Clothes of the ancient Jews: everything according to religious canons

A still from the Polish film “Pharaoh”. The prince and his favorite Thutmose met the Jewess Sarah in the desert. “The Jewess will not be anyone’s mistress!” She added with pride. “Even the mistress of a scribe for a gentleman who wears a fan over the nomarch of Memphis?” Thutmose asked mockingly. ” As you can see, she is dressed very simply. However, it is possible that in hot Egypt, Jewish girls dressed that way …

And it was given to her to be clothed in fine linen, clean and bright …
Revelations of John the Theologian 19: 8

Clothing culture. One of the readers of “VO” reminded that there were no articles about clothes for a long time … We continue our “cover” cycle. But note that usually in books on the history of costume, immediately after the clothes of Ancient Greece, there is the clothing of Rome. But in this way, the costumes of many ancient peoples are excluded from the “history of fashion”, whose outfits, perhaps, did not have such an impact on world civilization, but were also somewhat significant, interesting in their own way and had a certain meaning. Let’s open, for example, the Bible. There are several references to fine linen clothes and, judging by the context, they were of very high quality, fine, expensive and prestigious. But where did this garment spread throughout the ancient world? And we can find a lot of similar questions in the history of the costume. Therefore, we will not neglect the fashion of not only great Rome, but also talk about how the peoples around it dressed. Last time the story was about Celts and Germans. Today we will talk about what kind of clothes the ancient Jews wore.

First of all, let’s look at the sources of our information. How do we know what and how they dressed? We have a source of information, and it is quite reliable. These are Egyptian frescoes, in which the Semites are depicted in long beautiful robes, often of striped fabric, similar to the Egyptian Kalasiris. Men have simple sandals on their feet. Women have something like closed shoes. Men wear medium-length beards and hair, women long-haired with ribbons.

A fresco from the tomb of Khnumhotep II, dating back to the 19th century. BC. and depicting the Semites making an offering to the nomarch


Images of ancient Jews on frescoes from Egyptian tombs help us find out about this. So, the Semites appear on them in beautiful long robes, similar to the Egyptian Kalasiris, but sewn from striped fabric with red and blue patterns on a white background.

Men in the frescoes are shod in sandals, while women are shown in closed shoes, similar to boots. Men have medium-length hair and beards, while women have long hair intertwined with ribbons of light fabric. A detailed description of the Hebrew clothing of a later era is given to us by the books of Holy Scripture.

Clothes of the ancient Jews: everything according to religious canons

A fragment of this fresco


Initially, Jewish clothing was similar to ancient Egyptian, but then Assyrian borrowings appeared in it. The first garment sewn, a short kettonet tunic, was worn as an undergarment. A long hoarse cloak served as the outer garment. Women’s tunics were traditionally longer and wider than men’s. The men’s trousers were sewn according to the Persian fashion, and they were worn by Jews for a long time, completely without falling under the influence of both Greek and Roman fashion of that time.

Various fabrics came to ancient Judea from everywhere: it was the finest Egyptian fine linen, and embroidered Babylonian fabrics, and Phoenicians, dyed in variegated, mainly purple, not approved by the religious Jewish tradition.

But Jewish women at that time could not wear such revealing clothes. But we have before us the priestess of the temple of the goddess Ashtoreth, a person very greedy for love, so there is no need to be surprised at the costume of her servant! And the frescoes, again, the presence of such frank clothes among Egyptians confirm


The common people of the lower class wore coarse clothing made of sheep’s wool. Known outer and underwear, winter, summer and festive, also distinguished by name. For example, the festive clothing was called the caliphoth.

Clothing in antiquity and, let’s say, until the beginning of the twentieth century, was very expensive and was even inherited. The Bible often contains descriptions of clothing presented as rich gifts or taken as trophies after battles. Even according to the strict Jewish law, obliging to honor the Sabbath and not do any work on Saturday, as an exception, in the event of a fire, it was allowed to save the clothes specified in a special list from a burning house.

“Christ drives the merchants out of the temple.” The work of Gustave Dore, the greatest illustrator of all time. He was inimitable in the transmission of chiaroscuro, but it is impossible to use his work, including the Illustrated Bible as an illustrative source on the history of costume.


Jewish women were engaged in weaving, making them from linen and wool. Moreover, there was a curious prohibition (shaatnez) on mixing linen and woolen threads. In ancient times, Jews were not allowed to wear such clothes.

To make the wool especially white, sheep were even kept in houses. Warm fabrics were made of camel wool, although they were rougher, and outer robes were also sewn from it. The cheapest goat wool was used for the clothes of the poor. The Jews became acquainted with cotton fabrics from India only later, in the 3rd-4th centuries. ad.

“Carrying the Cross to Calvary. Gustave Dore here, it seems, did everything possible so that it was impossible to accurately determine neither the place, nor the time of the action, nor the nationality of the characters …


According to religious concepts, the clothes were supposed to look modest. It was supposed to abstain from luxury, and the variegated oriental fabrics were unanimously condemned by the rabbis. Clothing traditions have survived even during religious persecution. It was forbidden to change the costume to hide your belonging to the Jewish people. This ban had exceptions, but they were clearly regulated by law.

The Healing of the Demoniac by Gustave Dore. Painting of the master, isn’t it?


Actually, in the clothes of the ancient Jews, if not all, then very much was strictly regulated, and not just somehow, but by references to the divine institution: “And the Lord said to Moses, saying: declare to the children of Israel and tell them to make themselves brushes on the edges of their garments for their generations, and in the tassels that were at the edges they inserted threads of blue wool. And they will be in your tassels so that you, looking at them, remember the commandments of the Lord and fulfill them ”(Numbers 15: 37-39). So even tassels on their clothes, and those were not just like that, but from God!

Death of Eliazer, drawing for the Bible by Gustave Dore 1866 Impressive, but completely unhistorical!


The lowest clothing usually served as a loincloth or skirt, after which a simple cut tunic with a hole for the head was worn. Later, a tunic and trousers began to be worn as underwear. The tunic was pulled together with a belt of cloth folded several times, and in its folds, in this way, something like a purse was obtained, where small coins were kept. The long bottom tunic was worn by women, as well as wealthy and learned Jews.

The later painting, depicting the ancient Jews, will give us little. Ilya Repin’s painting “The Resurrection of Jairus’s Daughter”. 1871 Russian Museum


Going out into the street, noble Jews wore a halluk – a knee-length robe, usually with a striped or checkered pattern and trimmed at the seams. Halluk lavan made of white cloth was the garment of priests. Married women were forbidden to appear in society with their heads uncovered and, in general, she should have wrapped herself in a cape from head to toe over her clothes.

A. Kuprin in his “Shulamith” (1908) very accurately described the attire of a noble Jew, preparing to appear before the king:

“The slaves put on her a short white tunic of the finest Egyptian linen and a tunic of precious Sargon fine linen, such a brilliant golden color that the clothes seemed to be woven from the rays of the sun. They shod her feet in red sandals made of the skin of a young goat, they drained her dark-fiery curls, and twisted them with threads of large black pearls, and adorned her hands with clinking wrists … A light, narrow dress of linen gauze, woven with silver, tightly hugged the queen’s body, leaving bare arms to the shoulders and legs to half of the calves. Through the transparent matter, her skin glowed pink and all the clean lines and elevations of her slender body were visible, which until now, despite the queen’s thirty years old, had not lost its flexibility, beauty and freshness. Her hair, dyed blue, was flowing down her shoulders and back, and the ends were tied with countless scented balls. The face was heavily rouged and whitewashed, and the thinly outlined eyes seemed huge and glowed in the dark like a strong beast of a feline breed. The golden sacred ureus descended from her neck down, dividing her half-naked breasts. “

Nice, isn’t it? Although it is clear that all this luxury was inaccessible to ordinary Jewish women.

Here the clothes of the stage participants are written out just fine. And it is not surprising, because the author of the picture specially went to Palestine for nature and wrote a lot of sketches there. “Christ and the Sinner” by Vasily Polenov, 1888 Russian Museum


As for the description of the clothes of the Jewish high priests, it was very well given in the Brockhaus and Efron encyclopedia back in 1891:

“Unlike other priests, he was given a special robe, the main parts of which were: 1) the upper robe, knitted of purple-blue wool, trimmed from below with multi-colored apples and golden bells; 2) ephod – a short outer garment with gold fasteners on the shoulders, of which each had an onyx stone with the names of 12 Israeli tribes carved; 3) bib; attached with blue laces and gold rings with twelve precious stones, on which the names of 12 kopen were also carved (the so-called Urim and Shimim); 4) kidar (tsanif) – a headdress, on the front of which there was a gold plaque with the inscription: “The Holy Place of the Lord.” As the highest representative of the law, the high priest had to serve as a model of legalistic righteousness, could marry only a girl, and carefully avoided all desecration. The ordination to the high priesthood was accomplished through the pouring of myrrh on the head. In the history of the Jewish people, the high priests played a great role and in times of trouble were the main saviors of the nation and the faith. “

“The Head of an Old Jew.” Vasily Polenov. Sketch for the painting “Christ and the Sinner”


Of the headdresses, a kheve cord is known, which is tied around the head, scarves that turned around like a turban, the groom’s wedding headdress in the form of a diadem – peer, and the traditional small kipa hat, which has survived not only centuries, but millennia, as well as hats of various shapes, in different times, borrowed … from neighboring peoples. A covered head was considered a sign of respect, the manifestations of which were especially important to observe in the temple and during mourning.

Women braided and curled long hair, wore ivory combs, and covered their hairstyles with nets of gold threads, which was especially characteristic of the era of the Roman Empire. As already noted, when going out on people, their heads were covered with capes, hoods or veiled bedspreads, which were fixed with bandages, braided cords, or even metal hoops.

“The head of a young man in a blue veil.” Vasily Polenov. “Christ and the sinner”


The color of the clothes was important, since “color speech” was in ancient times (and now, however, too) was typical for all peoples of the world. Among the Jews in ancient times, colors such as purple, blue, orange and white were especially revered. Purple was considered the color of vitality. Blue was considered the color of the sky and spiritual purity. Orange was the color of fire, and white is the color of the clothing of the Jewish high priests.

R. S. By the way, a lot of interesting information about the clothes of the ancient Jews can be gleaned from the same Bible, “Old Testament”, “Book of Exodus”, 1:43, which provides a lot of interesting details!

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