9/25/2005

Monkey Suits

Yesterday’s Daf noted the curious fact that in Babylonia, the Rabbis were ‘metzuyanim’ – distinguished, i.e., by their clothing. There are two reasons given for this fact: one by R’ Assi, which is apparently rejected in favor of R’ Yochanan’s opinion.

R’ Assi believes that it’s because Babylonian Rabbis aren’t b’nei Torah. Thus, they must distinguish themselves by their clothing to compensate for their lack of other distinctions.

R’ Yochanan corrects him, stating that Babylonian Rabbis are no less distinguished, but since they are not in their ‘place’, they cannot rely on reputation alone to exhibit their distinction, thus they must dress in a distinguished manner.

Since I perceive myself as a ‘Eretz Yisrael’ style – Rabbi in ‘Babylonia’, this Gemara really resonated. I long to be where there’s no need for a rabbi to be self-conscious about his appearance, or to distinguish himself by anything but knowledge and understanding of Torah.

For what it’s worth, though I can think of all kinds of people to whom R’ Assi’s judgment applies, it may simply be a side-effect of the phenomenon that R’ Yochanan points out; there may indeed be distinguished Rabbis in Babylonia, but their distinction would remain unrecognized if they didn’t mark their distinction with their clothing.
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