With Rosh Hashanah so early and so hot this year, do you think suits are still a necessary part of prayer attire?
Sweating in the Pews
I answered a question a few months ago from someone who wanted to wear casual clothing to services in general, and I suggested that that was probably possible if he found the right community. I also mentioned that even in places that tend to run casual, the expectations are a little more formal when it comes to dressing for the High Holidays.
While I stand by that assertion, I also wrote it in April before I could have anticipated the oppressive heat of the past week. I expect you are not the only one wondering how you could possibly wear long sleeves any time soon, let alone a suit.
Then again, unlike Philadelphia public schools, most synagogues are equipped with air conditioning. Regardless of the heat and humidity outdoors, I know many synagogues (as well as offices, stores, restaurants, etc.) where the temperature actually swings so far the other direction that people get used to carrying a sweater with them just in case.
Like knowing the norms of clothing expectations in a particular synagogue, it also helps to know the general temperature, with the understanding that when all the seats are full during, say, the first day of Rosh Hashanah, even the best air conditioning systems can be taxed.
If your synagogue doesn’t have air conditioning, this year will pose particular challenges, and I imagine they’re already working on solutions as well as loosening any spoken or unspoken dress codes. For you and for your fellow congregants looking at you, focusing on clothing takes away from the self-improvement and non-judgmental themes of the holiday anyway, so you can also assume the best about those around you and hope that no one cares.
All this is by way of saying that, just like basically everything else in this world, you have to make your own determination of what makes sense. You do need to dress respectfully for the High Holidays, but a suit isn’t the only way to do that.
If you are wearing a suit, you can wait until you’re comfortably seated inside the artificially cooled sanctuary to put on your jacket. If wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) is part of your tradition, that adds an extra layer of warmth, sure, but it could also hide an unexpectedly casual shirt underneath. And if the idea of dressing up at all is enough to keep you away from services altogether, figure out the minimum formality you can deal with then get inside quickly where it’s (hopefully) cool.
Be well, and l’shana tova,