For the week ending 8 March 2014 / 6 Adar II 5774

Lay Apparel

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Gamliel

Dear Rabbi,

I was told that the coat worn by Litvish rabbis is called a “kapote”. Is there any difference between those worn by Litvaks, and those worn by Chassidim - e.g., Lubavitch, Satmar, Ger - on weekdays? While I often see lay-Chassidim wearing long coats, I’ve rarely come across any pictures of Litvaks wearing them, other than Roshei Yeshiva, or poskim. Is there any custom to wear them among lay-Litvaks, or is it strictly reserved for rabbis? Would it be permissible for a ba'al teshuva following Litvish custom to adopt it for everyday wear?

Dear Gamliel,

Another term for the long coat worn by Litvish rabbis is "frock". Lubavitchers who wear long, wear the same frock. Other Chassidim who wear long during the week, wear what's called a "rechel".

The frock is more finely tailored in the back, with buttons above the lower back, and coattails. Since the long strips of material in the coattails may be considered as forming corners of the coat, making a total of four corners – 2 in front and 2 in back - the corner of one of the coattails is rounded in order to prevent a possible need for tzitzit.

The Chassidic rechel is less precisely tailored, with no buttons on the back, and with no coattails. Some might have a slight split in the back seam to enable more flexibility in walking (Ger). The front has either one or two rows (Satmar) of buttons.

Among Litvaks (or among some Sefardim influenced by Litvish yeshivot), the frock is generally worn by rabbis (unlike in Lubavitch where, for those who wear long, the frock is standard for all). There are some Litvish groups where the standard is to wear long, but not frocks; rather they wear the same type of coat as the Chassidic rechel.

It would be odd and viewed as presumptuous for a Litvak who is not in some way a "rabbi", to wear a frock as everyday wear. Some non-rabbis might wear one sometimes, such as a groom or for Yom Tov, but this would be viewed as a way of honoring the event, as opposed to a non-rabbi wearing one during the week, which would be viewed as honoring himself.

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