Have you decided yet what you are wearing for the High Holy Days? It might sound superficial, but for Jews, clothing on the High Holy Days is a spiritual matter. Our Torahs are our greatest treasure. Jewish minhag (custom) is to dress our Torahs in white garments for the High Holy Days. White symbolizes new beginnings, like a white wedding dress that begins a new chapter in life. White is also like milk, the white drink of the beginning of life. It is a mother’s most intimate gift to her child, from her very body. It is filled with hopes and prayers for a life of health and happiness. White is intended to remind us of the power of weddings, birth, and life.
The time of changing the Torahs to white is during Slichot. The word slichot means “forgiveness” and is the ritual that begins the High Holy Day season that concludes a month later with Simchat Torah, when we dance with the Torahs. You are invited to come tonight to the Temple to participate in the ritual of undressing the Torahs from their colorful everyday covers. We will re-dress them in High Holy Day white. Slichot will be part of the Shabbat service tonight, along with Shofar blowing for the Jewish month of Elul.
Yom Kippur also has unique clothing rituals. Usually a Tallis is only worn “b’Or Yom,” (in the light of day). Only once a year is a tallis worn at night. This is on Erev Yom Kippur, Kol Nidrei. If you own a tallis I invite you to please bring it with you on the night that begins Yom Kippur. It is a powerful experience to stand together as a large Jewish community dressed in white Tallises. In Reform Judaism the Tallis is for both men and women. Our teens usually receive a Tallis at their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Please remind your over thirteen-year-old children to bring their tallis with them for Erev Kol Nidre.
You might have noticed my special Yom Kippur footwear – white Converse sneakers. The Talmud teaches we should avoid wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur, like Moses who removed his leather sandals when he stood on holy ground. For Jews, Yom Kippur is holy ground. An American minhag is to wear rubber-soled sneakers.
In Reform Judaism we honor diversity and informed choice. I am writing to you about High Holy Day customs, not for the sake of imposing a uniform, but with the intention of providing an option for finding spiritual meaning in something as simple as the way we might choose to dress for the upcoming Holidays.
I wish you a hearty Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova Tikateyvu (May we inscribe ourselves in the Book of Life),
Rabbi David Wilfond