Tie-dyed tallits in paradise

Does it say anywhere in the Torah that prayer should not be a happy and perhaps 'colorful' experience?

chabad bar mitzvah 88 29 (photo credit: Sharon Matityahu)
chabad bar mitzvah 88 29
(photo credit: Sharon Matityahu)
We have just finished celebrating our son Arik's bar mitzva. Family and friends from the US, England and France joined us for what was a joyous, wonderful celebration. Shabbat morning in shul was not only happy, but colorful. Arik was hard to miss as he stood up on the bima, leading us in the morning prayers wearing his brand new tallit, beautifully tie-dyed in shades of blue, purple and green. He was joined in joyful bursts of color by my husband, Charles, our rabbi and several other friends and family members also wearing their own tie-dye tallits, as well as the handful of Ethiopian or other bright prayer shawls. Unusual or arty prayer items are nothing new in this day and age. But for some of us they have helped to create or add different meaning to what sometimes felt like formal, mundane ritual. When Charles was growing up in England, traditional shul-wear was nothing less then being completely "suited up." In his first three weeks on the WUJS program in Israel, he adopted Israeli informality by first "dressing down" with a sports jacket. Then he lost the jacket, then the tie and the long-sleeved shirt. By the time a few years had passed, he was usually seen in shul in sandals, shirt and trousers - and, if it was a real scorcher, shorts. Aside from the shorts, he was really no different from most Israeli shul-goers, with the exception of those in the haredi communities. In our last few years in Israel, Charles also began sporting more vibrant, tropical-colored shirts as well. And he was not alone in our community. WHEN WE moved to Florida, we were hit full in the face again with the traditional formality of suits, jackets, stockings, etc. We were quick to notice that with this formal dress often came a less animated and less spiritual atmosphere. Almost as if the ties on the men were choking any spiritual joy out of their bodies. So we maintained our casual Israeli approach to dress in our new American community. Given that in America he was wearing more formal weekday work clothes, Charles felt the need to distinguish even more between the Sabbath and the workday and continued wearing bright, colorful button-down shirts to shul. And then came the tie-dyed tallit - after taking eight long years to finally fulfill the dream of finding someone who could actually create one! Even though we have caused the occasional hard-line discussion at a board meeting, or received annoyed glances from some older members, for the most part we have been pleased to see a mellower attitude begin to grow over time. It didn't take long for some of the people who originally judged my husband by the colors on his shirt or tallit to realize that this same "bright" person showed up in shul every week, is actively involved, and was actually one of the more knowledgeable participants in the congregation. Never judge a book by its cover… or, in this case, tie-dyed tallit! Because when it comes down to it, does how we dress affect our devotion to family, community or our religion? Silly question. Of course it doesn't, or shouldn't. But do others still think this is an important part of who we are, or who we should be? For many people, the answer is unfortunately yes. ONE OF my least favorite times in the Jewish calendar is attending services in America for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Not only do the once-a-year-goers invade, they are all dressed to the nines, with hair and nails freshly done, as if it were a fashion show. I breathe a sigh of relief once Succot rolls around and the regulars are back in place without the showy parade passing me by. When it comes to modes of business attire, appropriate dress for school-age children and their teachers, there are certain standards that have been set over time. But what about appropriate clothing for houses of worship? Especially on the American bar/bat mitzva circuit, too many of us have seen teenagers attend services in (non-Orthodox) synagogues wearing mini-skirts and tank tops. I don't think many people would disagree that such clothing is not appropriate for a religious service. But does "appropriate" attire only mean suits, jackets, button-down shirts, ties, stockings, and so on? Does it say anywhere in the Torah that prayer should not be a happy and perhaps "colorful" experience? Should formality for formality's sake be the norm if it turns what should be a joyous celebration into a rigid, staged event? The Maurice household votes no. And after celebrating another wonderful, fun and meaningful religious experience, we hope that others will consider adding a bit of "color" to their own religious experiences. The writer lives in Hollywood, Florida.