Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
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!