Years ago I attended a black-tie affair where the keynote address was delivered by the late Ambassador Max Kampelman. Not realizing the formality of the occasion, he was dressed somewhat casually. Noting his sartorial miscue, Ambassador Kampelman began his speech with a story about David Ben-Gurion.
Ben-Gurion was on his way to deliver a major address to the Knesset. As he entered the car, his assistant, seeing his disheveled appearance and open collar, said, “Mr. Prime Minister, you cannot speak to Knesset without at least wearing a tie.” “Yes, I can,” replied Ben-Gurion, “Churchill said so.” Baffled, his assistant asked him to explain.
“Well,” said Ben-Gurion, “last time I was in England I was supposed to speak at the House of Commons. I got into Churchill’s car without a tie, and he said to me, ‘That sort of thing is permissible in Jerusalem, but not in London.’ So you see,” said Ben-Gurion, “Churchill said it was OK.”
There are often disagreements about the proper way to dress for synagogue and different functions. The next time you get caught underdressed, I recommend the Ben-Gurion story. After all, it isn’t easy to argue attire with Winston Churchill.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe.