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For the week ending 4 September 2010 / 24 Elul 5770

Clothes of the Deceased

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Leah and Faigie

Dear Rabbi,

I heard there’s a concept not to wear clothing of someone who has passed away. Does this always apply, and to what types of clothing?

Dear Leah and Faigie,

Jews are allowed to wear the clothing of a deceased person, but there has arisen a widespread custom — based on the writings of Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid — to avoid wearing the shoes of the deceased.

Some apply this custom only to shoes worn at the time of death, while others apply it to any of the deceased’s shoes that he wore. If he never wore them others may wear them.

Your question reminds me of a story:

Some years ago Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman visited the United States. His travels brought him to the home of Rabbi Malkiel Kotler in Lakewood, New Jersey, where his attention was drawn to a tattered pair of shoes on display. “What are these?” he asked.

Rabbi Kotler answered with the following story: “As you know, my great-grandfather, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, was Dean of the great Yeshiva in Slutzk. When the threat of World War I loomed overhead, all the students were sent home. One student, upon arriving home, was told by his mother: ‘I didn’t send you all the way to Slutsk to learn Torah for you to come home!’ Not able get a train because of poverty and war, the young man walked the 400 kilometers back to the yeshiva. When he arrived, my great-grandfather Rabbi Meltzer was so impressed with this young man for having walked so far, he kept his shoes as a symbol of self-sacrifice for the study of Torah.”

Rabbi Steinman listened, then spoke: “But surely,” he said, “the young man from WWI days is no longer living. Isn’t it time to dispose of his shoes?”

“Not living?” Rabbi Kotler declared. “He is living. That young man was none other than Rabbi Elazar Menachem Shach!”

(Rabbi Shach, zatzal, has since passed away at the age of 107.)

Sources:
  • Iggrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:133
  • Gesher Hachaim page 58
  • Yabia Omer 3:5

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