Like oil and water, certain things are not meant to be mixed together. According to Jewish law, it is forbidden to mix-breed different species of cattle, sow one’s field with mixed seed, or wear garments of mixed fibers (wool and linen).

Whereas the agricultural prohibitions of the Torah only pertain to a small percentage of today’s population, the issue of wearing wool and linen together is still very much a concern of modern times. The specific prohibition reads: “You shall not wear combined fibers, wool and linen together” (Deuteronomy 22:11). This mixture is generally referred to as shatnez, which is a Hebrew acronym for “combed, spun and woven,” the ways in which fabrics are processed.

The prohibition of wearing shatnez is known as a chok, a law for which there is no textual explanation. It is interesting to note, however, that linen represents materials made from that which is grown from the earth, whereas wool is an animal by-product.

The prohibition of shatnez includes all articles of clothing that are manufactured with and contain both wool and linen, whether they actually touch each other or not.  One may, however, wear wool and linen separates, as long as they are not attached to one another.

In an era when most people buy their clothing “off the rack,” one must be especially careful about shatnez. According to halacha, even a woolen jacket containing a single strand of linen may not be worn. Given the minute amount of linen, however, it is not likely that linen would be listed on the materials’ tag of the clothing. Therefore, it is customary for all articles of clothing that include either wool or linen to be brought to a shatnez checker (available in most larger Jewish communities). One must be particularly careful when purchasing men’s suits, where linen is often hidden in the lining of the collar. If shatnez is found within an article of clothing, it can often be removed, rendering the article wearable.

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