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Was Moses' Robe Business Casual?
By Rabbi Matt Dreffin, ISJL Associate Director of Education
When Moses stopped by my office as he was touring the ISJL, he closed my door to ask me a question. “Rabbi,” he said, “I heard the dress in this office is business casual, and I’m not sure if I am appropriately attired for the office. Is my robe ‘business casual’?” Following the Jewish tradition of not embarrassing anyone, I decided to dance around his question.
“That’s an interesting query, Moses, and I’m glad you’re thinking about that. When we teach in our classrooms, we’re usually so focused on our class setup that we don’t think about our personal setup. How we present ourselves can influence the success of our students as much as our classroom space. For instance, if I were to show up in a wrinkled t-shirt and jeans, with my hair untidy, I could be signaling to my students, ‘this is how little I care to prep to interact with you.’ They could see how I put lots of effort into getting dressed to go to other events, such as services or even a football game.”
“So I’m totally underdressed is what you’re telling me,” he asked.
“Not exactly,” I responded. “Our appearance should appropriately convey the tone we are trying to set with our students. It could be awkward if I overdressed. If we were running a program outside which is highly active, we would want comfortable clothing—wearing a suit for a beach hav’dalah could make the students wonder whether we have the proper judgment to be teaching them how Judaism helps them live their lives. Overdressing is also a possibility—we want to be relatable to our students.”
Moses furrowed his brow. “You still haven’t told me whether my robe is business casual or not.”
“Here’s the thing,” came my reply, “there may be instances where costumes or dressing in special attire can make a day at religious school super special. So while I wouldn’t necessarily wear a robe every day to work, I might do it on a special occasion like Purim or for a play in which a Fellow needed me to partake.”
“Awesome,” he said, “since I’m dressed as Moses, I feel much better about wearing a robe in your office. Any last words of advice?”
“One quick thing to think about is a uniform of sorts for staff. We all dress the same at the Conference, wearing our black bottoms and blue ISJL polos, which we also do on the road. A uniform style of dress can identify us as staff. Religious schools can take a cue from this as well. It eliminates a little bit of questioning what to wear, but more importantly, it can help identify which adults are teachers. Several of our congregations think this through, including using nametags, which can be especially useful for guests or new students. Plus, it’s a great opportunity for branding!”
“Who knew so much great information could come from a simple robe,” were Moses’ final words before he wished me a hearty, “shalom,” before walking out the door. And like that, he’s gone.