Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Irrational Clothing Decisions

If you were choosing the most irrational mitzvah, shatnez might be a top contender.

That was a thought that crossed my mind today as I went today to get a new suit checked. I went to the official Los Angeles shatnez "laboratory," which might conjure up an image of a high-tech research facility with people in white coats poring over sophisticated equipment, but was actually someone's living room with a high-powered lamp. As I was waiting for my turn, I pondered the significance of the prohibition against wearing mixtures of wool and linen.

Rambam claimed that it is about negating a pagan practice. Rav Hirsch (if I recall correctly) writes about the importance of keeping the domains of animal-products and plant-products separate. Many others would simply categorize it as a divine chok which has no rationale that can be grasped by mankind.

Whatever one's view of the reason for the institution of the mitzvah, the reasons for the observance of the mitzvah can be entirely different. I would suspect that for some, it is about heeding God's word, while for many others, it is about being part of the Orthodox Jewish community.

As I was thinking about these things, a fascinating scene unfolded in front of me. A very secular-looking woman had brought in a man's suit. It transpired that she was an employee of a store where someone had purchased a suit and asked them to have it checked for shatnez. Since this woman was the only Jewish employee, albeit entirely secular, she had brought it in.

Much to her dismay, it was found that both the jacket and the pants contained shatnez. Not only that, but the shatnez was so thoroughly embedded that it was basically impossible to remove it. Not only that, but the process of finding the shatnez had damaged the suit such that no refund was possible.

"What a shame," she lamented. "That was a seven thousand dollar suit."

My jaw dropped open. Seven thousand dollars?!

After the woman left, I commented to the shatnez tester about the absurd price of the suit.

"Oh," she said, "That's nothing. A few weeks ago, someone brought in another suit that was irreparably full of shatnez, and it had cost twenty-six thousand dollars."

Twenty-six thousand dollars?!?!

Shatnez might not have a reason that we can rationally grasp, but it certainly isn't anywhere near as irrational as spending twenty-six thousand dollars on a suit!

61 comments:

  1. like!

    what goes into a suit to make it worth (to someone) $26K american?

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    1. Mostly that would be for the work of the master fitter and tailor. Figure 5 or so people working on the suit (which is a low estimate) for 20 hours per person. Figure $50+ p/hour p/person. Add the price of good materials, which can be in excess of $250 a metre. 5-8 metres in suit would be reasonable depending on style. I haven't yet added lining and construction fabrics.

      A good suit represents a fair amount of work and materials. It's not just "slap a name on it and up the price 700%"

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  2. Really ridiculous. You can get a designer to sew you a bespoke suit out of material you choose and which can be shatnez tested before being made into a suit for far less. "Rich" does not equal "intelligent".

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  3. The suit should have come with a list of the fibers used in the material of the suit. That might have precluded the irreparable damage. When I lived in Houston I and a friend used to cut small samples from suit jackets (from where the cuts wouldn't be seen) to send to a shatnez lab in New York. Once someone brought us a suit that didn't even have to be sampled because the label said it was 85% wool and 15% linen.

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  4. Status symbols are not irrational if they are shorthand power markers in certain circles. Since you aren't in those circles, you don't need those suits.

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    1. Most people cannot actually tell how expensive the suit is after a certain point. Anything over 1000, and you can pass for the President.

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  5. American-the land of conspicuous consumption and the attitude "if you've got it, flaunt it!". My experience has shown that American Orthodox Jews have fallen for this hook, line and sinker.
    Another social phenomenon I have noticed regarding American Orthodox Jews is that one's place in society (and in the shul heierarchy) is largely determined by professional achievement in one's line of work or business.
    These phenomena played a large part in alienating me from American society, both Jewish and non-Jewish, even though I was born and raised there. Although I am anti-socialist, I must admit that Israeli's socialist past and emphasis, at least nominally, on egalitarianism, has left its impression on much of Israeli society and so these negative phenomena are much less pronounced in Israel and, specifically on the Israeli religious community.

    How American Orthodox Jews can complain about high tuitions in their Day Schools and Yeshivot, and at the same time have a significant number of people who can afford to throw away $26,000 suits is baffling.

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    1. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised by this acculturation, yet it is very disappointing. I wonder why there does not seem to be more cognitive dissonance on this point.
      KT
      Joel RIch

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    2. Come to KAJ in Washington Heights. Wealthy Jews there do not flaunt their money. Indeed, from appearances and mannerisms, you would never know who was wealthy and who wasn't. This German Jewish community (at least the younger generation) may have lost some of its Torah im Derech Eretz purity, but it certainly has preserved its understatedness.

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    3. I think you're greatly overstating the opulence of American Orthodoxy. What you describe relates to a very small percentage of people,mainly who live in very particular neighborhoods and almost exclusively in California or the New York/New Jersey areas. As someone who grew up outside of these areas and who now lives in the New York/New Jersey area, I can tell you that over-the-top extravagance like purchasing a disgustingly expensive suit is all but unheard of. Quite the opposite, in my community in Philadelphia, for example, you would much more likely be mocked for spending too much on an item. I would venture that your typical Modern Orthodox Jew is middle to upper middle class and doing their best to afford day school education, not popping bottles of champagne and using $100 bills as napkins.

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    4. <>

      1. Who says there are a significant number? The anecdote was a sample size of one. As in we know there's one Orthodox Jew who can afford a $26,000 suit. I also know one frum guy with a Ferrari. That doesn't mean there are dozens of Ferrari owners. In fact, it pretty much guarantees that there aren't many others, or it wouldn't stick out as "frum guy with Ferrari!"

      2. But let's play a game: there are a significant number of Orthodox Jews who can afford $26,000 suits. How many is that - 10? 100? 1000? Let's say 1,000. Let's say you could convince them to donate that money to the schools and wear $1,000 suits instead. How often do they buy them? Once a year? Now you have $25 million, which would have a serious impact on a handful of schools, but not on hundreds. Also keep in mind that these suit buyers - in many cases - already donate money to the schools. Day school tuition is $13 - $18k per year, per child at most non-Chareidi schools throughout the U.S., and that's AFTER our suit buyers' existing contributions. High school numbers are worse; they're $15 - $30K per year, per child.

      Don't extrapolate wealth where it mostly doesn't exist, and don't underestimate the sheer size of the problem. The complaints are due to pretty simple: to afford a large family and private school tuition, you need a family income in the top 2 - 4% of the richest economy on earth. Don't earn that much? Of course you don't. Too bad - there are no other socially acceptable alternatives.

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    5. http://nypost.com/2015/04/02/at-11000-a-head-this-is-the-poshest-passover-in-the-world/
      Nuff Said
      CKVS
      Joel Rich

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    6. It'ss only baffling when it is the same person and that is usually ot the case.

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  6. Wow.
    On a different note: "Rambam claimed that it is about negating a pagan practice." - did he say it is *only* about negating a pagan practice?

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    Replies
    1. Yes.

      Lawrence Kaplan

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    2. Yes.

      Lawrence Kaplan

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  7. Would it be pedantic of me to ask that you call this mitzvah suprarational instead of irrational?

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  8. IIUC it's only high end suits that have a miyut hamatzui chance of having shatnez. Does your poseik hold all suits must be checked?
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  9. First of all, the most irrational mitzvah is wearing a shtreiml on Shabbos and Yom Tov in the summer. (Don't you dare suggest that it's not a mitzvah, Moshe Rabeinu wore one after all)
    Secondly, the suit story reminds me of the great Sheitls-are-Avoidah-Zorah-derived controversy a few years ago. Seemed the fancier the wig the more likely it was to be a problem while the cheapies all passed with flying colours.

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    Replies
    1. Incorrect. Middle tier human Indian hair wigs were the problem. Both cheap synthetics and hyper-expensive Euro hair wigs were not a problem.

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  10. My first thought is that suits in that price range would generally be made-to-order by a master tailor, in which case the buyer could instruct said tailor not to include shaatnez in the first place.

    I too find the idea of a mass-produced $26k suit pretty ridiculous.

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  11. With the thousands of clothing materials available today, there's no need to use either wool or linen. So we could stop worrying about shatnez almost completely if we stopped wearing wool clothing. I've heard at least one chassidic group, perhaps Toldos Aharon or something similar, has already done this. Avoiding wool also has the advantage of avoiding deriving any benefit from the act causing pain to animals. (It's inevitable that wool producers will cause unnecessary harm to sheep at least some of the time.)

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    1. Talis.

      Besides that, while I agree that the intention is hard to fathom, was it really the intention to avoid ordinary activities so that you don't have to deal with the halachos surrounding those activities? It seems to me that the opposite is more likely.

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  12. "while for many others, it is about being part of the Orthodox Jewish community"

    The word "many" seems a little harsh, don't you think?

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  13. There is Midrash that says that it is based on the Cain and Abel story. Abel brought wool as an offering, where as Cain brought flax. This mixture caused a dispute between the two brothers, and caused Abel to lose his life. Thus, we do not disputes and machlokesim ourselves.

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  14. The Bilvavi, R' Itamar Schwartz, has a nice article bewailing American Orthodox materialism. Google "Each of you lives not only in an opulent home, but in a palace!" and you will find it. Eschewing excessive materialism is ironically something that a rationalist and a kollel-for-life Israeli charedi could agree on.

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  15. My custom tailor in New York (he charged far, far less than $7,000, probably because the suits were made in Hong Kong) actually had a box labelled "kosher" on his standard order form (he filled it out online while you were being measured in his store). If the box was ticked, they knew not to include any linen in Hong Kong. When the suits arrived, they would be taken by the owner or one of his staff to the Shatnez lab in Williamsburg to be checked before you would pick them up. The owner was Indian and his staff were Indian and Chinese; I'm pretty sure the vast majority of their customers were not Orthodox Jews. But he provided the service. I'm surprised people who know enough to have their suits tested (and shops who know enough to bring them in for testing) don't think of this before plunking down thousands of dollars. *That's* irrational.

    Of course, since I've made aliyah, I've worn a suit exactly once, on my wedding day.

    R' Slifkin: As a rationalist, what do you plan on doing this coming Sunday as an Israeli in chu"l? What would you advise a chulnik in Israel?

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    1. Name or website please! Great endorsement.

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    2. Shouldn't he follow the halacha? It's very clear that melacha is assur! The Mishna Brura syas that even in private melacha is assur. This year you don't even have to worry about tefilin on the 8th day. :)

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    3. La Rukico, http://www.tailor.com/

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    4. But did he eat kitniyyot?

      Lawrence Kaplan

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  16. A well tailored suit can make you feel like a million bucks. Makes the $26,000a pretty great investment!

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  17. Damn! I want to look like Daniel Craig!

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  18. Reminds me of those lubavitchers who carefully keep their matzot in plastic bags. After all, moshe rabbenu kept his matzot in plastic. And you thought plastic dates back to the 60s. Not true, of course. Lubavitchers know moshe rabbenu had plastic.

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  19. And why couldn't the shatnez checker take the microscopic amounts of material required to check without ruining the suit? I used check my clothes--in the 1970's I used to occasionally find shatznez, and never had to do anything noticeable to the suit. I gave it up in the 1990's after a decade of never finding any.

    And for $26K I'd expect to know the provenance of every sheep and plant the material came from--surely this is a vintage wool at that price. Why did he just ask the salesman for the ingredients list?

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    1. It's very foolish not to check your suits. A shatnez checker told me 20 years ago that more problems exist since suits began to be imported from Eastern Europe and SE Asia. It was always clear that one shouldn't take a suit with mixed fibers. Generally it is the expensive suits that have a linen problem.

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    2. A Shatnez checker might not be the most impartial source...

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    3. Is your shatnez checker saying it is a miyut hamatzui?
      KT
      Joel Rich

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  20. It turns out that I just completed Yerushalmi Kilayim! I had planned to exempt my fellow firstborn from fasting erev Pesach, but my shul had two other people who were doing siyumim and I wasn't needed. So I'm making a siyum Sunday morning, April 12, with a chametz seudah mitzvah afterwards. All are welcome. :)

    Not much in the Yerushalmi about the significance of kilayim laws, just a lot about the details, much of it very difficult to understand.

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  21. Was this an April Fool's joke, maybe? From what I have read, I suppose there are stores on Rodeo Drive that sell $26,000 suits. And I further suppose that there are more than a few Jews--even Orthodox Jews--out that way who can afford to buy them. Just remember, though, there is a tuches for every chair.

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  22. I've never met a woman shatnez tester

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    Replies
    1. My sister was one, trained by Joseph Rosenberger himself. (My brother was as well.)

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  23. There is a wonderful talk by Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik about irrationality vs. rationality in Judaism - specifically as it relates to shaatnez (and Tekhelet). You can find it on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBUqH0G7OjY .

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  24. Hmmm ... irrational...what about $26 per lb for matzah? Where do you draw the line?

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    1. Simple. You draw it around activities that you personally avoid or can't afford to do anyhow :).

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  25. I agree that this is totally irrational.

    Now, where did I put the remote? I need to spend 3 hours watching 10 young men bounce a ball around and throw it through a ring.

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  26. I've never been in the super-wealthy class in society. I'm middle class, struggling to put my kids through school.

    But I do know that the more money one has, the more one needs. In order to stay a part of the super-wealthy class, one has to fit in. In order to fit in, one must wear $26K suits. This is just the way it is. A few hundred dollars suit sends signals to upper-wealthy saying "Don't waste your time dealing with me. I may be talented and hard working, but I have no connections to wealth."

    Super-wealthy people think differently than the rest of us. At least, that's what I've read. I haven't had much experience dealing with the super-wealthy.

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    1. $26K suits, I can understand. (sort of)

      $26K off-the-rack suits -- which you don't think to investigate for Shaatnez beforehand -- are another matter altogether.

      It's not so much about spending that enormous sum on a suit, but rather about doing so without thinking the process through beforehand.

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    2. I highly doubt there is such a thing as a 26K off the rack suit. These babies were almost certainly custom made- which, of course, only makes things worse. Did these people think that Shatnez testing is some magic process that applies only after the purchase?

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  27. I have found that Jews around the world have many differing talents and abilities, but one ability is common to all of them - the knowledge of how other people should best spend their money.

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  28. any more insane than this

    http://nypost.com/2015/04/02/at-11000-a-head-this-is-the-poshest-passover-in-the-world/
    At $11,000 a head, this is the poshest Passover in the world

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  29. It is rare for a material to actually have wool and linen blended in it. That is the only case in which a decent Taylor can't fix it.

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    Replies
    1. The wool suit can have a linen lining. Very difficult to change that. (Buttons can be sewn with linen thread, but that's not so bad.)

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  30. Rational ThinkerApril 6, 2015 at 6:45 PM

    If it were an etrog ......

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  31. I'm more concerned about the ne'e'monus of a secular employee.....

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  32. I remember hearing a rabbi in Beitar talk about what wealth and money really is. He gave an example of a kid seeing his grandfather walk with crutches, see with glasses, hear with a hearing aid, and have a giant oxygen machine to help him breath. The kid said, "I want all of those things so I can be like my grandfather."

    The rabbi said, "That's what wealth is, gashmius. To people who are healthy in ruchnius, wealth is crutches, glasses, etc. They don't need it and it burdens them."

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  33. I read somewhere that the owners of the Dead Sea Scrolls were identified by identifying the material makeup of shrouds the scrolls were rapped in. I believe it was the Essens, they would only use wool versus the other group who would only use another material.

    I summize that back in the day the material you wore was an identifier as to which group you belonged to, hence the restrictions of blending materials.

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