The Kittel Collection is a series of clothing pieces that explores the different ways clothing is used as a vehicle for meaning and identity within our tradition and literature. The kittel is a simple, white, garment used as a burial shroud, and customarily worn by men on various Jewish holy days. Each month, The Sisterhood showcases, and looks at the meaning behind, a kittel from my collection. View images of this month’s kittel, the Soulful Kittel, after the jump.
It’s Hanukkah, the festival of light, and this kittel focuses on the metaphorical use of light.
When God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, God clothed them in “garments of skin” to replace the fig leaves that they had used to cover their nakedness. A midrash in Genesis changes the letter ayin in the word or to an alef. With an ayin the word or means skin; with an alef it means light. And so skin is transformed into the evocative “garments of light.”
The Talmud describes the body after death crumbling away like clay, thus leaving the soul standing like a garment. And the Zohar expands on this when it interprets the phrase “Avraham came into his days” to mean that after death, all of Avraham’s days came together to form a garment. It warns that the person who does not make the most of his days “has nothing at all to wear in the next world.”
The Soulful Kittel is made from overlapping squares of white fabric, constructed to fit tightly the body, like skin. The squares are reminiscent of the different days on a desk calendar — each day is a separate, tear-away piece of paper. I have used different types of white fabric of varying textures and weights to reflect the ups and downs of life. And there are holes in the garment because we all have days when nothing quite comes together. The kittel is lit from the inside by two cycling headlights, which illuminate the path for the cyclist, but more importantly the lights alert others to their vulnerable presence.
I have drawn upon these concepts in the past. In my Garment of Light: Bespoke Tailoring by Heaven and Earth, I concentrated on the part of the Zohar that described the process of crafting the soul as a human life-long activity. The garment is a self-constructed identity marker; it uses God-given raw material, but is tailored by and for our individual lives.
Jacqueline Nicholls is a fine artist from London who uses art to explore traditional Jewish ideas in untraditional ways. She is a former artist-in-residence with the Forward’s Sisterhood.
The Soulful Kittel: Lit From Within