When Is It Not Shatnez? Part I

Photo by Jean Scheijen from FreeImages

Question #1: Counter-logical

“Can a garment contain both wool and linen and still not be shatnez?”

Question #2: Woolly hair?

“What is the difference between hair and wool?”

Question #3: Checking sweater

“Must I have my sweater checked for shatnez?”

Question #4: Lehisateif beshatnez?!

“May the atarah on a talis be shatnez?”

Question #5: Controversial shatnez

“May something be shatnez min haTorah according to one opinion, and be permitted to wear according to another?”

Answer:

Since the mitzvah of shatnez is mentioned in parshas Kedoshim (Vayikra 19:19), we should certainly spend a few minutes reviewing some of its interesting laws.

Wool, linen and not shatnez?

Can something be made of wool and linen and not be shatnez? Actually, there are several ways this could happen.

The English word “wool” means any soft hair that can be used as cloth, regardless of which species of animal is the source. However, the prohibition of shatnez exists only if the garment is made from a blend of sheep’s wool and linen. Wool made from the hair of other animals — such as camel, llama, alpaca, yak, rabbit or goat — mixed with linen does not become shatnez (see Mishnah, Kelayim 9:1 and Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 10:2). The Mishnah (Kelayim 9:2) prohibits wearing garments made of a blend of silk and wool and other similar combinations because of maris ayin, which prohibits doing something that may raise suspicion that one has violated halachah. However, the Rosh (Hilchos Kilei Begadim #7) concludes that this concern exists only when the fabric is not commonly available. Once people become familiar with the textile, no prohibition of maris ayin exists.

Cashmere

Most people are surprised to discover that, at least in theory, a blend of mohair or cashmere and linen is not shatnez! Why is this? Because proper mohair and cashmere are not made of the wool of sheep, but of goats! Mohair is processed from the hair of an angora goat, which was originally bred in Asia Minor, today the Asian part of Turkey. (The name of the capital of Turkey, Ankara, used to be pronounced Angora.)

Cashmere is the wool of the Kashmir goat, which was originally native to the area of central Asia that bears this name. Although the possession of Kashmir has been disputed by India and Pakistan since these two countries came into existence, both sides agree that Kashmir is a variety of goat and not a sheep. Thus, if no sheep’s-wool thread was mixed into the mohair or the cashmere, the presence of linen in the garment will not make it shatnez.

However, please note that I wrote above that mohair and cashmere are not shatnez “at least in theory.” According to what I have been told by shatnez checkers, it is commonplace that garments labeled as mohair or cashmere include less expensive sheep’s wool. From a manufacturer’s vantage point, including merino wool (from a breed of sheep that produces high-quality wool) will not affect the feel of a cashmere coat, and customers will never know the difference.

What about the label?

May one rely on a label that says a garment is made from 100% cashmere?

According to the information I have received, there are two different reasons why not to rely on such a label without having the garment checked. The first is that the label is intended to describe only the material of the main fabric of the garment, but does not tell anything about the button-threads, backing, linings, ornaments, loops and fillings, all of which could render the garment shatnez. Thus, a coat could, indeed, be 100% cashmere, yet include a woolen lining sewn together with linen thread and thus be shatnez.

A second reason why not to rely on labels: Manufacturers of food items are usually, but not always, concerned with the accuracy of the labels on their products. (I will note that, during my many years of working in kashrus,I found instances in which companies did not feel responsible for the accuracy of their labels; but these were the exception. Most American companies that I inspected were basically concerned that the labels on their food products be accurate.) One reason for this is the potential liability that can result should someone react adversely to a food item that was omitted from the label. However, since fabric allergies are less common and, usually, less serious than food allergies, clothing manufacturers and distributors are less interested in truth in labeling. Combined with the fact that most garments are manufactured in labor-cheap, third-world countries, it should come as no surprise that it is commonplace to find mislabeled clothing.

Here is an example that demonstrates how inaccurate clothing labels are: The label of a woman’s sweater purchased in a store in Boro Park did not indicate any wool or linen. Yet, in actuality, the exterior contained wool thread, and the shell beneath it was linen, making it 100% shatnez min haTorah.

Checking sweater

At this point, we can address our third question above: “Must I have my sweater checked for shatnez?”

If it is a simple pullover sweater made from acrylic material (a synthetic fiber), without decorative ornaments, paddings, linings or buttons, there is probably no need to have it checked for shatnez. But, if the sweater has either linen or wool in it, it should be checked. Even if it appears to contain no obvious wool or linen, but there are ornaments, paddings, or linings, the possibility of shatnez increases, and one should have it checked (see Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:72).

Fabricated fabric

The following true story demonstrates an example of a misrepresentation with major halachic ramifications: “The importer told me that the garment was made of a blend of hemp and wool, which should involve no shatnez concern. As there was no authorized shatnez-tester in town, I did what I thought was the next best thing. I brought the garment to a shomer mitzvos tailor to check. He carefully checked the threads and guaranteed me that the garment contained no linen. Only after I wore the garment many times did I meet a Torah scholar and mentioned this incident, in passing. The talmid chacham told me that I should not be so certain, and he offered to compare the material in my garment to linen threads he had available. Indeed, he was correct: the threads in my garment were made of wool and linen, not hemp, and I had been violating a Torah prohibition the entire time!”

Does this story sound contemporary? As a matter of fact, this story happened in Vilna in 1650, as recorded in the commentary Beis Hillel to Yoreh Deah. In those days, the only “scientific” means of checking whether a material was linen or hemp was to take a sample and see if a candle would get it to burn, since hemp is more flammable than linen (Rema, Yoreh Deah 302:2). Whether one may rely on this test is disputed by the authorities (Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 302:2, quoting Shu’t Penei Yehoshua), and, practically speaking, today’s blends are complicated, and the burn test should not be used to guarantee that a garment is shatnez-free. In any instance, we see that shatnez problems are not exclusively a result of modern manufacture, although they are certainly complicated in contemporary textiles.

Wool, linen and not shatnez?

Having established that shatnez applies only to a garment that includes sheep’s wool, can one assume that every garment containing both sheep’s wool and linen is shatnez? Actually, there are possibilities whereby a garment may contain both sheep’s wool and linen and still not necessarily be shatnez.

What if they do not touch?

If one end of a garment contains wool thread and the other end contains linen — such that the wool and linen do not touch — is the garment shatnez? Is having both wool and linen in the same garment enough reason to make it shatnez?

This question is disputed by the Rishonim, the Rash (Kelayim 9:1, 9) and the Rosh (Hilchos Kilei Begadim #5) contending that it is not shatnez, whereas the Rambam rules that it is. Based on the Rash’s approach, many attach a linen atarah decoration to a woolen talis by having a piece of cotton cloth act as the “mechitzah” between the wool and the linen.

However, the Rambam rules that wool and linen threads on different parts of a garment constitute shatnez min haTorah. In his opinion, the Torah prohibited a garment containing both wool and linen, even if the linen and wool do not touch. Thus, according to the Rambam, the separating cotton does not change the garment from being shatnez, and wearing the above-mentioned talis is a mitzvah haba’ah be’aveirah, meaning that the attempt at fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis is preempted by the violation of shatnez incurred when wearing it. According to the Rambam’s opinion, reciting a brocha on this talis constitutes a brocha levatalah, one recited in vain.

Thus, whether this method of separating linen and sheep’s wool in the same garment avoids a prohibition of shatnez is controversial – some permitting it, lechatchilah, and others holding that it involves a Torah prohibition and preempts fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis!

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 299:2) rules according to the Rambam, that a garment is shatnez even if the wool and the linen threads are separated by other materials. Thus Sefardim, who follow the Shulchan Aruch’s rulings, are prohibited from wearing such a garment. Among Ashkenazi authorities, the Rosh, the Rema (Yoreh Deah 299:2), the Magen Avraham (9:8) and the Elyah Rabbah (Orach Chayim 9:6) rule according to the Rash, whereas the Mishkenos Yaakov (Yoreh Deah Shu’t #70), the Artzos Hachayim and the Shenos Eliyahu of the Gra (Kelayim 9:1) rule like the Rambam. (We should note that, in his notes to Shulchan Aruch [Yoreh Deah 299:8], the Gra appears to accept the Rash’s approach.) Rav Chayim Kanievski notes that the prevalent practice is to follow the lenient opinion (Derech Emunah, Hilchos Kelayim 10:41).

For part II of this article, click here.