One of the most perplexing verses in the Bible is Deuteronomy 22:11: “You are not to wear clothing woven with two kinds of thread, wool and linen together.” In our synthetics and blended culture today, it’s almost impossible not to wear something that is 40 percent this or 60 percent that. Does HaShem REALLY care about the content of our clothes? And if so, why?
The first thing we need to do when faced with a scriptural conundrum is to try to get back to the context of the scriptures. In this case here, we really need historical precedent for determining what G-d means with this verse.
Early writers said that it was a case of general law that the Israelites were not to imitate the customs of the Canaanites. Maimonides wrote “the heathen priests adorned themselves with garments containing vegetable and animal materials, while they held in their hand a seal of mineral.”
Many Christian expositors want to bring in hidden meanings of being unequally yoked or that this was a way for G-d to insure his people pursued pure and godly traits. However, I felt like that was trying to put a modern-day spin on a 3,500-year-old law, so I continued to research and hit pay dirt.
It’s found in Josephus’ book Antiquities 4:8:11: “Let not any one of you wear a garment made of woolen and linen, for that is appointed to be for the priests alone.”
The priests of the Temple were a set-apart tribe. Only the Levites could administer the functions of the Temple. And this was not the only thing that was “set apart” for the priests alone. Exodus 30:22-33 instructs the Levites how to produce anointing oil. Only the priests were allowed to make this particular oil, and anyone else who did so was cut off from Israel. It was the same with the incense that was in front of the Ark of the Covenant. There were multiple items that were for the Temple functions or Temple overseers alone, set apart for G-d’s purposes only.
The Israelites still carried echoes of the polytheistic world they left behind in Egypt. In fact, looking at Israel’s history at this time through the first fall of the Kingdom, monotheism was practiced only sporadically by the people. Adonai had to bar them (through commandments) from setting up their own private shrines to invoke the heathen gods and using items that was for Temple worship only.
It’s akin to modern-day prohibitions about impersonating a police officer or a doctor. You can’t put on a bogus uniform or configure a bogus degree and go out and practice law enforcement or medicine. In the time after the Exodus, only the priests had the authority to lead the people in worship in the presence of Adonai, and they had to be set apart from the rest of the tribes.
However, one of the interesting things about this prohibition is how the tassels for the tzitzit (Israelites wore – and many still wear – these on the four corners of the hems of their robes) were made from particular dyes and a wool-linen mixture. This seems to fly in the face of this prohibition, doesn’t it?
Tomorrow I’ll conclude with an explanation of this supposed contradiction in the Law.