The Gemara in Mesekes Shabbos 114a teaches that a Torah scholar should not go out in stained or patched clothing, suggesting that one who goes out with a stain is subject to the "penalty of death." Also, the gemara in Shabbos 145b tells us that the scholars of Babylonia were "distinguished in dress," because they were "not in their original homes." Rashi explains that since the Rabbis of Bavel weren’t on the level of scholarship of the Rabbis of Eretz Yisrael their Torah knowledge wasn’t sufficient to command respect and therefore, they had to wear clothing of distinction. According to Rav Elie Meyer, Rabbi Elazar Moshe HaLevi Horowitz interprets this Gemara differently. It was the people of Bavel and not the Torah scholars that were not on the level of Eretz Yisrael. The Jews of Bavel weren’t on the spiritual level of the Jews of Eretz Yisrael and were therefore unable to appreciate the righteousness and scholarship of the Rabbis. Rav Meyer explains further that those communities who lack sophisticated Torah knowledge will judge a scholar not on his Torah knowledge, but on his appearance, therefore, the Torah scholar must be distinguished both "on the inside and on the outside."

Through history there have been stories about great rabbanim who put every cent they raised into their yeshiva and themselves lived in poverty. I can understand that some sources, including the Ramchal, had a great appreciation for self-deprevation, but what do contemporary sources say about both the Rav's and his community's responsibility to ensure that his appearance will command as much respect as his Torah knowledge?

  • 1
    Rav Solveitchik thought it was obligatory for Torah scholars to shave during the Omer in order not to look disheveled. IIUC – Double AA Nov 20 '14 at 17:49

You must log in to answer this question.

Browse other questions tagged .