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Online Class: The History of Jewish Dress
Online Class: The History of Jewish Dress

Mon, Jul 15



Online Class: The History of Jewish Dress

How should a Jew dress? To look uniquely Jewish – or to resemble everybody else? Join instructor Eric K. Silverman for a three-part course on the history of Jewish dress.

Time & Location

Jul 15, 2024, 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM



How should a Jew dress? To look uniquely Jewish – or to resemble everybody else? To most American Jews today, the question might seem silly. You dress mainly for your own individual taste, for how you want or feel on a particular day, even in the synagogue. But this is a modern privilege. For most of history, Jews had no choice as to what to wear. They were assigned a mandatory wardrobe to look distinctively Jewish. These rules were seen as nothing less than divine will.

In this course, we explore the history of Jewish clothing as a great, sometimes tragic, ultimately unresolvable conversation about how to define the Jewish community. The course will consist of three sessions:

July 15: Biblical and ancient eras. Could you tell an Ancient Israelite when you saw one? Did Jews at the time of Jesus dress distinctively? Or the Maccabees? What does the Torah say about clothing?

July 22: Medieval Europe. As rabbinic Judaism took hold, the rabbis often decreed how Jews should dress. But, staring in the early 12th century, so did the Church and European royalty. Indeed, everybody had to follow certain rules about clothing, not just Jews. What were these rules? And why did they exist?

July 29: Modern Era. When the grandparents and great-grandparents of most American Jews arrived at Ellis Island, they embraced the novel ideas of citizenship, individualism, and consumerism. They dressed, in other words, as both Jews and generic citizen – or at least to try and resolve this almost impossible paradox.

The overall theme of the course is that the history of Jewish clothing reveals ongoing tensions concerning Jewish identity that still vex Jews today.

Eric Silverman is a writer and researcher, and a former professor of anthropology at DePauw University and Wheelock College. He is currently affiliated with the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University. Eric has written several scholarly books on Judaism. He has also studied a community in Papua New Guinea, which was the basis for his PhD at the University of Minnesota.


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