In historical fiction, there are often references to wearing one’s “Sunday best.” Jews don’t have “Sunday best,” but do have special clothing for Shabbat. Given the status of Shabbat as the holiest day of the week and, indeed, as the focal point of the week, it would seem obvious that one would dress well in its honor.

The importance of honoring Shabbat through one’s choice of clothing is highlighted in Tractate Shabbat of the Talmud, where it states:

“‘And you shall honor it by not doing your own ways’ (Isaiah 58:13). ‘And you shall honor it,’ [meaning] that your Shabbat garments should not be like your weekday garments, even as Rabbi Yochanan called his garments ‘My honorers.’” (Shabbat 113a).

“‘Therefore, wash yourself, anoint yourself and put on your raiment’ (Ruth 3:3). Rabbi Eleazar said: ‘This refers to Shabbat garments’” (Shabbat 113b).

“Whence do we learn change of garments [for Shabbat] in the Torah? Because it is said [about the High Priest on Yom Kippur] (Leviticus 6:4), ‘And he shall put off his garments, and put on other garments’” (Shabbat 114a).

While most people today are fortunate enough to have many different changes of clothing for daily wear and an assortment of modes of dress for different occasions, this is, for the most part, a development of recent vintage. Go back 200 years, however, and for most people, even “Shabbat clothing” was a luxury. Not surprisingly, the sages discussed how one who could not afford special Shabbat clothing could still honor Shabbat:

“Rabbi Huna said: If one has a change [of garments], he should change [them], but if he has nothing to change into, he should lower his garments [ to add length and make them appear more dignified]. Rabbi Safra demurred: But this looks like ostentation! Since he does not do this every day… it does not look like ostentation [and people understand that it is being done in honor of Shabbat]” (Shabbat 113a).

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.