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Many observant sephardim in Israel, especially those in yeshivot, dress in black and white. Does anyone know how this happened?

There is no tradition of Jews in North Africa or in the Middle East wearing European black and white clothing with black hats. On the contrary, richly colored fabrics and turbans marked traditional, respectful attire.

Besides the Sephardic Chief Rabbi dress, I can't think of anyone who has retained that tradition. Instead, many Sephardic Jews assimilated Ashkenazic styles. Why is that, and is there any documentation explaining the switch?

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You can improve this question by specifying the Ashkenazi communities to which you refer. Not all Ashkenazi Jews dressed in black hats and suits; there were Jewish communities across the continent whose "traditional" clothing was more colourful. I think you'll find that the adoption of the "black and white" dress by Sephardim owes its origins to the same phenomena that saw its adoption by other Ashkenazim as well. –  Shimon bM Sep 5 '12 at 11:42
Thanks Shimon. How would you specify the Ashkenazi communities? Charedi Lithuanian/Chassidic? Help me out and I'll fix the question. –  Aryeh Sep 5 '12 at 11:52
@ShimonbM, I think Aryeh's question can stand on its own. Ashkenazim are well known for dressing in black and white the more "to the right" they are. I don't think it's necessary to explain how that all became commonplace in order to ask this question. –  Seth J Sep 5 '12 at 14:59
I'm guessing that it's probably a simple function of economics. The attire of Litvish Haredi in Israel is much cheaper (and mass-produced) than what the Sephardic Jews used to wear (which was hand-made). –  Craig Feinstein Sep 5 '12 at 17:00
While there is certainly a specifically Jewish/religious aspect to this question, I would point out that most of the world has adopted Western modes of dress. In the Middle East, where most Sephardim come from, most people do not wear the traditional Arab garb. Moreover, this change took place before most Sephardim left their home countries for Israel or America. Most Sephardim stopped wearing "richly colored fabrics and turbans" well before they began to assimilate into the Ashkenazi world. –  LazerA Feb 19 '13 at 21:32

7 Answers 7

up vote 13 down vote accepted

The only source I have yet to find acknowledging this switch in clothing from a Sephardic perspective is in the English edition to the Yalkut Yosef Hilkhot Shabbat. Under Siman 242, Halakhah 5, regarding the mitzvah to change from weekday clothes into more elegant garments, the editor (R. Yisrael Bitan) added a special footnote:

The Kabbalists ruled that one must wear white suits on Shabbat. Even so, in our time all the greatest Torah scholars are accustomed to wear black suits on Shabbat, and one should not act differently. If an individual chooses to be different from everyone else and wear a white suit, he is acting improperly; he is compared to a groom sitting among mourners. It important to explain this to those who begin observing mitzvot on their own (ba'ale teshuvah) so that they will conduct themselves as recommended by the Torah leaders of our generation.

This is directly opposing the Ben Ish Chai's position not to wear any black on shabbat (Ben Ish Chai, 2nd year, Lech Lecha #18). I also just came across an article from R. Marc Angel on the subject. He mentions personally talking with R. Mordecai Eliyahu, in the early 90's, on the Ashkenazic-assimilated dress code:

Rabbi Eliyahu responded: the Ashkenazic garb has become the "standard" garb for Talmidei Hakhamim, and Sephardic rabbis won't be taken seriously enough if they don't dress according to this fashion. When I said that the situation might be turned around if he and other Sephardic leaders made an issue of it, he said it wasn't worth it and it wouldn't succeed.

I haven't found a source explaining the process of assimilating the clothing, but I do remember hearing a shiur from R. Rakeffet, who explained that R. Ovadia's children went to Ashkenazic yeshivot because those institutions had the highest standard of Torah learning at the time. Such an environment, bearing in mind the already existing struggles of a stereotyped minority, could likely create the norm R. Eliyahu noted.

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Institutionalized Judaism is largely composed of Ashkenazim, which makes some Sepharadim feel like they need to fit in or dress 'acceptably' in order to be accepted. Sometimes, people need to dress up in order to be taken seriously: that is the unfortunate state of a sizable portion of Jewry these days. This answer is based on personal experience, in fact, things I encounter every day.

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Yochanan, welcome to Mi Yodeya. Try to bear in mind that d'racheha darche noam; that said, I hope you stick around and enjoy the site. You may also wish to register your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features. –  msh210 Sep 5 '12 at 15:52

HaRav BenSion Musafi Shelit"a says in his Sefer Shivat Sion that the reason the Mekubalim said to wear white was because it was considered very nice. However nowadays even black suits are considered nice.

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When people discuss this, they assume that Sephardic Jews were all wearing robes and turbans while living in Arabic-speaking countries. Then, they came to Israel and started wearing black suits and ties.

In many cases, Jews started wearing Western-style clothing while living in Arabic-speaking countries

Look at this pic of wedding in Aleppo in 1914:

Jews in North Africa saw themselves as French and spoke French.

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But notice that the guy on the bottom left is wearing a fez. These days Sephardim wear the Ashkenazi black top hats that are a relic 17th century Poland. –  Matt Mar 13 '14 at 22:08
My grandparents hailed from Egypt and wore western style clothing for fancy events, spoke French, etc. Why? Because they were higher society, which is what all the higher ups wore. Whereas the poorer people dressed "like arabs". –  Aaron Apr 14 at 22:18

I think it's because all religious jews in israel are a minority against the secular jews

so the black/white has been adopted as ben torah attire not necessarily referring to ashkenazi or what not.

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It's one of the many examples of Jews in Israel who hail from Arab countries trying to look less Arabic and to assimilate to some extent to the more dominant Ashkenazi culture.

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Ivan, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for sharing your opinion! Your answer would be much more valid if you'd edit in some evidence to back it up. Also please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features. –  Isaac Moses Oct 29 '12 at 17:42

What you are witnessing regarding the way some sephardim dress, is really a much bigger issue. Many Charedi Yeshivot in Israel push for Ashkanazi minhagim as halacha for all Jews.

(Ironically, the halacha is actually the opposite, in that an Ashkenaz finding himself in a sephardi location is supposed to take on sephardi custom, while the Sephardi minhag is not to.)

This can been known as the Ashkanazification of Sephardim,(TM) and in some people's view is a problem.

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Avi, don't get ahead of yourself. The Sephardi leadership's position has always been "Ma'alin BeKdushah VeEin Moridin" and, as such, (ahem) Sephardim may not adopt Ashkenazi customs, but Ashkenazim may adopt Sephardi customs. This is rather self-serving logic (not to mention cyclical in some applications of it). –  Seth J Sep 5 '12 at 16:48
@SethJ Yes, but the practice in Israel today in more charedi places is the opposite reality. That was my point, and it is ironic. –  avi Sep 5 '12 at 16:51
I recognize that. My point is that you say "the halacha is actually the opposite...", which, cynically, is something that, if it were actually followed, would provoke negative feelings the opposite way, rather than promote harmony. I'm not saying that by adopting Ashkenazi practices Sephardim are creating harmony, or that they are not discriminated against as a result. I'm just pointing out that the "halacha" you cite is really, more than anything else, rightly or wrongly, an attempt to keep Sephardim from assimilating. –  Seth J Sep 5 '12 at 16:59
@SethJ The halacha has been that way for over 500 years. The Ashkenazi poskim could have said the same thing the sephardim poskim said, but they didn't for whatever reason. –  avi Sep 5 '12 at 17:21

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