I may be letting my paranoia roam a bit too freely, but it seems to me that the enlightened European press is desperately looking to uncover the threats posed by "religious fundamentalists" to secular culture. I do not mean to dismiss these enlightened fears entirely. But it puzzles me to see headlines, such as this one, in the Guardian: "Zara goes kosher after suit offends orthodox Jews." Apparently the Spanish clothing retailer Zara, a company especially beloved in Israel,
has apologised to ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel for selling men's suits that violate a religious prohibition against mixing wool and linen, a company spokesman confirmed today. It has withdrawn the offending garments from its racks (Guardian).The article makes it appear as if this were another Danish cartoon controversy in the making - quick, duck before the haredim start throwing Shavuot cheese cakes at you. Shatnez (שעטנז) is the shorthand term used for the prohibition, in Jewish law, against wearing garments made of wool and linen blends. It is based on Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:11, both of which refer to shatnez but leave the meaning somewhat unclear - here is the latter verse:
לֹא תִלְבַּשׁ שַׁעַטְנֵז, צֶמֶר וּפִשְׁתִּים יַחְדָּוAccording to the Rabbis (Talmud Yerushalmi Kila'yim 9:5), the word is an acronym for שוע, טווי, ונוז, meaning "carded, woven, worsted." The "etymology" given by the Sages is obviously homiletic and not the pshat (i.e., the plain meaning) of the verse. Be that as it may, for religious Jews, wearing garments that contain both linen and wool violates a commandment in the Torah and therefore something to be avoided like other transgressions. Hence, an association of "Shatnez Testers" exists in North America and of course in Israel, which examines clothing and informs people who care whether or not certain garments meet this standard. Approval from them can thus be compared to certifications of kashrut ("kosher-ness").
Do not wear shatnez - wool and linen together.
Obviously, religious Jews will not want to wear garments that do not have this kind of approval. Likewise, a company that sells a significant number of garments to people who happen to follow this commandment, would try to make sure that is clothes do not contain a linen-wool mixture. All this makes perfect sense.
I am confused about where the "offense" in the title of the article came from. I guess the short answer is that it emanated from some uninformed headline writer's mind (it's too bad that the byline cites a certain Dale Fuchs - but reporters rarely have control over headlines). The truth is that the shatnez Zara suit did not "offend" religious Jews. This is not a case of religious people imposing their allegedly ridiculous norms on an enlightened public.
By the way, I have to say that I'm not all that certain how "carding" and "worsting" is different from weaving. Maybe someone can enlighten me.