Shabbat.[28] (It is sufficient to wear freshly laundered undergarments; it is not necessary to have special undergarments for Shabbat.[29])

Shabbat Shoes

Some say[30] that it is not necessary to have special shoes for Shabbat and that it is enough to polish his weekday shoes (if necessary) before Shabbat. Others recommend that these be changed as well, if possible.[31]

These two opinions are based on two versions of the Jerusalem Talmud[32] which says that the sages decreed that people not wear nail-studded shoes on Shabbat after a stampede which killed many people. (The fact that the people were wearing nail-studded shoes increased the scope of the tragedy.) The Talmud questions as to why the sages only decreed to not have nail-studded shoes on Shabbat as opposed to during the week. There are two versions of the Talmud’s answer: One reads, לָאו אוֹרְחֵיהּ דְּבַר נַשָּׁא מִיהֲוֵי לֵיהּ תְּרֵין סַנְדָּלִין. חַד לַחוֹלָא וְחַד לְשׁוֹבְתָא “It is not the way of people to have separate shoes for Shabbat and holidays,” i.e., since people usually only have one set of shoes, it was not necessary to make a separate decree for weekday shoes.[33] While according to another version the Talmud says “?וכי לאו אורחיה דְּבַר נַשׁ שיהיו להן תרין סנדלין” “Is it not the way of people to have separate shoes for Shabbat and weekdays?” I.e., since people usually have separate shoes for the weekday, they only decreed not to wear nail-studded shoes on Shabbat as that is when the stampede occurred and is more likely to occur in the future since Shabbat is a day of gathering.[34]

Retzei Vehachalitzeinu – Remove Our Weekday Shoes

Rabbi Shneor Zalman of Liady, known as the Alter Rebbe, writes, “On Shabbat we say רצה והחליצנו / ’May it please You to strengthen us’ (a prayer added to the Grace after Meals). [The word החליצנו] alludes to חלוץ הנעל/removal of the shoes[35]because on Shabbat one is obligated to change all of one’s weekday clothing including one’s shoes. The meaning of רצה והחליצנו הוי’ אלקינו is thus: Remove our weekday garments (and shoes), and clothe us with Divine garments that are called הוי’ אלקינו.”


May we merit to be garbed in Divine Garments!

[1] Exodus 28:40 – 42

[2] See Yoma 12b. The Rambam rules that the belt had many colors (Hilchot Klei HaMikdash 8:1)

[3] See Leviticus 16:4 and Yoma 32b

[4] Zohar Chadash, Parshat Yitro, 37a

[5] Kaf Hachaim 262:24

[6] Sha’ar HaKavanot by Rabbi Chaim Vital, inyan Rechitzat Panav Yadav VeRaglav

[7] Pri Tzadik, Kedushat Shabbat, Ma’amar 5

[8] Shabbat 114a

[9] See ibid

[10] See Isaiah 61:10

[11] Elyah Rabbah quoted in Biur Halacha

[12] See Shabbat 147a

[13] Sh’arei Teshuvah 4

[14] Rut Rabbah 5:12

[15] Biur Halacha, based on Pri Megadim

[16] Kaf HaChaim 26

[17] In the only extant (and famous) painting of the Tzemach Tzedek, he is wearing white Shabbat clothes. This is because the artist was a gentile who observed the Tzemach Tzedek on Shabbat and then painted his portrait from memory. He did make some mistakes though, such as painting the left side of the Tzemach Tzedek’s clothing over the right side, the book opening from the left side like a secular book, and the Tzemach Tzedek’s glasses on top of the sefer. See here.

[18] Sefer HaSichot of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rosh Hashana 5691

[19] Sefer HaSichot of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Purim 5709

[20] Quoted in Kaf HaChaim 262:24

[21] Rut 3:3

[22] Rut Rabbah, ibid

[23] Pri Tzadik, ibid

[24] Isaiah 58:13

[25] Bereishit Rabbah 11:2

[26] Shulchan HaRav 262:3

[27] 242:41

[28] Maaseh Rav, quoted in Piskei Teshuvot 262, footnote 30

[29] Ibid

[30] Peleh Yoetz quoted in Kaf Hachaim 262:24

[31] Chesed LeAvraham, quoted ibn ibid

[32] Shabbat 6:12. See Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchato vol. 2 Chapter 42 footnote 206

[33] Korban Ha’eida

[34] Penei Moshe

[35] See Deut. 25:10 regarding the chalitzah ceremony

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach and a Happy Purim!

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