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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Tee Shirts: We Wear Our Hearts on our Sleeves and Our Flags on Our Shirts

Updated: Jun 7

For those of you not interested in a post about teeshirts, here is a post from a few years ago on the census and identity which is an important component of Parshat BaMidbar.


Dear Readers,

The book of Bamidbar has begun. We have patiently been attentive to the rules of the Kohanim and we we now find outself observing the army aged men tightly assembled around the Mishkan. From afar it is as though we are viewing a beautiful postcard sent to the folks back in Egypt. exclaiming, "Look at us now! "

The men stand in formation with their tribe's flags seemingly ready to go to war. As readers can we expect what will happen next? Perhaps we already have had ample clues that we should expect the unexpected. The book of Bamidbar is about journeys; journeys that bump and sway and throw us off the horse altogether.

I am looking too far ahead for now! Instead of looking forward, let's view the tribes of Israel below us on the plain. Each tribe standing tall and led by their leaders, their flags unfurled and flying in the winds of the desert.

The flags of the tribes each reflect the history of the tribes and men who were their namesakes.

By Divine order, the Israelites encamped “each person by his flag, according to the insignia of his ancestor’s house, at a distance surrounding the Tent of Meeting shall they encamp” (Numbers 2:2). According to the Midrash Rabbah Numbers 2:7, this meant that each tribe had a specific color and emblem:

Reuben – Red flag, with mandrake flowers

Simeon – Green flag, with buildings of the city of Shechem

Levi – Red, white and black flag, with the High Priest’s breastplate

Judah – Sky blue flag, with a lion

Issachar – Bluish black flag, with a sun and moon

Zebulun – White flag, with a ship

Dan – Blue flag, with a snake

Naphtali – Deep wine colored flag, with a deer

Gad – Black and white flag, with a tent camp

Asher – Pearlescent colored flag, with an olive tree

Joseph – Black flag, with Egypt depicted upon it (Since this tribe was divided into Joseph’s two sons, their flags were similar. However, Ephraim’s flag had a bull, while Menasseh’s had a wild ox.)

Benjamin – Multicolored flag, with a wolf

*Some flags refer to historical occurrences (Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Joseph) while others reflect Jacob’s blessings (Judah, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher and Benjamin).


From Martin Young Bible Characters

Flags are interesting. They concisely sum up the values and history of a nation using colors and a few well placed designs. They represent a nation with symbols and colors

In the year 2024 flags still matter, sometimes too much and sometimes too little. In addition, since the 1950's, people in the United States have had the chance to wear their values on their chests in the ever changing and expanding world of themed tee shirts. Perhaps the symbolism of values is purer in a flags, but from flags to tee shirts and even to mugs and pens, humans get to wear their values, their likes and dislikes to the world. A teeshirt can reveal political affinities, love of a particular type of ice cream, a sports team or a joke, prominently displayed for all to see. It is very important to consider carefully the image we wish the public to know about us!!

Today's post is collage of teeshirts, today's flags in miniature.

The key question that goes along with this post is to ask you what your tee shirts say to you? More importantly, what do they say about you to the world? Do you have a tee shirt story that reveals history or values? Please feel free to share either on this site or by email.

I can't wait to delve into Sefer BaMidbar!

May we hear good news soon.



Tee Shirts: We Wear Our Hearts on our Sleeves and Our Flags on Our Shirts


An addendum to this post written by Rabbi Jack Riemer

Readers: Rabbi Riemer and I became acquainted through this blog. He occasionally uses my posts to create his own commentary in the form of rabbinic sermons. Rabbi Riemer lives in South Florida, which seems relevant to his reply. This is his creative addendum to this week's post. Thank you, Rabbi Riemer.

This word of Torah is dedicated to the president of the man’s club

who is the master of fashion in the way he dresses.

I will demonstrate that fact to you in just a few minutes,

But first, I want to deal with a complaint that has come to my


I have heard that there are certain members of this synagogue

who feel that the words of Torah that are given here at the shul by

the pool deal only with ancient matters and that they do not deal

with contemporary issues.

In order to refute this unjustified complaint, I am going to focus my

remarks tonight

On the changes in fashion that have occurred during my lifetime,

And what the Torah has to say about these changes.

Let me begin with the hat.

When I started out as a rabbi, everyone wore a hat.

No one would think of going out in public

And certainly no one would think of going to a synagogue service

Without a hat.

It just wasn’t done.

But today it is rare to see a man wearing a hat anywhere-

Unless it is raining.

I know one man who goes to shule twice a day on shabbat

And never wears a hat,

Strange as that may seem

The second change in fashion that has occurred in my lifetime

Is the disappearance of the necktie.

There was a time not so very long ago

When no man would think of going out to a formal affair,

And when no man would think of going to a synagogue service

Without a necktie.

It just was not done.

But now the tie has almost disappeared from our wardrobes.

People go to all kinds of formal affairs

And even go to a synagogue service

Without a tie,

And although I am not used to it,

I guess that I had better get used to it,

For it is the way we dress nowadays,

Whether I like it or not,

The third change in men’s fashion that has occurred in my lifetime

Is the disappearance of long pants.

I can remember when wearing long pants was a young person’s

official entry into adolescence.

You got your first suit in honor of your bar mitsvah

And you wore it for every formal affair after that,

But today? Today I see people going to all kinds of fancy affairs

And even going to synagogue

Wearing shorts.

That is a major change in the way we dress.

Shorts used to be the outfit that children wore.

Now it is the dress that adults wear,

And then there came the tee shirt—

Which has virtually replaced the shirt in our time.

The tee shirt was originally an item of underwear,

But now men wear it instead of wearing a shirt.

And not only that but we now wear tee shirts that have the names

of our favorite rock groups on them

Or that have a joke that we think is funny on them

Or that advertise a product like coca cola or honey syrup.

We have become walking billboards

Although there are two differences between us and billboards.

One is that we move around and take our ads with us wherever

we go,

Whereas billboards do not move,

And the other is that the owners of billboards charge money to

those who want to advertise on them

Whereas we advertise products for free.

The chairman of the man’s group for example

Not only wears shorts on Friday night when he attends the

services of the shul by the pool,

And he not only comes to our services wearing no tie,

And he not only comes to our services wearing a tee shirt-------

But he wears a tee shirt that has a message on it.

Sometimes he wears a tee shirt that has a picture of Larry David

on it.

I am not sure why, perhaps he wears it in order to show that he

appreciates high level comedy. And that he is cultured.

And he sometimes wears a tee shirt that says that he has been to

Boulder, Colorado,

And that says something about living at sea level is for sissies.

I am not sure why he wears that T shirt but I guess he thinks it

sends a message

That he is well travelled.

Where did this custom of wearing tee shirts in order to identify

ourselves with products come from?

Do any of you know?

It comes from today’s Torah reading

Which says that the Israelites assembled in tribal units,

And that they carried the flags of their tribe with them in order to

identify themselves.

The midrash describes each of the twelve flags that the tribes


They were red and green and white and blue and multicolored.

And they each carried a reference to something in the history of

that tribe.

That is probably where the origin of wearing tee shirts as a

memento of a concert

Or as the description of a product began,

But it was not until the twentieth century that someone figured out

how to decorate a tee shirt easily

And that is when the present practice became fashionable.

And so, now it is common to see people wearing tee shirts

That tell you what political party they belong to.

Or what tourist attraction they have been to,

Or what they believe in,

Or what concert that have been to,

And so the question that confronts us today is:

What does your tee shirt say about you?

What message does it send out as to who you are and what you

stand for?

What message does it send out as to where you have been?

And what you think is funny?

Is the joke that you wear really funny?

Or is it offensive to some of the people who will see it?

Is the slogan that you wear on your chest a conversation starter?

Or will it stop conversation before it can even begin?

The first paragraph of the shema declares:

“let these words that I command you today be upon your hearts”.

I don’t know if the Author of this paragraph had tee shirts in mind

when He wrote this words---

But they should make us think about what He would think if He

saw the words that we wear on our hearts today.

So let it not be said that the words of the Torah that we study here

in the shul by the pool

Are only about ancient and irrelevant matters.

I hope that I have demonstrated to you tonight

That they deal with who we are

and with what we stand for

And with how we want to express our identity to those whom we


And these are surely questions

That we need to think about---

Today at least as much as ever before.

And so I share them with you tonight.


For more on the history of tee-shirts, please see:

For more on the design of flags, please see:

An article about what your teeshirt says about you:


אִ֣ישׁ עַל־דִּגְל֤וֹ בְאֹתֹת֙ לְבֵ֣ית אֲבֹתָ֔ם יַחֲנ֖וּ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל מִנֶּ֕גֶד סָבִ֥יב לְאֹֽהֶל־מוֹעֵ֖ד יַחֲנֽוּ׃

The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance.

Bamidbar 2:1



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1 comentário

5 days ago

I don't have the same frame of reference for Jewish law, but it seems to me that while tribalism is an essential part of human nature, the phenomenon of tee shirts described here traces to a kind narcissism that arose with the Boomer generation. This coincides with the rapid loss of formality in our culture that Rabbi Reimer alludes to. (I still haven't gotten over seeing men's legs in public, but hey, I'm an old soul.)

The younger generations, fully inculcated by the conceit of their parents, have pushed the extreme even further in both respects. We now represent our tribal affiliations to the world in the form of online profiles that never stop to rest -- or do laundry…

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