The Conspiracy

High Holiday Outfits

An example of a typical kittel (white robe) worn by many rabbis on the High Holidays.

An example of a typical kittel (white robe) worn by many rabbis on the High Holidays.


It is usually expected that you wear your finest clothing to synagogue services. Depending on your level of religiosity you may add or subtract a garment of clothing (ie, kippah/ talis); however all congregants seem to be dressed up. Women may wear skirts or dresses, while men tend to wear sport jackets or suits.

This past weekend I did not go home for Yom Kippur, but instead went to a local reform synagogue in Lancaster, PA. At my temple at home (Westfield, NJ) I have always witnessed the custom of my rabbis wearing white robes (kittel) for High Holiday services. I remember my rabbi even teaching me about their significance. If I recall correctly, Rabbi Sagal told me the white robes symbolized purity for the clean slate one was making after atoning for their sins. From a bit of research, I also learned that white is worn on Yom Kippur because it represents death. Combined, the two reasons make sense, as we are contemplating both life and death on Yom Kippur. It is also custom to wear a kittel when one is buried and when one is married, which again are instances of new beginnings.

This Yom Kippur, being at a new temple, I immediately noticed that the rabbi was not wearing a kittle, but instead was just wearing a regular suit. I realize now that this is a custom that rabbis can choose to adapt to or not. In one way, the rabbi in Lancaster simply has to put more work into presenting himself to the congregation, whereas my rabbis from home can leave it to the kittel to look nice. Of course, whatever the rabbi may choose to wear does not change how he leads the congregation or anything of that nature. The dress of the rabbis was just one of the many new and strange facets of the service that I experienced on Monday; although I should add that it really was a lovely service.

While dwelling on the topic of High Holiday clothing, it seems fitting to mention my clothing on Yom Kippur. Every year the High Holidays have given my mom and I a reason to go shopping for a new dress. For me, it’s comparable to children buying a new outfit for the first day of school. Really, this was always a sneaky way for me to get that dress that I wanted several months before but never had a sufficient reason to buy it.

As I did not go home this year for the holidays, I didn’t get to go shopping with my mom for an outfit for synagogue. Instead, I ended up wearing just a basic J.Crew grey jumper and a Charles Nolan black cashmere cardigan with black tights and black French Sole flats.

I know, I know, at this point you are probably thinking that I am a very materialistic person. This is not true… for the most part. I know that God does not care what shoes I am wearing or what purse I am carrying; however, my temple outfits represent my courtesy and respect to God. Though I do love clothing, I feel like choosing what to wear to temple is much more selective then what to wear to class or to work.

When I got home from services I called my mother to ask about what I missed at our temple this Yom Kippur. Along with the content of my rabbi’s sermon, we discussed what people were wearing (as per usual). “Were they wearing boots yet?” I questioned her. Yes, my mother said the fashionable Jewish women were already bringing out their new fall boots, in mostly browns and blacks. Every holiday, my mom is baffled by how the women at my temple have such great style. Of course, there is always the challenge of combating the freezing cold temperature in my synagogue—the one thing I did not miss this year.

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