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Shatnez is the prohibition of wearing clothing that contains both wool and linen.

I understand that the Torah tells us that the two materials are specfiically wool and linen, which is a perfectly valid reason. I was wondering if there is perhaps a deeper reason for why these specific materials were chosen.

So is there? And if there is, what is it?

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4 Answers

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First and foremost it is a Chok without a reason.

However, some see a symbolic reminder in the mitzva of Shaatnez to the first, terrible clash between brothers, that resulted in Kayin killing Hevel. Kayin's offering to G-d was from the produce of the ground and Hevel's was from his flock. Keeping wool and linen separate in garments reminds us of this Biblical episode and its lessons.

Some see Shaatnez as having its origins in pagan cults of old, thus being one of many mitzvot geared towards keeping us far away from idolatry.

Others point out that some of the garments of the Kohen Gadol (and possibly the belt of every kohen) were Shaatnez. Perhaps this particular combination of wool and linen is off-limits for us in our everyday lives to highlight a special place the combination has in the holy service of G-d.

Others point out that Shaatnez completes the set of forbidden combinations - there are plant-plant prohibitions, animal-animal prohibitions, and Shaatnez represents the forbidden blending of plant and animal. (Important: only the combinations that G-d forbid us to have are considered sinful. We do not extend this idea to the many permitted mixtures of our experience.)

And some commentaries include Shaatnez in the group of mitzvot that are meant to sensitize us towards treating the animals kindly. Fiber is fiber, and as humans, we can take fibers for fabric and clothing from any source we so choose, in any way we want. WRONG. Perhaps the mitzva of Shaatnez is to remind us that the flax plant and the sheep are not the same. When we shear sheep for wool, our main goal should not be economics. How to do it fastest, most cost-efficient. We must take the sheep's well-being into account.

Shaatnez is A CHOK; we do not really know why the rules are as they are. But we can learn many lessons from this unusual mitzva.

From Here:

http://www.ou.org/torah/tt/5758/kiteitzei58/specialfeatures.htm

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Re "First and foremost it's a chok without a reason": what does this mean, especially in light of the many reasons that follow? Do you have a source for stating that chukim don't have reasons? –  WAF Nov 24 '11 at 12:43
    
@Waf, a chok is a mitzvah that doesn't have any clear and rational explanation as to how it benefits a person or society. –  avi Nov 24 '11 at 13:20
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@Menachem That g'mara makes it clear that the defense "we're not allowed to think about that" is just that - a defense mechanism against nefarious doubters of the Torah. It is difficult to ascribe to that g'mara the idea that there actually is ח"ו no purpose behind the mitzva. I think understanding that g'mara makes a lot of the premises on this question easier to rectify and comprehend. –  WAF Nov 24 '11 at 21:28
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@Menachem The reason should be an expression of the purpose. Whatever you call it, there is either value to giving explanations to the mitzvos or there is not. This should apply equally to all mitzvos, especially since the implication of the aforementioned g'mara is that the scope of the term is either exactly one mitzva (i.e. para aduma) or any number of mitzvos whose "defensive" explanation is more productive than its actual one. –  WAF Nov 24 '11 at 21:36
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@WAF: It's like telling a child to brush his teeth or else his dentist will be upset at him. It may be 100% true, but it's not the real reason –  Menachem Nov 24 '11 at 22:06
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In part III Rambam's Guide of the perplexed, he categorizes the mitzvot into fourteen classes by their causes, intents and usefulness. He even classifies laws that he acknowledges are choks, which, like all commandments, have a cause, intent, or usefulness, but it has been concealed and is therefore unknown to us. In chapter XLIX, he says that "most of the chukim, the reason of which is unknown to us, serve as a fence against idolatry."

He proves this using The Nabatean Agriculture, an ancient book from the idolatrous Sabean civilization that Avraham was raised in. He also differentiates between the general and specifics of commandments and shows that many of the seemingly arbitrary specifics of mitzvas are actually rooted in Nabatean idolatrous practices (which were agriculturally driven). For instance, a general mitzvah is to bring sacrifices, but why specifically oxen, sheep and goats? Because the Nabateans worshiped oxen as gods and goats as daemons, and prohibited slaying them. Likewise, the Egyptians worshiped Aries and prohibited killing sheep.

In chapter XXXV he includes wool and linen in the second class, that "comprises the precepts which are connected with the prohibition of idolatry". The reason he gives for these prohibitions "is to establish certain true principles" (that the scripture demands) "and to perpetuate them among the people".

To prove this, in chapter XXXVII, he says it's written in their books that the Nabatean priests wore garments made of plant and animal while holding a seal of mineral (some sort of idolatry while wearing wool and linen), and since we reject all idolatrous practices, it's prohibited.

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Re "even though it is technically a chok": what is the technicality that renders this mitzva a chok? –  WAF Nov 24 '11 at 12:44
    
I"m not saying there is a technicality, or small detail that renders it a chok, but technically, or strictly speaking, it is a chok. –  zaq Nov 24 '11 at 17:58
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While its clearly a chok, there are reasons given for it. Some suggest that it is 'unnatural' to combine something from an animal with something from a plant into one garment. This would fit with the other prohibitions mentioned in the passuk. Also, a lot of Judaism is about maintaining proper separations.

R' Hirsch expands on the symbolism of the animal and plant kingdoms and the prohibition of shatnez in Horeb, which can be read in an adapted English version in Masterplan.

Also, one should realize they didn't have that many clothing-materials back then.

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Why does the symbolism of plants and animals apply to garments but not to food, where we mix animal products and vegetables routinely? –  Monica Cellio Nov 24 '11 at 18:28
    
"Also, one should realize they didn't have that many clothing-materials back then." - What are you trying to say by this sentence? –  yydl Nov 24 '11 at 22:43
    
It was an aside. The question said "why these specific materials were chosen", but its not like polyester clothing could have been forbidden then... –  Ariel K Nov 25 '11 at 0:44
    
No polyester, but leather and perhaps silk and cotton. I wonder how an animal/vegetable analysis addresses leather (belts, shoes, jerkins...); if wool is a problem even though it doesn't kill the animal, how much the moreso should leather be a problem -- yet we have no leather/linen prohibition. –  Monica Cellio Jun 24 '13 at 18:32
    
@MonicaCellio I don't know if people really use Leather threads. –  Ariel K Jun 24 '13 at 18:40
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An added dimension to Shatnez, and an Added dimension of the rift between Kain and Abel, as well as an Added dimension to the clothing of the Kohen gadol and other places where this tension arises... is as follows.

The Breslover Rebbe (Rav Nachman) said that Animals represent the natural, down to earth, here and now process of the world. Plants, represent the more spiritual, refined, and lofty things in reality (i.e. the other worlds).

This distinction is because although we might see animals as being 'higher' than plants, they are also more 'dirty' They have a state that can be good or bad, acting in this world and making it a better or worse place. Plants however are almost inert, they have no 'waste products' when they consume from this world (that normal people can see) and using them does not 'bloody' a person. From the human point of view, the use of plants is much more clean and refined than the use of animal parts.

Because of this, in our day to day lives, when we are not in the act of making something hekdesh, or do not have special kavah, we avoid surrounding ourselves with the "mixing" of the mundane (wool) and the holy (linen). This sort of mixing is only allowed when we are consciously raising the mundane to the status of holy, or when we attempt to bring the holy down to earth.

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Doesn't this logic apply equally well to bear skins and hemp? Why are sheep and flax the representatives of animal and plant? –  WAF Nov 24 '11 at 13:51
    
@Waf I'm not aware of any point when people in our around Israel used bear skins or hemp for clothing. The torah/Talmud mentions only 3 types of clothing. Wool, Linen, and Silk. No other material is ever mentioned AFIK –  avi Nov 24 '11 at 13:56
    
What about animal skin by Adam and Chava? –  WAF Nov 24 '11 at 14:04
    
Was the Torah given to Adam and Chava? –  avi Nov 24 '11 at 14:05
    
It sounds like your answer to "why specifically wool and linen?" is "those were the only materials available at the time of matan Torah. Is this correct? –  WAF Nov 24 '11 at 14:49
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