Hasidic in the Heat

Ultra-Orthodox Garb Looks Ultra-Uncomfortable for Summer

Water Park: An Orthodox man cools off in a Jerusalem fountain.
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Water Park: An Orthodox man cools off in a Jerusalem fountain.

By Lenore Skenazy

Published July 13, 2014, issue of July 11, 2014.
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Aren’t you shvitzing in that?

To those of us who recently made the gleeful switch to shorts and tees from pants and sweaters, the garb of some Orthodox and pretty much all Hasidic Jews can look painfully off-season. Long coats, long sleeves, long skirts, long stockings, long side curls — well, those probably aren’t a big issue. But the rest? How can anyone dressing that way possibly keep cool?

The answer seems to be, by ignoring the ignorance inherent in that question.

While outsiders often assume that Hasidic men and women feel oppressed in the summer heat, this doesn’t seem to be the case. In many sects — heck, in many religions — covering hair, head, arms and legs is simply part of modesty, a way of being pious and doing the right thing by God. If that means feeling toasty, believers say, so be it.

“The truth is, at a certain point it almost doesn’t matter if you’ve got long sleeves or no sleeves: It’s hot, and you’re going to sweat,” said New Jersey lawyer Janette Frisch. She knows from secular summer clothes, because only in college did she start becoming more observant. “I kind of phased things in. I started with keeping kosher and keeping Shabbos, but the dressing came about 10 years later,” she said.

Why the lag time? She’d actually been worried about this very issue: heat! “I think I really did see it the way I’d say most people who are outside the Orthodox world look at it: ‘Why should I give up summer clothes?’ And I was very surprised to find out when I made the changeover that it’s nowhere near as hard as I thought it would be.”

The reasons, Frisch says, are both practical and spiritual. Practically speaking, it’s the 21st century; most places are air conditioned. But spiritually, she says, she came to understand, “It’s not about making yourself ugly, it’s about focusing on the inside, not the outside.” Ironically, once she did focus on the inside, the heat outside ceased to be an issue.


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