In Exodus God gives instructions in detail for the clothes the kohanim must wear. But neither the patriarchs nor Moses nor the 70 elders were instructed to wear anything special. Why the difference?

  • Maybe it simply followed a priori? Maybe our Prophet and the priests wore exactly said clothing without repeated instructions and further mentions.
    – user16556
    Commented Feb 24, 2020 at 22:31
  • 3
    The patriarchs and elders wore special clothing every time they served in the Temple.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 24, 2020 at 22:55
  • Perhaps (as per @DoubleAA's comment) it has to do with the fact that pretty much everything to do with the avoda-service is specifically prescribed by G-d to very specific details, which seems to be an essential theme to the avoda (as distinct from avoda zara where it's all about personal expression).
    – Loewian
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 1:38
  • When exactly do you think the kohanim had to wear this special clothing? Always?
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 13:16

2 Answers 2


The Chinuch (mitzvah 99) writes that it's so that the attention of the kohen himself is focused on the Divine service that he's performing: anytime he looks at any part of his body, he will see the Kohanic clothes, and that will remind him of Whom he is serving. (He compares it in that sense to tefillin.)

משרשי המצוה. היסוד הקבוע לנו כי האדם נפעל לפי פעלותיו ואחרי מחשבותיו וכונותיו, והשליח המכפר צריך להתפיס כל מחשבותיו וכונתו אל העבודה, על כן ראוי ללבוש בגדים מיחדים אליה. שכשיסתכל בכל מקום שבגופו מיד יהיה נזכר ומתעורר בלבו לפני מי הוא עובד. וזה כעין תפילין שנצטוו הכל להניח בקצת הגוף שיהיה לזכרון מחשבת הכשר. ואף על פי שגם הכהן היה מניח תפילין, לגדל ענינו היה צריך גם זה.


One answer is reported by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, based on previous work by others, which I find fairly convincing.

In a nutshell, many individuals in our history were unique and charismatic, and did not need special clothing to assert their authority. This was true for the patriarchs, for Moses, for the elders, for the prophets and for our great rabbis.

This is true for the bad guys also. In our time, Hitler did not wear, or need, any special clothing. Neither did Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, or the Nasser I grew up under. They wore the same clothes that most people around them wore.

But the priesthood, being a hereditary position, a birthright, could not guarantee that each priest through the generations would have the required presence and charisma. He needed the special stimulus imparted by the clothing to retain the peoples' attention and following.

  • 1
    I don’t find this particularly convincing. Why do the priests need the people’s attention and following?
    – DonielF
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 23:48
  • Because they perform religious services, to which the people must pay attention. Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 23:57
  • Why do people need to pay attention? It's not like the avodah is invalid if nobody's looking. Further, a Kohen specifically shouldn't draw attention to himself when duchaning, and while nowadays that's so that you shouldn't have improper thoughts during Birchas Kohanim, I'd imagine that halacha is even more magnified in the Beis HaMikdash, mere amos away from the place with the highest concentration of Hashem's Presence, as they "channel" that through their upraised hands.
    – DonielF
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 3:21

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