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SBL e-journal

Peretz Rodman





Shabbat Clothes Replace the Priestly Garments



APA e-journal

Peretz Rodman





Shabbat Clothes Replace the Priestly Garments






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Shabbat Clothes Replace the Priestly Garments

With the loss of the Temple, wearing Shabbat clothes conveys the כָּבוֹד וּתִפְאָרֶת, “glory and splendor” of the priestly garments.


Shabbat Clothes Replace the Priestly Garments

A family celebrating Shabbat. Cathy Yeulet, 123rf

The Final Blessing of the Haftarah

After the reading of the Torah on Shabbat and festivals, a passage from the prophets is read. This reading is known as the haftarah, literally, the “taking leave,” since it ends the Torah reading service. The reader of the haftarah recites an opening blessing before reading the selection and closes with a series of blessings.[1] On Shabbat, the final blessing reads:

עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְעַל הָעֲבוֹדָה וְעַל הַנְּבִיאִים וְעַל יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת הַזֶּה שֶׁנָּתַתָּ לָּנוּ יְ־הֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ לִקְדֻשָּׁה וְלִמְנוּחָה לְכָבוֹד וּלְתִפְאָרֶת – עַל הַכֹּל יְ־הֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֲנַחְנוּ מוֹדִים לָךְ וּמְבָרְכִים אוֹתָךְ, יִתְבָּרַךְ שִׁמְךָ בְּפִי כָּל חַי תָּמִיד לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְ־הֹוָה, מְקַדֵּשׁ הַשַּׁבָּת.
For the Torah, and for the Temple service, and for the Prophets, and for this Shabbat day, which you have given us, YHWH, our God, for sanctity and for rest, for glory and for splendor; for all these, YHWH, our God, we thank You and bless You—may Your name be blessed in the mouth of every living being forever. Blessed are You, YHWH, who sanctifies the Shabbat.[2]

Describing Shabbat as a day of “sanctity and rest” is intuitive, since Genesis 2 tells us that this is the day God rested from creation, and the laws of the Shabbat, therefore, forbid working on this day. But why is Shabbat a day of “glory and splendor”?

The Priestly Garments

The phrase originates in the description of the priests’ clothing. It appears twice: First, in the description of the High Priest Aaron’s clothing:

שמות כח:ב וְעָשִׂיתָ בִגְדֵי קֹדֶשׁ לְאַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ לְכָבוֹד וּלְתִפְאָרֶת.
Exod 28:2 You are to make garments of holiness for Aaron your brother, for glory and for splendor.[3]

But this description is not relegated to the clothes of the high priests; it appears a second time when describing the clothing of Aaron’s sons, representing regular priests:

שמות כח:מ וְלִבְנֵי אַהֲרֹן תַּעֲשֶׂה כֻתֳּנֹת וְעָשִׂיתָ לָהֶם אַבְנֵטִים וּמִגְבָּעוֹת תַּעֲשֶׂה לָהֶם לְכָבוֹד וּלְתִפְאָרֶת.
Exod 28:40 And for the sons of Aaron you are to make coats, you are to make them sashes, and caps you are to make for them, for glory and for splendor.[4]

The term תפארת “splendor” appears only one other time in the Torah (Deut 26:19), but is more frequent in other biblical contexts, and has all sorts of referents, e.g., God, the Temple, the Davidic king, the people of Israel, wisdom, wealth, battle, etc.[5]

The 11th century commentator, R. Tuviah ben Eliezer explains in his Lekah Tov commentary (Exod 28:2):

ולתפארת – בעיני כל ישראל, להודיע כי בו בחר ה'.
“For splendor”—in the eyes of all of Israel, to make it known that God chose him (=Aaron).

In contrast, the term כבוד “glory” is ubiquitous in the Torah, and generally refers to God’s manifestation on earth, especially in the Tabernacle. Thus, in his commentary on the verse about Aaron’s clothing, Everett Fox of Clark University writes:

That the term “glory” is used to indicate their function—a key term in the book, and always applied to God…—signals what is at stake.[6]

The use of the term “glory,” Fox notes, “enables one to see in the priest’s garb a reflection of the divine splendor.”[7]

Thus, the point of the phrase in Exodus 28 appears to be that by wearing this special clothing, the priests will stand out as being not only imposing but even God-like in their appearance. The clothing thus contributes the feeling of holiness and awe that the Israelites should feel about the service in the Tabernacle.

How did a term about Priestly clothing become part of a blessing about Shabbat and Festivals?

Glorifying the Shabbat in Deutero-Isaiah

A passage in Deutero-Isaiah likely provided the bridge between the priest-focused terminology in Exodus and the Shabbat-focused use in the blessing. In this passage, which is recited as part of the haftarah for Yom Kippur morning, the prophet calls upon Israel to keep the Sabbath mekhubbad (“glorious” or “glorified”) and to glorify it by refraining from one’s business affairs:

ישעיה נח:יג אִם תָּשִׁיב מִשַּׁבָּת רַגְלֶךָ עֲשׂוֹת חֲפָצֶיךָ בְּיוֹם קָדְשִׁי וְקָרָאתָ לַשַּׁבָּת עֹנֶג לִקְדוֹשׁ יְ־הוָה מְכֻבָּד וְכִבַּדְתּוֹ מֵעֲשׂוֹת דְּרָכֶיךָ מִמְּצוֹא חֶפְצְךָ וְדַבֵּר דָּבָר. נח:יד אָז תִּתְעַנַּג עַל יְ־הוָה וְהִרְכַּבְתִּיךָ עַל (במותי) [בָּמֳתֵי] אָרֶץ וְהַאֲכַלְתִּיךָ נַחֲלַת יַעֲקֹב אָבִיךָ כִּי פִּי יְ־הוָה דִּבֵּר.
Isa 58:13 If you refrain from trampling the Shabbat, from pursuing your affairs on My holy day, if you call the Shabbat “delight,” YHWH’s holy day “glorious”; And if you glorify it and go not your ways, nor look to your affairs, nor strike bargains— 58:14 Then you can seek the favor of YHWH. I will set you astride the heights of the earth, and let you enjoy the heritage of your father Jacob, for the mouth of YHWH has spoken. (NJPS adjusted)

The path from Exodus to the liturgy continues through the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 113a), where that verse from Isaiah is interpreted as a call to make Shabbat clothing different from weekday clothing. This links “glory” and Shabbat back to clothing:

”וכבדתו“ שלא יהא מלבושך של שבת כמלבושך של חול. וכי הא דרבי יוחנן קרי למאניה מכבדותי.
“And if you glorify it”—your Shabbat garments should not be like your weekday garments. This is in line with how R. Yoḥanan called his garments “My glorifiers.”

Wearing special garments is a way of glorifying Shabbat.

Application to the Haftarah

R. Enoch Zundel ben Joseph (d. 1867), in the Etz Yosef, a classic commentary on the siddur, explains that this is the meaning of the phrase in the haftarah:

לכבוד—שנאמר וכבדתו מעשות דרכיך. ולתפארת—ע[ל] ש[ם] לבשי בגדי תפארתך. כלומר, כבדהו בכסות נקיה, שלא יהיו בגדי השבת כבגדי חול.
“For glory”—as it says “And if you glorify it and go not your ways” (Isa 58:13). “And splendor”—in keeping with “put on your robes of splendor” (Isa 52:1). Meaning to say, glorify it with clean clothing, for your Shabbat clothing should not be the same as your weekday clothing.

R. Enoch Zundel also connects wearing Shabbat clothes to the term “splendor,” used in Deutero-Isaiah in reference to anthropomorphized Jerusalem:

ישעיה נב:א עוּרִי עוּרִי לִבְשִׁי עֻזֵּךְ צִיּוֹן לִבְשִׁי בִּגְדֵי תִפְאַרְתֵּךְ יְרוּשָׁלַ‍ִם עִיר הַקֹּדֶשׁ...
Isa 52:1 Awake, awake, O Zion! Clothe yourself in majesty; Put on your robes of splendor, Jerusalem, holy city!

In its context, the verse is about Jerusalem’s splendid future, but already in kabbalistic interpretation, the passage becomes connected to Shabbat. In fact, the opening words עורי עורי “awake awake” were incorporated by the 16th century poet, Shlomo Alkabetz, in the Friday night Lekhah Dodi hymn.[8]

Shabbat Takes the Place of the Temple

The connection between Shabbat and the Tabernacle is already implied in the biblical text itself, since the Shabbat laws are juxtaposed to it (Exod 31:12–17; 35:1–3). The rabbis even attempt to base Shabbat’s 39 prohibited forms of work on the types of work performed in the Tabernacle.[9]

In the formulation of the haftarah blessing, the rabbis reappropriate a biblical term about the glory and splendor of the priests’ clothing and apply it to Shabbat, in line with their emphasis on Shabbat clothing as a way of glorifying the day. As such, the blessing implicitly identifies the Shabbat with the priests’ ritual clothing.

This imagery implies that, for the rabbis, Shabbat is the contemporary equivalent of the Tabernacle for the worshipper. In fact, the choice of the phrase “for glory and splendor” in the haftarah blessing implies that the worshippers themselves are the priests who perform the Tabernacle service.[10]

Shabbat’s Place among the Exiles

As the great Jewish theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel, argued in his book on Shabbat, the focus of being in God’s presence in rabbinic Judaism is on sacred times more than sacred space.[11] For a nation in exile in foreign lands without a Temple, the Sabbath day serves as a sort of substitute for the holy precinct within the Israelite camp or Israel’s tribal territories.[12]

In this world without a High Priest’s garments, or any priestly cult at all in Jerusalem, the Shabbat can provide another way to fulfill the words of Exodus:

שמות יט:ו וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹש...
Exod 19:6 And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation...

The haftarah blessing for Shabbat is communicating that while the impression of God’s presence can no longer be gained from viewing the priestly garments, something of the splendor of God’s presence among the Israelites can still be glimpsed when properly observing the Shabbat, with glory and splendor.[13]


March 11, 2021


Last Updated

July 22, 2021


View Footnotes

Rabbi Peretz Rodman earned a B.A. and M.A. in Jewish studies at Brandeis University and a Bachelor of Hebrew Literature at Hebrew College. He was among the inaugural cohort of the Jerusalem Fellows, and later earned rabbinic ordination at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary.