In Bible times, why did people sometimes rip their clothes apart?
THE Bible mentions different situations in which people tore their clothes apart. Today, Bible readers might think it is strange that people would purposely rip the clothes they were wearing. But this was not an unusual custom for Jews in ancient times. They ripped apart their clothes to express strong emotion, such as shame, anger, or mourning.
For example, the Bible says that when Reuben found out that his brothers had sold Joseph as a slave, Reuben was shocked and “ripped his garments apart.” When their father, Jacob, was told that his son Joseph had been killed by a wild animal, he “ripped his garments apart.” (Genesis 37:18-35) Job “ripped apart his garment” when he heard that all his children had been killed. (Job 1:18-20) A messenger ripped his clothes apart when he brought the tragic news to High Priest Eli that the Israelites had been defeated in battle, that Eli’s two sons had been killed, and that the ark of the covenant had been captured. (1 Samuel 4:12-17) And when Josiah’s secretary read to him the words of the Law, Josiah “ripped his garments apart” because he realized that the Israelites were sinning against Jehovah.
During Jesus’ trial, High Priest Caiaphas “ripped his outer garments” when he accused Jesus of blasphemy. (Matthew 26:59-66) The Jewish rabbis taught that it was blasphemy to use God’s name. So they made a rule that if anyone heard God’s name spoken out loud, he had to rip his clothes apart. But later, after the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple, some rabbis felt that this rule was no longer needed. They reasoned that if a person ripped apart his clothes every time he heard someone say God’s name, soon all his clothes would be ruined.
Many Jews tore their clothes apart simply because it was their custom or because they wanted to appear righteous. But what Jehovah cared about most was how a person felt in his heart, that is, whether he was truly repentant. That is why Jehovah told his people: “Rip apart your hearts, and not your garments, and return to Jehovah your God.”