Wearing Red



Do you have, or could you please give, an overview of the restriction on wearing the color red? Underlying basis, relevant factors (shade of red, amount of red on clothing, community norms, etc.)?

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Asked on January 21, 2024 2:44 pm
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A Talmudic passage (Berachot 20a) suggests that a woman may not wear a karbalta. Though Rashi (ad loc.) considers the karbalta to be a specific type of important garment, the Aruch defines it simply as a red garment.

The midrash halacha (Sifri Devarim 81) refers to emulating the royal purple clothing color of idolators as a potential violation of the prohibition of “U-vchukoteihem lo teleichu,” not following idolatrous ordinances.

Maharik, in a landmark responsum (siman 88), writes that the prohibition of “u-vchukoteihem” may apply when a given form of clothing is worn to emulate a prevailing gentile practice. This would apply only if the item is worn either with no rationale except imitating non-Jews, or is worn to immodest effect. Maharik goes on to single out the color red as generally associated with immodesty, mentioning the karbalta as an example of our sages viewing the color red as immodest.
Rema (YD 178:1) rules in accordance with Maharik, noting that wearing red was an immodest idolatrous practice. These halachic rulings against wearing red give no indication of the concern about wearing red being specific to women. They leave room for halachic concerns about other colors, depending on the context.

Based on Rema’s ruling, some halachic authorities rule that Jews, to this day, may not wear any red, even for accessories (Be’er Moshe 4:147).

Other authorities such as Rav Ovadya Yosef (cited in Ma’ayan Omer 12, here) ruled that these concerns apply today, but only to an all-red garment, and not to clothes that are partially red or of close shades (such as bordeaux).

Shevet Ha-Levi (6 24:2) explains that the restriction is not specific to the color red but rather applies to any color or mode of dress associated with immodesty, leaving specific shades like bordeaux subject to judgment depending on the circumstances. Indeed, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor (see here), permitted wearing red itself when not associated with idolatrous practices or with immodesty. More recently, Rav Nahum Rabinovitch (here) ruled this way as well. In light of these rulings, wearing red has become fairly widespread in some halachically observant communities.

Given the range of opinions on this topic, practice largely depends on tzeniut and communal norms or on a personal halachic consultation.

See more Q&A here.

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Answered on January 21, 2024 2:47 pm