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Not commonly known, but ‘shatnez’ is a biblical commandment

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A lot of people might never have heard of shatnez, but it is a significant biblical commandment which is gaining attention in South Africa.
by SUZANNE BELLING | Apr 20, 2016

Shatnez Lab South Africa was founded in 2014 and is networked with more than 350 shatnez labs globally. The lab performs tests to establish whether clothing contains a prohibited mixture of wool and linen.

It appears only twice in the Bible, on both occasions prohibiting wearing it. The first reference: “You shall not put on shatnez” (Leviticus 19:19) does not explain the term, but the second makes it clearer: “You shall not wear shatnez, wool and linen together.”

The word can be translated as mingled stuff or things mixed together. It is used in the context of prohibitions on mixing two species together, such as sowing a vineyard with two kinds of seed, cross-breeding cattle or ploughing with an ox and an ass together.

The rabbis of the Talmud brought the prohibition down to wearing linen and wool in the same garment. They defined it as mixing linen made from the flax plant with wool from sheep or lambs.

Velvy Bokow, tester and managing director of Shatnez Lab South Africa, told SA Jewish Report that it was similar to keeping kosher in terms of not mixing meat and milk in food.

He added that shatnez existed in this country and discussions with the Beth Din are ongoing.

“Just as there are kosher alerts from time to time, there are shatnez alerts.”

In June last year Shatnez Lab SA brought shatnez expert Rabbi Yosef Sayagh, director of Shatnez Lab International Headquarters in Lakewood New Jersey, to South Africa.

"The aim of bringing Rabbi Sayagh to South Africa was to inform and educate as many Jews as possible about the biblical prohibition of shatnez and how to observe this everyday commonplace commandment," said Rabbi Avigdor Bokow, co-founder and rabbinical head of Shatnez Lab SA and father of Velvy.

During Rabbi Sayagh’s visit, more than 100 garments were brought in for testing, including suits, coats, scarves, shawls, baby blankets, skirts and dresses.

"The reality is that people actually don't know enough about this mitzvah,” Velvy Bokow said. “People think kosher is limited to food, such as not mixing meat and milk or only eating fish that have fins and scales or checking and removing bugs from vegetables.

“Shatnez observance is neglected due to ignorance. To the kosher aware consumer shatnez does not even begin to feature "

Many people unqualified in the specialised area of shatnez - including some rabbis - have said that linen is not used in South Africa and therefore shatnez is not prevalent in this country.

But in less than a year, Shatnez Lab SA had found shatnez in caps, blazers, linen shirts, skirts, suits and blankets. Clothing from a variety of stores have been found to contain shatnez garments.

According to Shatnez Lab SA, "people think that because the label doesn't mention wool and linen, the garment doesn't require shatnez testing. Halachically, however, if garments are made from either wool or linen, they require testing.”

Labels are not always reliable. Much of the clothing is made in Asia, making it impossible to supervise manufacturing.

To ensure that a garment is not shatnez, check the label - any mention of wool or linen needs testing and even if they are not mentioned, it should still be tested as internal elements could contain shatnez. 

4 Comments

  1. 4 David B 15 Jun
    I can openly say I have never heard the term before -- however what about --
     Wool and Cotton
    Polyester and wool (polyester comes from oil /the earth) 
    Cotton Linen  ( more common in fashion)
    Leather Jacket with a cotton lining

    And the list goes on and on and on
  2. 3 Moshe 28 Jul
    Only wool and linen is forbidden.
  3. 2 Andy 15 Aug
    Great
  4. 1 Choni 15 Aug
    Amazing! There are quite a few Rabbis and their communities who believe strictly in the law of Shatnez, but when it comes to the law of settling in Eretz Yisrael, they find flimsy excuses.

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