In the past six months, I have attended three “black hat” weddings for my two grandnieces and one grandnephew. My sister’s nuclear family is "black hat."
The expression “black hat” denotes Jews who are extremely observant in their religious practices. They wear black fedora hats on special occasions, including the weekly holiday of Shabbat. The men dress this way to show respect to their past and uniformity in their community.
As I stood amidst the sea of black hats and dresses, I asked myself yet again, “Why all the black on such joyous occasions?”
I learned that the medieval church and state demanded that Jews wear black at all times. At that time, European countries generally decreed so-called “sumptuary” laws (the Latin word sumere refers to spending or consuming). These laws required each social class in the feudal system to wear clothes appropriate to its rank. By law, Jews had to wear black clothes so they could be immediately identified.
Black clothes are also known to Jews as an expression of divrei yirat shamayim, “fearing heaven.” Black is worn so as to avoid frivolity. Black is a statement of values.
As I surveyed the invited guests, I realized that though everyone looks similar, they are as unique as you and I. In Jewish tradition, what makes an individual is not clothing but character.
My family is part of a community of people that all dress the same. You are judged not by what you wear but by how you treat people.
I wore my black dress and black shoes in deference to their tradition. I didn’t stand out. I hope my character was my defining essence.