Today’s NY Times has one of the most charming articles I’ve read in a while, “If You Build a Restaurant, He Will Not Come,” by Howard Kaplan. (I’ve actually gone to the trouble of getting a weblog-safe link, so that people reading this blog in ages yet to come, changing their genes on a daily basis and flying through interstellar space in personalized quantum bubbles, can still read this article without paying a fee.) It begins with the accidental discovery that Ira Glustein had never eaten in a restaurant, and goes on to a funny and touching family history that I have no intention of spoiling for you. What I want to tell you about is Mr. Glustein’s profession: he is a shatnes tester.
In Jewish law, it is forbidden to wear a garment containing wool and linen. In Hebrew, this unholy blend is called shatnes.
In Mr. Glustein’s words: “My vocation is shatnes — removing linen from wool clothing or wool from linen clothing. The majority of the shatnes that we find today is in men’s expensive suits, usually in the collar. It’s easy to remove by an expert, and it’s just a small tailoring job to repair. It doesn’t change the beauty or quality of the suit.”
Mr. Glustein said many Jews, devout ones included, have never heard of shatnes, even though it is mentioned in two places in the Torah and is no less binding than the dietary laws. A shatnes garment is equivalent to tref, or food unfit for a kosher table.
I’ve delved fairly deeply into Judaica at various points of my life, and I had never heard the word shatnes (more accurately shatnez, and yet more accurately sha’atnez), so I thought I’d tell you about it. (I did know about the prohibition of mixing fibers, but I didn’t know the word, and we’re all about the words here at Languagehat.)
So go, read the article already! Do I have to tell you everything? Go in good health, but go!