There are multiple passages (2 Samuel 19:13 example) that speak about teared clothes. The attitude and meaning of this act is clear to me but I was unsure how to imagine it.

Does it mean that Tamar was going naked around Jerusalem?

Same for Reuben in Genesis 37:29 ?

  • =1 - Good question and one I'd never thought to pursue.
    – tblue
    Jul 7, 2020 at 23:40

3 Answers 3


The following is an excerpt of an interesting and detailed article on the rending of garments:

Tearing of clothes: A study of an ancient practice in the Old Testament

Authors: Obiorah M. Jerome1 and Favour C. Uroko - 2018, pp. 8

p. 6 [white-space added]

The verb of action in tearing clothes

With the exception of Leviticus 10:1–7 that uses the verbal root פרם’ ּto tear clothes into pieces’, the OT is consistent in using the root קרע’ tear, rend’, in the qal for the action of tearing clothes. This Hebrew root is associated with the ritual of tearing of clothes in the OT (Thiel 2004). Very little is known in the OT on how the garments were torn.

It is only in 2 Kings 2:12 that Elisha tore his garment into two. A certain study of the verb of action, קרע ,offers this observation: ‘an examination of its use shows conclusively that a violent action of tearing is denoted by it’ (Morris 1900:23). This makes sense if tearing clothes is ‘an expression of fear, horror, consternation, or dismay over a calamity that has directly or indirectly affected the person performing the action, or threatens to do so’ (Thiel 2004:175).

It is said of Jacob, for instance, that after tearing his clothes, he put on sackcloth on his loins (Gn 37:34). This could mean that his body was indeed exposed by the tearing of clothes. It is also said of Ahab that he put sackcloth on his bare flesh. Tearing of clothes must have been performed in such a way that one was almost naked and needed another covering.


Does tearing clothing imply nakedness?

No, not necessarily.

Does it mean that Tamar was going naked around Jerusalem?

No. She did not tear her undergarment.

2 Samuel 13:19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing.

Similarly for the priests:

Exodus 28:42 “Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh. 43Aaron and his sons must wear them whenever they enter the tent of meeting or approach the altar to minister in the Holy Place, so that they will not incur guilt and die.
“This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants.

Mark 14:63 The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked.

It was a symbolic act. It was not necessary that the high priest tore his undergarment and it is forbidden if he was in the Holy Place.

The symbolic point was not necessarily to expose the flesh. If it were, why bothered covering yourself with sackcloth afterward.

2 Kings 19:1 When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD.

Esther 4:1 When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

Joshua 7:6Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads.

1 Kings 21:27 When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.

Genesis 37:34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days.

Having said all the above, if a person didn't have any undergarment on, then tearing clothes would expose the flesh. Also, there was nothing to prevent some to tore their immediate undergarment either.

2 Samuel 1:11-12 Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.

Some of these David's macho guys might have exposed their chests.

In conclusion, I do not see the symbolic act require exposing flesh but it didn't prevent it either.

  • I always imagined the Israelites and Roman having just a toga and nothing under it (kilt-style), thanks for pointing that out!
    – vwvw
    Jul 8, 2020 at 12:18

The act of tearing one's clothing to signify utter despair and/or extreme anguish is a well documented Hebrew custom. It is recorded regularly throughout the Bible. Here is a sample: Gen 37:29, 34, Josh 7:6, 11:35, 2 Sam 13:31, 1 Kings 21:27, 2 Kings 2:12, 5:7, 8, 6:30, 19:1, 22:11, 2 Chron 34:19, Est 4:1, Isa 37:1, Matt 26:65, Mark 14:63, Acts 14:14, etc.

Significantly, the High priest was forbidden to tear his clothes (Lev 21:10) because they were regarded as sacred garments. However, Rabbinic rules stated that it was permissible when the priest heard blasphemy and/or the accused deserved death.

Sometimes, if even greater emotion was felt than shown by tearing one's clothing, then it was customary to also put on sackcloth and/or put soil on the head. These are all symbolic acts. But this diverges from the question at hand.

From the survey of the above instances, ripping in the garments might include only the outer garment but could also include the undergarment(s) as well. In any case, it did not expose much flesh and did not make the one who ripped fully or even symbolically naked. However, part of the chest may have been exposed. It was a symbolic act showing humility, desperation, helplessness and vexation. This often included anger and frustration as well.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.