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People are naturally interested in their clothing. Further, while many people do not realize it, what we believe has a lot to say about how we dress, and nowhere is this truer than in the Israelite faith.
As we have seen, rabbinical Judaism descends from the Levitical order, and as we will see, the Levitical order was commanded to wear a uniform. Rabbinic Judah still follows the spirit of this, and most rabbinic sects can be identified by their clothing, because most of the disciples inside each sect attempt to imitate their sect leaders, even down to the way they dress. A certain style of hat or a certain type of garment is associated with the leader of the sect, and it is possible to tell who believes what at a glance. This may seem strange or unnecessary to Christians and Messianics, but in Judaism it seems deeply important to be able to tell who believes what, at a glance. Parents in rabbinic Judaism also want to be able to tell who believes what at a glance, because they want to be able to tell in an instant who they can let their children to play with (or not).
To be clear, our concern is not to please men, but only to please Elohim.
Galatim (Galatians) 1:10
10 For do I now persuade men, or Elohim? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Messiah.
Yet ironically, if we will attempt to please Elohim by wearing the clothing He says to wear, He will also make it go better for us, for reasons we may not expect. It will also serve an important purpose in testifying our faith to our brothers in Judah without ever saying a word.
Normalization and Group Identity
If pleasing the rabbis is not a goal with us, the other edge of the sword is that we do not want to do anything to make our brothers stumble unnecessarily. And, in my past talks with the rabbis, they have always expressed a deep concern that we not try to dress like they do, because they want to be able to tell Nazarenes apart from Orthodox Jews at a glance, just as they are able to tell who belongs to what Orthodox sect at a glance. To them, clothing helps to establish their group identity, and they also find this important for their sense of wellbeing, and safety. Even though they may not agree with the beliefs of other sects, it helps to bring a sense of security and safety knowing what the other party believes, because even if it is different than what they believe, at the very least it is a known quantity. This can help take away the fear of the unknown, and bring a sense of curiosity.
It seems ironic, but one time I was talking with an Orthodox rabbi who denied Yeshua’s deity, and who yet was trying to help Ephraim become established in Israel. He sternly cautioned me from a prophetic point of view, “There will never be a time when the rabbis do not need to oppose you.” That is true for more reasons than we have room to explain here, but we should also not forget that in a 2017 CE study by the reputable Barna Group, 21% of Jewish millennials believed that Yeshua is the son of Elohim, while another 28% felt that even though He was not the son of Elohim, He was nonetheless an important rabbi or spiritual teacher. That is 49% of Jewish millennials who are open to listening to Yeshua’s teachings and faith, and so it is essential that we give them a way to help identify us, so that they can begin to relate to us. That alone is a powerful act of witnessing.
Because clothing is such a powerful witness, we want to take a few chapters to understand exactly how Scripture says we should dress, and why. The unintended benefit will be that this will help to establish the kind of look that millennial Jews need to begin identifying with us as a group. This will also help to remove any fears of us as an unknown quantity, and it will help them to begin to see us as the Hebraic group that we really are.
While there are many differences in how rabbinic Jews and Nazarenes approach clothing, the differences will naturally resolve and turn out for the good, if we will approach the subject in a methodical and systematic way, starting at the beginning.
Adam and Havvah’s Aprons
There are many different ways to interpret the first few chapters of Genesis, but if we take it at its face value, the reason we wear garments at all is that Adam and Havvah (Eve) began to think apart from hearing and obeying Yahweh’s voice.
While Adam and Havvah were obediently hearing and obeying Elohim, they were both naked, and they were not ashamed.
B’reisheet (Genesis) 2:25
25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
However, after Adam and Havvah began to think on their own (without listening to Yahweh’s voice), their eyes became open, and they also became aware of their own nakedness. Because they were now aware of their own nakedness, they made coverings of fig leaves.
B’reisheet (Genesis) 3:4-7
4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.
5 For Elohim knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like Elohim, knowing good and evil.”
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.
7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
In Hebrew, the word for coverings is chagor (חֲגֹר), which is Strong’s Hebrew Concordance OT:2290, referring to aprons.
OT:2290 chagowr (khag-ore’); or chagor (khag-ore’); and (feminine) chagowrah (khag-o-raw’); or chagorah (khag-o-raw’); from OT:2296; a belt (for the waist): -apron, armour, gird (-le).
Before about three years of age, children’s eyes are not opened to the difference between good and evil. This is why small children sometimes go around naked and do not think anything of it. Then at about three years of age, children do begin to realize that there is a difference between good and evil, and from that point onward they begin to use clothing not only for protection from the elements, but also to conceal their bodies.
Further, even before three years of age, parents want to conceal the groin area, which is what would be covered by Adam and Havvah’s aprons. Interestingly, even non-Hebrew peoples instinctively seem to know to cover the groin.
Indications of Position, Status, and Rank
After we become aware of good and evil, humans can also become aware of hierarchy. We begin to become aware of position, status, and rank. We can also become aware that clothing can be used to signal position, status, and rank.
A complete discussion of the ancient Hebrew garments is outside the scope of this article. However, we need to discuss a few specific Hebrew garments, one of which is Joseph’s coat (aka Joseph’s tunic). This is an important garment for many reasons, and many people will have questions about this tunic.
The Ketonet Pasim (Joseph’s Coat or Tunic)
Israel famously gave Joseph what many versions call a coat of many colors, or a tunic of many colors. For one example, here is the King James Version.
B’reisheet (Genesis) 37:3, KJV
3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.
In Hebrew, this “coat of many colors” is called a ketonet pasim (כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים), and it is a special garment. The only two people in Scripture to wear a ketonet pasim are our forefather Joseph, and King David’s daughter Tamar. However, we should note that while the King James Version translators did a good job in many respects, one of the areas where they fell short was in translating the names of the garments (which they translated seemingly at whim). That is why, in 2 Samuel 13:18-19 the ketonet pasim is called a “robe of many colors.”
Shemuel Bet (2 Samuel) 13:18-19
18 Now she had on a robe of many colors, for the king’s virgin daughters wore such apparel. And his servant put her out and bolted the door behind her.
19 Then Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore her robe of many colors that was on her, and laid her hand on her head and went away crying bitterly.
As we will see in a moment, it is likely that both Joseph’s and Tamar’s garments had many colors. However, what ketonet pasim means in Hebrew is a full-length tunic or shirt with long sleeves, reaching the soles of the hands and feet. The word ketonet is Strong’s Old Testament OT:3801, referring to a shirt.
OT:3801 kethoneth (keth-o’-neth); or kuttoneth (koot-to’-neth); from an unused root meaning to cover [compare OT:3802]; a shirt:
When we look up the reference to OT:3802, we see that it refers to the shoulders (from which garments hang).
OT:3802 katheph (kaw-thafe’); from an unused root meaning to clothe; the shoulder (proper, i.e. upper end of the arm; as being the spot where the garments hang); figuratively, side-piece or lateral projection of anything: -arm, corner, shoulder (-piece), side, undersetter.
Next, the word pasim is a plural of Strong’s Old Testament OT:6446, pas. It is thought to mean either “many hand-breadths (of fabric)”, or “reaching the soles of the hands and feet.” In either case, it means that the garment reaches the feet, and also has long sleeves.
OT:6446 pac (pas); from OT:6461; properly, the palm (of the hand) or sole (of the foot) [compare OT:6447]; by implication (plural) a long and sleeved tunic (perhaps simply a wide one; from the original sense of the root, i.e. of many breadths):
KJV – (diverse) colours.
The idea that the ketonet pasim has “many colors” is a rabbinic interpretation. It is based on the fact that while long tunics were common in ancient times, the only people to wear a ketonet pasim were Joseph and King David’s virgin daughters. Therefore, the rabbis imagine that it was a very special, expensive garment, perhaps being either extensively embroidered or richly decorated with lots of colors. This interpretation makes sense. Yet whether or not the ketonet pasim was embroidered or had lots of colors, it seems clear that the ketonet pasim indicated special position, rank, and status (which is why Joseph’s brothers hated him for receiving one).
The Regular Israelite Ketonet
In contrast to the expensive ketonet pasim, a regular Israelite ketonet (tunic) could also be full length (perhaps for winter). Yet even if it was full length, it did not always indicate special position, rank, or status. In fact it could be made of crude linen fabric, with basic colors.
Garments in Israel have changed a lot over the years, yet some things have stayed the same. While a woman’s tunic might or might not have sleeves, it always covered the legs. An Israelite woman might show her arms (or perhaps even a shoulder), but cleavage and legs were always covered.
Similarly, a man’s tunic might also have sleeves (or not), and it might also reach the ankles (especially in winter). However, in the first century, a worker’s garment might also end just below the knee, and yet the thighs were always kept covered.
Most garments were made on a loom, and because of this, most garments were of a full cut that hid the figure, and gave a modest appearance. A woman’s tunic looked like a loose full-length dress, with or without sleeves. (Again, a shoulder could even show in summer, but the legs and the cleavage were never shown).
A man’s tunic looked like a loose dress that either reached to the knees or the ankles, and it was usually plainer, with less color, and less decoration. There was enough of a difference that even though both men and women wore tunics, it was obvious if it was a man’s or woman’s garment.
Since Yeshua came to earth as a servant, He probably wore simpler clothing. Rich men and royalty usually wore longer, more expensive, and more richly decorated garments, because they indicated a higher status.
The Levitical Uniform
The Levitical order also wore special garments to signify rank, position, and status.
Yahweh commanded Israel to wash the Levites (Exodus 29:4), anoint them, consecrate them, and set them apart for His service. Moreover, He also commanded them to wear a uniform while on duty in the tabernacle. This uniform included certain hats, which were to be worn for glory and for beauty.
Shemote (Exodus) 28:40-43
40 “For Aharon’s sons you shall make tunics, and you shall make sashes for them. And you shall make hats for them, for glory and beauty.
41 So you shall put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him. You shall anoint them, consecrate them, and set them apart, that they may minister to Me as priests.
42 And you shall make for them linen trousers to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the waist to the thighs.
43 They shall be on Aharon and on his sons when they come into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the set-apart place, that they do not incur iniquity and die. It shall be a statute forever to him and his descendants after him.”
The high priest was to wear two head coverings, while the regular priests only needed to wear one.
Shemote (Exodus) 39:27-28
27 They made tunics, artistically woven of fine linen, for Aharon and his sons,
28 a turban of fine linen, exquisite hats of fine linen, short trousers of fine woven linen….
However, the Levitical order was also to leave their duty uniforms in the tabernacle when they went outside. (That is, they did not wear them outside the tabernacle.)
Vayiqra (Leviticus) 6:11
11 “Then he shall take off his garments, put on other garments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place.”
It may be that the Levitical order had other clothing to wear outside of the tabernacle that indicated their status as Levites. One time I heard a Jewish expert in ancient clothing tell me that in ancient times, each tribe had their own way of tying their tzitzit (tassels), so that one could tell at a glance what tribe someone belonged to, but I have not been able to verify this. However, it seems likely that the Levites would want to wear some kind of clothing off duty to indicate their rank, position, and status as Levites, just as Orthodox rabbis wear their clothing to indicate status today.
No Melchizedekian Uniform
One can argue that the Melchizedekian order should also wear a uniform based on Isaiah 66:20-21. It says that Yahweh will take some of the Ephraimites for priests and Levites after the tribes are brought home (after Armageddon and the Ingathering). This may mean that after the Ingathering, Yeshua’s priesthood will be merged into what is left of the (freshly cleansed) Levitical order (who will be few in number in that day).
Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 66:20-21
20 “Then they shall bring all your brethren for an offering to Yahweh out of all nations, on horses and in chariots and in litters, on mules and on camels, to My set-apart mountain Jerusalem,” says Yahweh, “as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of Yahweh.
21 And I will also take some of them for priests and Levites,” says Yahweh.
This is another way of saying that after Armageddon, Judah will accept Yeshua, and become Nazarenes. At that time, Yeshua’s priesthood will also wear the Levitical uniform (because the two priesthoods will become one and the same). Because of this, it might seem to make sense for Yeshua’s priesthood to begin wearing the Levitical uniform now, in anticipation of this event. However, as much sense as that might seem to make, it seems important to remember that neither the Torah nor Yeshua command a uniform for the Melchizedekian order. Further, Yahweh strictly prohibits us from adding or taking anything away from His commands.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:2
2 “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of Yahweh your Elohim, which I command you.”
Further, it also seems important to remember that Yeshua never told the Melchizedekian order to wear a uniform. Rather, to the contrary, He told His disciples not to worry about what they wear.
Mattityahu (Matthew) 6:25
25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”
To be clear, Yeshua’s purpose in this passage was not to preach against uniforms. Rather, His message was that we need to trust Elohim to provide for all of our physical needs. However, it seems clear that He never told His disciples to wear a uniform, and historians tell us that the Melchizedekian order did not wear a uniform until the Roman era. And, since we follow Yeshua rather than Rome, we have no indication that we should wear a uniform until we are merged with the Levitical order, after Armageddon.
The Tabernacle and Temple are Special
Let us also note that Yahweh considers His tabernacle (or temple) to be very special. In Yeshua’s time, the synagogues were not thought to be the equals of the tabernacle or temple. For example, Yahweh told us to be ritually immersed before coming to His tabernacle, so that we would not die as a result of defiling it.
Vayiqra (Leviticus) 15:31
31 “Thus you shall separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness when they defile My tabernacle that is among them.”
This same rule did not apply to the synagogues. While today synagogues hold ritual worship similar to the temple or tabernacle, in Yeshua’s time, the synagogues were thought of mainly as study and worship centers. And, while ritual purity and cleanliness was good, the laws of ritual purity did not apply inside the synagogues in the same way as they did inside the tabernacle or temple.
One can perhaps counter-argue that our mission right now is to restore the Tabernacle of David, which has fallen down (and that is true).
Ma’asei (Acts) 15:16-17
16 “After this I will return
And will rebuild the tabernacle of David,
which has fallen down;
I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will set it up;
17 So that the rest of mankind may seek Yahweh,
Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,
Says Yahweh who does all these things.”
However, the Tabernacle of David was not the same as the Levitical Tabernacle. Rather, it was a different tent altogether. (For details, see our series on the Tabernacle of David in Nazarene Scripture Studies, Volume 4.)
Additionally, the Levites did not wear their uniforms to the synagogues (but left them in the Levitical tabernacle or temple).
For all of these reasons, we do not believe a uniform is required (or desired) for the Melchizedekian order until after we are merged with what remains of the Levitical order. Yet in that day, a uniform will be commanded.
No Need to Imitate Yeshua’s Clothing
It is clear that Yeshua is our example. Yet while we believe in imitating Yeshua in every other respect, we do not believe it is necessary to imitate Him in the matter of His clothing, because He never commanded a uniform, and He also said not to worry about our clothing (Matthew 6:25, above).
However, that said, if you decide that you want to imitate Yeshua’s clothing, please consider that neither the ketonet pasim nor the regular Israelite ketonet have ever had front or back plackets (flaps). Therefore, they did not have tassels, because they did not have four corners (or four wings). That is to say, tassels were not worn on tunics. Rather tassels were worn only on four-cornered garments, which we will talk about in the next chapter.