The Kittel Collection is a series of clothing pieces that explores the different ways clothing is used as a vehicle for meaning and identity within our tradition and literature. The kittel is a simple, white, garment used as a burial shroud, and customarily worn by men on various Jewish holy days. Each month, The Sisterhood showcases, and looks at the meaning behind, a kittel from my collection. View images of this month’s kittel, the Soulful Kittel, after the jump.
Sometimes our identities are created from within our culture, and sometimes they are imposed upon us. This kittel focuses on the ways that clothing has been used to shame and disgrace Jews in some of the darker episodes of our story.
There is a long and grim history of yellow marks that Jews have had to wear on their clothing: yellow circles, stars, tablets of law, and yellow belts. In Medieval Christian art, yellow equals Jew. There are many theories posited by academics and scholars as to why this is so. Yellow has many associations, such as Judas, jealousy, urine and sweat. And it is the color of TB and syphilis, both were considered “Jewish” diseases.
This kittel takes its form from an etching by Goya “For Being a Jew,” which depicts Jews being rounded up and humiliated during the Spanish Inquisition. He has depicted them wearing a tabard-like tunic and a pointed hat.
The sexual assault and attempted rape charges against I.M.F. chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn — he’s pleaded not guilty — got me thinking: What propels men who most certainly know better to engage in the type of morally repugnant behavior, such as that which the French politician stands accused?
How much is it a matter of class or race? His alleged victim, an immigrant from North Africa, is a chambermaid at a Manhattan hotel. And maids have long been vulnerable to sexual assault and intimidation due to the solitary nature of their work and the little respect the profession is given — due in part to it being “women’s work.” Though while race and class are no doubt part of the power hierarchy that propels one human to try to have his way with another, they don’t alone tell the whole story.
You see, Tristane Banon, a young journalist, novelist and daughter of a Socialist Party official, is also alleging that DSK attempted to rape her, back in 2002.
In a culture in which predatory sexual encounters and sexual assaults are so prevalent, what’s to blame?