Dress Etiquette for Orthodox Synagogues

by Amy Wilde

In most Orthodox synagogues, men and women use different entrances and sit apart during worship.

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An Orthodox Jewish synagogue, also called a temple or shul, is not only a place where religious services are held. Synagogues are also centers for religious study and community events. While individual synagogues vary in the degree to which they adhere to traditional Jewish laws and customs, a visitor to an Orthodox synagogue should err on the side of caution and observe all the commonly-held Orthodox rules of dress and conduct unless instructed otherwise.

Attire for Men

In Orthodox congregations, all men wear head coverings. Usually these take the form of a yarmulke or kippah, small round hats that sit on the crown of the head. In addition, adult Jewish men (starting at age 13) wear fringed prayer shawls called tallit for morning services. The fringes on the shawl, called tzitzit, are a reminder to obey God's commandments, and they are kissed several times during the service. Men should always wear pressed long pants and a clean shirt, and many Orthodox synagogues prefer men to wear a jacket and tie as well.

Attire for Women

In most Orthodox congregations, married women and older unmarried women always cover their head with a hat or a scarf. Girls and young women can leave their hair uncovered. Orthodox women generally do not wear tallit, but occasionally they do. Women should dress modestly, wearing long dresses with sleeves or a blouse and a long skirt. Women wear slacks in some orthodox congregations, but not all.

Visitors

Visitors should always dress modestly according to the guidelines for their gender. Older and married women can wear any hat or scarf to cover their heads, and head coverings are usually available for visitors who do not bring them. Men and boys must always wear a hat, and yarmulkes should be available to borrow. Visitors can also usually borrow tallit, but non-Jewish men should not wear them. Both yarmulkes and tallit are often placed near the entrance to the main sanctuary.

Things to Avoid

Orthodox congregations often observe prohibitions on carrying and handling money on the sabbath, so if you are attending a wedding or a Bar or Bat Mitzvah at an Orthodox synagogue, be sure not to bring a gift, especially an envelope with money or a check. Also avoid jangling change in your pockets for the same reason. Writing is also not allowed on the sabbath, so avoid keeping visible pens or pencils in your shirt pocket.

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About the Author

Amy Wilde has worked as a grant developer, copy editor, writing tutor and writer. Based in Portland, Ore., she covers topics related to society, religion and culture. Wilde holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and classical civilization from the University of Toronto.