A Review of the Basic Laws of Shatnez

2 Rosh Chodesh Elul 5773
August 7, 2013

The Basic Halachos of Shatnez
by Rabbi Eliyahu Neiman

The Basic Prohibition
Shatnez is a prohibition from the Torah. It is a Mitzvas Lo Saseh (negative commandment) meaning you fulfill this obligation by refraining from doing an action. (In this case it is refraining from wearing, or draping on oneself a garment or fabric containing a forbidden mixture of wool and linen).
There are two verses in the Torah that refer to shatnez. One in Vayikra 19:19, “Ubeged kilayim shatnez lo ya’aleh alecha.” A garment composed of a shatnez mixture should not cover you. And in Devarim 22:11 another expression of this same mitzvah, “Lo silbash shatnez tzemer uphishtim yachdav.” Do not wear shatnez, wool and linen together. The prohibition of shatnez is with wool and linen only. A garment made from any other combination of fibers is permitted to wear.

Shatnez is classified as a form of Kilayim (forbidden mixture of the Torah). There are 4 forms of Kilayim mentioned in the Torah Kilyam of animals, Kilyam of the vineyard, Kilyam of plants and Kilyam of clothes which is also called shatnez.
Our Sages teach us the word shatnez (שעטנז) is actually an acronym of the words שוע טווי נוז to teach us that the combination is prohibited only if the wool and linen fibers have been combed, spun and woven or twined.

The wool referred to here is specifically wool, the hair, which comes from a sheep or lamb. Other forms of wool such as cashmere which comes from a goat may be combined with linen. Likewise the linen referred to in the Torah is specifically that which comes from the flax plant. Cotton or ramie or any plant fiber that is similar to linen may be combined with wool. It is only when sheep’s wool is joined with linen is the resulting combination shatnez. This is implied by the word yachdav –together.

If even a single thread of linen and wool have been joined together, whether in a cloth or garment it is a forbidden shatnez combination.

Wool and linen are shatnez if they are attached together in any lasting manner not just through sewing but also by bonding, gluing or tying for example.

Wool and linen garments attached together via buttons, or Velcro are permitted even if left like that on a permanent basis. This is not considered an attachment because the garments can be easily unfastened. It would therefore, be permitted to wear a raincoat containing linen, together with a buttoned in wool lining.

Regarding zippers, there is a difference of opinion. Some authorities consider a zipper as a form of permanent attachment and would prohibit a zippered in lining. Others maintain that this too, is similar to buttons due to the ease of removal and is, therefore, permitted.
There is no minimum measurement of shatnez even the smallest thread of linen joined to a wool article or vise versa will make the entire garment shatnez.

Furthermore, the shatnez is not required to be an essential part of the garment. For example if a label in a wool suit or a hanger loop in a wool skirt was sewn in with a linen thread the entire garment is forbidden to wear.

That being said, it is possible to have shatnez nullified within the fibers of a thread containing other fiber(s) other then wool or linen. For example a thread containing a blend of cotton and linen; if the cotton is the majority it may be permitted to sew it together with wool. If the linen is 50% or more then it is forbidden as shatnez. Similarly a thread spun of wool and cashmere; if the majority fiber is cashmere the thread would be permissible with linen. If 50% or more of the fiber in the thread is wool then it is forbidden with linen.

Wool and linen fiber can never be nullified one within the other
Only a highly qualified shatnez tester is capable of determining the accurate percentages of textile fibers within a thread.

A shatnez garment is forbidden to wear even if the garment is not touching one’s body, even if separated by many layers of clothing.

A small area of shatnez forbids the entire garment. For example; a neutral material such as cotton or polyester will be entirely forbidden if a wool and linen combination are sewn on to even a small corner of the garment. Even if a person lets the part of the garment that contains the shatnez lie on the floor and only wraps himself in the neutral part this is also forbidden as shatnez.

A garment made from a neutral material has on one end sewn threads of wool and on the other far end threads of linen, even though the wool and linen are not touching one another according to the Rambam this is forbidden from the Torah as shatnez and according to the Rama’ it is permitted.

The prohibition of shatnez applies equally to men and woman. Shatnez is forbidden at all times.

The prohibition of shatnez applies irrespective of whether the garment is one’s own, borrowed or rented.

Shatnez is forbidden to be worn for even for a short time or on a temporary basis. Each moment a person is wearing shatnez he is transgressing the prohibition anew.

The prohibition of shatnez is a prohibition of wearing or covering oneself in a beneficial way similar to wearing. A tent or umbrella made from shatnez would be permitted to use even if you are being protected from the elements.

Just as it is forbidden to feed your child treif food to eat it is also forbidden to dress a child in shatnez. There is no distinction between your child and someone else’s child. Therefore children’s clothing which may contain shatnez must be tested.

The Torah’s prohibition of shatnez primarily refers to wearing of shatnez garments. Sitting, lying, or walking on shatnez would be permitted. There is, however, a Rabbinic decree prohibiting these activities due to the fact that the shatnez material may rise up and cover part of the body. Therefore carpets, rugs, mattresses, pillows, couches and chairs could possibly be a concern if they contain shatnez. Regarding mats of mattresses the Talmud says even if ten mattresses lay one on top of the other, and the bottom one is Shatnez, it is forbidden to sit on the top mattress.

This rabbinic prohibition largely depends on the softness of materials used in the construction of the article in question. Soft materials are forbidden and firm materials are permitted. Due to the complexity of these details, it is advisable to consult a Rabbinical authority or your local certified shatnez laboratory whenever a question arises regarding the possibility of shatnez in these items.
May one try on a shatnez garment for size?

When one goes to a clothing store to buy a new suit, pants or dress is it permitted to try it on before having the article tested for shatnez?

Usually when people shop for clothing the shatnez status of the garment purchased is unknown. In this case it is permitted to try on the clothing in the store or in the privacy of one’s home to see if it fits. Even if it is known that these garments sometimes contain shatnez, it is still permitted to try them on, unless one knows that the particular garment he is trying on is shatnez.

In the less common case when you know the garment you want to try on for size is shatnez the halachic opinions vary. If a garment is known to contain shatnez, it is prohibited for those who follow the opinion of the Beis Yosef,(such as many of those of Sephardic descent), to try on the garment in order to buy it. If, however, one wishes to model the garment for another person, some authorities would permit it. Some would even permit the buyer to try on a shatnez garment, provided that he will not buy the garment he is trying on. Rather, he should try on another garment that is identical in size and style to the one he will buy.

For those who follow the opinion of the Rama, it would be permitted to try on a shatnez garment in the dressing room of the store or in the privacy of one’s home. It would also be permitted to try on a jacket or a coat in the store itself, since he does not benefit from wearing such a garment in such circumstances. Trying on trousers, or any other garment one would be embarrassed to be seen without, would be prohibited in the store outside the privacy of the dressing room.

Some are of the opinion that even those of Ashkenazic descent should not try on a shatnez garment. It would then be permitted only in the manner described above according to the Beis Yosef. The custom, however, is to be lenient like the Rama.

When a tailor or a shatnez tester is working on a garment, it is common for them to drape the garment across their lap as they work. This is permitted, since there is no intent to benefit from the warmth of the garment.
This being said it is strictly forbidden to wear a garment that requires shatnez testing, even temporally without having it first tested by a certified shatnez laboratory.

Content labels:
Content Labels found in clothing are misleading for a number of reasons. The content label only lists the outer shell fabric of the garment. For example a jacket contains outer and internal linings, collar felt and collar stiffening, shoulder pads, reinforcement tapes etc. None of these as well as external patches, ornamentation and embroidery or sewing thread are listed on the label. That means many suits labeled 100% wool contain shatnez and you would never know it from the label. Suits labeled 100% polyester or cotton are also found sometimes to contain shatnez.

According to government law any fiber in the garment which makes up less than 5% of the garment is not required to be listed on the content label. As mentioned above even one small thread of wool in a linen garment, or one small thread of linen in a wool garment renders the entire garment shatnez.

The author has found many cases were the content label was partially or completely incorrect.

That being said, I still highly recommend that everyone should accustom themselves to reading content labels before buying clothing. Even though labels are not reliable you can still save yourself a lot of time and money. If you see it says wool and linen, mixed fibers or other fibers, do not take a chance. Put it back on the rack and keep looking!

Reprocessed Material is material made from a mixture of cloth remnants. Shoulder pads found in jackets and coats are often found to be made of reprocessed material. Because of the difficulty of accurately being able to examine reprocessed materials the opinions of the Poskim vary regarding the use of these garments which have already been purchased. However, most Rabbonim agree that it is preferable to avoid purchasing items containing reprocessed material in the first place. Testing of reprocessed material will occasionally reveal large quantities of wool and linen, which would make the garment unquestionably shatnez. The term “Other Fibers”, “Mixed Fibers”, O.F. or A.F. on a content label usually indicate the presence of reprocessed fibers.

Alterations and repairs done on a garment may also be a shatnez concern and one may need to have the repaired portion checked by a shatnez lab.

Sometimes it is important to know what a garment is made of even if there is no problem of shatnez in the garment itself.

The Rabbis forbade wearing two garments; one wool and one linen, one on top of the other in a manner were it is not possible to remove the bottom article without first removing the top garment.

For example; wearing wool sox’s with shoes stitched with linen thread. In such a case it is impossible to remove the sox without first removing the shoe. It appears as though they are bound together and forbidden as shatnez.

Were it is possible to remove the bottom garment without having to remove the top one even with some shifting around of the garments it is permitted. For example a tallis katon made of wool worn under a linen shirt; since it is possible to remove the tallis katon from under the shirt without removing the shirt, it is permitted. Likewise there is no problem of tucking a linen shirt into a pair of wool pants or skirt.

It is permitted to wear a wool garment on top of a linen one or vice versa if there is a third garment made of a neutral material separating them, even if it would not be possible to remove the bottom one without removing the top one.

Caveat Emptor:
Buyer Beware: Clothing and fabric storeowners are often unfamiliar with all of the components and fabrics incorporated in the garments they sell. Even the factories that manufacture clothing are often unaware of, and are not required to know, the content of internal reinforcements used in their products. Because of this lack of information, even a shomer shabbos retailer or manufacturer cannot be relied upon to claim that his merchandise is shatnez-free. This applies even though the clothing was manufactured especially for him, and even if he was present at the factory during production.

In addition, some storeowners are notorious for claiming that their garments are pre-tested or sample tested when in fact they are not. All garments pre-tested for stores by a certified shatnez laboratory will carry an official non-shatnez label in each item.

Unfortunately some stores in religious neighborhoods sew their own fake non-shatnez label on to suits and other garments.

Always look for a non-shatnez label which has the name of the certified shatnez laboratory on the label. If you do not see this you can assume that the garment has not been shatnez tested. If you wish to purchase the garment make sure to have it tested at a certified shatnez laboratory.

These are just a few of the halachos of a mitzvah medeoraysah that many people, sadly, are completly unaware of. For more information or if you have any questions regarding shatnez, feel free to contact the author, Rabbi Neiman, directly at shatnezlabint@gmail.com

Rabbi Eliyahu Neiman is certified as an expert in the field of shatnez in testing and halacha from the “Vaad Mishmeres Habeged” of Bnei Brak and the “International Association of Professional Shatnez Testers and Laboratories” of Lakewood, NJ. He founded, managed, and has been senior tester at various Shatnez Laboratories throughout Israel for many years. He strives to bring shatnez awareness to the forefront of the public’s conscious.

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