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While I tried to make the title as click-baity as possible, my question isn't limited only to striped socks.

Some background information: One is not supposed to stare at the Kohanim when they do Birkas Kohanim, as this distracts them from paying attention to the blessing (S"A O"C 128:23, see Mishnah Berurah 89). For that reason, the Shulchan Aruch writes (128:30) that one who has some disfigurement on his hands or face cannot do Birkas Kohanim as it causes the people to stare at him, although if he is a regular in the town, he can say the blessing since people are used to him and won't stare.

In the next Sif, the Shulchan Aruch writes that in locales where the disfigurements would be covered by a Tallis and the custom of the Kohanim in that community is to drape the tallis over their heads/hands, the Kohanim can go up for Birkas Kohanim. However, if the custom of the community is for the Kohanim to not drape their tallis over their hands/face, they can not start doing so in order to cover a disfigurement (Chayei Adam 32:4).

Based on the above, my question is two-fold:

  1. Is there a problem with a Kohen wearing 'distracting' clothing? This could be anything that is considered 'weird' (and I'm aware that what is considered weird is quite subjective, but that's beyond the scope of this question. This question is assuming that what the Kohen is wearing at the time is considered weird by the standards of that community), for example a Tallis with pictures on it, sparkly pants, or even something as simple as socks with holes.
  2. If the answer to 1 is that it is a problem, is there some timeframe where if one regularly wore 'weird' clothing that it would be considered no longer 'weird' in that locale and the Kohen can now wear it during Birkas Kohanim?

Please note that I'm specifically looking for sources that speak out about distracting clothes. Logically, I would assume that it would be a problem as a distraction is a distraction, but I'm curious if any of the authorities explicitly speak about this.

  • Rav Moshe Feinstein has a responsum somewhere where he takes it as obvious that bright colors aren't a problem IINM. This should be parallel. – Double AA Oct 29 '17 at 20:56
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    @DoubleAA Interesting. I took it as obvious that it is a problem, but I trust R' Moshe's 'obvious' more than my 'obvious'. If you can source that, sounds like an answer to me. – Salmononius2 Oct 29 '17 at 21:15
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    Well, the click-bait worked well. – ezra Oct 29 '17 at 23:48
  • Many people in the cong. cover their faces with the tallit. That would prevent staring at their socks. FYI, the stripes or holes on / in the socks, I think, is the least of the sock problem. – DanF Oct 30 '17 at 2:46
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    Here is a shiur in which Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz addresses this question along with other Birchas Kohaanim questions: yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/897680/rabbi-aryeh-lebowitz/… – Shmuel Brown Apr 12 '18 at 21:36
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While my gut feeling per my understanding of Chayei Adam 32:4 was that 'distracting' clothing would prevent a Kohen from doing Birkas Kohanim, Rav Moshe Feinstein in Igros Moshe OC 2:32 (credit to @DoubleAA for the source) gives a fascinating interpretation of this law which upends the entire premise of this question.

If I understood the Responsum correctly, Rav Moshe explains that the reason why it's forbidden for a community to start wearing a Tallis in order to allow a disfigured Kohen to do Birkas Kohanim is not because it's inherently problematic to cause people to stare. Rather, it's due to the fact that when people stare, they will realize that the person has a disfigurement and that's why the Kohanim are dressed differently. Causing staring is only problematic if there is a disqualifier that will come to light due to the staring.

Rav Moshe also uses this to explain why Kohanim don't all have to wear uniform colored socks. Since there is no underlying disqualifier being hinted at by the different colored socks, it's not a problem if the congregation stares at it. He even goes so far as to say that a Kohen could even do Birkas Kohanim barefoot in a place where the custom is to wear socks, since there is no disfigurement being stared at!

As a result, it would seem like there is no problem in a Kohen wearing any sort of 'weird' socks, as long as he would otherwise be allowed to do Birkas Kohanim.


@Shmuel Brown pointed out that there is a shiur on YU Torah by R' Aryeh Lebowitz that discusses this issue, and near the end of the shiur, gives 4 reasons why it would be allowed for a Kohen to wear 'Happy Socks'. The second reason given (around the 40 minute mark) is the Teshuva mentioned above from R' Moshe. It seems like the accepted opinions are that there is no problem to wear 'Happy Socks' during Birkas Kohanim.

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