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I would like to visit an Orthodox synagogue in my neighborhood.

Unfortunately, I do not really have any "nice" clothes to wear or even a kippah, nor do I really have the money to purchase such clothes at this time.

Would it be acceptable for me to come dressed in more simple clothing?

I have an old pair of black slacks, one white and one black button-up shirt and some decent black dress shoes that are not too badly scuffed up. I also have a beanie I could cover my head with. Would this be acceptable in an Orthodox congregation or am I better off not visiting until I have better clothes to wear?

Also a little background:

I am not a formal convert to Judaism. I am (half) ethnically Jewish, but from my father's side. My father was an ethnic Jew but my mother wasn't, so I therefore do not meet the halakhic definition of a Jew by birth.

I was never really raised in the Jewish way but I've always felt a strong connection with it. I have spent the last couple of years learning about Orthodox Judaism.

I do not know if I am fully prepared to undergo conversion yet, but I am trying to be more observant and learn as much as I can. I read Tehillim each morning, I try to abstain from eating non-kosher foods and I believe very strongly in G-d.

I feel compelled to visit a synagogue and consult with a Rabbi. Should I wait until I have better clothes to wear or should I just go as I am now? I am hesitant because it is a holy place and I do not want to disrespect it or its members.

  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/40950/8775. – mevaqesh Nov 30 '17 at 1:56
  • Also related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/33684/472 – Monica Cellio Nov 30 '17 at 2:20
  • It's worth while remembering as well that what is regarded as "decent" dress is very dependent on where you are. In Israel, many young people go to the synagogue in what they see as suitable clothing. That can easily be a pair of fashionable jeans and a t-shirt with trainers. Clean of course, and looking good, but very informal. As against that, some synagogues expect a more formal dress code, and you would rather stand out if you deviate too much from that. However, no-one should deny you entry on the basis of your clothes (as long as they are clean and reasonable). – Epicentre Nov 30 '17 at 5:32
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    Also the Rabbi is normally available in his office at certain hours during the week. Service time is not really a good time to catch him for a talk. – Epicentre Nov 30 '17 at 5:32
  • Black slacks, white shirt, and get a black suede yarmulke. – Clint Eastwood Dec 1 '17 at 11:51
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You are a very responsible and respectful person for inquiring about whether wearing your current clothes would be disrespectful or not to the synagogue. I really have to hand it to you, not everyone is that respectful.

It depends on what day of the week you plan on visiting to the synagogue. If you're planning on visiting during a weekday, then your normal clothes, provided that they aren't indecent, will suffice. There are plenty of Orthodox Jews who, during the week, wear their normal working clothes to the services. If you're planning on going on a Shabbat, however, your white shirt and black slacks should suffice, since you said you don't have anything else. That's what I wear everyday (black and white), and that's what I wear whenever I go to synagogue, for Shabbat even. (I live in a place that does not have an Orthodox synagogue, so I do all my praying at home, but when I do get the chance to attend synagogue in another city I do so.)

(It's a pretty widespread myth that Orthodox Jews wear suits everyday to synagogue.)

As for not owning a kippah, most synagogues will have a bin by the door with kippot for visitors to use. So you could use on of those. Otherwise, a different head covering would be good. Your beanie might not be such a bad option, but during a weekday it wouldn't be strange to even wear a ballcap!

Remember to talk to the rabbi of the synagogue you're planning to visit and explain why you want to visit before you show up to the synagogue. This way the rabbi will know your motives and will be able to help you, and he won't be surprised and accidentally stand-off-ish when you show up. Make sure to explain to him that you are not a Jew (that you only have a Jewish father) but that you're interested in converting to Judaism and want to see what it's like "inside".

During the services, you might explain to your neighbors in synagogue that you're interested in learning about Judaism and more importantly, that you're not Jewish. This way they can help you if you have questions about the service, and any polite person should be happy to teach you.

If you plan to go on Shabbat, remember that since you're not Jewish according to Jewish Law, then there should be no problem with you driving to synagogue during the Shabbat, and no one would judge you for doing so. It might be a good idea, though, to park a little ways off and walk up to the synagogue, and not park in the parking lot.

I would actually recommend visiting on a Shabbat, so that you will get a full synagogue experience. Additionally, the prayers tend to be recited slower, since no one has to go to work right after services. Also, on Shabbat the Torah is read, whereas during the week the Torah is only read on Monday and Thursday.

But as mentioned above, the most important thing is that you speak with the rabbi of the synagogue you want to attend.

Good luck in your journey and welcome to Mi Yodeya. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask me in the comments of this answer.

For further information, see this question and answer elsewhere on this site.

--- Added by DanF ---

If no one knows you there, you actually should make it known that you're a Gentile! This may sound strange, but once, in my shul, we had 10 men which included a stranger. We assumed that he was Jewish and we had a minyan. It was only when we reached Torah reading, someone asked him if he wanted to be called to the Torah. That's when he said, "I'm not Jewish". So, we had actually performed parts of the service assuming we had a minyan, when we really didn't. So, you - or rather the shul - wants to avoid this situation!

  • If you're worried about showing up you can always just call the synagogue office and speak to the rabbi on the phone. – Double AA Nov 30 '17 at 2:22
  • @DoubleAA That is why I said "talk with the rabbi", "speak with the rabbi" and not "meet with the rabbi". The main part is speaking with him. It doesn't have to be in person. – ezra Nov 30 '17 at 2:57
  • Kudos for the answer, but esp. for mentioning the driving part. I wouldn't have thought of that. It's a good workable solution that avoids questions and keeps your identity private, if that's your wish. However, technically, you can park even in front of the shul, obviously. Making a Shabbat visit your first one has advantages and disadvantages. You do get a more "thorough" experience with a somewhat slower service. However, the whole service will last 3 hours on average, unless you're with a "rush" service that may last 1.5 hours. You decide if a long service isn't overwhelming for you. – DanF Nov 30 '17 at 3:43
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    You should get a sense of when the holidays are, if you don't know them, offhand. You don't want to accidentally show up on a weekday that's actually a Jewish holiday. – DanF Nov 30 '17 at 3:44
  • @DanF Thank you! And the visitor doesn't have to stay the whole service. He could come and go as he pleased. – ezra Nov 30 '17 at 3:45

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