Unorthodox, the world’s leading Jewish podcast, takes questions from its listeners about all aspects of Jewish life, from the religiously profound to the utterly inconsequential. Every week, we discuss one of these questions in “Ask Unorthodox.” If you have a question, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“What’s the dress code for men at a Reform synagogue in the United States?” one of our listeners, Edo, asked the Facebook group. “I’m attending a bar mitzvah this weekend … Is a suit and tie with a blue shirt good, or should the shirt be white? Are any pants less fancy than suit pants acceptable?”
Of all the sources of JewBarrassment, to use Archie Gottesman’s , being dressed wrong at synagogue may be one of the most common. It’s likely that overdressing is more common than underdressing, as gentiles accustomed to the formality of, say, a First Communion may find themselves wearing suit and tie to one of the many sartorially laid back Jewish congregations in the land. But underdressing happens, too. Fortunately, the team is here to save you from both.
By “team,” we include podcast listeners, and in their helpfulness they were … no help at all! Answers abounded, all of them well-meaning, but many of them contradictory. When one correspondent answers, firmly, “Suit and tie,” while another writes, “If it’s in Colorado, anything goes,” what’s a Jew to do? What if it’s in, say, Nevada? Is that Colorado enough to be casual? We think that the listener who wrote, “Powder blue tuxedo or stay home” was kidding—but we kind of like to think that he wasn’t.
There are a few issues here. First, Reform. As some pointed out, in old classical Reform temples, the dress was formal and the Jewish garb—yarmulke, tallis—were often prohibited. Yes, you read right: In their desire to modernize, Reform congregations would require that people eschew signs of tradition like the head covering and prayer shawl. Today, that rarely happens. So go yarmulke if that’s your style, but in Reform sanctuaries, it is usually optional.
Finally, mazel tov to you, Edo, for taking seriously the question of shirting. Too many men these days think that a golf shirt is fine shul-wear, so long as it’s their nice golf shirt. The one with a sheen, or with