Proud to be plaid: Scottish rabbi helps create a new pattern: Jewish tartan

Rabbi Mendel Jacobs, the only Scottish-born rabbi currently living in Scotland, wanted to display with pride his Scottish Jewish identity like other Scotsmen do: with tartan.

The leader of Glasgow’s Shul in the Park, a Lubavitch congregation, Jacobs felt the estimated 7,000 Scottish Jews deserved a tartan of their own.

“I travel around visiting Jews in the Highlands, in Northern Scotland,” Jacobs said, and many were asking for it.

The history of tartan — what Americans call plaid — dates back more than 3,000 years to the Celts who inhabited Britain and France before the Roman Empire. Adorning kilts and other time-honored Scottish accoutrements, the tartan reflected at first the district the wearer inhabited, and later became associated with specific clans and families.

By the time King Charles III banned tartan and traditional Highland clothes in 1747, Jews had been a fixture in cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow for more than 50 years. The ban was lifted in 1787, but the Jews of Scotland remained in the country without their own claim to the Scottish tradition — until now.

Jacobs contacted the Scottish Tartans Authority, an organization that has archived more than 3,500 known tartans, and enlisted its help in creating a tartan especially for the country’s Jews, in time to honor Israel’s 60th anniversary.

The main colors are blue and white, for both the Israeli and Scottish flags. Stripes of gold represent the Ark of the Covenant, while silver stripes reflect decorations for the Torah scroll and deep red stripes recall Kiddush wine. The striping sequence runs in threes and sevens — three for the fathers of Judaism and the rabbis of a bet din, and seven for the idea of wholeness, Jacobs said.

He noted that interest has come “not just [from] ex-pats, but people in Peru, South Africa, Australia.”

Jacobs now sells Jewish tartan garb at The site has everything from yarmulkes and kilts to mugs and mouse pads.

And to answer any halachic inquiries, yes, the kilts are kosher; they don’t violate the prohibition of men wearing clothing made for women, and unlike traditional tartans, which are made of a linen-wool blend, this one is all wool to avoid violating the law of shatnez (the prohibition against wearing clothing that combines wool and linen).

“It’s a great opportunity to express Judaism through Scottish heritage,” Jacobs said.