A kittel is a white linen robe worn by Jewish men on special occasions to signify purity, holiness and new beginnings. Traditionally, a Jewish man first wears a kittel on his wedding day, thereafter on certain Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover, and ultimately as a burial shroud. Kittels are worn by Orthodox men and sometimes by Conservative or Reform Jews if they choose.
In Jewish tradition, the color white represents purity and humility. In modern times, one of the readings on Rosh Hashanah is the saying of Isaiah: "Though your sin be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18). In the time of the Temple, when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, he wore simple linen garments instead of his usual golden vestments.
The custom of wearing white on the High Holy Days has endured, and observant Jewish men wear a kittel to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Women often dress in white on these days as well, and the ark curtain, Torah mantles, and various other synagogue items are also replaced with white versions.
On Passover, it is traditional for the man leading the Seder (home Passover meal) to wear a kittel. In this context, the kittel represents release from bondage to a life of freedom.
The groom's kittel is seen as paralleling the bride's purity as expressed in her white dress and signifying the new beginning of married life. As an added bonus, there are 32 fringes on the kittel and 32 spells out "heart" when written in Hebrew letters. In some communities it is customary for the bride to give her groom a kittel as a pre-wedding present. Grooms who choose to don a kittel wear it over their tuxedo or suit during the ceremony and usually remove it before breaking the glass or after the ceremony.
- Alfred J. Kolatch, The Jewish Book of Why (Penguin Compass, 2003), pp. 34, 51, 188, 221.
- Cha-What? Chatan! A Jewish Wedding Guide for Grooms. AllThingsJewish.com (2005).
More Online Resources on Kittels
- Kittel and Ritual Wear MileChai.com
- Kittel for Rosh Hashana and Other Occasions aJudaica.com
- Cha-What? Chatan! A Jewish Wedding Guide for Grooms AllThingsJewish.com
- Jewish Wedding Ceremonies: A Practical Guide ForeverWed.com