Here’s a more serious issue than “Synagogue Shoe Policies” (though certainly not the most pressing issue of the day) – Synagogue Dress Policies.
Can I tell you how much of my rabbinate has been spent ad”dressing” this issue? It is ridiculous but I assure you it is real.
“Rabbi,” someone at Starbucks will say to me, “I was going to pop on over to the shul last Shabbat and catch the Ruakh Rally, but I just came from working out and was only wearing sweats.”
“Rabbi,” a yoga minyan participant will timidly ask me out in the hallway, “would it be OK if I step foot into the sanctuary seeing that I’m not wearing a dress?”
Over and over again people feel the need to apologize to me for not being dressed to the nines, for showing up to shul in street clothes, or not showing up at all because they felt they weren’t all done up, in expensive clothing or properly dressed.
Look, I like wearing a three piece suit on Shabbat (I’m really trying to bring them back into style but it doesn’t seem to be catching on). It makes me feel good, it’s what I wear to work. And for me Shabbat is work (another blog entirely) and truthfully I wouldn’t be dressed so formally if it were my day off.
But there’s nothing holy about a suit. There’s nothing elevated about a dress. Black suits, black hats and long black jackets in the Orthodox world are not “Jewish” (ironically they are hangovers from 19th century Polish non-Jews). And though Calvin Klein and Donna Karan may be Jewish, Levi Strauss was a Jew too. Blue Jeans and Lululemons are kosher and, at least at my shul, are just wonderful and welcome.
At CSH we have a minimal dress policy which is this – just come to shul (and leave shul too) dressed. What you wear is your business, it’s personal and a form of self-expression for you and you alone. For some it’s yoga clothes, others street clothes and others yet it’s Saturday’s finest. No one should judge you for what you wear, it’s between you and God alone. Perhaps it’s time for synagogues and shuls to get rid of dress policies, announce it from the bimah, publicize it in the Bulletin and out in the streets: “all are wanted here, all are welcome here. We don’t care about your clothes but your soul.”
Once you have your fig leaf you should be good to go. This is not a performance, not the theatre, not a show. This is a house of God and if there is any other message conveyed perhaps it’s not a place you really want to go.