20 Shevat 5771
January 25, 2011
Anyone attending my PowerPoint presentations has heard me refer to Dr. Pepper [and the kashrus concerns affiliated with the soft drink in Israel today], and if you date back as far as I do, in good old USA, you remember that it used to be referred to as “so misunderstood”.
Anyway, for many, until last night’s Beis Tefillah Yona Avraham Shovavim lecture featuring shatnez expert Rabbi Yaakov Gurwitz, they never really understood this mitzvah, but today, they awaken to a new reality.
The electrifying presentation, which included a major ‘show and tell’ presentation, moved the tzibur to a ‘seeing is believing’ understanding, empowering them with an ability to better adhere to this most important mitzvah.
As Rabbi Gurwitz explained, decades ago, the textile industry was far more simplistic than today, somewhat like the kashrus industry, and just like today the mashgichim who man the factories where ingredients are manufactured and approved must be experts in Yoreh Deah and food scientists, he is a textile expert, one who remains abreast of the ever-changing industry, enabling him to adopt today’s textile realities to mitzvah adherence, as well as continuing to train the next generation. He has traveled the world and seen it all — from the weaving of threads into our complex modern-day fabrics, to the factories churning out men’s’ suits and other apparel.
The rabbi mentioned in passing that his specialized courses for seamstresses alone have prevented many from unknowingly incorporating shatnez into their garments, garments sewn with love for their own families, or perhaps as a business venture.
We learned that clothing sold in Boro Park, Geula or Meah Shearim is not necessarily shatnez free, as the samples bore witness, and therefore, one may have to bring a garment for a visual inspection to ascertain if testing is necessary.
JKN has been working to increase awareness and observance of shatnez via JKN shaliach, Rabbi Eliyahu Neiman, who is a long-time colleague of Rabbi Gurwitz, one of the experts who remains alert to the realities of today’s textile industry.
Remember, the label can be used to determine a garment is likely to contain shatnez, but it can never be relied upon to totally rule it out in most cases. Sounds farfetched, then I invite you to sit back and listen to the English lecture on the shul’s website and hear for yourself.
Perhaps you are one of the many unaware that the words “lana”, “laine” and sherwoll” are all “wool” in different languages, and seeing this on a label should now mean something. Linen on the other hand may also be present in a garment, depending on its country of manufacture or shipping, this may be present as “tzemer”, “lino” or even “leiinen”. We won’t mention the “DF” (different fabrics) or “OF” (other fabric” designations that also appear on labels, representing a worrisome conglomeration of fibers and fabrics.
Sadly, the scams perpetrated by the garment industry impacting shatnez are no different that the food industry and our need for vigilance concerning kosher food. Many a manufacturer or importer has used inappropriate labels on garments to avoid higher tax fees. This is a fact of life. Enforcement is minimal, including in the USA, and therefore, for the purpose of mitzvah compliance, reading a garment’s label is simply not enough.
Since Mr. Joseph Rosenberger z”l founded the first American shatnez laboratory and trained the first testers post WWII, much has evolved in the shatnez industry, and unfortunately, many have not kept up with the times, and as a result, they are no longer qualified to present themselves as shatnez testers, for in essence, they can all too often be responsible for false negatives, that is to say they can certify a garment as clean when in actuality, it contains shatnez chas v’sholom.
I respectfully suggest that readers take their garments to a laboratory/tester affiliated with the International Association of Professional Shatnez Testers, in Eretz Yisrael, North America or to any of the over 200 testers in 80 countries to ensure their compliance with this Torah commandment is nothing less than 100%.
Remember, a man’s suit for example must be checked to determine its status. A suit has as many as 65 points that are inspected, and the old fashioned 5-point cut and check is long antiquated, and those still clinging to the traditions of yesteryear are simply not doing their job as they should, and worst of all, they may certify a garment as ‘clean’ when it has shatnez chas v’sholom.
We have seen many changes in shechitah and kashrus, and this is more-or-less the situation regarding shatnez, since we are all aware the textile industry is a most complex one, demanding a level of expertise that has not existed in the past.
I urge readers to contact Rabbis Gurwitz and/or Neiman to arrange to have clothing checked and to arrange for a lecture in their school, shul and community. Home visits to communities and private homes can also be arranged, to avoid having to schlep garments to a tester’s facility.
Taking a step towards kashering our clothing is only an email away. These rabbis have conducted house calls around the world, literally, with Rabbi Gurwitz sharing some of his stories with me, explaining how last year; he was flown to Riga to check the Jewish community’s apparel. Remember, we learn that wearing a shatnez garment can block our tefilos and adhering to the mitzvah can clear the way for many positive changes in our lives.