Senate Bipartisan Resolution Supports Rambam Over John Fetterman

Conversation in shul, while they were rolling the (single) sefer Torah from one Chumash to another:

Me: I understand you had a rough week.

Former Senator Joe Lieberman: How’s that?

Me: Well, I know how you have been longing for a visit back to the Senate floor…

JL (laughing): You mean in my shorts?

Me: Yeah. I guess Chuck Schumer kind of ended that.

JL: Yes. You know, how you dress for work affects the entire working atmosphere.

Here’s the background, if you didn’t fully grasp the drift of the conversation. Sen. John Fetterman (D -PA( has been coming to the Senate in hoodie and shorts. (He prudently voted from the doorway, to stay on the right side of an informal dress code inside the Senate chamber that frowned at his choice of couture.) That led Majority Leader Schumer to issue an advisory relaxing the code, and allowing people to wear what they wanted. That was certainly consistent with where many Americans have been going in the last decade. Schumer’s colleagues wanted no part of it. They reacted quickly with a bipartisan resolution formalizing what previously had been informal. The new code now specifies jacket and tie for men.

We might have expected that our esteemed solons would have responded by banning what they felt was inappropriate – like hoodies and shorts. They didn’t. They acted to require a degree of formality. Some actually articulated that an important American institution like the Senate demanded the respect associated with dignified, formal dress.

It’s hard to say how much thought went into their hurried resolution, but they were swimming against the current of freedom of expression and breaking the shackles of all restrictions and limitations that seem arbitrary. Including how to dress.

Yeshiva mashgichim might rejoice in this. For decades they’ve been telling their young charges that bnei Torah ought to dress more formally than others. (Whether or not the uniform they prescribe actually conveys a sense of dignity and sophistication, we will leave for another time.) In the US, they blamed President Kennedy – who was the first president to give up wearing a hat in public – for the erosion of that sense of dignity.

Rambam (Deos 5:1) writes that a chacham ought to distinguish himself in a different mode of dress than that of other people. In other words, our choice of clothes does say something about how we see ourselves. More formal outer attire is not necessarily an empty gesture. It could – and should – be a reflection of greater inner substance. This has now been confirmed by the upper house of Congress.

Given the questionable practices of some members of that house, this may not be the most important endorsement. At least, however, we could consider it (so to speak) as a feather in one’s cap.

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14 Responses

  1. william l gewirtz says:

    I find the ability of one karov le’malchut to violate even biblical commandments to appear appropriately in his official capacities another indication of the importance of dress and appearance.

    BTW, I also look askance at one dressed for the ball game wearing a Borsalino to daven. Similarly, the dress traditionally worn by senior Rabbinic leaders currently worn by every Shmilu, Yitzy, and Zevi is also a breakdown in societal norms, regardless of the obvious motivation.

  2. Steven Brizel says:

    The author of the Chinuch writes in many places that one’s emotions are dictated by one’s actions-If you wear clothes that lend dignity and importance to standing Lifnei HaShem, that says that you attach importance to the same rather than merely treating Tefilah as an item on a checklist. The Rambam also writes that one should have different kinds of clothes for Shabbos and Yamim Tovim . As far as head coverings are concerned, the Halacha of Ituf discussed in the Gemara is a clear indicator that something more than just a kipah is viered as optimal. See re R Willig’s perspective on “casual Shabbos” attire

  3. Mark says:

    Dr. Gewirtz,

    This article was about the senate dress code. Why the need to spew your distaste for bnei Torah out of context? Yom Kippur was just about one week ago. It might be a good idea to reserve your judgements for the time being. SMH

    • William Gewirtz says:

      I admire your ability to discern my feelings toward different groups of our people. I assume it derives from a form of prophetic insight. If you assume all about whom I commented qualify as Bnei Torah that may be the source of our disagreement; my standards are a tad higher.

      • DK says:

        Chacham Adif MiNavi. But a Chacham is hardly needed here.
        Your constant bashing of the mainstream Torah world is reminiscent of the papers of the Maskilim.
        Better to listen to Mark and reserve your judgment. Maybe let the leaders of Klal Yisroel decide what is proper and what is not…

      • william l gewirtz says:

        Maskil is a promotion for me; some suggested I be placed on the Sukkah poster of the Shivat Ha-Minim.n 🙂

  4. Shades of Gray says:

    “It could – and should – be a reflection of greater inner substance”

    R. Ahron Soloveichik quoted his father as inferring something similar from the Gemara which states “a talmid chacham, a Torah scholar, whose inside does not correspond with his outside [i.e., he is not a person of integrity], is not really a talmid chacham” (Yoma 72b). The Gemara clearly assumes that a talmid chacham’s appearance displays dignity, such that it establishes that a talmid chacham’s inner dignity must correspond with his assumed outer dignity. R. Gordimer mentions this in his Jewish Action article linked below:

    On the other hand, see “Gedolim Cards: The Uncensored Set,” a Cross Currents blast from the past, which has links to pictures of gedolim in their younger days, showing some as “smart, rakish dressers,” and others “display[ing] an informality rarely seen later in life.” While the vintage photos demonstrate a change regarding sartorial attitudes in the yeshiva world as noted in that post, I do not see it as contradicting the Rambam in Hilchos Deos, perhaps because those styles, albeit somewhat rakish, predated the Kennedy era 🙂

    Formality of dress also came up in connection with dayanim sitting on a beis din for geirus a number of years ago. R. Gil Student wrote about this:

    “…The question is what is considered appropriate, and on this standards differ based on time and place. No one would require dayanim to dress the way dayanim in Rambam’s Egypt dressed, nor in Rav Ashi’s Bavel. Therefore, I don’t know that an out-of-town rabbi should need to dress according to Boro Park fashion, nor should a Boro Park dayan need to dress according to Wall Street fashion….”

  5. Steven Brizel says:

    Dr Gewirtz-perhaps you can explore the almost complete eclipse of the view that Teffilin should be worn during Chol HaMoed. I should note that R Daniel Rapp , a fineTalmid Chacham Rebbe in YU and Dayan on the Beis Din of America pointed out in a shiur on this issue during YT in my meighborhood . RRapp pointed out that despite the Shittah of puttting on Tefilin has very strong roots in the views of the Baalei Tosfos in MK as well as that of the Rosh and Tur, thestrongly opposing views of the Zohar as cited by Beis Yosef and the combined views of the Talmidei HaBaal Shem Tov and the Gra,based on a reading of a Girsa in a Yerushalmi , albeit for completely different reasons and Minhag Sefard in EY has led to the almost complete evisceration of the views of the Baalei Tosfos , Rosh and Tur with the view of the Gra ironically being cited by those who certainly do not use only two ,Matzos on Leil Seder. I am sure that more than a few posters here have davened in shuls or shtieblach in Chutz LaAretz where their minhag is to put on Tefiliin with or without a Bracha on Chol HaMoed in certain shuls and have been told to daven in a corner of the shul or even in an unoccupied Ezras Nashim when,in fact, there is a strong Mesorah that it is proper to put on Tefilin among Ashkenazi Jews or who follow the prevailing Minhag HaMakom in EY when visiting during Chol HaMoed to daven in minyanim wiithoutTefilin and then put on Tefilin without a bracha in the privacy of their residence in EY . That issue seems worthwhile of your capabilities , as opposed to the attire of yeshivaleit

    • william l gewirtz says:

      thank you for your suggestion. RMS ztl had a Talmudic source supporting not wearing tefillin. Right now I am engrossed in Trop and Onkelos, while editing 3 other manuscripts in reasonably completed areas.

      Being in Yerushalayim, attire is a rather obvious fascination. *)

      • Steve Brizel says:

        It is my understanding that RYBS told those talmidim who asked that they should follow the views of the Baalei HaTosfos, Rosh and Tur and not follow his family minhag

      • Steven Brizel says:

        Perhaps your connections in the IDF who you touted as up to the task of national defense can tell us why the events of Shmini Atzeres caught the entire Israeli security establishment unprepared in a manner that rivaled YK 1973 9-11 and Pearl Harbor

      • william l gewirtz says:

        Steve, Now is not the time for recriminations. There was a complete breakdown and how and why will be for after the war is completed successfully, IY’H.

        Ironically, my friend was driving 7 hours on Monday to give his daughter and her friends items they had no time to pack when they were called up on SA.

    • Michael says:

      You forgot to mention Rabbi Rapp’s most important position–Rabbi of EDOS in Denver!!

  6. Eliyahu says:

    I don’t even go on the floor of my office (yes, it’s an open plan) without a collar, and usually a suit and tie. I’m a Democrat, and I don’t feel unreasonable for asking the same of my senators.

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