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Leviticus 19:19 ESV

You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.

Deuteronomy 22:11

You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together.

What was the significance of this prohibition? What is wrong with wool and linen together?

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  • Great question, and very mystical answer. This is also related to the prohibition of planting different seeds together, or with vines.
    – Kapandaria
    Oct 9, 2022 at 5:23
  • I've opted to merge the older question into the newer one in order that it can continue to have an active owner who can benefit from any work done on the question and answers. Thanks to all who flagged the duplication.
    – Steve can help
    Oct 9, 2022 at 21:14

6 Answers 6

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What is wrong with wool and linen together in Deuteronomy 22:11 ?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Is there some spiritual significance to this ?

Of course. Separating the Sabbath from the rest of the weekdays, wool from linen, clean animals from unclean ones, the circumcised from the uncircumcised, Jews from Gentiles, etc. were symbolic measures, adopted to visibly and psychologically reinforce the separation of Hebrew monotheism from pagan idolatry.

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    I heard David Pawson once say that this kind of ordering of separation (wool from linnen, not sowing two different seeds, not boil a kid in its mothers milk..) was ordered by the Lord because this kind of practice was done by the pagans to heighten fertility and by Gods command to just sow one kind of seed (etc) one would have to rely on God for the actual provision.
    – sara
    Jul 13, 2021 at 13:11
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    It sounds like people didn't know what was actually good for health and "Clean" and what wasn't. So for health and sanitation, they try and seperate everything.
    – Issel
    Oct 10, 2022 at 17:25
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    @Issel it is easier to figure out what made you sick if the list of suspects is short. If you eat a meat pie with 12 kinds of meat from 12 different butchers it's a lot of work tracking down who's not been cleaning their instruments. Oct 11, 2022 at 13:51
  • Among its other purposes, it is very clear that the Torah was meant to get the Israelites thinking about spiritual things.
    – EvilSnack
    Oct 11, 2022 at 16:42
  • @candied_orange I would debate that. Often times illness seemed arbitrary, and the physical and metaphysical were often confused and mixed together. You don't know that they would correlate sickness to the meat pie. Indeed, if you've been eating meat pie for years and never been sick, you are likely to not attribute it to the food. Don't believe me? Go hiking and start eating the first berries you see. What? You don't eat random berries even though the majority of berries are fine to eat? It's way easier to classify all berries as unsafe rather than risk it.
    – Issel
    Oct 12, 2022 at 18:15
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This doesn't directly answer the question, but it does provide interesting information about that verse.

The Proof of the Exodus Hidden in the Ancient Word Sha’atnez

The word, like a small number of other Egyptian loanwords in the Bible, testifies to a period in which the early Israelite nation, or a part of it, was in intimate contact with Egyptian life.

“You shall not wear sha’atnez, wool and linen together,” is how Robert Alter translates Deuteronomy 22:11, a verse found in this coming Shabbat’s Torah reading of Ki Tetsey, and the source of the halakhic prohibition on wearing clothing in which these two fibers are mixed. Leaving a word untranslated, as Alter does here, is generally an admission of not knowing its exact meaning, and he writes in a note to this verse: “This term seems to be a foreign loanword, perhaps from the Egyptian, and so lest its sense be obscure, the rest of the verse is a gloss on its meaning.”

That sha’atnez is a non-Hebraic word can be told from a glance at its five consonants. A Hebrew noun can have five consonants too, but never more than four that belong to its root and are not added suffixes or prefixes. However, none of the five consonants of שעטנז, to give the word its Hebrew spelling, are additions of this sort. This clearly points to a borrowing, even though the ancient rabbis tried not very convincingly to explain the word as an acronym of three other Hebrew words.

Egyptian, Aramaic, and Persian are the principal providers of loanwords in the Bible, and since Aramaic is a sister Semitic language with a three- or four-consonant root structure like Hebrew’s, and Persian is an influence only in the Bible’s historically late books, Egyptian is indeed the leading candidate in this case. The eminent Bible scholar William Albright even ventured to identify the Egyptian expression behind sha’atnez. The word, he conjectured, came from ancient Egyptian sht (Egyptologists are not sure how the language was vocalized), “weave” or “fabric,” and n’dz, “false” (in Egyptian, adjectives always followed their nouns).

Albright was not guessing in the dark. He had before him the text of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible made in Egypt in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, which renders sha’atnez as kibdelos, “adulterated” or “spurious.” (A kibdelía in Greek was an undeclared alloy of a more valuable metal with a baser one; hence, the word also denoted something counterfeit or fake.) At least some of the translators of the Septuagint must have known Coptic, the descendant of ancient Egyptian still spoken in their day in most of Egypt. Their only reason for translating sha’atnez as “adulterated” would have been if they, too, believed it came from sht n’dz, “false weave.”

If weavers in ancient Egypt sometimes mixed cheaper fibers with more expensive ones and sold them at the more expensive price, what were these fibers? There is no need to speculate, because only two such materials were widely used in Egyptian fabrics: wool and linen. Linen was the more common of the two. It was produced from the easily grown flax plant, was light and airy, making it ideal for the hot Egyptian climate, and was the source of the everyday tunics, kilts, and dresses worn by all Egyptians. Though its production was labor-intensive, involving soaking and drying the harvested flax, beating it to separate its fibers, and twisting these together before they could be spun into thread, cheap labor was not lacking in the land of the pharaohs.

Wool, on the other hand, was used mostly for outer garments. Even in Egypt, especially in the desert, winter nights can be chilly, and a woolen coat or jacket was warmer than a linen one. Wool also had the advantage of dyeing better than linen. And it cost more, in part because raising sheep was intrinsically more expensive than growing flax, and in part because sheep herding was, for religious reasons, a tabooed trade that proper Egyptians did not engage in. We might recall Joseph’s admonition to his sheep-herding brothers when they settle in Egypt that “every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.”

For the same reason, clothing with wool in it was forbidden to priests in Egyptian temples and sanctuaries. It is thus difficult to determine which of the two fibers in the “false weave” of sha’atnez was considered the adulterator and which the adulterated. Was linen mixed surreptitiously with wool because it was cheaper, or was wool smuggled into linen clothing because, though it produced a sturdier and potentially more colorful fabric, there was prejudice against it?

Whatever the answer, there are definite advantages to combining the two fibers, as has often been done in the history of textile manufacture from the Egyptian sht n’dz to the English and American “linsey-woolsy”—an inexpensive but strong twill in which cotton often took the place of linen. The technique of making such cloth, even when it passed from hand to machine looms, did not change much in the course of history: the warp or vertical threads of the loom were of one fiber while the woof or horizontal threads were wholly or partly of the other.

In linsy-woolsy, however, the half-woolen, half-linen-or-cotton composition of the fabric was, as it were, on the manufacturer’s label. With sht n’dz it was a counterfeiter’s secret. Was this what led to the biblical injunction? Was it the Egyptian temple taboo on wool? Was it the Bible’s repeated stress, as Alter puts it, on “the separation of categories,” manifested elsewhere in Ki Tetsey in the prohibitions on planting cross-propagating seeds and on plowing with an ox and donkey yoked together? We don’t know.

Yet one thing seems clear. The word sha’atnez, like a small number of other Egyptian loanwords in the Bible, testifies to a period in which the early Israelite nation, or a part of it, was in intimate contact with Egyptian life. Such a word is highly unlikely to have spread from Egypt to a people living outside it. Apart from the Bible, there is no documentation of an Israelite sojourn in or exodus from Egypt—nor, barring some unforeseeable archeological discovery, will there ever be any. But that there almost certainly was such a sojourn—and therefore, an exodus—is attested to by words like sha’atnez. That much is not counterfeit.

The Proof of the Exodus Hidden in the Ancient Word Sha’atnez
By Philologos, in 2022-09-07 Mosaic Magazine: "Advancing Jewish Thought*".

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  • This reminds me of Jesus saying Mark 2:22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins. Matthew 9:16 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse."
    – Mat Kay
    Oct 12, 2022 at 22:19
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This comes from Richard Elliott Friedman's Commentary on the Torah:

sha‘atnez: wool and linen together. The former comes from an animal, a sheep; and the latter comes from a plant, flax. Some think that such fabric is prohibited because it was thought to be an unnatural mixture. Others think that it is because the priests have both linen and wool in their clothing, and that therefore laypersons must not wear what belongs to the realm of the sacred. The problem with the latter view is that the only description of priestly garments in the Torah mentions linen but does not mention wool explicitly. Still, it is likely that the priests have wool and linen, because some of their clothing is said to be dyed (Exod 28:4–6), and it is extremely difficult to dye linen (I learned this from Avigail Sheffer, a specialist in ancient textiles). Fabric excavated at Kuntillat ‘Ajrud, which may have been a cultic site, contained linen and wool.

Alternatively, the Tabernacle is made of an inside layer of linen fabric and a second layer of wool (goats’ hair) fabric over it. The sha‘atnez prohibition may therefore relate to the sacred state of the Tabernacle rather than of the priesthood.”

The reference to the tabernacle fabrics is Ex 26:1, 7.

In possible support to the interpretation that the mixture of wool and linen is prohibited due to belonging to the sacred realm is the prohibition in Deut 22:9 (two verses prior) of sowing two mixed kinds of seed due to the full yield and produce becoming holy. Also see Ex 30:30–38 where the anointing oil and incense is forbidden for public usage because of their holiness.

Rabbinic interpretation agrees with this view. Interestingly, in early rabbinic interpretation the other exception to this prohibition is in the wearing of tzitzit (e.g., Pseduo-Jonathan on Deut 22:12: https://www.sefaria.org/Targum_Jonathan_on_Deuteronomy.22.12?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en). These are the fringes attached to a four-cornered garment instructed to be worn by the general public of Israel in Num 15:38–39 and Deut 22:12 (called and described as gdilim here). Archaeology has confirmed this interpretation at least for the late second temple period and early rabbinic period. White linen strings with dyed woolen strings were discovered in the Bar Kokhba caves dating to the first and second centuries of the common era. In modern practice, since there is no blue string (tekhelet) since the source of the blue dye became forgotten and remained a mystery until recent times, the tzitzit that are usually worn by Jews are not a mixture of wool and linen.

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  • I interpreted the passage as trying to weave wool and linen together into one fabric; not making clothing from pieces that originally were made from different fabrics.
    – Joshua
    Oct 9, 2022 at 23:53
  • So it's mixing plants and animals that's wrong? What about mixing linen with cotton? Both are from plants. Or sheep's wool with alpaca wool? (Bad example maybe since cotton and alpacas are both New World and would have been unheard-of in biblical times, but there's got to have been more than one type of both plants and animals from which clothing could be fashioned...) Oct 11, 2022 at 13:32
  • @DarrelHoffman Cotton is also native to Africa/Asia and would have been used in this time period. A good example for the second animal fiber might be silk...wool and silk are probably even more different than wool and linen. Oct 11, 2022 at 17:05
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What is wrong with wool and linen together in Deuteronomy 22:11?

God's law to the Israelites commanded.

Leviticus 19:19 NASB

19 ‘You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.

“The clothing of the priests was exempt from the prohibition of a garment of two kinds of thread,

Exodus 28 :6, 8, 15 NASB "Garments of the priest"

6 “They shall also make the ephod of gold, of [e]blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen, the work of the skillful workman. 8 The skillfully woven band, which is on it, shall be like its workmanship, [f]of the same material: of gold, of [g]blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen. 15 “You shall make a [k]breastpiece of judgment, the work of a skillful workman; like the work of the ephod you shall make it: of gold, of [l]blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen you shall make it.

The prohibition applied to the ordinary Israelites and not to the priest, this may suggest that the mixture pertained to the realm of the sacred.

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as with so many aspects of the OT, it was a physical palpable example of something spiritual. The point is that things have a nature and a purpose and that must be respected. So the man cannot wear women's clothing and vice versa.

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    How do you know this? Please edit to explain in detail.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 28, 2022 at 13:16
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So anybody who has ever bought a wedding ring or a engagement ring knows that it's almost impossible to find any kind of jewelry that is 24k gold it's usually 10k(less than 50% gold) or 14k (little more than 50% gold) this is because 24k gold is a very soft metal and not very malleable or easy to shape or form into what your wanting.but add some copper and zinc and it becomes extremely durable and easy to shape into a ring or necklace or golden cafe what have you. Abba commanded us not to mix wool with linen or seeds with other seeds because he wants us to remain pure in him! Spiritually physically emotionally pure. Just because the 10k ring is stronger than 24k ring doesn't make it more valuable it decreases it's value by over half! And don't be so malleable either don't conform into what is pretty to the eyes or flesh for the sake of pride in this world remain pure in him and hold your value in the eyes of our Abba !

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    – agarza
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  • @PaulSnyder Interesting exhortation on purity, but I doubt it answers definitively the question posted. Evidence is needed for your interpretation applying to the ancient Israeli era. Peace.
    – ray grant
    May 27, 2023 at 22:14

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